Category Archives: Event Photography

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.

A different approach to hockey photos

The Playoffs-7

My wife’s hockey team is in the midst of their playoffs. I was banned from taking pictures from the bench when they introduced a rule requiring everyone on the bench to have a helmet, though in all the games I’ve been to this rule is randomly enforce. Regardless, I was left to shooting through heavily marked glass and more recently, a “fog” that is on the inside making photography more challenging than I wish for.

The Playoffs-4With the season coming to a rapid conclusion, I decided to “hang” around the benches and start to “creep” into the door at the rear, giving me a fairly clean look at centre ice and one end. I would then travel between the two benches to get the different ends of the ice. I’m pleased to say I got away with it. This time.

The Playoffs-3Back in my digital darkroom, I started “playing” with some of the filters in Color Effects by NIK Software. I started to get an interesting look. Sort of a watercolour with an old-style hockey feel to it. There is a “detail” filter I use and combine it with some vinetting (light and dark) to enhance the subject.

I like the look. It’s a little different for an action shot. As an experiment, I even took a rapid set of photographs while the players were “still” for a faceoff to try an HDR. The state of alignment with HDR software these days gave me a pretty good image, though getting ready for a faceoff isn’t my idea of a captivating image. Still, I can keep an eye out.

The Playoffs-2

At the rink, I shoot on a D300s (crop sensor) using a 70-300mm at f5.6 in manual. The lighting is fairly even across the rink but I shoot in manual so the exposure doesn’t vary as the amount of white ice in the picture increases or decreases. The ISO is 1600 and I use NIK Define to reduce the noise before I run it through any of the creative filters.

I would appreciate any comments you have on the photographs and if interested, can provide more specific information about the steps I took and the filters I used.

The Playoffs-5

Music in the neighbourhood

Chris Hale B&W

My neighbourhood is in transition. Thankfully, in a positive direction. An art gallery opened a block away and about once a month, it hosts muscians who live in the area. It’s a tight fit, but the music is great.

Chris Hale lives across the street and plays the sitar. When he invited me to hear him play, I jumped at the chance. As usuall, my first questions is, “can I bring my camera?” Turns out there were many who did. The lighting wasn’t great, mobility was difficult, and because we entered from the back of the gallery rather than the main entrance, late arrivals sat at the front, preventing a clean shot.

Given circumstances where detailed, noise-free pictures are difficult (I don’t like using flash in these situations) I tend to try and photgraph with something else in mind. Black and white is an obvious choice as we will accept noise disguised as grain. In this photograph, I actually used NIK’s to0ls to create a more “pencil drawing” effect than a traditional B&W high-contrast shot. I did a couple of colour versions of some photographs that have a more watercolour feel to them.

Another thing I like to do under these conditions is to focus on details or use “creative motion blur.” I focus in on the hands and capture the motion against a fixed instrument. I still have to process these.

But most of all, I want to make sure I enjoy the music.

You can find chris at


Hockey is back

Pegasus016While the NHL has been on strike, hockey has carried on for everyone else. Whether you are a parent, a fan of minor league or amateur teams, hockey has continued as usual. In my case, I’m married to a hockey player. My wife plays every Saturday night in an all-women league here in Toronto out of Moss Park arena. And, of course, I get to take photographs.


It’s a small arena, with little seating save for a small area near the entrance, which is away from the cold of the ice, but poor for taking photographs. This is where I hang out to warm my hands; otherwise I’m circling the rink, trying to find a good location where the glass is still clear.

Up until recently, I would get behind the bench and take pictures from there. There is a little extra room behind the bench where I could pace and get a clear shot without any glass in the way. I just had to watch for errant sticks and the occasional sharp blade on my exposed toes. Eventually, they passed a rule not allowing anyone without a helmet to be on the bench and I’m not going to try and take photographs wearing a hockey helmet and mask.

SLY_7609The lighting is usually pretty good and fairly even across the rink. I will pump the ISO up to 1600 or 2000 to get a reasonable shutter speed and enough depth of field. I set a custom white balance using the ice surface, especially if I’m shooting in JPEG mode. I shoot JPEGs if I think I need very fast frame rates without filling the buffer. Perhaps for a playoff game. Lately I’ve been shooting in RAW mode without any trouble.


I shoot in manual, taking a few preliminary shots to get an exposure I like. All that bright white ice can throw the exposure meter off, underexposing the players. And using compensation works for some photographs, but not all. As you change the amount of ice in a photograph, your exposure compensation has to change as well. Too much work. With manual, I pretty much can leave the exposure alone so long as the light doesn’t change regardless of the composition or zoom changes I make.

SLY_7582Having an understanding of the game helps me anticipate what may happen, however at this level of play, anything can, and does happen, mostly to the enjoyment of the game by all. There is usually action around the net, so I will camp out either at the blue line looking in towards the net or on occasion, behind the net to one side to get players rushing in. Other times I will focus on a particular player and follow them around with my camera taking shots. This can create an interesting sequence. If the player is crossing in front of you, you can pan with them and get a great motion blur in the background.

Hockey_0006 B&WIt would be interesting to put one of those mobile cameras onto one of the players, or the goalie and see what the video looks like. Perhaps that will be next year’s project.

