Nashville-style singer-songwriters in the round

Once again, I attended a night of talented singer-songwriters in a Nashville-style round, where four performers do four songs each in turn. What makes this kind of setup amazing is when the performers backup each other with guitar or harmony vocals.

The performers for the February 9 show at the 120 Diner in Toronto were:

  • Chase Stevens
  • John Chris Ford
  • Bruce Harrott
  • Annie Bonsignore

As before, I took some photos of the performers and shared the hi-res copies with them.

Holiday Shopping Spree

Through co-hosting the Songwriter’s Meetup and Song Talk Radio, I get to meet many singer-songwriters in and around Toronto. Some of them have written original Christmas songs, including Carmen Toth’s This Christmas I’m Giving You Love and Melanie Peterson’s Santa’s Sleigh. Themes of peace and love tend to come up, as is typical of many holiday songs.

Of course, I try to be different. So, I wrote a song embracing consumerism and throwing playful jabs at the status quo of creative types. This is not to say I find typical holiday themes trite or tedious, but I do commend singer-songwriters who put their own special twist on these themes. In fact, it’s a tricky business writing a good original holiday song instead of playing cover versions of well established songs. Carmen and Melanie have done a great job with songs and performances that are sweet, thoughtful, and festive. It’s clear to me that I was inspired by these singer-songwriters to write this song.

Writing and recording the song

I wrote the lyrics over my lunch break one day, and the piano part after work. I did a quick demo recording and presented the song at the December Songwriter’s Meetup. A main critique of my song was that the holiday aspect wasn’t clear until the end of the chorus. I took the suggestions and revised the first verse lyrics, and wrote a new holiday-esque musical introduction with glockenspiel section. I also took a more deliberate approach to my melody, thanks to some suggestions from my singer-songwriter friend Melanie Peterson.

I recorded a final version, and then set to work creating a video. I spent about two hours at the Toronto Eaton Centre, listening to my recording on repeat and shooting footage of shoppers, interesting sale signage, and the latest big-screen TV’s at Best Buy.

During a Beige Shelter rehearsal, I asked our bassist Tom Kuczynski to record me playing the keyboard and singing the song. Tom’s also a talented photographer and videographer. I then edited together a quick video.

All in all, this was a quick and fun writing and recording process, with a push to get it done before Christmas. It’s amazing what you can pull off when you have a hard deadline to meet.

Lyrics

Your new greeting card
Peace and love for the holidays
I say good fortune for all
And dollars to spend on sales

You wrote that song
The evils of materialism
Give away half your guitars
To the needy and poor musicians

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Always preaching moderation
Credit cards gotta stay at home
Support your local economy
Don’t be a consumer drone

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Get what you want
Not what you need
You’d better like
What you got!

I only wanna spend
Christmas with you
Binge watching on Netflix
On my brand new
75-inch, L.E.D., 4K HD, and 3D
Smart TV with 1000 watt, 5.1 surround sound

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Live music photography

I recently purchased a new medium telephoto lens for my camera and put it to the test with photographing a couple of live music events. I enjoyed a “songwriters in the round” event at 120 Diner in Toronto. I already knew three of the performers, and got to meet and hear several new ones.

Beige Shelter was playing a show at Skeaky Dee’s, and I took photos of bands The Thick, The Cashews, and singer-songwriter David Dino White. For this show, the stage was bathed in a very bad blue light, so I converted the photos to black and white in post-production.

For another Beige Shelter show, I took photos of supporting acts Brian Sasaki and Wilson & The Castaways. The show was a great success at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club in Toronto.

The new lens is great for capturing sharp photos in low light. I find the keys to great photos on stage are using spot metering and adjusting the focus point as you shoot. I like to capture high emotional moments in the performances and where possible, get them with their eyes open. Framing with odd angles also adds a cool dynamic.

Toronto Colour Run 2015

I knew some people participating in the annual colour run, which looked like so much fun I decided to join them for 2016, despite having no interest in running. I only packed my zoom lens, to get close as possible to the runners, and stay as far away as possible from the explosions of coloured powder. (Turns out, I did get a little on my camera and lens, but it came off easily with no damage).

Cherry Blossoms 2015

For my third time experiencing the short-lived beauty of the Cherry Blossoms, I had camera in toe once again. The first time was a dawn-time photoshoot, and the second time I decided to focus on the people. This time, I used a neutral density filter to increase shutter times dramatically. This gave some of the photos a strange look, with people blurred as they moved, and the slight movement of the trees emitting a ghostly glow.

Zombiewalk 2014

The annual Zombiewalk in Toronto is an amazing event for photographers. In no other public situation are so many people willing and eager to have their photos taken. I’m always impressed with the creativity these zombies put into their costumes, everything from subversively comical to classy.

For this photoshoot, I purposely underexposed each photo, then treated each photo with HDR (high dynamic range) processing for a dark and gritty effect.

My favourite zombies include the Mickey Mouse zombie, the Charlie Chaplin zombie, and the 8-bit zombies.

Cheltenham Badlands

It looks like you’re in Alberta, but the Cheltenham Badlands are actually very close to Toronto. Not much bigger than a city block, it’s a little gem of undulating red shale hills. The distinctive colour is produced by iron oxide. Due to a lot of people climbing over the rocks, the site was closed to human traffic in 2015.

All of these images used HDR, or high dynamic range photography.

Toronto Zombiewalk 2012

I’d never heard of the annual Zombiewalk, but what a feast for a photographer! While the zombies are busy shambling around and eating brains, they’re also very eager to have their photos taken. This is rightly so, since the creativity they put into their makeup and costumes is remarkable.

I took a tip from the photographer’s meetup I was part of and underexposed each photo to give them a creepier look. I also put them through HDR (high dynamic range) photo processing, even though that’s intended for combining bracketed exposures, to give the final photos a grittier effect.

My favourites include the girl with the different coloured eyes, the surgeon zombie, and the pregnant nun with the zombie baby (sick, I know, but that’s kinda the point, so, well done).

I also made a little video:

Cherry Blossoms: People in Bloom

For my second time taking photos at High Park during the spring cherry blossoms, I decided to focus on people taking in the natural beauty. Given the millions of people in Toronto, and the hordes of them who come to the park to see the blossoms, two of the strangers I candidly shot turned out be close friends of a co-worker. Small world indeed.

For the final photo, I tried a little experiment with zooming out during the short duration of the photo.

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.