Mayan Rivera Trip

This was the first time both my girlfriend and I had booked a holiday at a tropical resort. We picked Mexico for a good reason, that it had more opportunities to leave the resort for a day and soak in some local culture. In fact, the two days we spent off the resort were the most memorable, especially the brief time spent with a traditional Mayan village, complete with spiritualist and homemade Agua de Jamaica.

Kensington Market Winter Solstice Parade

A photo meetup group led me to an annual parade unlike any other I’ve ever seen in Toronto. The Winter Solstice parade takes place on December 21, they shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. To celebrate the coming of longer days, the parade culminated in a large fire and fire performers.

The night time photoshoot came with its own set of challenges. I couldn’t use a tripod and long exposures, because the subjects were constantly moving. The only option here was to use a large aperture and high ISO to gather as much light as possible and avoid the blur of longer exposures. Using spot metering or centre-weighted metering helps too, the ensure the exposure is set for your subject.

I took over 400 pictures, the vast majority of which were rejected for blurriness or bad focus. Here are some of the best photos I took that evening.

Distillery District Christmas Market

I returned to the Distillery District for their annual Christmas Market. Taking photos at night time can be tricky. First, a tripod is absolutely essential, as you can count on your shots having longer exposure times and shooting by hand would only result in blurry photos. In the digital realm, using a tripod also allows you to reduce your ISO and produce cleaner images with less grain.

The second thing to consider is that scenes at night in urban environments are extremely contrasting. Electric lights fight against the darkest shadows. Our eyes can easily adapt to the high contrast, but our cameras have less ability here. For some shots, I decided to expose for the light. This leaves the darkest area completely in black. The photo of the clocks are a perfect example, where the walls they are on completely disappear, and the detail in the clockface are clear, giving them the impression of floating in the air.

Distillery District HDR Photo Meetup

For another photographer’s meetup, we went to the Distillery District in Toronto. The area is a rejuvenated Victorian-era industrial park, which now houses shopping, art galleries, a brewery, and restaurants. The Victorian feel with cobblestone streets and old buildings mixes with contemporary art and architecture. It’s also a nice spot for their annual Toronto Christmas Market.

From a photogenic perspective, the interesting stuff here are the old trucks, the wine barrels, and the multitude of textures on display. The trick was trying to compose at least one shot where indications of modernity were left out. I think I succeeded with one photo, not including the close-up shots.

For many of the shots in this collection, I used HDR or high dynamic range photography, where multiple exposures are combined together. Sometimes this technique can be pushed to create gritty and high contrast photos.

Dufferin Islands, Niagara Falls

Folks in Toronto make Niagara Falls a usual destination, sometimes going there for the heck of it. Visit the falls, of course, maybe the casino, and take in the ridiculous sights of Clifton Hill.

Just west of the Falls, a lovely little spot known as Dufferin Islands, a quiet, secluded, man-made area of little ponds, trees, and waterfowl, is a world away from the hustle bustle of Niagara Falls.

I spent some time there after a conference I was attending in Niagara Falls, and took some photos.

Autumn Photo Meetup

I went on an early morning photographer’s meetup at a park in Toronto to capture some of the autumn highlights. First thing in the morning, the light is warmed and the shadows more forgiving. The day’s first light basks your subjects, be they people, buildings, or nature, in a special glow that far too quickly gives way to the harsh, cold light of midday.

Toronto Buskerfest 2011

I just got my hands on a new zoom lens, the Nikon 70-300 F4.5-5.6, used on my DX body. The DX body only uses the centre portion of the lens, which essentially means you get an extra zoom factor of 1.5.

This was perfect for the Buskerfest in Toronto, as chances were I would be far from some of the performers.  The wide variety of street performers on display was incredible to see. I also snuck some photos of the spectators.

Algonquin Provincial Park Camping

2011 was the first time I had been back to Algonquin Provincial Park in a number of years. I was in a new relationship at this point, and it was our first camping trip together. One of the more memorable moments was on a bike ride starting from Lake of Two Rivers. We stopped at a river crossing and encountered a young family where dad, son, and daughter were taking advantage of the hot summer day by jumping off the bridge into the river below. I took many pictures of them jumping and offered to the mom to email her the photos. I did so once back home.


Cherry Blossoms 2011

This was the first time I had heard of and gone to see the Cherry Blossoms in Toronto’s High Park. The trees were a gift from Japan in 1959,  and every spring, they bloom forth in stunning pink and white, only to disappear as fast as they emerge. High Park posts daily progress of the blooming when the time comes.

For this photography meetup, we decided to meet before sunrise to capture the blossoms in the first available light. The extraordinary thing was just after sunrise, when professional photographers seemingly appeared from nowhere, lights and cameras in hand and set to action with models in gowns. Of course, we all flocked to take advantage of their pro setups.

By mid-morning, the park was bustling with people, and the fancily dressed ones still showed up.

Graffiti Alley HDR photo meetup is a great place to meet others with similar interests and share knowledge, network, and improve your own skills. I joined meetups for songwriting, photography, and social get togethers. For this specific meetup, the organizer started with a quick tutorial on how to capture HDR, or high dynamic range, photos. This was the first time I had heard of it, and have been using it regularly since.

Normally in photography, and more so in the digital era, photos have an exposure that tried to balance the lightest lights and the darkest darks. In high contrast scenes, you tend to lose details in the shadows or in the highlights.

To shoot an HDR photo, you need to bracket your photos. That is, take one underexposed, one overexposed, and one in the middle. You can also do it with two exposures. Then, using special software like Photomatix, you can blend the multiple images to taste, and capture details in both shadows and highlights. It’s critical to use a tripod so your shots end up lining up perfectly. When I don’t have my tripod on me, I tend to hold my breath and shoot in high-speed mode, which gets the shots pretty darn close. Plus, Photomatix has a pretty good algorithm for lining up multiple shots.

The meetup organizer chose Graffiti Alley in Toronto to hold this shoot. Tucked in behind Queen Street West, it’s a popular spot for photographers to shoot cool urban models. Here, we focused on the graffiti itself.