Category Archives: Portraits

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.


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.

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


Snow, beaches and the Doodle

Doodle Shoeing

We recently got a dumping of snow. The most in a number of years. Parts of the Greater Toronto Area got towards 40cm, though we here in the east part of town only received 20 to 25cm. Falling on a Thursday evening through Friday, it gave us an opportunity we hadn’t been able to explore all season – going snowshoeing without driving anywhere.

We layered up, grabbed the snowshoes out of the basement and made the short walk to a park that leads to the beaches. It felt funny snowshoeing on the beaches, but it was great. Molly the Doodle loves snow and sand equally, so she was in her element.

I’ve been playing around with HDR and managed to grab a quick burst of three photos. The latest software deals well with ghosting and small movement well and this photo seemed to come successfully.

Photographing the AGM

The Supporting Cast

I had an opportunity recently to photograph Eva’s Initiative Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Toronto, an event that combines the year-end business reporting with an array of awards for talented young individuals. I’ve been to AGMs before, but never photographed one.

The event took place at their print shop facility which had a small but usable room to accommodate the roughly 75 or so attendees. Having never seen the facility, I arrived (on my bicycle) early enough to scout out the location and see what obstacles I may have to overcome. The room had black curtains across the back of a temporary stage and provided a nice backdrop. I was directed to a seat at the front where I could “pop up” at the appropriate time to take a photograph. Of course, in a room this small, sending off flashes of light every time I took a shot I would be noticed and may become irritating if not careful.

Before the event started, I took what I call “context” photographs – people getting set up, volunteer help, food preparation, sound tests, etc. Fun stuff.

I used my SB-900 with the 24-120mm f4.0 which, from my relatively close proximity to the stage, gave me really great coverage. Before arriving, they had sent me a “script” with highlights where they wanted photographs. The script was 32 pages long and there was at least one photo request on every page. I wasn’t sure what I got myself into at that point.

After the business portion, the rest of the program was hosted by the kids and they did a great job of being fresh, entertaining and making for a fun evening for everyone. I limited myself to three photographs per award and for the most part, the first was usually bang on. My biggest challenge is in timing the shot while someone is talking, not posing with an award. I would normally anticipate a pause in a speech and try to catch that transitional moment, but many speakers say “um” or some other syllable and I end up with shots of wide open mouths. Patience is a virtue in this profession.

Then there are times when it all comes together, when you catch someone in a reflective moment or caught up in the emotion. Tired at the end, I was happy to be a part of the celebration and able to catch some great moments.


The Violinist

It was the eyes I noticed before anything else. They pulled me in. Walking along a side street in Florence I came across the violinist, encamped in front of a small wine shop playing for whatever coins people would share in exchange for some lovely music.

I came across a number of street vendors on my trip through Italy. Many sold knock-off fashions, or odd gooey balls that would spat on the ground forming a face reminiscent of two fried eggs. Mildly amusing for two seconds, they merely became annoying with repetition. Though a face or two came to mind when I pictured an alternative destination than the ground. As evening descended, their target switched from the ground to the air. At times it looked like fireflies as many blue glowing balls floated gently back to earth.

Street music was popular. In Venice we listened to dueling bands on St. Mark’s square from the Café Florian. Another time we came across a trio on one of our wanders. We spoke with them for a moment as they tried to sell us their CD, but guitar, violin and tambourine music is not high on our list. I can sympathize with their world of trying to sell digital music by the side of the road in this world of MP3 players. Oddly, the same trio seemed to be around every corner, though we were lost more often than not, so it could just have been us. But I swear we passed them in a narrow alley, each of us off to another destination.

In Sorrento we met a solo guitarist on the main street who would sing as you passed by. His singing and what was merely strumming his fingers across the strings only caused us to speed up. Fortunately, he stayed in one place. In San Gimignano, we listened to a harpist while strolling in an olive garden, followed by a glass of wine in the adjoining courtyard entertained by a guitarist and the company of a couple from Australia.

Rome was more intrusive. Musicians come right into a restaurant and start playing. Usually there are two of them. One would play an accordion or guitar and the other something to keep a beat, but his role was to walk around and collect money while the other musician kept playing. I found this form of extortion annoying, as I was a captive audience paying for them not to play, but to leave. Someone selling roses often followed the musicians. However, everyone was always polite and there seemed to be an implied understanding that everyone is just trying to make ends meet.

But the violinist in the street didn’t try to sell me anything. After his eyes I noticed his clothing; the gray suit, sweater and shirt buttoned up to the neck. His white socks peeking out between his shiny black shoes and his pants. Sitting on a collapsible stool, he played, staring at people as they walked by, his green violin case a place to show your appreciation for his music.

No extortion. He was a musician.