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.

____

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.

Harbourfront visit – all my ducks in a row … and a goose and gull too.

Harbourfront visit – all my ducks in a row … and a goose and gull too.

The original title was going to be Harbourfront Expedition part 2 – waterfowl, but once I wrote it out, it sounded like a bad B Hollywood horror flick.  Ducks in a row is much better. There weren’t a lot floating around when I went down on Friday.  Saw many more back in Feb, but the long tailed  ducks are happy up in the tundra now.  Mallards, gulls and Canada geese were the birds du jour. Goose actually. There was one lone goose bobbing along.  I think there were some in the distance, but they weren’t interested in coming close to shore so I wasn’t sure what they were. Unlike the winter trip, I was able to get fairly close to the birds and get some pretty good strong photos.

Photo of a female mallard

Not sure why, but when the lady in the photos below walked by, the female mallard ran up to her, quacking away like she found an long lost friend.

PHoto of the mallard chasing womanPHoto of the mallard chasing woman

Maybe she recognised the grocery bag and knew food comes from them.  She kept following the woman all around, all the way to the parking lot.  Poor duck stood watching at the roadside as the woman left.  She looked around a bit, and latched onto a pair of men in deep conversation.  She quacked off and walked along with them.

PHoto of the mallard going for a walk with 2 men

The men didn’t seem to notice they acquired a feathered companion, much to everyone’s amusement. Last I saw her, she was strolling beside them, quietly quacking to herself.

Some the photos are sharper than others – I don’t have a zoom lens and I really don’t like disturbing them for a better shot. I prefer to take a pass on a photo than be a bird botherer. But with patience comes opportunity.

Photo of a male mallard duck

This one blew up nicely. What’s that phrase? Water off a duck’s back. You can even see the water beading off the feathers. And the blue green feathers are so beautiful.

Photo of a male mallard duck

A few were paddling around the boats, ignoring all the humans.

Male mallard paddling in the water
And off course there were gulls.  I like gulls, despite their bad press. This one is a Ring-billed Gull, but most people simply label them “sea gulls” despite the fact there isn’t a bit of sea to see.

Photo of a gull on the waterfront

I was happy to find this site Gull Watching Guide by the Ontario Field Ornithologists website. There are people who love gulls as much as I do!  I was surprised at how many gulls can be found in Ontario so I’m printing the page o’ gulls for my next trip.

And what is a Canadian waterfront photo without one of these:

Photo of a Canada goose

The ubiquitous Canada goose – Canada’s stealth weapon to the world.

Photo of a Canada goose

The trip was fun. Oh good grief, “the trip” makes it sound like there was some kind of effort needed to get to the Toronto Harbourfront. All it takes is a quick TTC ride to get there.  No fuss, no hassle and boom I’m strolling on the waterfront. It’ll soon be wall to wall humans so I’ll have to nip down again before the height of the tourist season.  Or maybe a trip to High Park to see the birds? Hmmm dunno yet.

I’m still working on the first Mapping Toronto posting and should have the first walk for the second week in July. Fingers crossed.

By the way, if you go down to the waterfront for a visit, please don’t feed the ducks and geese. All that bread and stuff is not good for them. They are quite happy foraging around on the lake for food. Not only are bread crusts bad for birds, handouts encourages them to be nuisances.  Read more here Please Don’t Feed the Birds

Harbourfront expedition & some awesome photos

Harbourfront expedition & some awesome photos

Ok, I’m biased. I think the photos from my Friday trip to Toronto’s Harbourfront are pretty good.  Lots of great landscape and activity to play around with and the weather was wonderful.  The last time I was down at the Harbourfront, I nearly froze my tail feathers off. It was all ice, wind and waterfowl back in Feb. Friday’s trip was sunshine, people enjoying the weather and lots of fun things to photograph. 

