International Bee Day is coming

International Bee Day is coming

Bees are fun to watch and don’t get me get started on the whole “beneficial bug” thing. You might be here for hours.  I grew up surrounded by people who would kill any bee that dared buzz near them or drench their gardens in shocking amounts of pesticides.  Hopefully this “kill it, kill it” thinking isn’t so common. Our future survival is intertwined with buzzy little bees.  In 2017, the UN declared May 20th World Bee Day to help foster recognition of the vital role bees play in the chain of life. 

World Bee Day isn’t to be confused with World Honey Bee Day held Aug 17th. Not all bees are honey bees by the way. If you aren’t up on the diversity within the bee family, check Wikipedia’s pretty decent page. This May, set aside the 20th to learn a bit more about bees, their diversity in design and the beauty of watching them hover around the plants in your garden.

“Bees play a crucial role in increasing crop yields and promoting food security and nutrition. Without them, we could lose a variety of food such as potatoes, pepper, coffee, pumpkins, carrots, apples, almonds, tomatoes, just to name a few. In short, without bees, FAO cannot achieve a world without hunger. World Bee Day recognizes the importance of these tiny helpers and will increase awareness of the need to protect them.”
Carla Mucavi, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations worldbeeday.org 

And now a few random bee photos

Photo of a bee on a purple flower

I spend a lot of time trying to photograph bees, with a very low success rate.  I figured that if I focused on a single blossom and waited (and waited) eventually I’d be able to grab a decent photo or two. I have a scattering of presentable photos as a result. Despite hours of getting up close photos of bee bums, I’ve never been stung. Bees simply ignore me and get on with their job. It’s surprising how close you can get to them. 

Photo of a bee on a purple flower

I think the last two are honey bees but I could be wrong. My bee identification skills rank right up there with my mushroom identification skills. There is a staggering variety within the bee-verse in North America alone – honey bees, bumble bees, orchard bees, mining bees, mason bees, blueberry bees, squash bees, sweat bees, hoverflies. Some bees sting, some don’t. Some collect nectar, some are predatory. Some are parasitic, some are beneficial. Some look vaguely like honeybees, some look exotic … oh my, the specialization. According to the Brampton Bee Keepers Association, there are over 800 varieties of bees in Canada, and between 20,000 to 25,000 worldwide. And they are under threat around the globe. 

 

Collect stamps? Check out my post on Canada’s Bee Stamps 
Scan of 2 Canadian postage stamps with stylized bees

 

My favourite is the humble bumble bee, but they aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. I didn’t spot more than a dozen all summer. The reason is pretty depressing – bumble bees are listed as a species at risk in Canada.

Photo of a bee on purple flowers taken Sept 2014 David Balfour Park

Photo of a bee on purple flowers taken Sept 2014 David Balfour Park – previously posted June 14, 2016

Photo of a bee on a thistle

Bees and thistles in the ravine – Toronto – previously posted Aug 6, 2017

Those are my best photos, and I’m aiming to do a lot this summer. I have a ravine filled with wild flowers close by offering plenty of opportunity.

Want more info on bees?

If you want to learn more about bees in Canada, check out this list from the Brampton Bee Keepers

To hone your identification skills, try How to Identify Bees   

Bees on the Species at Risk list, refer to Wildlife Species Canada

David Suzuki – Love bees, especially the wild ones can be found here https://davidsuzuki.org/story/love-bees-especially-the-wild-ones/

Some cool info on European honey beeshttp://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/BEES/euro_honey_bee.htm

Bees in Australia http://beekeepers.amazingbees.com.au/european-honeybees.html

Bees in the UK https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bee-count/great-british-bee-count-bee-identification-guide

Bee keeping in India https://www.farmingindia.in/beekeeping-in-india-honey-bee-farm/

European Red List of Bees is a lengthy article on European bees, their importance  and severe problems facing their survival –  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/redlist/downloads/European_bees.pdf

 If you have a good bee resource, post it in the comments below.

