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:


  • 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



  • 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.

Improving photo exposure & focus with buckets ‘o seeds

Improving photo exposure & focus with buckets ‘o seeds

I’ve been mulling over photos I took last week, brooding over the lack of sharpness, and decided it was time to backup and refocus (no pun intended) on remedial skills. I spend  time composing shots, but  not enough on the basics of exposure & focus. My shaky focus, sharpness and exposure skills are sore spots so I pulled up some lessons and ran through them again.

I decided to start with something small and unmoving, but with good shadows. Hence, the reason you’re looking at a bunch of bird seed photos.  The aim was to keep taking photos, experimenting with various exposures, until I achieved clean edges, crisp colours and sharp focus. About 30 photos later, I started to feel like I was finally getting it.

This one isn’t bad, but up close the seeds lost focus. I adjusted a few settings on the camera and went back at it.

Photo of pan of bird seeds

I kept working until:

Photo of pan of bird seeds

The only work done on the photos was a bit of cropping, with exposure and saturation untouched. A major component I need to focus on is getting the colour balance right coming out of the camera rather than depending on Photoshop so much. I like the browns and blacks on these shots. For once I haven’t blown out the blacks and they have a natural look. Could be much sharper, but that will come with practice.

Photo of pan of bird seeds
I opted for the bucket o’ seeds because they were fine and fiddly to try and capture. Different shapes and subtle colour shifts that were merciless if I tweaked the exposure or saturation too much. Turned out to be a fun session. The shadows were much better in this series than in many photos I’ve taken.   The white pebble at the top faired quite well.

Photo of pan of bird seeds
The sun casts strong shadows across the balcony late in the afternoon, so it was a perfect opportunity to fuss.  These are blow ups of specific sections from around 50 or 60 shots. The first in the batch didn’t enlarge well at all. As a matter of fact, they were rather dismal.  I trotted back out to the balcony, adjusted the camera settings, adjusted the focus points and kept shooting.

There’s still a lot of work to be done on focus though. Still not sharp, but I think I finally get it. Next project will be going back out to the street and seeing if I can apply some of these lessons to a broader subject.

This last one was tweaked in Photoshop. I was losing the sun by then and the shade was too strong. It was a good chance to try a bit of adjustment rather than the usual ham fisted approach.

Photo of pan of bird seeds

I tried for a natural look.  I often go overboard with sharpening photos and under expose them. The end result is a bizarre harsh look that can be jarring to look at. So I’m pleased with this outing, even if I didn’t get off the balcony.   I’ll do more sessions working on exposure and focus this week as well as heading out to the wild for more experiments.

Still learning the basics of photography – streets of Toronto

Still learning the basics of photography – streets of Toronto

I was wandering around the Queen | University area the other day and was struck by the sheer volume of people everywhere.  I hung out on the corner of University and Queen Street for about 30 min doing nothing but snapping crowd shots.

University and Queen Street


University and Queen Street

By the time I got to Union Station, the volume of pedestrians was tiring. I don’t come down at rush hour very often because of the press of humanity, but once in awhile, it’s fun to people watch.

Photo of crowds of pedestrians at Union Station

I wasn’t paying enough attention to the settings so not a lot of the photos were crisp enough for my tastes. They’ll do, but other photos I took that day  (not posted yet) were studies of specific scenes, rather than street vistas and came out wonderfully sharp with a good colour balance. 

I set out to keep the photos at around 24mm  to test what type of lens I should consider for my first prime lens. I spent a day doing nothing but taking 50mm another 35 etc. So far, the 24mm seems to float my boat the most.  I’m leaning towards the Canon EF-S 24MM F2.8 STM lens. I like long, full shots that pick up lots of details. I’m not a huge fan of bokeh and prefer seeing details happening in the scene, so I think the 24mm might be what I’m looking for. However, I really  need to work harder on the mechanics of photography before I get to that point. So … it’s time to return to lessons and read up on strengthening clarity and sharpness. Even the best lens in the world is a waste of money if I can’t get the basics down.