Sublime Light Landscape Photography: Blog en-us (C) Sublime Light Landscape Photography (Sublime Light Landscape Photography) Wed, 16 May 2018 13:30:00 GMT Wed, 16 May 2018 13:30:00 GMT Sublime Light Landscape Photography: Blog 115 120 Denali 2016 Trip Photos Process and Posted  

I finished processing the photos from my 2.5 weeks at Denali National Park in the summer of 2016.  The rain was epic, and the mosquitoes took a vacation.  Truly one of the outstanding landscapes in the world.  I've posted about that trip twice so far: Grizzly Sow Nursing Cubs: Denali 2016, and The Story Behind the Photo (that I did not take): Denali.


You can find the Denali photos here and the paintings here.   Here are some of my favorites:


Kolor stitching | 13 pictures | Size: 31620 x 6813 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.47 | FOV: 79.84 x 16.87 ~ 6.34 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 34 pictures | Size: 55902 x 11862 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.13 | FOV: 159.04 x 32.66 ~ 3.94 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 16 pictures | Size: 44553 x 7822 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.11 | FOV: 140.88 x 24.11 ~ 5.77 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 7 pictures | Size: 19866 x 7615 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.84 | FOV: 54.04 x 20.48 ~ 1.78 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 22 pictures | Size: 51113 x 8342 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.41 | FOV: 125.09 x 19.85 ~ 7.54 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) alaska denali denali national park Wed, 16 May 2018 13:30:21 GMT
I Hope That You Are $&# Happy!  

My, uh, "partner" and I have had a quite few adventures in the outdoors.  Sometimes it's a lot of fun.  Sometimes it's a challenge.  Sometimes, well....."misadventures" might be a more apt descriptor.  Sometimes it's all three.


One day that I hope I will never forget, a day that still brings a smile to my face, is when my, uh, "partner" and I did a guided 3-day, 20-mile, backpack of the Routeburn Track in New Zealand back in 2001.  We were both management consultants back then, working 60-80 hours per week, and thus our aerobic conditioning was not even close to what it is now.  This was my partner's first overnight backpacking trip.  She was somewhat.....hesitant.


Lake MacKenzie


We chose guided mostly because it got us the option of "luxury" backcountry huts for each of the two nights, because it reduced pack weight, and because my partner felt it would be better for her first backpacking trip.  There were about 12 hikers and two young women guides.


The day started easy enough....we took the group bus to the trailhead, got our packs on, and started climbing.  The first day was to be about 7 miles, 1600' total elevation gain .  Soon after we started, it started raining.  Then it started raining harder.  Then it was a downpour....a downpour that did not relent.  I later learned that it rained 8" that day.  The temp was about 35-40 degrees, so it was a cold, cold rain.  What happens when it rains 8" in a day on a mountain backpacking trip in New Zealand?  Well, since you asked, let me tell you.


First, all streams that you would normally step or rock-hop across become raging torrents that threatened to sweep you off of the mountain.  Our group came up to Earland Falls, which had so much water flow that it was creating about 50 mph winds.  In normal weather, you would rock-hop across the stream at the base of the falls.  As it happened, there was a bridge bypass of the falls, but getting to the bridge required scrambling (which means hands and feet) down the 60-70 degree slope as well as a 8' vertical rock, all slippery with rain and runoff.  I remember grabbing my partners jacket and lowering her with one arm, while hanging onto a tree with the other arm, down the rock into the arms of the people below.  Back then I worked out more.  Being the last down, I had to do a reverse pull-up, with my pack on, to get down the rock, and then dropped the remaining foot onto that 60 degree slope.  Luckily, I kept my balance.  If we had gone unguided, we would have turned back at that 8' rock; but going back at that point was just about as dangerous as going forward.   Not a lot of options.  The group provided a higher measure of safety.  See the photo of Earland Falls below, but that photo was taken in good weather.  The Earland Falls water flow on our hike was about 50 times that.  Yep, that's the slope around that spot.  Does it look steep and slippery enough?


Earland Falls in good weather


Second, probably 3-4 miles in, I saw my, uh, "partner" struggling with her pack weight.  Either she asked me to take it, or I offered, I don't remember, but for most of the rest of that hike in I carried her pack in addition to my own.  That was probably 45 lb or so in total.  I remember her lightly speeding ahead of me, more buoyant, while I laboriously wheezed with each step as I carried all of that weight uphill.  "Eeeehh - aaaaw..  Eeeehh - aaaw..." (the sound of my wheezing).