The area is ripe for anyone who wants to photograph boats and the Toronto Island, but it was a bit too early for sailboats. Only one was pottering around on the water so I turned my attention to the spectacular north view of the city. By steadying the camera on some posts, I managed to try a bit of bracketing.  Some shots didn’t have the desired effect, and one or two wowed me:

North view of Toronto skyline from waterfront

I especially liked the little swallow that swept through when I hit the shutter.  And yes, I did some processing, I threw it into NIX’s HDR to really bump up the sharpness. There is some graininess but it was worth it to get those water reflections right.  There’s a bit of fringing around the buildings, so I’ll still have to work on that.

This shot begged to be converted to black and white.

Black and white photo of row of benches in the shade

I’ve been experimenting with black and white quite a bit. It’s interesting what works and what doesn’t.  The colour version was an okay photo, but had no focal point. Converting forced the eye to follow the shadows rather than dodge around the photo.

After sitting for awhile, I circled back to the Power Plant to watch glass blowers work.  Now, this presented an interesting problem. The furnace lighting created a few issues with exposure. Wow, intense light, darker surroundings, lots of movement, lots of wasted shots. HOWEVER, I kept at it and snagged this one:

Photo of a table of glassware

I was quite far from the table so worked hard at getting the clean sharp edges, strong colours and clarity. Good combo for a change. I went inside to watch for awhile and took a number of shots of the blowers at work.  The next one is very grainy, but sometimes you have to accept it to get a shot. The intensity from the furnace made for a difficult shot.

Photo of glass blowers putting glass into the furnace

Lots of blurry shots resulted when he started working at the bench,  one captured his concentration and intensity.

Photo of glass blower working with glass and blow torch

I really like this one. Not as sharp as it could be, but a good try. I sat for awhile on Saturday looking at the photos, analysing them. I think I know where I can improve, so a return trip is definitely on the books.

One last photo to close off.  One of their work benches. I kept the quick moving feet in the top corner because it amuses me.

Photo of the glass blowers bench
I’m already working on another series from the trip. It’s all feathers & waterfowl. Hopefully it’ll be up by Wed.

It’s here! Nik Collection 2018 by DxO

It’s here! Nik Collection 2018 by DxO

Nik plugins updated logo

When DxO  acquired Photoshop plugin suite Nik from Google (read about it here), they said they were working on a full update for the package and would hopefully release it sometime in 2018.   Well, it’s here -> NIK COLLECTION 2018 BY DxO. The 7 plugins sell for $69, but DxO is offering it for sale $49. No idea how long the introductory offer will last, so grab it while you can.

What’s new? It’s fully compatible with the latest OS  – both 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X along with Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, Photoshop CC 2018, and Photoshop Elements CC 2017/2018. It might be worth popping for the full paid suite if it clears up the irritating freezing that happens with the free suite. I use Nik a lot and have noticed a few creeping issues that have caused a bit of frustration – the occasional crash, random freezing when accepting the changes made and not as fast as I’d like.

The package still offers the same 7 plugins many of us have grown to love and the price (even after the special offer expires) is a bargain, especially for photographers just starting out. For the quality and range of options available, $69 is a hell of a good price. DiX offers a 30 day trial so I’ll be downloading it later in the week to test drive and see if it is faster and more stable. I’ll keep you posted on what I find as I work along with the updated suite. What I’ll be looking for a is a smoother running package, faster response and stability.  My latest laptop upgrade seemed to have caused a few minor issues with Nik, stability wise and I’m hoping the lag time is cleared up on larger files. I’ll be interested in seeing if there are any new features.  I didn’t use all the plugins on a regular basis, so I’ll likely focus on the 4 I use the most.

