What’s New: A Brief Update

It’s been about three years since my last post, so I decided I should post an update. About three years ago I decided to start an e-commerce store where I would sell items, mainly coffee mugs, using artwork based on my photography (all the art is my own design). The website is mug-shoppe.com if anyone is interested checking out, or even purchasing, coffee mugs or other items. In light the current world situation (COVID-19) I’ve tried to keep shipping as low as possible, even free for some items.

Here is a video I put together two years ago that showcases the owl, hummingbird, and cardinal coffee mugs.

A promotional video of JD's Mug Shoppe's owl, hummingbird, and cardinal coffee mugs.
Noise Reduction Tutorial

Noise Reduction Tutorial using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

Ever take an underexposed image, open it in Lightroom, correct the exposure level, only to be greeted with the sight of horrible digital noise? You then try to reduce the digital noise but end with a waxy and unnatural looking photo. Hopefully this tutorial will solve those problems. This is my method of reducing digital noise in a photo without giving the entire image a waxy look that destroys the details.

You will need Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for this tutorial.

Open the image you want to modify in Adobe Lightroom. After you make all the light and colour adjustments to your image go to the Detail panel and locate the Luminance slider under Noise Reduction.

detail panel

If you’re using a RAW image leave the Sharpening slider at 25 default. If you’re using a jpeg leave the Sharpening at the 0 default. Raise the Noise reduction slider to the point where the image, especially in the dark areas, is waxy and poorly defined.

detail panel

Right click on the image and select edit in Photoshop. The image will now be opened in Photoshop.

Right Click
Go back to Lightroom and reduce the Luminance slider to anywhere from 0 to 10. Follow the same steps as previously to open the image again in Photoshop. You will now have two different images open in Photoshop. Zoom in to 100% so you are sure which one is the Noise Reduced image.

This is the image WITHOUT Noise Reduction.
This is the image WITHOUT Noise Reduction.

Then press cmd+A (MAC) or ctrl+A (PC) to select the entire image (you should see the “dancing ants” as pointed by the arrows), then cmd+C or ctrl+C to copy the image.

Selected Image
Selected Image with tell tale waxy look of Noise Reduction

Go back to the image without noise reduction and press cmd+V or ctrl+V. Photoshop automatically creates a new layer that will go on top the original layer.

Layers Panel
Layers Panel

If you cannot find the layers panel go the the menu on the top of Photoshop, select Windows and scroll down to Layers.
Windows Menu Photoshop

Toggle the little eye to see the differences between the two layers, but make sure the eye is back on before the next step.

Click on the Channels tab to open the Channels tab. Hold the cmd or ctrl key and click on the thumbnail image titled RGB.

Channels panel
Channels panel

You should see a selection (or dancing ants) on the image.

Channel Selection
Channel Selection

Go to the menu at the top of Photoshop and find Select. From the Select menu select Inverse.

Selecting the Inverse
Selecting the Inverse

No go back to the Channels panel and switch the tab back to Layers. Look for the rectangle with a hole in it at the bottom of the Layers panel. This makes a layer mask. Click on it. You have created a layer mask.

Mask button
Mask button

It should look like an inverted Black and White image. To see the mask properly alt+click on the little black and white thumbnail in the Layers menu.

Hold down the alt key and click.
Hold down the alt key and click.

The mask will show up in the main display area. What is happening is the black areas of the mask are hiding the lighter areas of the waxy noise reduced layer while the darker images are still being displayed. At this point you may want to make some refinements to your mask. Go the Image section of the top menu and select Adjustments, then Levels.


Levels control
Levels control

Bring the black and white sliders inwards and adjust the middle slider depending to taste. The darker the mask the less of the noise reduced image will be visible in the final edit.

Refining the levels of the mask.
Refining the levels of the mask.

Once you have made adjustments click OK to exit Levels and then alt+click on the mask thumbnail to leave the mask and return to the main image. Click on the little eye to turn off the noise reduced image and view the original image without the noise reduced layer. Make sure to turn it back on before the next step.

Go the the little side menu in the Layers panel, open it, and select flatten image.

little menu


This will combine the two layers into one. This is why it’s important to make sure both layers are on. Next save the image as the default TIF file.


It should automatically open in Lightroom and you can make further adjustments as required.

Here are the original images and the final image for comparison. The light areas kept the detail while the darker areas are much smoother. Unfortunately the uploading compression has reduced the quality of the image.

Image with no Noise Reduction
Image with no Noise Reduction
Image with heavy Noise Reduction.
Image with heavy Noise Reduction.
Final image after combining the two images.
Final image after combining the two layers.

My Top 5 Favourite Android Smartphone Photos

The following are my five favourite android pictures I’ve taken with my smartphone (A Motorola Moto G).

I love images with reflections so when I noticed this bus on my way to Union Station in Toronto I had to stop and take a picture.

Black and white tour bus in Toronto Ontario
A tour bus parked on Front Street, Toronto, Ontario after a rainfall.

This was taken at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario before a U2 concert on June 23, 2017. It had been overcast all day but before show the sky cleared and the roof was opened, revealing the CN Tower. Many people took a version of this picture, as a quick search of Instagram will demonstrate.

Rogers Centre and CN Tower
The CN Tower is revealed as the Rogers Centre roof opens.

A pet cat, half in the light and half in the shadows. This is a shot where I didn’t have a proper camera on hand and had to use my phone before the opportunity vanished. Luckily the photo turned out OK, thought the hot spots are quite noticeable.