Now I will say that the main reason to do the trip was to do landscape photography.  I never took my camera out that day.  Not once.  The photos shown in this post are from subsequent days on this trip, or from a subsequent trip where I backpacked the Routeburn unguided and solo.


Third..... we got wet.  Very wet.  Very wet and very cold.  We were impeccably outfitted, most of the outerwear being Gore-Tex rain gear.  Now, I don't care how much Gore-Tex you have on....when there is 8" of driving rain in a day, and you are out in it all day, you are going to get wet.  Even though the Gore-Tex did work, after a few hours, we were soaked.  Soaked at a temperature of 35 degrees.  Now, this is about where my recollection differs from my, uh "partner".  I'll go with my recollection.  At one point, my, uh, soaked and freezing "partner", who had had enough, turned and said to me "I hope that you are  $&#  Happy!".  Totally out of character for her... "Sweetness" should be her middle name.  A couple of the nearby men within earshot smirked.  I felt bad.  Pretty bad.  This was a truly miserable first day for her first backpacking trip.  Yet, the funny thing was......I also felt good.  I WAS happy.  It was spectacularly miserable, probably our most miserable outing yet, but even so, I was having a great time.  We were persevering in epic weather, going well beyond our personal experiences, and meeting the challenge head-on.  There was personal growth and achievement; new expanded boundaries.


Fourth (and, mostly unrelated to the rain), after a few hours we finally arrived at the hut, soaked with freezing water.  It took hours to warm up.  We changed into dry clothes and joined the group for dinner.  Now, because I was carrying about 12 lb of camera gear, we (OK, I) had decided to forego some items.  Like camp shoes.  No boots allowed in the hut.  35 degrees, no heat, and no camp shoes.  Yep, we (OK, I) planned that well.  We padded along the hut floor barefoot for a while at 35, finally deciding to put on our only backup pair of dry socks.  We had a fine dinner.  I don't remember what we had, but it was fine.  Afterward, however, we were still pretty hungry, and there was no extra food.   Except for.....well, it seems that catching pancakes was a tradition for our guides.  Sounded weird, but what the heck, there was food in it.  The girls (guides) would cook up pancakes.  The guests stood behind the counter.  The girls would then flip the pancakes over their shoulder behind them, and the guests would try to catch it on their plate.  Their heavy, smooth ceramic plate (that's important for later).  If you caught it, you got to eat a clean pancake.  If you missed, well, I guess you could decide if you wanted to go with a 5-, 10-, or 20-second rule.  


Those girls must have seen me coming from a mile away.  When it was our turn, my partner and I stepped up.  The girls then flipped my pancake about 4-5' away.   Being as hungry as I was, I lunged for it.  I then lost my grip on the heavy ceramic plate, and it shot off like a rocket, smashing into the wall and into a hundred pieces, and putting a plate-sized hole in the wall.  The girls (and most everyone else) fell down laughing.  Laughing so hard they had difficulty breathing.  My, uh, "partner" gave me one of those looks.  Like, Really?  It took about 15 minutes for the girls to calm down, and then we all proceeded to clean up the mess.  The girls kept on breaking out into spontaneous laughter well into the evening.  I don't recollect that I ever got a pancake.


The next day, however, was absolutely amazing.  Sunny, warm,  great lighting, truly spectacular.  We climbed above the treeline and every direction held once-in-a-lifetime types of views.  The Routeburn is the most spectacular trail, mile-for-mile, that I've hiked.  However, I was still wondering if there was going to be any blowback for the previous day. Mid-day we climbed to a pass with a small shelter hut, and my, uh, "partner" offered me some lemonade.  The lemonade seemed, well, off in color.  I gave it a closer look, and then proceeded to ask her "Did you stir that with your boot?".  She laughed and said "no, the water here is just dirty,, look at it".  Sure enough, the water in the group jugs looked dirty.  Well, I was really thirsty, so...... "Bottoms Up".  Still, she kept on looking at me with the most interesting expression on her face.....Just saying.


Below are a few of the photos from the last two days of that guided hike, all shot on medium format film (you remember film, right?).  You can find more photos in the Fiordland National Park and Mt. Aspiring National Park galleries.



I still smile when I think about that first day.  It was the worst day, and it was also the best day.  A memory to treasure.  My partner remembers that backpacking trip with pride.  When I mention it to her, from time-to-time, she both winces and smiles at the same time, and says "Hiker Chicks Rule!".  True.




