I love taking construction site photos. I was digging through my archive, looking for something interesting to share and remembered a series I took a few years back. St Clair W, here in Toronto, has had its share of building projects. I haven’t gone back to them lately to see the progress. Maybe when I stop feeling so lazy, I’ll check them out.
Learning to make do with a kit lens
Church to condo conversion
I took this series in 2018 and didn’t do much with them. I did a better job than I thought on capturing the clouds. I had to do a little adjusting to bring out the brickworks and highlights, but other than that, this is the shot as it came out of my Canon. Not a clue how I managed to do it. The camera was still new and I just trying to master holding it steady. The details are outstanding. The photo is a little on the dark side, but when i tried to adjust lights and darks, the highlights blew out and destroyed the symmetry. I like the light bouncing off the roof and windows. Without that, this would be a bit generic.
Occasionally I wistfully look at camera lenses and dream about buying them. I had budgeted to purchase a good quality lens, waffling between a 24mm lens or a pricier zoom lens but the lockdowns and mom’s death put the kibosh on that. Priorities changed.
After looking at these earlier photos, I’m not so disappointed. I need to continue working further with the basic kit lens and explore how I can get strong photos with it before obsessing about upgrading. It’s easy to get wrapped up chasing new hardware and neglect the basics. More attention is needed on gaining a stronger understanding of light and dark settings. Right now, taking a good photo is still hit and miss. Although I’ve progressed (despite the past few months idleness), there is so much more to master.
Diggers and hardhats – Construction site photos
Diggers and hard hats
I stood outside the fenced area to grab a bunch of shots of the site. I went so often some of the workers waved at me when I walked by. This was one of the better ones. Most photos were garbage – not in focus, askew or distorted, the usual sins. While looking at the 2018 photos, I realised how often I get a tilted image. I still do and I’m not sure how to correct the problem. Even the recent balcony photos have a noticeable lean. Everything looks fine in the window, but when I process the photos, they list to one side. It’s annoying, to say the least.
Just a shell left and yes, I needed to straighten this photo
These photos were taken before I began to understand how the camera settings worked. Although I’m still shaky in my comprehension, I primarily use full manual now. Photos are crisper, more vibrant, still tilted, but oh well. The last couple batches of photos required fewer adjustments before posting them. I’m getting there.
Night lights on a crane
Construction as art
Different construction site this time. The crane has long gone from the landscape and a nice-looking condominium replaced it. I do miss looking out the window to watch the work. It took about 10 photos at this spot before I got the light correct. If I’d used the tripod, the crane would have been sharper, but a decent shot none the less.
I get weirdly self-conscious when I use the tripod. Maybe it has something to do with the hassles I’ve had with officious types who have demanded I “move along, no photos in this area” (with no tripod, just my Canon) all the while people around me are madly snapping with their cell phones. The idiocy of these encounters discouraged me for a bit.
I bought a couple of filters over the last few months and hope they will mute the glares and increase colour intensity. I know what I’m looking for, what I’m trying to express in my photos. They aren’t just random shots; each has a reason. Sometimes it takes upwards to 20 attempts to get what I want, but it’s been worth the effort.
Want to see more? 4 Construction Site Photos – Hardhats And Diggers | Bitter Grounds Magazine
Past attempts at taking sharp night photos have been mediocre. Occasionally, a photo stands out, but that’s due to luck rather than skill on my part. And no, I’m not being modest. This is an area I struggle with. For the past couple of months, I occasionally trotted out to the balcony and tried figuring out what I’m doing wrong. Last month I admitted a large part of the issue is impatience and shaky hands. I get fidgety and do dumb things when frustrated. Dumb things like doing the same thing over and over or not waiting to get the effect I want.
Impatience is a night photo killer
It takes a lot of trial and error to get a good night photo. It also means paying attention to settings and making notes on what works. I’m a bit lazy and found myself repeating the same mistakes rather than reading past entries. I was chasing longer exposure times to get a certain effect but would often lift my finger off the button too soon. Or worse, my hand would shake just enough to create a blurry image. I decided to tackle these problems with a remote trigger.
Canon smartphone app vs manual remote clicker
Canon has an app that can be used to trigger the camera. While it works, it had a horrible lag time between shots. I’ve tried it on two Android smartphones and encountered the same problems. It also caused the camera to lock up occasionally, so I didn’t really use it much. It is handy to scroll through photos on the camera and look at the details via the phone, but to act as a trigger, it wasn’t particularly good. You can check it out here Canon Camera Connect | Camera and Camcorder App. You might have more luck than I had.
I picked up a cheap little remote clicker to test. It cost all of $15 so I figured it was worth the try. It solved the lag issue as well as cleared up some of my impatience. To set up a long shutter speed shot, all I have to do is flick the button up to hold and the camera shutter stays open until I’m flick it back down.
I experimented with various shutter speeds and had more fun that a person should have with a little plastic clicker. It also cleared up the shake issue. Despite using a good tripod, I still managed to pick up a vibration on the photos when my hand remained on the camera button. This little clicker fixed it.
First of the night photos of the north skyline
I’m pleased with the clarity
Now that’s a good photo. I especially loved the car lights below on the street. The building lights came out warmer than any previous photos. Not sure That’s a combo of no hand jitter and a longer shutter speed. The skyline came out just about right. I’m going to lug the tripod and camera out to the parking garage roof to try a few new ideas this week. It’s supposed to be clear tomorrow, but we’ll see. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.
Second night photo
Left the shutter open too long this time.
I like this one because it’s an interesting combo of warm lights and chilly winter scenery. But I left the shutter open a bit too long and the parking garage is washed out. The reflections in the building on the left are great thought. They really shine.
Last photo of the Toronto skyline
The car lights were an accident
This one came out better. I didn’t hold the trigger so long and accidently got a car pulling out of the parking lot at the same time. That arc of white to red lights was a happy instance. I stayed on the balcony a bit longer trying to get a few more cool car light effects, but my neighbours weren’t cooperating. But this gives me hope.
I had plateaued for quite a time with photography and was feeling frustrated. As I said earlier, I kept repeating the same mistakes and couldn’t seem to shake it off. But something as small as a $15 remote trigger seems to have invigorated me. Now I can’t wait for a night to go out and try different views.
If you’re interested in seeing some of my earlier attempts, take a look at the article below.
An interesting view of concrete and light – a little night photography
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