In the meantime, I would rather be at a game taking photographs than watching one on TV.

20110212_Beth Hockey_0102

Hanging around the bar

Kim Cooke -1

I thought on this eve of a New Year I would reflect on a technique for low light photography, as I assume a number of photographs will be taken this night. Of course, I am referring to those taken without flash, but I will be likely taking both tonight at our annual New Year’s Eve party.

Kim Cooke -6When I am photographing an event, I have learned to for pockets of light. Invariably, the bar seems to be reasonably well light regardless of the venue. Not only does everyone eventually find themselves at the bar at some point in the evening, they tend to “pose” and I find very self-reflective portraits evolve.

So, as I wander the room, I move to spots where I can watch a light source and wait. It almost sounds like I’m hunting.

Scott_RayThe light can be contrasty and is often directly overhead. Still, considering the situation, the poses can overcome the technical aspects of the photo – high grain and poor light.

Early in the event I circle around and try to take a number of photos being very obvious with the camera. I do this so everyone gets familiar and bored with the guy with the camera and start to ignore me. It is later in the event (evening) where I get the better shots. They are more relaxed with me and, generally, alcohol is involved (not me, them).

Deep in ThoughtI don’t like using flash at events if I can avoid it. (There are times, such as presentations, where flash is expected, so I pull it out then.) I find flash moves the focus from the people enjoying themselves to me. Not what I want.

SLY_8788 B&W VeniceSo tonight, I will have my camera handy and wander around taking photos. I’ll make sure the lighting works in my favour for a change, and I will “hang out” in a couple of key spots and “capture” my guests.

I hope everyone has a wonderful (and safe) New Year’s Eve.

The Salon Gallery


It felt odd. I was here for a haircut and there were my photographs, hanging on the wall between the mirrors. While in a gallery, people could wander around and spend as much or as little time as they wanted looking at a photograph. Here, they are forced to stare at my photograph for as long as it took to have their hair done.

Fargo Front

I hadn’t thought of that when Luc and I discussed the prospect of putting the photographs up on his still bare walls. I’ve been going to Luc for  few years now, and about a year ago he moved to his present location on the west side of Toronto (on College St. at Dufferin St.). As he cut my hair, he talked about an artist acquaintance who had mentioned showing his work there, but had never followed through.

“Would you be interested in photographs instead of art?” I asked. He would, so I started thinking about what would work. The salon has bright walls and a lot of black accents, so I thought something abstract and colourful, leading me to my collection of Fargo pickup truck closeups. I posted them to my Smugmug account for his feedback and then printed, signed and framed them. I gave Luc a supply of business cards directing interested individuals to my web sites.

Fargo Door“I saw your pictures hanging,” she said. I was at a neighbours Christmas party and couldn’t figure out what she was talking about until I discovered we shared the same hairdresser. At that time, I hadn’t seen them hanging, but today, I did.

“I’ve had quite a few comments on the pictures,” said Luc. “I’ve given your card out to a few customers.” There isn’t the volume through a salon you might want, but it is cool being publicly viewed, if not a little intimidating. We started talking about putting black and white photographs of my performing artists in the back where you get your hair washed.

Fargo MirrorI’m thinking of this as an experiment. I’m finding inexpensive ways to mount the photographs and I do my own printing, so I have control of my costs. If I find some other locations, I can cycle a set of photographs around different neighbourhoods and perhaps get some traffic to my site. I really do believe that people like to see art before they buy it.

Luc owns the Linus Salon and you can find a little more about it at

Fargo Grill

Serena Ryder

Serena Ryder Concert-20

As I sit here typing, I am listening to Serena Ryder‘s new album, “Harmony” remembering her fantastic performance November 20th at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club in Toronto. I was a fan before I met Serena and jumped at the invitation to attend the pre-release concert. You can find video clips of the performance on the CBC website.

Serena Ryder Concert-22

At first I wasn’t sure I would even bring a camera. As an invited guest, I thought I would just enjoy the music. Nah. So as usual when I don’t know the location, I did some research. Their web site gave me a good overview of what to expect – large open area with no seating. You stand in a “pit” to watch the performance. Not too photographer friendly. Even up to the end I debated bringing my camera. I knew Sandy, Serena’s manager and our good friend would make sure I would be in a good position to get some photos. Camera in hand, we jumped on the streetcar and headed over to the west side of Toronto.

Serena Ryder Concert-12

I walked through the doors into a dimly lit club and hoped the stage lights would provide enough light. The CBC was taping the performance, so I thought the lighting would be pretty good. The place filled up quickly and people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the pit. Sandy led us upstairs where we found seats in a balcony and I had a perfect view of the stage. The lights came on and I smiled through 468 photographs. If I was going to take pictures while listening to music, this is what I would listen to. I did get a chance to go backstage and take a few photographs from that angle, but the layout isn’t conducive to getting good pictures. I have a lot of close ups of the bass player as he swayed back and forth in front of me.

