A Walk Close to Home

Toronto Walk Part 2-1Toronto is a large, diverse city and every so often I remind myself that not all photographic adventures require me to leave town. I pick a part of the city and go for a walk, often with no destination in mind but with a general idea of how I will meander around the area.

Toronto Walk Part 2-2I start with some basic research on what’s going on in the city at the time. In the summer there are generally local activities in a variety of neighborhoods I can visit. Also, I like to visit art galleries and photographic expositions at the same time. I find they provide creative energy and I appreciate the works of others. So I end up with a rough plan for the walk, but often veer off as something catches my eye.

Toronto Walk-2I travel relatively light. Usually my 24-120mm f4.0 with the 50mm f1.4 tucked away somewhere, though it is unusual for me to change lenses unless I want the extra speed with reduced light.

Toronto Walk-3On this particular trip, a rather long walk through town and along the lake, I started at the Ryerson Image Centre to see the most recent photographic exhibits. Outside is a large pool where I sat down with a coffee and captured the man using a spare chair on the table to shade his laptop. From here I walked to Nathan Philips Square at the City Hall, home to a weekend music festival and found some patrons sheltering themselves from the sun.

Toronto Walk Part 2-4I carried on to the waterfront and walked along the boardwalk eventually coming across people leaving the end of the Caribana Parade. Not quite tired, I headed back towards home and came across buskers in the distillery district.

When I get the itch to take photos, I remind myself there is a ton to photograph right outside the door.

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QLIX Studioz and Heather Pollock

QLIX-1Heather Pollock is brave.

Heather is a friend of mine, a professional and excellent photographer with her first gallery show. Most people see photographic art through the final image while photographers experience it. We make creative decisions about where to shoot, how to capture the raw image, how to process the image and even how to display it. The creative options are as infinite as any art form.

QLIX-3So, to put a price tag on your work and then display it to friends and strangers for comment seems pretty brave to me. All those decisions open to scrutiny. Heather’s selection of images, primarily black and white canvasses, range from moody HDRs, the east coast, and portraits of Canadian musicians. While not technically in any of the images, there is one where I was holding the light stand.

QLIX-2Heather is sharing the space with two other artists. Kathleen Urdah works with encaustics and Tommy Vohr, another photographer, works exclusively in the iPhone world with multiple exposed images you have to see to believe.

If you can spare a little time, please spend it at QLIX Studioz at 228 Queen Street East (at Sherbourne). You can also see a preview of the work and more information on the artists at qlixstudioz.com.

 

 

 

Photographic Challenges from a Kayak

KK-2

Despite the obvious perils, kayaking with a camera gives me an interesting close-to-the-water perspective and allows me to explore areas not easily reached otherwise. In the two shots here, I was able to nudge my kayak through very shallow waters in a boggy area of a lake.

You have to fiddle a bit to get the right position. It’s not like I can put the kayak in park and grab my camera. It keeps moving, slowly. I look at the camera to make some adjustments and when I look I find I have floated away, or twisted facing another direction and need to re-position myself. As I’m focusing and composing, I can be on a gentle “spin” and need to twist to compensate. At times, I use the paddle as a brace in the soft soil to help limit the motion. Each adjustment can send ripples through the water, preventing me from shooting until they subside and, of course, I am once again out of position. Patience helps.

KK-1I can’t “plant” my feet in a kayak; the motion of my body is transferred to the kayak, so faster shutter speeds are preferable. A polarizing filter is often helpful when the sun is out and I want to cut through the reflections on the water and the lily pads.

And of course, the very thought of changing lenses in a kayak sends shivers down my back. I’m still looking at alternatives to my D600, perhaps the Nikon AW1 waterproof camera with the zoom lens would be better for overnight adventures.

 

Kayaking

Toronto Walk-1

We hadn’t intended to buy kayaks. We threatened to do so for several years, wondering where to store them in our small downtown house or using them enough to justify no longer renting. It dawned on us that, living 10 minutes from Ashbridges Bay on Lake Ontario, our use would increase. So, at an outdoor show we had never intended to visit, we bought two kayaks to be picked up in May.