More work on highlights & colour in photography

More work on highlights & colour in photography

I’m a  bit embarrassed. Since the eye opening lesson on manual control last week (see Photography experiments with highlights & shadows) I’ve been working with all sorts of settings on my camera. I’ve been wowed by the sharpness and brilliant colours that have been falling out of the camera.

The embarrassment stems from falling into the old trap of “maybe I need a better camera/lens” belief. It wasn’t the camera – it was the camera user that was at fault. Granted I’m using the kit lens that came with my Rebel, but it does the job. I simply needed to learn how to optimize the settings to get the results I wanted. I’m still itching to get my hands on a prime lens or two, but the lesson I’ve taken away from this is, I need to keep working on the basics and worry about a prime lens later. The best lens in the world can’t compensate for poor skills.

I took my new found cockeyed optimism about photography and wandered down to Graffiti Alley for another kick at the can. Graffiti Alley is exactly what it sounds like – a long lane, backing onto businesses –  slightly odorous, shadowy and the location of magnificent wall art. It’s a bit grubby in parts and the aroma of garbage can be a bit over powering in spots, but worth the trip. The explosion of colour and intense shadows/highlights that play long the alley make it a fun challenge for amateurs.

Previous attempts produced some pretty shoddy photos – blown out highlights, grossly bad exposure, off colours and shadows that were overwhelming. I relied too heavily on letting the camera dictate settings. I know what I want my photos to look like, the camera doesn’t. By grabbing onto full manual, I can change settings needed. I experimented a lot and took multiple shots from the same position, using different shutter speeds/ISO/aperture settings. I also worked on where I was focusing. Like the trip last week, it was illuminating.  

Photo of long street view of Graffiti Alley with young man sitting in one of the windows

Not sure who the man in the window is, he hopped up there for his friend just as I was setting up the shot. Decided to take the shot anyway and I think he really shows the length of this stretch nicely.  He added a nice dimension to the photo. 

Large mural of a tiger like mask 

Some of the murals just leap out at you, like this tiger mask. (Check out Censdbs’ Instagram page to see more of his art.)

Photo - wall mural of a samuri warrior coming out of the wall

The colours is sharper than most of the work I’ve done to date. Instead of the usual frustration at the lack of detail crispness, most of the photos came out like the warrior above. I think some of the sharpness came from a better understanding of depth of field as well. 

Photo - wall art showing a Zeus like figure

What alley is complete without Urizen rising from the dark. I airbrushed a bit of garbage away but left the flaws on the wall. 

And finally the door to nowhere. The contrast and exposure on this one isn’t quite right. I played with it quite a bit in post production, but the shadows aren’t balanced so the colours aren’t as vivid as they should be.  Maybe I should focus more on getting the highlights right and let the shadows take care of themselves for a bit.  I’m still forcing myself to lighten up photos because I tend towards underexposing too much. 

Photo of a art covered door opening onto another door

As I improve, I’ll make a couple more trips down to Graffiti Alley to test things. It may sound tedious taking the same photo over and over, but it’s an interesting lesson. I like to spread them out and compare the various settings, see what worked, what flopped. I have a little note book I’ve started that I’m using as a cheat sheet of settings to help out until understanding how the three settings interact with each other. In the meantime, much fun! 

Photography experiments with highlights & shadows

Photography experiments with highlights & shadows

I’ve been struggling lately. . I hit a plateau where my lack of knowledge became frustrating.  I kept fighting my camera trying to figure out ISO | shutter speed | aperture settings. The mighty trio baffled me.  I’ve been flipping between AV and TV modes, trying to get a nice balance but *shrug* everything was a big meh. Then I watched one of my favourite photographer’s latest YouTube video and the penny dropped.  

I like watching Sean Tucker’s photography videos. He uses lush shadows and strong highlights in a way that makes photos pop off the screen. But his Sunday video helped lift some of the confusion I’ve been wrestling with. “How to Nail Exposure using Manual Mode” encourages users to stop being afraid of manual mode and take the plunge.  I dabbled with manual in the past, but at the time I didn’t appreciate how the three settings interacted and switched back to AV. Sean’s description was illuminating. I watched the video 3 times and made a few notes, grabbed my camera  and walked down Yonge St over to King/University, to experiment.  I tend to underexpose, to a fault, and lose out on taking advantage of bright highlights to help set a mood. To break myself of that habit, I focused on capturing strong shadows as well as bold highlights. 