Serena Ryder Concert-8

I brought only one lens with my Nikon 300s – the 70-300mm. It’s not particularly fast, but I crank up the ISO and with the bright stage lights, I was in pretty good shape. The 300s has a slow and fast continuous frame mode (motor drive for us old film guys) that I use in slow mode. This lets me take a short burst of shots and deal with the performer’s movement, slower shutter speed and whatever shake I seem to add to the mix all on my own. You could feel the shake from the bass speakers, so I wondered if the other photographers with tripods were getting any vibrations. I tucked my elbows against my body and shot away.

Serena Ryder Concert-3

Considering I was restricted to one location (a pretty good location, though), I’m pretty happy with the shots. I recently upgrade to Lightroom 4 and CS6 and this was my first project using the software. One of the reasons I haven’t been writing as often as I’ve been so enthralled by the capabilities, particularly the noise reduction going from CS4 to CS6. Another blog, perhaps.

If you haven’t listened to Serena Ryder, she is definitely worth it. You can find her at

Taste Matters


I enjoy photographing events. It combines a lot of happy people in some of the worst lighting conditions I can imagine. Perhaps its the challenge. I recently photographed a charity event for Eva’s Initiatives called “Taste Matters” in the Liberty Grand at the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto.

This is the second year I have attended so I was a little more prepared for the poor light. As you can see from the photograph on the left, the ceiling is very high and dark, dark brown. No bouncing flash around this place, though I rarely like using flash at events as I feel it is very disruptive to the paying guests.

Although there are windows along the side, the evening event was primarily lit from chandeliers and some spot lights that rained down on the row of food and beverage donors lined along the side of the long hall. This became my prime shooting area and I was able to get behind the tables to face the patrons enjoying their evening.

I usually arrive early for an event, especially if I am not familiar with the location. I also like to capture the set up of the room and get pictures of the volunteers behind the scene that don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Not only did I get to photograph the set up, but I helped out, setting up tables and the silent auction. Always makes you feel good to help out. No pictures of me, though.

Did I mention the lighting was poor? I recently upgraded from CS4 to CS6 (Photoshop) so my confidence in noise reduction has increased. The difference is astounding. I shot mostly at ISO 3200 when using the f4 24-120mm lens and 1600 when I switched over to either my f2.8 105mm or the f1.4 50mm. I had my flash with me. There are usually speakers at these events and that is the one time no one really minds the flash going off. Almost expected. Lets me get some low ISO shots. Now if the speakers would only take a breath with their mouth closed I’d get more decent shots of them!

I didn’t take as many photographs as last year, but still took close to 1,000. The Nikon D300s has a low and a high setting for the “motor drive” so I use the slow setting in RAW to take a burst of shots. Working with slow shutter speeds in low light I hope that one of the burst I take will be sharp. It’s not sports photography, so I’ve never exceeded the buffer even in RAW. (When I shoot hockey, I switch to JPEG so I don’t exceed the buffer.)

Funny, this morning my wife reminded me how much I use to shy away from photographing people. I was commenting on my lack of panic for the wedding I’m shooting with my good friend Heather Pollock (see link on the right). Practice. Get out of your comfort zone. Volunteer to take pictures at local events (I’ve done community rallies) or a favourite charity. Take lots of pictures. Try different things so you can learn. And have fun.

New Paltz, New York

It’s been a busy fall. Last weekend my good friend Heather Pollock (see the links to the right) and I photographed a wedding in New Paltz, about an hour outside of New York City. Sixteen hours of driving from Toronto and back in a three-day weekend didn’t leave much time to explore the area, but we had a little time on the Saturday morning before the wedding. I’ll get to the wedding in another post.

New Paltz isn’t too far from Woodstock and some say the hippies wandered here after the concert and never left. It certainly reflects the times with health food and tie-dye clothing competing equally. The town itself is quite old and has an historic area with houses dating in the late 1700’s. Huguenots, fleeing persecution in France founded the town and gave it the name of their refuge on the Rhine. There is an old section where you can see the original buildings. The area seems focused on outdoor activities and seems to have a wide range of excellent bike and hiking trails. A couple we met at our bead and breakfast had spent the entire day cycling. And yes, the were sore.

We found an interesting store that sold a wide variety of olive oils. I had been looking for something to replace the lemon olive oil I brought back from Sorrento, Italy and found a bottle here. I also found a rosemary infused olive oil. The owner introduced us to U.S. olive oil from California now winning international awards. A little bit more of a bite, but really good. Got some of that, too!

We continued our tour of the small town and found two book stores, strangely across the street from one another and off the main drag. My wife and I can spend hours looking through books and the helpful staff showed us some gifts for our nieces.

The reason we were here, the wedding, was being held at a local resort called the Mohonk Mountain House. At the top of a small mountain, it is a self contained resort with everything you need for that outdoor adventure (e.g., a world class spa). It’s a little pricey for my taste (though it includes practically everything) so we stayed at a local bed and breakfast called the Hungry Ghost, which I highly recommend should you find yourself in the area. When we arrived at Mohonk, we really didn’t have time to explore the area or the massive establishment, dating back to the 1880’s.

I would like to go back and spend some time in the area, especially in fall when the colours are so good. We were about two weeks late for the best colours I think. But a pink cadillac is still very pink all year round.