Category Archives: Unusual

Photographic Challenges from a Kayak


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.



Cosy on up

Sometimes you just have to change your perspective a bit. I was at the Distillery District in Toronto, a set of old buildings once used for distilling liquor before prohibition and now an interesting collection of shops, restaurants and art galleries. Last year I assisted a friend shoot a wedding here in the old brick buildings and cobblestone road.

I originally came here to visit the CIAO exhibit. I’ll be lazy and quote from the site:

“GAIA is the latest tour de force of Guy Laliberté, Founder of Cirque du Soleil® and first-ever private space explorer to publish a book chronicling his photographic journey. GAIA is comprised of sixty stunning photographs of the Earth taken from 220 miles away during an eleven-day trip in space, with unique views of nearly forty countries. Proceeds from the sale of GAIA benefit ONE DROP.”

Many of the photos in the exhibit, all outdoors on metal (see photo right), seemed more abstract than photographs of the earth. Many show patterns of colour and others graphic images from sand dunes, mountains and rivers. All were beautiful and make an important point about the scarcity of water in so many places.

Of course I had my camera and ironically, I ended up focusing on an old rusted Fargo pickup truck where I decided on some close up shots. I like landscape but when I am not enamoured with the view I tend to look closer. In some cases, very close (I do carry a macro 105mm just in case). I noticed the truck when we stopped for a coffee and remembered that a lot of wedding photographers use this and another old wagon as props. The sun was out, but I managed some photos when it dipped behind some clouds for a while.

They were taken with my 24-120mm f4.0 walking around lens. When I do photographs like these, I tend to try and bring out as much contrast and detail as possible. I used the high pass filter in Photoshop twice (once at 30 and again at 1.5) using a soft overlay blend. I also sharpened using the unsharp mask, keeping the radius high and the percent low. You play around until you get something you like, but I used 30% and a radius of 70 for these photos.  One of the photos is so abstract you wouldn’t know it was a panel on the truck (right)

While I can’t afford to float 220 miles above the earth for a few landscape photos, I can certainly cosy up to something nearby and get equally interesting photographs. Well, at least for me.

Home for Life 2012

I recently photographed “Home for Life,” a fundraiser for Eva’s Initiatives here in Toronto. Eva’s works with homeless and at-risk youth to help them reach their potential and this event is an important fundraiser held at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto.

The Holcim Gallery, where the dinner and auction was held, is open on the side allowing a lot of sunlight in. The challenge, of course, is the mix of light; the combination of sunlight and a mix of interior lights. It was a clear day and with the open side to the west, we were bathed in hot, contrasting lighting, forcing me to deal with some wide dynamic ranges. I don’t use flash at these events, as they are disruptive to the paying guests; however I do use them for awards or speakers, as there is an acceptance that this is expected.

I like to get to these events early as it gives me a chance to photograph the set up. Since primarily volunteers do this work, it is nice that they have some photographs of the work they do behind the scenes. It also allows me to get familiar with the location and where everything is, particularly the bars as that’s where most of the people hang out.

Design Winner Chris Clarry

There is a silent auction for donated furniture and household items (hence the Home for Life name and the connection with homelessness). Student interior designers utilize what is donated to create several rooms and a panel will select the winning “room.” This year it was Chris Clarry (

Evergreen Brick Works was as late as the 1980’s a functioning brick manufacturer and is now a recreation area. Much of the old structures are in place and, being curious, I couldn’t help but wander and capture a few photographs of the graffiti and structures for myself.

On the technical side, I used my 24-120mm f4 for most of the shots but had my 10-24mm and a 105mm f2.8 for some of the shots. The 105mm has a macro capability to let me get close to some of the donated products. My ISO ranged from 800 to 1600 but the lighting was good, if often difficult in range and quality. Oh, and I rode my bike there.

Do you respond green the way I respond to red?

I’ve discovered a new word. Or at least rediscovered it. Sentient was the word of the day at my Expressive Writing class. It is having consciousness and a subjective response with feeling. I remembered it from my science fiction reading days where it was used to describe alien beings. I’ve since graduated to fantasy where just about anything is sentient. Got to love magic.

It is the subjective response part that interests me. The instructor asked, “Do you respond to green the way I respond to red?” Which is an interesting thought to ponder. When I look at a photograph, what emotional response does it cause? And why would I assume that the person next to me is having the same response as I am? Does black and white limit the range of emotions or channel them?

So, as I prepare for my trip to Italy, I’m thinking about trying to be more in touch with what I’m feeling as I take a picture. What is it about this spot, this view, this lens, this f-stop and aperture that makes me want press the shutter. I may not remember every emotion, but at least I will know that I had one at the time.

And I think this is very sentient of me.

I see better in the fog

Foggy Day at Indian Point, Nova Scotia

When you travel, you just have to take what you get. I mean about the weather. Instead of a beautiful sunrise, I was faced with thick fog. I mean really, thick fog on the east coast? Should have seen that one coming.

I like the fog. It creates an atmosphere, hinting at things in the distance through a veil. Everything is a little (or a lot) muted. Distracting backgrounds disappear or fade in a way that enhances the focal point. I feel I can almost see better; at least see differently, photographically speaking. A little post processing to bring up the contrast of the main feature and you can have some interesting pictures.

In hindsight I am grateful for the fog. It created something different, and different is good. The fog lasted well into the day, so I was able to wander around and see the area in a different light (or lack of) than I had in the previous clear, but overcast days.

I even revisited a number of sites to see what they looked like with a little mist floating around. Despite the fog, it was one of my more productive photo-taking days. It reminded me that a site, or view, can look very different at other times of the day or year or in different weather. I sometimes forget that, always looking far afield for a new view rather than to revisit one nearby.

Different perspectives

The Red Shoed Drummer

I mentioned in an early post that I have an eye for detail, or at least my eye is attracted to details. What I like about photographing bands in local clubs is that I can circle around what passes for a stage and get different perspectives than shots solely from the front. In this photo I was able to get to the side and low and notice that the drummer had this cool red canvass shoes on.

Yellow Guitar

The yellow guitar on the left is another example from the same set. I managed to get behind and caught an interesting (for me) perspective of one of the musicians.

In a set of photos, I think sometimes that it is those photos of the details that add something special.