Did I capture great art? No, many photos were still unusable. Did I have fun? OH YEA! There was something so basic and clear about Tucker’s description, that the fear of full on manual vanished. It. Was. Fun.  I was surprised at how quick it was to make adjustments on the fly. The secret though was pretty basic – SLOW DOWN. Think about the shot and use the histogram to guide me.  I’ve been working with histograms extensively over the past month, using it to make micro adjustments, rather than relying on plugins to make broad, overwhelming changes. 

 I picked 4 photos from the day’s shoot. Two black and white, two colour. 

Photo of an old building with strong highlights and shadows

Paul Hahn & Co Piano on Yonge St

This one worked better than I expected. I took about 5 shots from the same spot. I think the colours are still a bit too harsh, but the project was to work with shadows and highlights. I tend to blow the highlights out so badly, the photos aren’t worth keeping.  One thing I noticed while processing the photos, I finally managed to get the shots fairly straight. I can’t tell you how many times I have to use the straighten tool because I find myself tilting my head when looking at the day’s work. It came down to slow down and think about the shot. 

Photo of Elephant & Castle showing strong reflections

Reflections on the Elephant & Castle on King

I can’t decide if I like this one or not. I waffle between loving the highlights and reflected light to hating it because the shadows don’t feel right.  On a positive note, using the histogram and manual helped me capture the blue sky correctly. Very few shots had that irritating fringing around the edges of buildings. I kept checking, adjusting and playing with angles over and over. 

Black & white photo of street musicians on Yonge & Bloor

Music on Yonge and Bloor

I loved the angles and shadows on this one but it wasn’t as sharp as I’d hoped for.  I rushed a bit too much because I was worried about losing the shot.  It’s also smaller than the others because in mid edit I decided I needed to work more on the highlights. I dumped a quick jpg onto the harddrive so I’d have something to post but didn’t check dimensions. So, this looks like the runt of the family, sorry about that.  

Black and white photo of corner King and University showing strong shadows

Long shadows on King & University

The highlights came out so well on the last photo. I even managed to capture the steam whisping up. The linear feel to the shadows came out nice and strong. I moved up and down a bit on the SE corner, trying to figure out a good angle. I wanted the eyes to travel along the cross walk and needed to get the cables above just right to grab the perspective correctly. Not bad. I can see where I went wrong with the shadows though but I’m not sure how to correct them. Make them darker?  Increase the shadow exposure? Don’t know. I’ve been playing around with it in Photoshop, trying to figure out a better balance. I am impressed with the Elephant & Castle on the far left. The light display came out nice and strong but didn’t overwhelm the sidewalk focal point. 

That was Sunday’s expedition. Tons of fun and I learned a lot. The big lesson? Don’t be afraid of manual. If I keep this up, I just may be able to graduate to a prime lens and ditch this kit lens. 

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Check out Sean Tucker’s YouTube channel for more videos on photography – Sean Tucker on YouTube His series on good light techniques and using reflections to capture vibrant street scenes are especially helpful. His calm, introspective approach has been eye opening to this happy amateur photographer. 

His website is an inspiration for photographers at all levels.  I especially love his street scenes.  – Sean Tucker Photography 

 

Well, here’s today’s 5.9 km rambling walk

Well, here’s today’s 5.9 km rambling walk

Did the final walk on the 1st Mapping Toronto route. It covers the Yonge – St Clair neighbourhood, #97 according to the city of Toronto definition. It’s a long narrow slice of Toronto that slides through both Summerhill and Deer Park, nipping just under Davisville. Might need to buy new inserts for my shoes if I keep this up.