All specs are listed on the download page, but here are the basic requirements listed from the DiX website:

Mac

  • Intel Core™ i5 or higher
  • 4 GB of RAM (6 GB recommended)
  • 2 GB or more of available hard-disk space
  • OS X 10.12 (macOS Sierra), 10.13 (macOS High Sierra)
  • Graphics card with 512 MB of video memory to handle GPU acceleration
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 (64-bit) through CC 2018
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 through 2018 (apart from HDR Efex Pro 2, which is not compatible with Photoshop Elements)
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 through 6/CC 2018

 

Windows:

  • Intel Core® 2 or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 or higher (Intel Core® i5 or higher recommended)
  • 4 GB of RAM (8 GB recommended)
  • 4 GB or more of available hard-disk space
  • Microsoft® Windows® 7 (64-bit) with Service Pack 1, Microsoft® Windows® 8.1 (64-bit), or Microsoft® Windows® 10 (64-bit, and still supported by Microsoft®).
    More information: https://support.dxo.com/hc/articles/115015671008
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 (64-bit) through CC 2018
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 (64-bit) through 2018 (apart from HDR Efex Pro 2, which is not compatible with Photoshop Elements)
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 through 6/CC 2018

 

Installation and activation

  • Installing the latest Microsoft updates for Windows is recommended before installing the application.

GPU Compatibility:

  • NVIDIA GeForce 8 Series, GeForce 9 Series, GeForce 100 Series, GeForce 200 Series, GeForce 300 Series, GeForce 400 Series, GeForce 500 Series, ATI Radeon HD2000 Series, Radeon HD3000 Series, Radeon HD4000 Series, Radeon HD5000 Series, Radeon HD6000 Series.
    If no compatible card is available, GPU acceleration will be disabled and the CPU will be used.

 

Check the suite out and let’s see what DiX has done to our beloved Nik. It’s a bit exciting, isn’t it?

Photographing The Esplanade Toronto

Photographing The Esplanade Toronto

Picking up where I left off last week, I headed down to The Esplande and Front to test out my focus and sharpness skills. I took over 400 shots and had a handful that pleased me. The  exercise was to work on colour balance, overall focus and sharpness of the subject. Instead of a “bucket ‘o seeds” that didn’t move, I went back to street scenes to test the settings.

I started with my favourite doors in the city  1 Front Street. It has the best over the door features around. Can you think of anything more Canadian than this:

Photo of beaver sculpture over door at 1 Front St

I slowed way down and concentrated on focus points this time. I stood across the road and tried to zoom in to capture the details. The sharpness surprised me when I threw it up on the screen.  About the only work done was adjusting the exposure, I haven’t quite mastered that yet.

I stood on the island in the middle of the road snapping random shots, adjusting and reshooting. The next photo took about 10 tries before the focus worked. I finally took my glasses off and put the screen right up to my nose to see the focus points properly. Yea, I know, a simple solution that should have been obvious. Problem with taking my glasses off is, I’m pretty much blind without them. The signs and the iconic Flatiron building in the background were a bit tricky to get sharp. I think I can do better next time out, but this is pretty good for a start.

Photo of Yonge and Front facing east

After pottering around Front for awhile, I wandered east along The Esplanade, looking for an interesting angle to shoot from.  I poked around quite a few places and found a 6 story parking garage, tucked behind the Novatel hotel that looked promising.  Up on the top level, there are great views. I circled the level, testing various spots and then hit the perfect one.  It was well past noon so the shadows were quite good. I had to do a few adjustments on the computer and airbrushed an irritating red roof umbrella, but otherwise, the photo is pretty strong.  

Photo of Church St looking North from 6th floor of a parking garage

From the 6th level, you can look straight north along Church St. This is the type of view I love, when looking at various photographers works.   I’m kind of glad no one could hear me muttering to myself up there. It might have been embarrassing, but it was exciting to finally find a spot to work from.  Later in the month, I’m heading back down with my tripod and going to test some bracketing shots. I want to try for a crisper photograph.

On the south side, there’s an awesome view of the QEW traffic, planes landing at the Island Airport and trains rumbling by. I’m still working on those shots and will post them in a couple of days. I tossed one up on Instagram and may put a few more up before I write the article about them.  Not sure yet what I want to do with them, so keep checking back or hit the bell down in the bottom right to get a notification when I post.