I started canoeing in my teens and did several 2-week wilderness “voyages” through lakes and down the Spanish River before returning to university at the end of summer. We camped on small islands and slept under our canoe or tarp. We saw all kinds of wildlife and at night the magnificence of the Aura Borealis and more stars than I have ever seen since.

A few other images flash through my mind. A flashlight bobbing in the water at night, marking the spot my now swimming friend had slid into the water cleaning the night’s dinner plates.  The smack of a canoe hitting a tree in the forest as another portaging paddler, canoe on his shoulders and pack on his back walked with determination,  blissfully unaware he had left the trail and marched into the woods. The laughter as florescent-colored ponchos lashed to paddles propelled us across the lake.

Kayak at Outdoor ShowAnd the rapids. Walking alongside, planning a route. The excitement, the spray and the elation of making it to the other side. Oh, and hanging from a rock in the middle of the Spanish River, holding a pack too heavy to lift out of the water waiting to be rescued by my companions, the current too swift to paddle against.

Then life got in the way and except for a vacation or visit to a friend’s cottage, I canoed very little. My wife enrolled us in a 2-day kayaking course and that was it – I was back and loved kayaks.

My challenge is photography. We are planning several overnight kayak backcountry paddling trips this summer and I have been looking at various camera alternatives. At the moment, I’m leaning towards a GoPro to create video and time-lapse photography and since it is waterproof and small, would suit me. I’m looking for a good still-shot alternative even though the GoPro does still photos, too.

A Long Winter Brightened by Hockey

Women's Hockey

Beyond our infamous mayor and the unusually long winter, hockey is always a part of our conversation in Toronto. Beyond the city having the Leafs and Marlies at the professional level (the Marlies offering an exciting brand of hockey both affordable and attainable), the city has the most outdoor rinks anywhere along with numerous recreational leagues.

My wife plays in a women’s league (that’s her by the goalie) every Saturday night at Moss Park and I often bring my camera in tow. I get to wander around the rink and, at times, break a few “rules” slipping behind the bench for the only shots I can take that are not through glass. Everyone seems to appreciate that they can get photographs of themselves playing hockey.

While I usually shoot in aperture priority, I shoot hockey in manual. The lighting doesn’t change in the rink so I don’t want my camera “fooled” when I zoom in or out, having more or less of all that white ice affecting the sensor. I try for a shutter speed of 1/125 but have to crank up the ISO if I’m using my 70-300mm f4.0-5.6 zoom. Lately I switched to the 105mm f2.8 to drop the ISO down and I find I’m not giving up too much. I’m no longer being lazy and trying to shoot the entire arena from one spot – now I focus on one area of the rink.

I’m having some fun with the photos running them through NIK’s Color Effects (detail) to bring out some “grunge” in the photo. Being on the ice has a feel to it; a scent despite being made of odorless water. You can be tired but once you get on the ice and take a deep breath, you feel rejuvinated. I think this brings me closer to that feeling.

Ripley’s Aquarium

Ripley's Aquarium-3“We’re going to the aquarium.”

We had guests for the weekend and the new Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto was on the Saturday afternoon agenda. Something new to photograph always gets my attention.

I grabbed my camera along with my 50mm f1.4 and 105mm f2.8 macro and joined what turned out to be a line that extended out the door and around the corner. Both new and getting great press, I would recommend buying tickets online for a specific entrance time and by-passing the line.

Ripley's Aquarium-1The aquarium has a route you follow and despite the crowd (start of March break, Saturday afternoon) we were able to approach each tank with a little patience. The ambient light is very low, accenting the light in the tanks and I had to shoot at ISO3200 to get the shutter speed I wanted, foregoing depth of field.

As we wandered through the “path,” we came to a slow moving sidewalk, which takes you right through a large tank, surrounded by sharks, mantas and all sorts of fish. There were times I felt I could just reach up and touch one moving overhead. This is quite a big, winding “ride” and allows you to experience the tank without waiting for people in front to move along. There is a separate walkway should you wish to return and explore at a slower pace.

Ripley's Aquarium-2I cleaned up the photos using NIK Define to reduce noise and fussed with the color temperature – some tanks have changing colored lights – and the rest was done in Lightroom.