P.S. #1: I'd like to thank my, uh, "partner" for approving this post.

P.S.  #2: Below are some more photos from the Routeburn.  They are from my subsequent unguided solo Routeburn backpacking trip in 2011.




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) backpacking fiordland fiordland national park mt. aspiring national park new zealand rain routeburn routeburn track weather Sat, 28 Apr 2018 12:22:30 GMT
Grizzly Sow Nursing Cubs: Denali 2016  

I've posted once already about my 2016 trip to Denali.  The rain was epic.  I took about 2700 frames.  My best guess is that there was "sun" shining in maybe 50 frames.  Nonetheless, I loved it.  And, I have a return trip planned out for this year.


As a lone camper and hiker, I feel it prudent to take a lot of care, and I mean a LOT of care, hiking alone in grizzly country.  Such was Denali.  I saw about 40 grizzly over 11 days.  I spent a fair amount of my hiking time evading grizzlies.  I yell a lot so they know I'm around.  The most common scenario was to see them come over a ridge, and head toward me, not yet knowing I was there.  They can cover ground very fast, certainly faster than me.  I retreated to the road several times to get on one of the hiker buses because the grizzlies were getting too close.


I photographed (handheld, 100mm, first photo, below) this sow nursing her cubs after such a retreat to a bus.  The sow came over a ridge with her cubs and headed for me.  She did not seem to know that I was there.  I walked left.  She and her cubs headed left.  I headed right.  They headed right.  I figured a retreat was in order about that time. 



The 2nd photo (below) is the first photo at 100%.  The 3rd photo shows her claws quite nicely.  No thank you:)




P.S.  If you are, I won't take photos of grizzlies from the tundra while hiking alone.  Very dangerous.  I'm too busy walking the other way.


(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) alaska cubs denali grizzlies grizzly grizzly bear hiking sow Tue, 10 Apr 2018 17:45:00 GMT
We Support Donald Trump  

Our household supports Donald Trump.  We support him on immigration.  We support him on trade.  We support him on defense.  We support him on North Korea and China.  We support him on the corporate tax cut to keep more companies in America that provide jobs for Americans.  We support him in pushing back hard against the liberal agenda that would ultimately destroy our country and way of life. 


We don't support his communication style.  But, it seems to be part of the entire package required to get the country moving in a better direction.  


Enough said.




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) donald trump trump Tue, 03 Apr 2018 16:25:50 GMT
2018 Southwest Desert Trip  

Kathy and I recently returned from a 12-day landscape photography trip to the southwestern USA deserts.  This was one of the most spectacular and fun trips of our lives.  Below is the first photo that I took on that trip.....then, it just got better from there.  More later.





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) california desert nevada Thu, 22 Mar 2018 11:47:33 GMT
Shhhh....Don't Tell Anyone  

I live in Chapel Hill (part of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle metroplex) which is in the center of North Carolina (NC).  Central NC is a very high quality-of-life, pleasant place to live.  It's subtly pretty, with all of the greenery and towering pine trees.  However, Central NC is not known as an aspirational landscape photography location (no snarky comments, please, it just isn't).  My landscape photography takes me at least a couple of hundred miles away (the Appalachian Mountains), and usually much further.  Most of my recent trips have been to Canada, or to the USA parts north or west.


Yet, there IS a hidden gem of a photography location in Central NC, one that I'm willing to bet of which most people in the Triangle are not aware.  It is the 60,000 acre Sandhills Game Land nature preserve outside of Southern Pines, about an hour from the Triangle.   Sandhills Game Land is a unique environment of small hills, sandy ground, grasses, ferns, and pines.  I have been aware of the area for a while, and decided to check it out in October of 2017.  I spent one full night doing astrophotography, and one full day doing daylight landscape photography, driving around on and hiking the many dirt and two-track roads that bisect the area.  Brady Beck, currently the Southern Piedmont Management biologist for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, kindly met with me to provide some guidance on the roads and on which areas might be most productive for photography.


I took about 60 compositions in two days of shooting.  Below are the first three that I have processed.  I'll try to get the rest up on my website before the end of 2018.


Kolor stitching | 6 pictures | Size: 17033 x 9420 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.35 | FOV: 178.31 x 72.87 ~ 31.50 | Projection: Mercator | Color: LDR |


It was enjoyable.  Not spectacular, but enjoyable.  Pretty in its own way.  And,....close to home.  Shhh....don't tell anyone....





