Archive for November, 2011

Thank You DailyBurn!

18 Nov 2011

The only way to put it was that I was getting fat. I hit a personal “high water mark” of 228 lbs (104 Kg) in the spring of 2010, but it was only a few pounds over the weight I’d been for the last several years, so it wasn’t too concerning – until I saw this photo:

CabinFest Weekend - aka "Fat Graham"

Ouch! I wasn’t Shrek, but I certainly didn’t match my self-image of being athletic either

I was sold – I needed to drop some weight.

With a little more focus on exercise, and a lowered caloric intake level, I dropped about 15 pounds (7 Kg) by August 2010 – which was when I blew out my lower back. (For those unfortunate to have learned the disk numbering system due to issue they have suffered themsleves, my back injury was a massive herniation of the L4-L5 disk, pressing on the sciatic nerve of my left leg).

The bad news was that the injury left me incapable of sitting for more than 30 seconds without suffering extreme pain down my left leg. The good news was that I now had lots of motivation to try to drop some serious weight fast, on the slim hope that lowering my weight would provide some relief.

Cut to December 2010 and I was down to about 185 pounds (84Kg), and had a microdiscectomy which addressed the back and leg pain, but left me with ongoing motivation to keep myself in decent shape. Give me 10 or 20 pain-free years, and I may even consider the four months where I couldn’t sit down as a good investment!

If you’red interested in losing weight to either help ease the pain caused by extra weight, or just want to look and feel better, there were a few keys to my weight loss that I think are pretty generally useful, and repeatable.  At  a high level, they’re the usual trite advice – eat less, watch what you eat, and exercise more. However, as with all big process changes, the devil is in the details!

Here are the details of the approach I used to cut down my weight:

ACTION: Count Calories For 2 or 3 weeks and become fully aware of every calorie you are putting in your body.  This is actually pretty easy if you have a smart phone or iPod, or easy & frequent access to the web. Tools such as Daily Burn (or as an iPod / iPad / iPhone app) make this easy. Knowing how many calories are in your favourite foods is likely to change your relationship to them forever!

ACTION: Adjust Your Eating Habits Use the information you learned from your calorie counting to establish yourself at a caloric intake level that will allow you to drop 1%-1.5% of your body mass each week. For me, this meant losing 2-3 lbs (1-1.5Kg) per week by setting a caloric intake level of about 1800-2000 calories per day.

ACTION: Set Target Weights Set short-term weight target goals, celebrate achieveing them, and set a new target weight.

ACTION: Actively track Your Weight Track your weight on a daily basis. Seeing the line slope down and to the right over time really helped to motivate me to keep up my efforts, especially on those weeks where the curve flattened out, or moved in the wrong direction. Looking back I could see all the places those reversals had taken place, but the long-term trend was still “down to the right”. DailyBurn helped me here too.

ACTION: Exercise Exercise religously – in whatever form you wish. When my back was hosed, walking was about all I could do pain-free – so I walked. It’s easier to “force fit” the time to exercise when you are in pain – I have now learned I need to “force fit” the time to exercise into my schedule on a regular basis even when I’m feeling fit and healthy. “Calorie Burn” charts  and apps are helpful here as a motiviational force.

ACTION: Invest In Your Wardrobe Clean out your closet of the clothes that are (newly) too big on a regular basis. It feels wasteful to be donating clothes to charity that were only purchased 2 months previously, but wearing clothes that are new, and that fit properly, is a lot more motivational than wearing clothes that look like crap and that you can grown back into!

Here are a few more details on the first few actions:

COUNT CALORIES The goal here is not to track every calorie you consume for the rest of your life -but without tracking all calories, you won’t become aware where your nutrition “blind spots” are.

  • I found out that I actually had some major gaps in my understanding of how calories entered my body. I’d already cut out most soda, candy, chips, etc – and thought I was pretty calorie aware – but the gaps were still huge.
  • My own knowledge gaps were
    • how many calories I was absorbing from bread (bagels in particular)
    • how much hard work could be un-done in just one “spoil myself” evening
    • how little it cost in calories to add veggies to my meal, and how much more i enjoyed my meals
    • the degree to which portion size, rather than type of food , was driving up my calorie consumption
  • To burn a pound of fat, you need to consume 3500 calories less than your body needs
    • If you need 2400 calories per day, you can lose a pound in a month by eating only 12 calories less per day!
    • to lose 3 pounds in a week, though, you will need to create a “caloric deficit” of about 10,000 calories. (A caloric deficit just means the combined effect of eating less than required to maintain your current weight, and exercising to burn extra calories)
  • Always remember that your body is a machine that always tries to adjust to its environment in order to protect itself.
    • As an example, the top layers of your skin tan to absorb sunlight to decrease damage to underlying skin.
    • In the same way, if you starve your body, you are telling it that food is scarce – and your metabolism will lower to try to minimize the weight loss “damage”. This will have a twofold impact of making it harder to lose weight, and your lower energy level will quite possibly leave you feeling depressed
  • Instead, remember that not that long ago, our ancestors were cavemen!
    • If you can’t find food (i.e. you are starving), your metabolism will lower over time
    • If food is plentiful, your body doesn’t need to hoard fat, and will allow it to be shed
    • If you need to run to catch your food (exercise!), you are telling your body fat is an impediment to your success, as it is slowing your down
    • Mixing a healthy amount of protein (meat) into your diet also tells your caveman body that food is readily available. (Don’t over do it, though – Atkins-style diets stress your internal organs, and can create a deficit of essential vitamins and amino acids – something he learned when he was cramping continuously after shifting to a low-carb diet).