Cat in sunlight
A Cat basks in the late afternoon light.

This is a slightly blurry photo taken after the aforementioned U2 concert. While it’s not a perfect image I like how it conveys the busy night streets of downtown Toronto. It’s more about feeling and the moment at hand rather than the perfect photo.

late night streetcar
Waiting to catch a late night streetcar in Toronto, Ontario.

Another reflection shot, this one taken in the spring when the trees were still bare. The trees are reflected off the viewing screen of my Canon T5i camera.

Trees reflected off a camera viewing screen
Trees reflected off a camera viewing screen.


Finches featured image

Line Drawings of Birds

I recently drew some white on black line drawings of birds and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

1) A drawing of two gold finches sitting on a bird feeder.

Line Drawing of Gold Finches
Line drawing of two gold finches

2) A line drawing of a feeding nuthatch.

Line drawing of a nuthatch
A nuthatch poses while eating.

3) Line drawing of three herons. Based on a picture by Melinda Foster (www.instagram.com/melinda.foster).

Line drawing of three herons
Line drawing of three herons.
Rogue One Review Header

Thoughts on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Have you ever watched a film or tv show, listened to an album, or read a book that you admired more than enjoyed? That is how I feel about “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a movie set around a week before the original Star Wars form 1977. Unlike a lot of blockbuster movies that come out these days I am still processing and absorbing it, while others I liked more have nearly vanished from memory. So why is this movie staying with me? Warning: There will be spoilers.

I think this is the most thematically complex Star Wars movie. It’s also the most serious one. Despite all the carnage and destruction the Empire created in the previous movies this is the first one where they seemed realistic rather than cartoonish. The Imperial part of “Rogue One” focuses on bureaucratic infighting which is both darkly funny and horrifying in this day and age. The ultimate resolution to this infighting is the definition of overkill. There are also brief vignettes of stormtroopers being normal people, which drives home how mundane evil can be. The body language of a stormtrooper guarding a labour camp might be one of my favourite moments of the film.

The rebels are much less pure and noble than the original trilogy. They fight amongst each other, issue assassination orders, execute injured informants, and some are depicted as straight up terrorists. They are on their last legs and most are ready to surrender. It takes the actions of the “Rogue One” team to unite them.

Character wise Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, is the polar opposite of Rey from “The Force Awakens”, despite their superficial similarities. She can fight but she isn’t super powered and she isn’t enthusiastic. Instead she is tired and worn down without a cause to fight for. I really enjoyed Jones’s performance. I have seen it described as wooden in some places and I have no idea what those people are talking about. There is a wonderfully played scene where she watches a message from her father that is a masterclass in acting. I think it might be the best acted scene in any Star Wars movie. The one problem I have with her character is the arc seems too mechanical and her decisions forced on her by the screenwriters rather then feeling natural, but that is not Jones’s fault, unless she was an uncredited screenwriter. Jyn Erso is also the most tragic hero in all the Star Wars movies. By choosing to redeem and atone her father she pays with her life. Yeesh.

Diego Luna is solid as Cassian Endor, a rebel spy who is guilty of some bad deeds. The two temple guards, Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, are fun supporting characters who crop up in these types of movies. Despite being the most serious Star Wars movie there is plenty of humour, mostly from K-2SO, a droid played by Alan Tudyk. Imagine a sarcastic C-3PO who can fight. The weakest member of the Rogue One team is Bodhi Rock. While the performance is fine it feels like a huge chunk of his character motivations ended up on the cutting room floor. I also have to mention Forrest Whitaker, who gives a gonzo performance as a rebel terrorist. It’s one that you will either love or hate, no in between. I suspect the performance wouldn’t be as noticeable in a more traditional Star Wars movie.

As mentioned before the Imperial part of the plot is focused on bureaucratic infighting between Director Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn, and Grand Moff Tarkin, played by a computer generated Peter Cushing. I would much rather have Tarkin played by an actor with similar features as Cushing, such as Charles Dance, but I did enjoy this plot. Krennic basically has his life’s work, the Death Star, stolen from him by his superior officer and the spends the rest of the movie trying to get it back, which ends with him getting a blast right in the face from the Death Star. Like I said before, a slight case of overkill. Oh yeah. Darth Vader shows up for a couple of scenes, and while awesome, is not an essential part of the movie.

So what did I find wrong about the movie despite all these elements I liked? I can feel the writers writing for lack of a better description. I can feel the setup and I can feel the resolution, especially when the Rogue One team attempts to open communications with the Rebel fleet in orbit during the climatic battle. It lacks the enthusiasm of the last year’s “The Force Awakens” though that is intentional. This is a more sombre movie. Jyn doesn’t feel as active as she should be during the climax, as she has given up her gun and is unarmed when confronted by Krennic, which leads to a cliched rescue. There are also moments during the climax that remind me of Space Balls and Galaxy Quest. On the other hand Jyn and Cassian’s final moments, while melodramatic and unoriginal, did make my eyes water a bit, thanks to some lovely cinematography and acting from Jones and Luna. The first 20 or so minutes are very hectic and all over the place, especially compared to the other Star Wars movies, but I suspect it will get better with repeated viewings.

So where do I rank this with the other Star Wars movies? Right in the middle. This is a 7/10 movie with some great ideas and not so great ideas. I like it better then the Prequel Trilogy and just as much if not more than Return of the Jedi, but not as much as Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Force Awakens. What I admire most about this movie is it tried to do something different in the Star Wars sandbox, and judging by the box office the public are accepting the movie and it’s darker tone.

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