Map showing the borders of the Yonge St Clair neighbourhood Took 2.35 hrs to cover the route, with a couple of stops along the way to take extra photos for the project, pit stops for water and a nice conversation with someone along the way **waves to Kainani **.  It made for an interesting walk.

I’m still sorting through which photos I want to showcase so it’ll take me a bit of time to decide and prepare them.  In the meantime, here are a few photos of today’s walk:

Peter Pan statue north west corner park Avenue Rd and St. Clair

Part of the Peter Pan statue in the park showing rabbits

Not quite sure what to make of this statue. It’s beautifully done and the animals are exquisite, but there’s something mildly unsettling about the fawning fairies at Peter Pan’s feet. Unfortunately, the statue is heavily shaded so the rich colours aren’t easily seen. I’ll be posting more photos later, but I need to do some thinking on it first.

Amsterdam Park north east corner park Avenue Rd and St Clair

Amsterdam Park fountain spoutThis is from the fountain in the Amsterdam Park.  Funky little guy, isn’t he? The closeup came out better than I’d hoped. Lots more on this park later, but if you’re looking for a quiet spot to escape and read a book, this is the place.

Train spotting at Davisville

Southbound subway above ground at the TTC Davisville station

One of my favourite spots to linger and watch subway trains. In case you aren’t familiar with the Toronto Transit Commission, parts of the subway pop up above ground, offering a chance to watch the trains. This section is visible from the Kay Gardner Beltway overpass. I can stand here for hours just watching the trains.

Yorkminster Park Baptist Church doors

Main doors of a church on Yonge near St Clair

I’ve trotted past these doors many times, but this is the first time I’ve stopped to take photos of the church. Lovely  building, and the doors are outstanding.

I’ll be posting more photos over the weekend so pop back and check them out. I have a lot of editing to do before I can post the first Mapping Toronto chapter. As usual, it’ll be later than expected.

PT 2 – I sacrificed my espresso on the altar of Left Field’s oatmeal ale

PT 2 – I sacrificed my espresso on the altar of Left Field’s oatmeal ale

While sipping on an ale, I sat back and rethought the article I was originally working on. I decided to break it down into 2, with slightly different focuses.  The decision was heavily influenced by the utter deliciousness of a cold ale on a hot day, buzzing conversations around me and  music reminding me why I love living in a large city so much.  When I walk down a stretch of road exploding in a riot of colour and ideas, I feel like I’m walking through an urban art  gallery. As I wrote the previous article, in one short walk you can encounter whimsy, anger, cynicism, hope, and a whole lot of confusion. Today’s post is all about  murals rather than the graffiti.

I have no idea where to start with this. I call it Dog-A-Thingy. Let’s just say the Zombie Apocalypse got a whole lot more interesting.

Photo of wall art showing a dog reptile hybrid

The art on this next one shuns the usual sharp (and sometimes harsh) lines usually on display. This is a fuzzy, warm mural that stands out because of the striking stylistic difference.

Photo of wall art showing fuzzy animals like raccons and deer

And then we have Mr Angry meets plastic bag.

Photo of wall art of a red dragon

Originally I had airbrushed the plastic bag hanging off the horn, but I’ve decided leave it. When Toronto banned plastic bags (for a brief time) there was a surprising decrease in the number  that drifted in the wind. When Ford removed the prohibition, bags once again became the official leaf of Toronto – hanging in trees, blowing by in the wind, filling ditches and stuck on walls. As a species, we really are asses.

Near Dog-A-Thingy, is a wonderful wall filled with vibrant colours, ivy and faux windows. The entire section looks like this.

Photo of a multi coloured window covered with ivy

At the end of the lane, you pop out onto Harbord. Before you leave, look on the west wall for a moving tribute to Toronto both past and present. It’s a beautiful mural.

Photo of mural showing the Harbord St area with large sign for Honest Ed's

The next couple of photos were taken on Harbord, east of Bathurst. Keep your eyes open as you trot along, for little lanes and alleys that hold some inspiring art. This teapot is part of a larger mural that’s beginning to flake away.