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) astrophotography north carolina sandhills sandhills game land Sun, 11 Mar 2018 23:36:09 GMT
Our 2017-2018 Landscape Photography Destinations: Update  

In early March of 2017, I wrote a post outlining our 2017-2018 destination plan for landscape photography.  Life and fate, it seemed, intervened.  Shortly after that post, two of of our extended family members became very ill.  Kathy and I contributed in numerous ways, including spending almost 6 months out of state helping to take care of these two family members.  Their need for our help was more important than our desire to be out in beautiful places.  It was a very difficult year for us, but it was even a more difficult year for our extended families.


I was able to do some landscape photography in 2017, however, including Montana's Lolo National Forest in February, a trip to the Canadian Rockies: Purcell Mountains and Kananaskis Country that was cut short by the unprecedented wildfire season, a short trip for fall color to Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario, and a couple of autumn days in the North Carolina Sandhills Game Lands (photo gallery forthcoming).  In all, however, I spent only about 14 days doing landscape photography.  



What is on the list for 2018?  We have scheduled a couple of trips, and have more that are speculative and that are currently being considered.


Scheduled Destinations


Speculative Destinations


Plus, I purchased a 45 MP Nikon D850 camera which will be my new main camera moving forward, with my current 36 MP Nikon D800E now being a backup camera.



We are very fortunate to be able to travel this way.  I hope that 2018 is a better year for everyone.






(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) destinations Thu, 01 Mar 2018 14:30:00 GMT
Capitol Reef National Park: Simply Sublime  

I finally finished processing photos from our 2016 trip to Capitol Reef National Park, the last stop in our Utah tour that included Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and Snow Canyon & Dead Horse Point State Parks.  Capitol Reef was our favorite.


The reasons are simple: uncrowded and extremely scenic.  Nothing like the crowds of Grand Canyon or Zion National Park.  When we go on landscape photography trips, the last thing we want is to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other people.  We like to get away.  You can (still) do that at Capitol Reef.  At night, doing astrophotography, we ran into just one other person just one time.  Plus the red rocks...if you like reds, the complete red pallette is waiting for you at Capitol Reef.  We spent 4-5 days there and just "scratched the surface."  Fantastic.


Here are some of my favorite photos from Capitol Reef 



You can find more in our Capitol Reef National Park Photo Gallery and Painting Gallery.





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) astrophotography capitol reef capitol reef national park desert utah Thu, 22 Feb 2018 14:00:00 GMT
What's Is "In" a Spectacular Landscape Photo?  

I enjoy seeing and being in beautiful places.  I use photos to remind me of the majesty and grandeur of the places I've been.  I strive to make those photos spectacular.  It is worth asking, then, "What is "in" a spectacular landscape photo"?


The photo below is from the first day on my 4-day Routeburn Great Walk in New Zealand in 2011.  It's a nice photo.  Pretty mountains.  Interesting lines.  Not "spectacular", however, at my first glance.  



Glances can be deceiving.  If you look closely, in the edited photo below, you can see the Routeburn Trail, and 3 separate hiking parties, each outlined in red ovals.



A close up of the lower-left hiker reveals a lot of detail.  This was shot with on a 40 megapixel Pentax 645D with a 45-85mm zoon lens at 85mm.   That camera system could produce wickedly sharp photos.



Blue backpack, tan trousers, purple socks.  Purple socks??  Yikes.


Sometimes, people are "in" a spectacular landscape photo.  The people, who are just small specks upon the landscape, serve to demonstrate just how immense and majestic the landscape is.  Have you seen the hikers in any of my other photos?  




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) new zealand people routeburn Wed, 14 Feb 2018 23:40:32 GMT
Killarney Provincial Park: Aerials  

As mentioned in a previous post, I toured Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario last October (2017) for 3 very quick days to score some fall color photos.  Killarney is located on the northeast side of Lake Huron, and is about an 8-hour drive from Detroit, MI.  It was, simply, outstanding.  Killarney has a very unique, small, quartzite mountain range.


I did some hiking and I was able to take an aerial photography flight with a friend out of the Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport on Manitoulin Island. It was a quick 30 minute flight to get over Killarney.  Once we did, the colors were just beautiful...just about peak color.   



Robby Colwell and the good folks at Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport were very helpful and provided the very finest in Canadian hospitality.  Great day.  



