I didn’t use the camera much this winter. I hate wandering around in the cold. But, there’s a hint of spring in the air and it’s time to start thinking of photographic expeditions into the wilds of Toronto. To prepare, I meandered through some of last year’s work. I’m fussing a lot over the quality, trying to figure out how to improve the sharpness and clarity. In the meantime, here’s one of my favourites from last year.
Bauhaus has the best signage in Toronto
This has to be the best store signs in the city – Bauhaus – fine windows and doors. If you’re strolling along Avenue Rd, and Davenport, check it out.
What is this animal? Dragon? Dog? Rodent?
The animal is a bit of a mystery. At first I thought it was a dog, but then maybe a cat? But not with that tail. So I’ve settled on a dragon-cat mutant. I stood back quite a bit to take these photos and am pleased with the level of detail that popped on the carving. I worked hard with the various settings until I could see all the fine details and sharp shadowing. One of the successes!
I’m looking forward to this year. There will be more architecture, signage and hopefully flowers as well. The old tripod is ready to go, camera cleaned and polished. Come on spring.
I’ve been digging through older photos, looking for something a bit cheery to blow away the winter blues. My mom often reads through Bitter Grounds, offering ideas and advice. Around Christmas she looked over her glasses at me (never a good thing) and told me to lighten up the content. I took that to mean my passion of construction sites was a bit too much. Not sure if the photo below will pass muster, but I love it so, sorry mom.
I forgot about a short trip I took to Budd Sugarman Park last summer. It’s a wee slice of green, squished between the Rosedale subway station, Aylmer Ave and Yonge. There really isn’t much to see down there, but Sugarman is a nice little spot to sit and relax. The park hosts an amazing piece Toronto wall art, or in this case, utility cover art.
On the south side of Aylmer is a utility box that showcases a stunning piece of art.
The colours are so vivid, the photo doesn’t do it justice. I’m not sure who the artist is, which is a shame. I’d like to see more.
You can follow Bitter Grounds via Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. I’m working on setting up a subscription system, but time is a bit short so don’t expect it this month. I’ll do my best to get it going. Subscribers will get a few perks – voting on upcoming stories, give aways (modest little items, but fun) and a few other ideas I’m working on. If you’d like to support Bitter Grounds visit my support page to find out how.
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
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.
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
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 – previously posted June 14, 2016
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.
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.
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.
Some of the murals just leap out at you, like this tiger mask. (Check out Censdbs’ Instagram page to see more of his art.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Did the final walk on the 1st Mapping Toronto route with a long rambling walk. 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.
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
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 – rambling walk
This 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
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
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.