Photo of wall art of a teapot floating in the ocean

It covers a large section of the wall and some of my shots weren’t good enough to post. The angles were all wrong, contrast off and well I wasn’t happy with them. At the time I was more interested in the teapot so I’ll have to return to grab the rest.

I’m ending with my favourite shot of the day.

Photo of wall mural showing a HUGE snail with a house on it's back

He’s massive! The phto is stitched together from 6 separate shots. I scoured the print trying to spot where the pieces joined, but Photoshop did an excellent job. The perspective correction is spot on too. Very happy with Mr Snail. Or is it Mrs Snail? Is there such a thing as snail sexing? To date, this is my all time favourite street mural.

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UPDATE:

Look for the 1st Mapping Toronto post late next week. As I was trotting down to the Boxcar, I realised I’d left out a few important things so a re-write is in order.

PT 1 – I sacrificed my espresso on the altar of Left Field’s oatmeal ale

PT 1 – I sacrificed my espresso on the altar of Left Field’s oatmeal ale

I wandered back down to Boxcar Social for an espresso fix and ended up sipping a Left Field Brewery Oatmeal Brown Ale.  No idea why, but it seems to fit the lazy, warm Sunday. So here I sit, with a stack of photos to rifle through, a cold ale and my pen & notebook.

While sifting through the mass of shots I took Friday, I acquired a greater appreciation of Toronto’s street artistry. Queen St’s Graffiti Alley gets a lot of attention (and rightfully so), but many are not aware that Toronto is hopping with smaller urban canvases. One of my favourite areas to crawl around is south of Bloor and Bathurst. Aley ways snake through the area, filled with jaw dropping artwork & occasional witty graffiti tirades.

Friday’s walk (Catpaw finds her (photographic) groove) took me through a couple favourite hotspots. On Lennox St, beside the Randolph Centre for Arts, is a long lane worth checking. Some of the art is nothing more than mediocre scrawls, a few are pure whimsy or riotous explosions of colour and a few display an applaudable cynicism.

I keep returning to the old Honest Ed’s site to see what progress is being made. For those not familiar with Toronto icons, Honest Ed’s was the big, gaudy block long discount department store that sat on the south west corner of Bloor and Bathurst for … well for ever, it seemed. The store closed down a few years back and now the land is being redeveloped.  When the big old warehouse style building was torn down, some stunning old wall adverts were revealed for the first time in decades. I posted this photo the  wall on Instagram months ago:

Photo of ads and graffit on exposed wall

I remember standing on the corner thinking grab the shot now, it won’t be there much longer. It’s an amazing combination of old commercial art & modern graffiti. It’s gone now – demolished with the rest of the building. There was something about that particular wall that captured my attention. The mix of structured commercial adverts with colours still sharp after so much time + the graffiti that thumbs it’s nose at the lines below. Ah, I loved that view and now it’s rubble.

Strolling along the alleyways of Toronto is always entertaining, Take the Great Canadian Flame Wars in the next photo:

Photo of a door covered in graffiti

There seems to be a slight disagreement over the philosophy. It cracks me up. No idea why, it just does.

The interesting thing about street art is, it’s never static.

Photo of a garage door covered in layers of graffiti

Time flakes off one layer and someone fills the gap. It’s never static.

These 2 seem to be having issues:

Photo of graffiti that looks like 2 letters of the alphabet argueing

Maybe some counselling might help R & S get over whatever issues they’re experiencing. A bit of anger management therapy? Let’s look down the lane for a consultant, ok?

Photo of graffiti showing a very, very angry face

Umm .. no. Just .. no. Dear god … no.  Some  graffiti is mundane, but once in awhile I stop for a bit and wonder what was the thinking behind a particular patch. This guy defines “I have issues”.

There is so much to see on this one lane,  that I find different things to focus on each trip.  Next post will look at some of the murals scattered along the walls and doors. (I’ve already written the article so you won’t have to wait so long this time.)

Oh .. and that ale from Left Field Brewery here in Toronto? Couldn’t ask for a more divine way to while away an afternoon than sipping it while writing.