I processed 6 out of about 700 photos taken from the flight which are now in the Killarney Provincial Park Gallery.  I also did several hikes, shooting about 300 more frames.  I'll process more of the Killarney photos later this year.....I'm way behind on processing, still working on my 2016 trips to Utah, Denali NP, and Ontario.  



I also was very fortunate to see the northern lights for the first time while camping at Killarney.  Gorgeous park and very productive for just 3 days.  I'll have to go back.  





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) aerial autumn autumn color fall fall color killarney killarney provincial park ontario Tue, 30 Jan 2018 20:18:04 GMT
Kananaskis Country Photos Finished and Posted  

I finished processing the photos from my 3 days in Kananaskis Country (Alberta) in the summer of 2017.  You can find the Kananaskis photos here and the paintings here.  Beautiful, beautiful area.    Here are some of my favorites:


Kolor stitching | 8 pictures | Size: 28965 x 8177 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.12 | FOV: 221.75 x 54.77 ~ 11.66 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |






(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) canada canadian rockies kananaskis mountains peter lougheed provincial park Tue, 23 Jan 2018 13:50:45 GMT
How to Batch Rename Large Numbers of Files Using Powershell  

Zenfolio, my website hosting company, does not have the capability to randomly sort images within a gallery.  I felt that randomly sorting images would create a much better presentation.  I did not want to install new software on my workstation, so I searched the web for native functionality within Microsoft Windows 10 to batch-rename files, specifically, to prepend random numbers to the existing file names.  I did not find the exact method I wanted, but I was able to infer a method.

It's pretty simple. 


1. On your desktop (or other location of your choosing), create a folder to house the photo files that will be renamed.  Example: C:\Users\Jeff\Desktop\Test

2. Copy your photo files to the "Test" folder.  I suggest using copies of the images rather than moving the files, so that you can create a different random order in the future

3. Open Powershell

4. Change the Powershell directory to the "Test" folder.  This is VERY important.  Otherwise you will likely rename every file that resides under your user name.  Example: Type "cd c:\Users\Jeff\Desktop\Test", then press Enter

5. Type "Get-ChildItem | rename-item -NewName { ((get-random  -minimum 1000 –maximum 9997 ).tostring()) + ”__” + $_.Name }", then press Enter.  This will rename every file within the Test folder.  It prepends a random number between 1000 and 9997, followed by "__".  Example: 4562__Photo Name

6. After uploading the renamed photos to a Zenfolio gallery, sort by File Name


That's it.




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) computer method methods powershell zenfolio Sat, 20 Jan 2018 14:26:59 GMT Major Changes Now Completed  

I used the beginning of 2018 to finish the overhaul of the Sublime Light Landscape Photography website.  In December, I made major changes focused on landscape "paintings".  The 2018 changes reorganized "photos".  The changes:


  1. Structure: There are now four high level galleries.  The Favorite Photos gallery also serves as the home page.
  2. I organized the Photo Galleries to be by Country - State/Province - Park, where applicable.  I think that this will be a more intuitive way to find locations of interest
  3. I "randomized" the order of presentation of the photos in all galleries.  I did this to make the presentation (hopefully) more interesting
  4. I consolidated my previous two favorite photo galleries down to one Favorite Photos gallery with my favorite ~15% of photos




I like the result.  Hope you do as well.  






(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) photos sublime light landscape photography Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:21:20 GMT
Major Changes to Sublime Light Landscape Photography: Paintings Galleries  

I recently made four major changes to the Sublime Light Landscape Photography website:


  1. I created a comprehensive Paintings Galleries with "paintings" created by Topaz Simplify for all of my photos, which total about 6,000.  I have found that I like the paintings just as much as the photos, and in some cases, more
  2. I organized the Paintings Galleries to be by Country - State/Province - Park, where applicable.  I think that this will be a more intuitive way to find locations of interest.  I've only photographed 4 countries: the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and the Bahamas, but  I have photographed them extensively
  3. I "randomized" the order of presentation of the photos in all of the Paintings galleries.  I did this to make the presentation (hopefully) more interesting.  Zenfolio, my photo hosting vendor, does not provide the capability to randomize photo order, so I developed a method for randomizing photos using a Windows Powershell command
  4. I created a Favorite Paintings Gallery with my favorite ~10% of paintings



In the next few months, I plan to reorganize the Photo Galleries to use 'Country - State/Province - Park' as well, and I will also implement photo randomization in those galleries.  That will break the links in my blog, so I will have to make the changes slowly and to rebuild the blog as I go.  