Based on a USDA web site, I need about 2400 calories a day (based on being Male, 48 years old, 5’10”). In order to drive a more rapid change in my weight, I dropped my intake to 1800-2000 calories per day.

After several weeks of counting every calorie, I had a pretty good idea of how much I could eat each day. However, an equally important learning was that I needed to make modifications to the way I did my meal planning & preparation. For me, this meant:

  • Eating one sandwich, loaded with more meat and veggies, instead of two skimpy sandwiches
  • Bringing down my portion size (or percentage of plate eaten when eating out) was going to be key to my long-term success
  • I also learned that “spoiling myself” by going over my daily calorie count was OK, and necessary every now and then – but that I shouldn’t forget that the calories consumed those days / evenings are not free either!

SET TARGET WEIGHTS If you set out to lose 40 pounds, you are likely to run out of motivation before you achieve your goal.

Set out to lose 15 or 20 pounds instead, and you get a psychological boost when you achieve your goal. The side benefit of this is you also get a chance to reset your expectations about how long it may take to lose that weight – the first pounds are far easier to lose than the last pounds, so carrying the same expectation through a bigger weight range will likely leave you feeling you will never reach your goal – and will encourage you to give up.

Some final thoughts if you are embarking on a weight-loss journey

  • There are lots of other tools out there that will track calorie consumption and your weight. Daily Burn worked for me, and a friend / former colleague, Thomas Watts (His story was featured on the Daily Burn website.
  • Alternatives to DailyBurn can be found on, or by searching the health and fitness section on the iTunes App Store
  • Feel free to get in touch with me if you want more details.
  • Good Luck!

Shooting HDR sets if you don’t have an AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) setting on your camera

02 Nov 2011

Not every camera has an AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) setting. Here’s the technique that I was using before I realized that my camera’s had an AEB setting…

You can still capture bracketed photos with any camera that has an Av (Aperture Priority), Tv (Exposure Priority), or Manual mode, and with a very small amount of practice, you can get it pretty quickly.

Here’s how to collect your set of three shots with no AEB setting:

  1. Put the Camera into AV mode
  2. Put the aperture setting somewhere in the middle (4-5.6 range)
  3. Press the shutter or shoot a shot to see what the settings are that the camera chooses for you.
  4. You will use this information to adjust your aperture in preparation for the shot.

Here’s how: Your two constraints are:

      1.  You want your slowest shutter time (brightest picture) to be no slower than 1/60th  of a second
      2.  You don’t want to run out of contrast when you have a very fast shutter speed at the limit of the camera (meaning you want a shutter speed slower than 1/1000 or 1/1600).

The adjustment is pretty easy, with a couple of rules of thumb:

      – Start with the aperture at f4.0. Shoot a test photo, or get the camera to display the settings for you (the images in the manual are too small to see whether the appropriate info displays as you shoot. If not, go into playback mode, and hit the “disp” button).
      – If the shooting time is faster than 1/400, then move your aperture to f5.6
      – If the shooting time is slower than 1/240th, move your aperture to f3.2
  • NOTE: these are my guesstimates – after you’ve shot a few “brackets”, you will get a feel for what 3 bracketed photos look like, and you can adjust manually…
      • – With the new aperture setting, shoot a test photo, or get the camera to display the settings for you.
        – You now have the info you need to take the photo. Switch into “manual” mode, and set the aperture to the number you decided upon. You will not touch aperture again for this series of shots
        – Set your timing to be (approximately) 4x as fast as the speed the camera “suggested” and displayed. i.e. if it suggested 1/200th, set it for 1/800th. If it suggested 1/250th, set it for 1/1000th.
        – Frame your photo, lining up landmarks so that you know your approximate framing. Take your first shot
        – Adjust the timing to be the suggested timing. Re-frame to line up your landmarks. Take your second shot.
        – Adjust your timing to be (approximately) ¼ the speed the camera suggested. If it suggest 1/250th, set it for 1/60th. If it suggested 1/400th, set it for 1/100th. Frame your photo, lining up landmarks so that you know your approximate framing. Take your final shot

    You now have your 3 photos (plus possibly 1 or 2 “junk” photos). Now’s when you get to use PSP to have
    some fun with them.

