Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Monday, December 18, 2017

Fall colours in the Toronto ravine - plus a bit of editing

As promised, I've been working my way through the legions of photos I've taken over the years, looking for ones to play with. Most really aren't worth keeping and I've been purging scads of mediocre and downright bad photos. I'm paring down to any that have potential and dumping the rest. That's when I rediscovered about 20 I'd taken a few years ago and filed away for "future use". These are shots from a walk in the ravine that runs along behind the David Balfour Park.  It was one of those postcard perfect fall days that produced some spectacular opportunities. Funny I forgot about them for so long because I've been looking for certain types of photos to use with the artistic filters in Photoshop. The filters are great, but you have to have the right shot or the effect looks contrived.  

Here's the first one: Photo of ravine in Toronto

I used just a little dry brush to bump up the light effect on the trees. I didn't want too much of the effect applied because I still wanted the photo to look like a photo, not a painting, but give a hint of something more going on. The effect brought the leaves in the foreground out, giving them greater definition. That bright green spot up in the left was a leaf that flittered about and caught the light just as I snapped the shot. Because of the yellows and the way the light hit the leaf, the green looks over saturated. I played around with removing it but decided to against it. 

For the second one, I used smudge stick to bring out the intense light on the tree trunks. I tried the dry brush first, but the smudge filter did a better job in this case.  Second photo of yellow leaves in the ravine in TorontoBoth effects are interesting and bring a different intensity to the photos. It was fun to play with for a change. I usually move straight on to HDR because there's something about the high dynamic range that tweaks all the sweet spots in my brain. I gravitate to it like a moth to light.  But for something like the ravine, no. I fussed about with some HDR settings I like using but it destroyed the mood by creating a stark, cold mood. I even plunked a warming filter on them and then thought, nah, don't bother. The warmth of the sun and long shadows were stripped out so I went back to the original photos and did a bit of contrasting then applied the filters instead. Far better effect.  

I have a few more I'm looking at, if you want to see them posted, drop me a line on FB, Twitter or down below in the comments field.  As always drop by Instagram to see photos that don't always make the site. It's turning into a weird glimpse into how my brain hopscotches around subjects. 

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WEEEE - a selfie of sorts & a bit of HDR

Every once in awhile I take a selfie. Kind of .... it's usually an accident. I was down by Berczy Park (Wellington St) again and stopped to take a photo of an old cash register in a window. I liked the rich browns and thought I could do something with it later. I initially tried to grab a shot without my looming reflection and realised catching my reflection made for a much more interesting photo. It was fun playing with the reflections to create a mood rather than a basic "look at me" kind of selfie.

Photo of reflection in a windowI did a little HDR wizardry (among a few other effects) in Photoshop to bump up the colours and create a hyper sharp image. I was surprised to see the glassware pop out the way it did. It created a cool effect.  I've finally learned a little adjustment goes a long way so the photos are looking a little less like amateur hour with Photoshop than when I started out.  It also helps that I've gotten better with the settings on the camera so the original images are cleaner to work with. 

If you're interested in seeing more photos stop by my Instagram/Twitter/FB account. I post slightly different extras on each but I toss a lot of photos on Instagram that don't make the website cut so it's a fun way of seeing what I'm working on throughout the week.  

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When the sky looks like liquid fire - dusk skyline

Fussing around with my camera during the heatwave earlier this week and captured some spectacular sunsets. There was something about the insane heat here in Toronto that sparked a few jaw dropping visuals.  Instead of using 100 ISO as I usually do, I bumped it up to 400 and 800 respectively. I figured I could deal with a bit of noise if the overall photo was sharper.  Here's the skyline Monday night:

Photo of the intense sunset over Toronto Sept 25 2017That's an unretouched photo.  All the photos today are as they came out of the camera, except for a bit of cropping on a couple. The above was 800 ISO with my Canon Powershot SX 130. Despite being a bit old and pointy shooty, when set up correctly, does a pretty good job balancing the colours. I switched to evaluative measuring and I'm not sure, but I think the overall colours looked better across the sky.  I think this was one of the last photos I took as the sun moved below the buildings. It shows the variable colour palette in the sky really well.  

Read more: When the sky looks like liquid fire - dusk skyline

Mapping Toronto – let’s start with Yonge & St. Clair

My long term photo project is now underway. The bulk of it won’t officially start until I have my DSLR camera, which will likely be sometime in Nov.  I’m waiting for the Black Friday sales before spending my hard earned dollars.  Anyway, I’ve decided to photograph every neighbourhood in Toronto – a project what will take a  long time, but will be fun (see the link below for more info).  I’ll be traveling on public transit to  each neighbour in the city and will try to take photo record of each area, looking for something that makes the neighbourhood unique.  I’m still sorting out how I’ll present everything, but I’m going to kickstart the project today with some photos I took during the summer.