For the creation of paintings from Topaz Simplify, I ran batch actions (programs) in Photoshop.  So, other than starting the batches, I really did not work that hard to create the paintings.  It took about 10 days, round-the-clock, for the batch programs to run, at about 40% CPU usage on my Puget Genesis I Workstation (highly recommended) for most of that time.  I'm not looking forward to my next electric bill.



I will write a future post about what I learned about how Topaz Simplify works, and about my Powershell randomization command.


Please give the Favorite Paintings Gallery and the Paintings Galleries a look.  







(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) paintings sublime light landscape photography topaz simplify Mon, 18 Dec 2017 15:38:21 GMT
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Please sign the Petition to Oppose Oil Drilling  

The recent Senate Tax bill has a provision in it to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  Please join me in signing the petition to Congress that opposes drilling in ANWR.   You can find the online petition here:  No Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge!.  Signing it takes about 15 seconds.


I'm a life-long Republican.  I agree with most of the Republican agenda.  But I don't agree with this.  There are very few wild and pristine places left.  We need to leave those places alone if we are to survive as a species.  It IS in our best interests, but a lot of people don't understand that yet.


Thank you





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) alaska arctic national wildlife refuge drilling oil oil drilling Sun, 10 Dec 2017 16:04:40 GMT
Home Network Protection: Sophos XG  

Up until 2015, I used a consumer router as my home gateway (device that connects computers and devices to the internet).  Then I started investigating what would be good network security for the home network.  I didn’t like what I found.


The dirty little secret is that consumer routers used as gateways are laughably easy to hack, even when configured properly.    See links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, as examples, or search “router easily hacked” or “router insecurity” online.  It’s not just one brand…. it’s all of them.  Enterprise-grade routers are not much better.  See links 7 and 8 as examples.  With routers, it’s not enough to configure them securely and to patch them regularly, which almost nobody does.  Router firmware, by its nature, is riddled with exploitable bugs.  If your router is infected, your devices (PCs, tablets,…) might become infected, and your bank account and other critical information can be stolen.


For personal reasons, I needed something better.  Way better.  I also wanted something that could protect every device in the home.  That meant a firewall of some type after the cable modem.


Sophos XG running in a Polywell custom-built computer. Front view

Sophos XG running in a Polywell custom-built computer. Rear view


After much searching, I decided to try an enterprise-grade UTM (Unified Threat Management, or, a "firewall") software, Sophos UTM, which has since been replaced by Sophos XG, which is what I currently run.  Sophos has kindly made this Sophos XG software FREE for home users.  Wow!


Sophos XG has achieved test results that are among the best enterprise UTMs/firewalls.  In a recent NSS Labs test, it blocked 95% of attacks, and placed 3rd in security effectiveness, behind ForcePoint and Cisco.  However, neither ForcePoint nor Cisco offer free firewall software to home users.


Sophos XG Security Effectiveness vs. the Competition. From NSS Labs, 2017


I did this work primarily because I figured that an enterprise-grade UTM, highly maintained, would be much more difficult to hack than a consumer-grade router.  But doing this work is not for the uncommitted:


  • First, you need a low-power computer with at least 2 ethernet connections (aka, NICs) from acceptable manufacturers (Intel, NOT Realtek).   I currently use a custom-specified $1300 fanless Polywell mini-ITX computer with 6 ethernet connections, so it effectively does double duty as a 2nd (non-wireless) router.   I over-specified the Polywell computer in case I want to use it in the future as a desktop computer.  You can do just fine with ~ $800 (dual Intel NIC card instead of quad, lower processor, 8GB RAM) configuration.  Some people have builds costing as little as $300.  I chose Polywell because they offered the most configuration options.  However, Polywell's customer support is, well, not very good.  They appear to be a commodity builder.  Another option I might suggest is AVADirect, which may offer more hand-holding.  A  couple of tips:
    • Get a fanless build.  No noise.  Mini-ITX systems often have noisy fans.  I love the silence
    • Not all NICs will work.  My build has one I219V NIC that Sophos XG does not recognize; I knew this before I ordered.  Check Sophos’ compatible hardware list before specifying and buying your computer.  For the H270N motherboard in my build, you will have to add at least one Intel NIC card due to the I219V compatibility
  • Second, you have to download the Sophos XG software, write it to an ISO image, and then load it onto your Firewall PC.  That will require a monitor, keyboard, and external CD drive for the installation, and VGA, DVI, or HDMI cables.
  • Third, you have to learn how to configure Sophos XG.  To quantify the complexity of an enterprise firewall configuration, I have over 200 screenshots of my Sophos XG configuration as a reference that I can go back to and look at for troubleshooting and for history
  • Finally, if Sophos XG stops offering its software free to home users, my investment in the Polywell computer may no longer be useful.  There is a small risk here, but still a risk