    Creating your own HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos

    01 Nov 2011

    I’ve had a few inquiries about some photos I’ve posted to Facebook, photos like this one:
    Thailand - Islands off Phuket (HDR Image)

    The photos were shot using a technique called “High Dynamic Range” imaging (Wikipedia Article). HDR Imaging is not a new technique, but what is new is how easy it is to produce HDR images thanks to software such as  Corel’s PaintShop Pro X4.

    Quick HDR Overview:

    The concept behind HDR imaging is pretty straight forward: three shots are taken of any given scene – one at “normal” exposure, one under-exposed, and one over-exposed, and the three shots are combined to pull out details that are not visible in a typical photograph.

    Here’s an example set:

    Shot at normal exposure Shot Over-Exposed Shot Under-Exposed
    Exposure: 1/160 sec.
    Exposure: 1/40 sec.
    Exposure: 1/640 sec.

    If you check out the over-exposed version of the shot, you’ll notice the extra colour that gets pulled out from the foliage, and the colour of the tiles in the pool. The under-exposed version of the same shot pulls out the details in the clouds that are washed out in the two other versions of the photo.

    Here’s what the combined photo looks like:

    High Dynamic Range version of the same scene

    High Dynamic Range version of the same scene

    You can see that the HDR version of the image shows both the details of the cloud, and the colours and details of the pool and foliage.

    So how do you create HDR images yourself?

    On the camera

    1. Check in your camera manual for a setting called “Automatic Exposure Bracketing”. If available, and not indexed separately in the camera’s manual, it will likely be listed under the Av (Aperture Priority) or Tv (Exposure Priority) sections.
    2. Follow the instructions in the manual to set up Automatic Exposure Bracketing mode.
    3. Depending upon the camera model, this may involve needing to press the shutter only once (most point ‘n shoots), or you may have to press it three separate times (more typical for D-SLR’s). Check to confirm you have 3 shots of the same image by going into “playback” mode.

    In PaintShop Pro X4

    1. Under the “file” menu, hover over “HDR” until another menu appears
    2. Select “Exposure Merge…”:
      This opens up another window in the application that is 100% focused on HDR photography. It looks like this:
      HDR Edit Mode in PaintShop Pro X4

      You now need to load up your bracketed photos into the program. To do so, click on the “+” sign near the bottom of the window, and select the bracketed photos

    3. Align your photos:
          – In the area at the left of your screen, you will see the Alignment Method is set by default to “Edge-based”. Click on “Edge-based”, and select “Feature-based” instead – it does a better job.
          – Select “Auto Crop”, then press the “Align” button
          – Once the process finishes, you should be able to select your three thumbnails at the bottom and see that the view on the main screen is now fully aligned, even if you didn’t use a tripod to do create your photo set.
    4. Remove the ghosts:
      Use the tools at the bottom to “Paint In” or “Paint Out” portions of the image, such as in the case of a moving person or vehicle in the image, or foliage blowing in the wind. I’ll let you experiment with this part, but here are a few hints:

          – when you paint something in on one of the images, you are also painting it “out” on other images
          – do your alignment before your painting, or else it will erase the painting
          – use a bigger brush for defining the areas, then correct with the “eraser”
          – don’t forget to include the shadows in the areas painted in or out!
    5. Hit the Process button to move on to the next stage of editing
    6. At this point, you can just hit the next “Process” button at the bottom of the screen, and you have a merged photo which much better displays the richness of the scene you captured. Alternatively, you can apply some of the effects available (either as presets, or as individual settings) to create a photo you find is pleasing. One thing to note: If you try some of the effects, you can always get back to the “plain” merged image by clicking on the reset button at the bottom of the left panel – but you may have to scroll down using the scroll bar to the right of the photos to make that button visible!
    7. On the final page, you get the option to “Fine-Tune” your image – with tools at the top for straightening and cropping the image, as well as some other basic image editing options. After any such adjustments, just hit “Save and close” to save your finished work.

    If you can, please let me know any areas where you hit problems, so that I can update the post for others.

    A couple of final notes:

      – The software is available as a 30 day trial here, so you can try this out at no cost!
      – If you start to shoot larger numbers of photos, you may want to consider using the “batch” mode – it will create the basic merged file for you for all of your sets of images, then you can decide which shots to revisit for further editing.

    – Enjoy –