I’m going to start here, with a sideways map:

Map showing Yonge & St Clair neigbhourhood

 Always start at home, right? My neighbourhood, a sliver of the city, is an interesting mix of slightly dowdy to old and established. The dowdy parts are now being revitalised and it’s been fun documenting the changes. I have a backlog of photos I’ll use to start the project. When I get the new camera, I’ll retake some because I’ll be able to get a more satisfying sharp focus. I enjoy my little Canon Powershot, but it just can’t get that pristine clarity I really like, it leans more towards soft edges.  I'm getting fussy with what I want to post. But, I’ve managed to snag some very nice snapshots of a neighbourhood going through change. 

The biggest change has been the corner of Jackes and Yonge, just south of St. Clair.  The squat, unremarkable CHUM radio building was located on the north east corner for decades before CHUM abandoned it for newer quarters. It sat for awhile, with a few businesses in residence coming and going until the owners kicked it down the fall of 2016. I'm surprised it disappeared with no fanfare. Granted I thought it was an ugly structure and I don't miss it, but it would have been nice if the city commemorated it's contribution to Toronto's cultural history. If you didn't grow up in Ontario in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it's hard to understand what a huge impact it had on most of us. Everyone listened to CHUM. 

Here's a mediocre shot taken with my little cell phone camera. You can see the diggers are already ripping the back of the building down. 

Photo of the CHUM building being torn downIt really was an ugly as shit 2 story building, filled with a ton of Toronto history. I didn't think of taking photos when the teardown started. It wasn't until the diggers moved in and started dismantling the building that I began to wander out and take photos. Check out 1050 CHUM MEMORIAL BLOG by C F Turner for an interesting look at CHUM in it's heyday. 

Right now the spot is a big hole in the ground. The construction firm is laying the foundation for the new condo complex that’s going up. When the big crane was being erected I took the chance to grab photos of the action. Here’s my favourite:

Photo of men preparing to install cab on construction cab

A great shot of the men preparing the cab for the crane.

Read more: Mapping Toronto – let’s start with Yonge & St. Clair

Taking time to frame shots - upping my photography skills

I'm trying to cure my bad case of "point 'n shootist". It's a pretty sever infection. I have a habit of taking dozens of shots, hoping to get a good one.  On Thurs, I went out with the specific aim of waiting for the right shot. That meant thinking about what I was looking at through the camera, framing, and patiently evaluating the shot. I popped over to Adelaide, just west of Yonge to a spot I love. Over the years, I've taken dozens of photos of a specific section of Adelaide - around Terroni's restaurant. There's an old iron railing that I love, and the building itself is a great old structure. I've never been overly pleased with any photo, they all look random or the balance is all off.

My mission was to capture a mood, not just the building. Late afternoon seemed the best time, lots of great long shadows to work with. I parked just down from the restaurant on the south side and carefully decided I wanted the bikes in the photo along with some of the building, but the real gem would be the shadows along the sidewalk and railings. I waited and waited for people to clear away, then more came. And then everyone was gone. I lifted my camera and one woman in black came strolling into shot. That's it, that's what was missing. The image was about as perfect as I could hope for and took the picture. 

Wow, I was pleased when I opened it up. The colours weren't bad and it needed some careful cropping to cut out the bits that distracted the eye from the important features. Somehow, I went from focusing soley on the railings to the woman in black and it made the railings seem to pop. Not sure if that makes sense, but that one figure seemed to have pulled the entire image together.

I fired up Photoshop and adjusted a number of elements to really emphasis the shadows and deepen the colours. I tend to over saturate, but this time I think I got it just right by accentuating the shadows. By adding a moving figure to the photo, there's a flow that drives your eyes to the railings. You have to admit, they are the most spectacular set of stair rails around. 

Photo of Adelaide st near Yonge showing shadows and a woman strolling along

Happy with this, but I can already see where it can be improved. Not sure why, but the buildings along the end of the street look like they are tipping forward. I'll need to investigate that, but not sure it should be corrected. Adds something. With the new camera I'll experiment with lenses to see which one suits this type of photography. I've already spotted a number of used lenses, including a great 44mm. As well, I tried to stop the light section from being fully blown out, but my camera just can't compensate. A bit of blue sky would have completed the picture. I'll do more reading on how to compensate for that. In the meantime, patience is in order. The Canon Powershot is good to play with, but it is hell on batteries. 

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"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."

- Dorothea Lange

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