Polywell Configuration for Sophos XG. Fanless Build


I did all of this work without a background in networking nor in network security, so it took 2-3 days just to get most of my devices connected to the internet, because I had to learn as I went along.  Also, enterprise-grade firewalls are not as friendly as routers to internet-of-things devices like Rokus, Apple TVs, Amazon Echos, Sonos speakers, security cameras, SmartThings smart home controller, and so on.  That means figuring out workable firewall rules not just for PCs, but for all the devices in the home.


Sophos XG Home Screen


I’ve been running Sophos XG for almost two years now.  It has blocked numerous exploits and malware.  It has also shown all sorts of (blocked) attempts to hack into the devices in my home (China is easily the worst offender).  I’m glad I use Sophos XG, and after I conquered the learning curve, it does not take much time to maintain.  I’ve also developed an understanding on why it is so valuable, and what to look for in a good home gateway (firewall, UTM, router) device.


Sophos XG Example Report Page


Below is my required feature list.  Sophos XG offers everything on my list


Malware Defense

  1. Ability to scan encrypted (e.g. HTTPS) browser connections for malware.  That means installing a Sophos XG HTTPS certificate into your computers, tablets, and similar devices to scan encrypted links for malware
  2. Email protection, including the ability to scan email and block specific file type attachments in email
  3. Intrusion protection (system), or IPS
  4. Ability to prevent malware propagation on the network through firewall rules and detection
  5. Ability to isolate devices from the internet while allowing communications on the home network
  6. Ability to isolate devices on the home network from each other, so that if one device is infected, it cannot infect other devices
  7. Ability to force-drop outbound connections to specified adversarial countries and hacker havens like China, Brazil, Ukraine, and Russia
  8. Blocking of known malware-serving URLs


Configuration / Administration

  1. Customizable firewall rules by device and by device class
  2. The ability to force and maintain (DHCP) device IP addresses so I can run reports and see if any devices are potentially hacked or compromised
  3. Notifications of specific events such as internet down and malware blocked
  4. Automated updates and security patches
  5. Decent reporting


Network Access

  1. VPN-in capability to remotely access home network devices while traveling


In a future post, I’ll outline some consumer alternatives to Sophos XG and how many of my required feature list they fill (hint: not that many).


I’d like to thanks Sophos for making such a powerful tool available for free to home users willing to put in the time to learn network security.



(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) cybersecurity edge firewall firewalls home network protection malware network protection pc security sophos sophos xg Fri, 08 Dec 2017 19:54:37 GMT
Purcell Mountain Aerials: Panoramas  

As I've indicated in the past, making panoramas from aerial photos is very difficult.  Even if a long straight or a slow turn is planned and well-executed in the airplane, I often see severe alignment problems in post-processing, or, the creation of unreal landscape landmarks as the software tries to stitch photos taken from different locations.  Sometimes I can manually fix them, sometimes I cannot.  My success rate is about 40-50%.


I was able to create just a few panoramas from my Purcell Mountains flight.  Below are the ones that I like the best.  The panoramas are mixed in with all the photos in the BC-Purcell Mountains gallery.  


Kolor stitching | 3 pictures | Size: 13382 x 6037 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 3.53 | FOV: 165.74 x 65.02 ~ 7.38 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 3 pictures | Size: 13256 x 6394 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 2.97 | FOV: 90.91 x 36.49 ~ -20.69 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 7 pictures | Size: 24749 x 5730 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 7.26 | FOV: 230.02 x 49.03 ~ -7.15 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 5 pictures | Size: 12609 x 5384 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 3.56 | FOV: 72.23 x 29.23 ~ -9.81 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |


Kolor stitching | 3 pictures | Size: 12737 x 5641 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 3.20 | FOV: 0.53 x 0.24 ~ 3.35 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

Kolor stitching | 4 pictures | Size: 11107 x 5330 | Lens: Standard | RMS: 3.71 | FOV: 61.73 x 27.56 ~ -12.74 | Projection: Cylindrical | Color: LDR |

I hope that you like them.