I highly recommend a visit, though for the experience more than for the photo opportunities. It was a fun day and after close to three hours, we were never bored or put off (much) by the crowd.

 

 

 

Spanish Steps

Flower Seller

Arriving in Rome on a Saturday, my wife and I hiked from our hotel by the train station to the Spanish Steps with the intention of winding our way back towards one of our favorite restaurants. I had two lenses with me on the trip – a 24-120mm f4.0 and a 50mm f1.4. I bring the 50mm for these walks where the available light is low.

We arrived at the top of the steps around dusk to a bustle of activity and an amazing view of blue from the sky and gold from the street lights. Knowing we were pushing ourselves on the first day, this burst of energy revitalized us for the rest of the evening.

Ubiquitous to our trips to Italy are the street sellers with everything from glowing toys they toss in the air to flowers offered while eating in a restaurant. I found this flower seller taking a break from what must be a hard way to make a living. He looked tired, and the night was still young.

Rain

Wet Night in Orvieto

After exhausting ourselves walking around Rome, we rented a car and drove to the hill top town of Orvieto, arriving late in the afternoon. Settling in to our hotel, the drizzle started and my three travel companions decided it was time for a nap, while I choose to wander with my camera.

I was excited about the rain. At dusk it brings out reflections and colors, not to mention colorful umbrellas. The streets were busy (for a small town) despite the rain. I learned while hiking to turn around occasionally as I might be missing a good view too focused on what was before me. I turned around to see a wonderful contrast between the gold of the street lights and the blue cast of the darkening sky with the clock tower framed by the narrow road.

I waited patiently for my “foreground” to appear. I took a number of shots, but this was my favorite.

Eating with friends

James Cooking

I’m not sure if it is unique to our street, or just to me, but we tend to break bread together frequently. We are fortunate to have a number of excellent cooks on our street with a wide range of cultural influences. As the warm weather approaches, we move outside and get together on the spur of the moment rather than planned dinner parties.

Of course, this gives me an opportunity to capture my friends, who have all come to see my camera as a natural extension of my face. When I first moved here and took pictures, they glared at me; those long stairs that say, “What the #%$* are you doing?” I smile, put the camera away, then slowly retrieve it and carry on. I think I wore them down, and they do like the end results.

I’ve caught some really special moments as everyone has become more comfortable. Mother and child, child licked by dog, and James above caught by the light through a window in his kitchen preparing dinner for the mob.

Yes, I cook, too. I always have. I think it is an extension of the creative urge that is part of my attraction to photography. I love staring at an open fridge and then preparing a meal, although on occasion this has resulted in nothing more than a boiled egg. I attend cooking school at a local college because, much like photography, understanding the theory and techniques first allows me to be creative later.

So, while I will do my share of cooking, I like to think I repay some of the trust my friends show by documenting our time together and sharing with them the moments I’ve captured.

If I never sold a print, that would be enough.

I love my neighbourhood

 

Highfield Hooligans

Highfield Hooligans

I live in an interesting neighbourhood. It is a wonderful mix of people, cultures and transition. Babies and young children seem to be sprouting everywhere, bringing a sense of renewal. There is an odd mix of Indian retail stores closing down while houses are being renovated. I once did a search on our neighbourhood only to find it was the only one in the entire city of Toronto not to have a name. Nobody wanted to claim us.

Still, it is photographically rich. Not in the ruins-of-Rome sense, or rocky mountain vista, but that this is my neighbourhood. We eat and drink together, talk as we pass each other’s house, gossip and share whatever is topical. Yes, we run to each other’s house when we are missing that one ingredient we need for dinner. And just stay for dinner. I enjoy taking my camera to every event we hold together. Maybe the others are a little less enthusiastic, but they like the results. Most of the time.

Our house turns 100-years old this year. Yep, something is older than me. So, I am thinking about having a “street party” to celebrate. If I can tear myself away from cooking – my other great passion – it will be a photographic orgy. All I need is some better weather. It snowed this morning. Really, enough already.

The photograph above is of some neighbours who dress in late-1800’s style and call themselves the Highfield Hooligans. My wife and I will be joining their “gang” this summer.

I am going to have to find a retro camera that is digital.