The power of colours in Graffiti Alley

The power of colours in Graffiti Alley

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.

Graffiti Alley

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.

Putting to work photography lessons at Graffiti Alley

Header for Bitter Grounds Magazine - Photo of long street view of Graffiti Alley with young man sitting in one of the windows

Photo of long street view of Graffiti Alley

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.

Large mural of a tiger like mask

Tiger Mask

Some of the murals just leap out at you, like this tiger mask. (Check out Censdbs’ Instagram page to see more of his art.)

Photo - wall mural of a samuri warrior coming out of the wall

Sharp shadows worked out with the manual settings

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.

Photo - wall art showing a Zeus like figure

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 a door

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.

Photo of a art covered door opening onto another door

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!

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 a while 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.