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) aerial british columbia bugaboos canada purcell mountains Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:27:19 GMT
Purcell Mountains Aerial Paintings: Processing Finished and Posted  

I also finished processing paintings of my aerial photos of the Purcell Mountains taken this past summer.  I've posted some of my favorites here.  You can find the rest in the BC-Purcell Mountains paintings gallery.



I used Topaz Simplify.  The only slider used was "Simplify Size", which was set to 0.25.  




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) aerial british columbia bugaboos canada paintings purcell mountains topaz simplify Sat, 02 Dec 2017 22:03:04 GMT
Purcell Mountains Aerials: Processing Finished and Posted  

I finally finished processing my aerial photos of the Purcell Mountains taken this past summer.  I've posted some of my favorites here.  You can find the rest in the BC-Purcell Mountains gallery.



These aerials were challenging to process.  Many (not all) had an unattractive purplish color cast, probably as a result of two things:

  1. The circular polarizer not always being correctly rotated (hard to do on a bucking airplane with constantly changing direction, holding the camera steady with a 100 mph wind)
  2. Underexposure.  I've read that underexposure on some Nikon cameras can result in a purple color cast.  It reminded me of the occasional nasty purple cast of Velvia film, for those of you who saw that with Velvia 



So, I did some learning.

First, I trialed Capture One Pro as a raw converter and photo processing program.  I'll have to say I'm impressed.  I consider myself very knowledgeable in Lightroom, but I could not replicate in Lightroom the very high quality of Capture One Pro's color, the noise reduction, and the sharpening....and I tried and tried.  The noise reduction was even better than DxO Optics Pro, which was my standard up to this point.  My conclusion was, for the Nikon D800E, that Capture One Pro is a much better raw converter, hands-down...maybe even the best.   Kudos to Phase One.  It was a tough call on whether to purchase Capture One Pro.  A 1-year subscription to Capture One Pro is $180, paid in advance, while a 1-year subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop combined is $120.  I was not able to find a discount for the Capture One Pro subscription.  If you find one, tell me about it.  Capture One Pro is very good, but it is not a good value.  In the end, I felt the price was worth it, for now.   Barely.



Second, I dived deeper into Photoshop.  The basic approach was to:

  1. Use Select Color Range to select localized areas of purple (e.g. purple on near slopes, then a 2nd later selection for distant mountains,...)
  2. Manually add purple areas to or remove non-purple areas from the Selected Color Range
  3. Create a "New Layer via Copy" with the Selected Color Range
  4. Apply one or more of the following adjustments: Selective Color, Layers, or Hue/Saturation.  In Selective Color, I would choose Blues and Aquas and decrease the level of Magenta.  In Layers, I would increase the minimum levels for the Red and the Blue channels.  In Hue/Saturation, I would decrease the saturation of Blues and Cyans.  

Some photos had as many as 5 or 6 Photoshop layers, but 2 or 3 was more common.  The flattened Photoshop file was then finalized in Lightroom.  If I felt there was still too much purple, I would either move the purple hue slider toward blue, and/or decrease the purple saturation to the color matched, to the best of my somewhat fuzzy recollection, the actual colors that I saw that day.



In the end, I liked the final result.  I processed about 200 of the 800 photos taken on that flight.  I did not process the other 600 because many were of the same scene (there is a lot of overlap in what I did process), and the whole procedure took too much time.  



Again, you can find more in the BC-Purcell Mountains gallery.





(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) aerial british columbia bugaboos canada capture one pro phase one purcell mountains Mon, 13 Nov 2017 20:50:34 GMT
Killarney Provincial Park: Ontario's Gem  

After a long hiatus, and a couple of trips, I've finally gotten around to writing a blog post.


Kathy and I traveled to Michigan in late September to early October to visit family.  I "leveraged" (management consulting-speak) that trip to get over to Killarney Provincial Park for a 3-day whirlwind hiking and photography trip.  Killarney is located on the northeast side of Lake Huron, and is about an 8-hour drive from Detroit.  It was, simply, outstanding.  Killarney contains some of the oldest mountains on the continent, the La Cloche mountains, which are a striking white quartzite, and which rise to about 1000' above the surrounding landscape.  


I was able to take a flight and do some open-window aerial  photography, and walked several trails.  More about that later.   I processed one photo today, and I also abstracted it using Topaz Simplify.




(Sublime Light Landscape Photography) aerial autumn autumn color fall fall color killarney provincial park ontario Wed, 01 Nov 2017 20:46:02 GMT