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. 

Offerings from the lilacs on our balcony

Offerings from the lilacs on our balcony

To celebrate spring and all things non snow related, I took a stroll to photograph one of my favourite spring blooms, lilacs. It’s a lazy long weekend here in Toronto with the May 24th weekend the first official long weekend of summer. I know it’s not the 24th but no one calls it by the official name – Queen Victoria’s birthday. The holiday is simply referred to as the 2-4 or May 24th.  I doubt half the people in the country even realise it’s a hold-over from Empire days. But death to the politician who entertains the idea of doing away with it.  It’s a grand excuse to enjoy the first days leading into summer, plant gardens with no fear of frost, open up the cottage, and crack open a case of beer. That’s the 2-4 reference by the way. A case of beer holds 24 bottles, QV’s birthday is the 24th – a match made in Canada.

Alright, I cheated, I went out onto the balcony and snagged some shots without putting on shoes.  We’ve been growing a lilac tree for a couple of years now, and it’s beginning to shine.  We thought we’d lost it two years ago. And again, last year it looked sad and forlorn after we moved. But it survived the extreme cold, benign neglect and a move. During the summer, it shot up and produced a lot of greenery. It has proven to be quite popular with the local sparrow community that flitters about our balcony. We were concerned they may be eyeing it for nesting at one point. Luckily they opted for a less traveled location.  This spring, it’s honoured us with a bumper crop of purple.  It loves the corner we plopped it in. Here’s the first photo:

Photo of the lilacs blooming on our balcony

Too bad there isn’t  scratch and sniff internet.  The scent is intense this year. Can’t get enough of it.

Photo of the lilacs blooming on our balcony

 I leaned over the balcony and debated about getting dressed and actually going out, but nah – it’s the long weekend. Another espresso, prop my feet up and say screw it. I’m not budging for the rest of the day. I can look out my window and admire the birds and the blossoms without putting on shoes. 

 

NIK plugins for Photoshop / Lightroom – UPDATE

NIK plugins for Photoshop / Lightroom – UPDATE

NIK software Somehow I missed this news from October. Google sold NIK filters for Photoshop and Lightroom to French company DxO.   In case you aren’t familiar with DxO, they are software developers specialising in photography.  The exiting news?  They are developing an update for the package, with a release date this year.

DxO has an interesting suite of programs that includes Viewpoint (corrects lens distortion and horizon de-skewing) and FilmPack for the black and white analogue film fan.

“DxO FilmPack applies to your digital images the saturation, the contrast, and the grain of the most celebrated analog silver halide, slide and negative films. Up to 45 color and 38 black & white analog films are available to bring out the sleeping visual poet in you.”

This particular package could be fun to use, especially if you appreciate the subtle differences between old film paper types. The company offers trial versions so, might be worth a trip to their site to investigate.

But, back to NIK. there’s no word on whether DxO will be offering the filters free much longer or if the cost of the updated version.  It’s nice to see someone picking up the package and giving it a new lease on life.

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NIK collection can still be downloaded here
See the more about FilmPack and Viewpoint here

Looking through the windows at Allen Gardens

Looking through the windows at Allen Gardens

I have a bunch of photos left over from winter shots but, in all honesty, I simply can’t stand looking at one more photo of snow and ice. They’ll have to wait until  a heat wave hits and I need a bit of relief. Instead, how about some odd shots from a trip I took to Allen Gardens in March? Ok, I didn’t actually go into the greenhouse, I lurked around the outside. The place was too crowded so I stayed outside in the sunshine.

I wandered around the grounds for awhile, taking shots of this and that, finally ending up behind the main building.  When I took the photos, I was interested in the lines and structure of the building itself. I didn’t realise I had captured the people inside until I processed the images. Some of the shots are delightful snippets of random strangers among the foliage.

Hey, look at this photo! – random photos at Allen Gardens

Each pane seems to tell a micro story.

Hide and seek

Man yelling at tree

Photo of people in the windows of Allen Gardens

After I looked at these, I quickly threw them up on Instagram and then wished I’d taken more.  It’s interesting that each pane tells it’s own micro story.   I’ve looked at the settings I used and think a second trip is in order.  Now that the weather has improved, I have no excuse… but I’m sure I’ll find one to justify my inertia.