Close-up photography, playing with light & shadows

Close-up photography, playing with light & shadows

I tried my hand at a little close-up photography again. Everyone seemed to enjoy my night photography experiments, so I thought I’d be a bit more adventurous. Too cold to wander around outside, ok, I’m too lazy to wander outside and freeze my tail off so I set the tripod up inside and dimmed the lights. This photography experiment turned out to be more fun than I anticipated.

My original aim was to capture smoke curling up from a candle. This didn’t work out at all. The smoke was too wispy and fleeting and I experienced a lot of difficulties focusing the camera on it. Not to be deterred, I shifted gears and decided to move everything up close and play around with getting the flame and candle. I created a makeshift lightbox, turned off all the lights and played with various camera settings and lighting.

Many shots had horrible glares or odd flashes on the lens from the flame flickers.  I kept moving the candle about until the camera focused correctly. As you can see in the first photo, I never achieved a sharp focus, which is annoying. I prefer super sharp edges, so this was a frustrating experience. I kept the photos and soldiered on. If nothing else, they offered me a chance to learn where I went wrong.

Here’s the mostly untouched photo

Except for a bit of cropping and lens correction, not much was done to this.

Close-up photography shot of a candle flame with black background

Original close-up photograph

Lopsided, but good. I was happy with the framing in this photograph. It took 12 tries before the light and black balance was achieved. Not able or willing to leave well enough alone, I fired up Photoshop and decided to experiment with filters to see if I could make the candle pop a bit.

Close-up photography – part two

Same photograph but with a filter applied to give the candle a 3d effect

See the difference?

I adjusted the vibrance and leveled the photo. Next came Bas relief overlaid on the original. This gave the candle a three-dimensional feel. Not as sharp as I prefer, but this is a good start. Yea, it did start to break down, but I was willing to live with that for this experiment.

Finally found a use for diffuse glow

The candle looked good, but the flame was weak in comparison. The gentle application of diffuse glow made the flame shimmer.

Close up photo of the candle with the flame improved

Diffuse glow

I didn’t pull the orange down because I liked the glowing effect it gave the wax. Still a little heavy handed, but far better than previous attempts at close-up photography. I’m not sure how to handle the flame correctly yet. More experimentation is going to be needed. I’ll also finish off my little light box. Not so sure it’s a light box, it’s more a containment box that will reflect the light the way I want it to. A bit of tinfoil on one side creates interesting effects that I will investigate. If I perfect the technique, I’ll post the photos. I’ll also wander out to get some incense to play with. The wind is rattling the windows and Covid is making it difficult to go anywhere, so I’ll make do with fusting about indoors.

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Cheers everyone.

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2 more night photos – streets of Toronto

2 more night photos – streets of Toronto

Here are a few more photos I took along the streets of Toronto last week. Was it last week? Time is melting into one big mess at the moment. Anyway, after looking through the photos I took at dusk, I realised some of the ones I thought were great, weren’t, but a little work with Photoshop brought them back to life.

The work I’ve done in understanding the camera’s histogram and using it to avoid blowing out the highlights and blacks has paid off. I was able to tweak the photos and bring back the colours and balance. It’s all a learning experience.

Picking over the photos, I realised even with a tripod, I still have issues getting a photo straight. No idea how I managed it, but I had to correct quite a few. They weren’t as bad as usual, but I think I’ll have to start paying closer attention to that little bubble on the tripod’s level. Sigh. I’m planning a trip out later this week, so fingers crossed I manage to get things right.

Streets of Toronto – Looking south on Yonge

Photo of streets of Toronto - looking north on Yonge near Front St

Yonge near Front St

I enjoy playing with cropping. Adjusting the length and widths changes the focus points dramatically. This was an ok photo on Yonge, but when I cropped it, the focus shifted from all the buildings and glass to the lights rushing along Yonge. The eye immediately hits the red lights and then follows up and down the street. I love narrow views like this. I’m eager to go out again and try more street scenes.

What got me the most are the lights in the corner building. The windows look crisp and warm, just the way they were that night.

Looking South on Yonge

South looking view of Yonge and Front

Looking South near the hockey hall of fame

This one was ok. I’m a bit unhappy with the overall sharpness, so that’s another area I’ll have to focus on. I’m not a fan of soft-focus photos, I prefer HDR stylings. I used a mix of AV settings and full manual for all the shots. I did a couple of tests with full auto and was not impressed. The streaming lights weren’t captured, and the camera focused on all the wrong light centres. I guess that’s what it’s about. I know what I’m trying to say with the photos. Automatic is just a mindless function and doesn’t share a vision.

I wish I’d waited a little longer so the lights at the bottom left were moving. The glare is too much and spoils a bit of the balance. But I’m content with it.

Last shot – another look at the Hockey Hall of Fame

Photo of the hockey hall of fame from the north east corner of Yonge St

Hockey Hall of Fame

For some reason, the Hockey Hall of Fame has been my white whale. I must have close to 200 photos of it, taken over the years. None, until this batch, were satisfying. The balance was always off, the lighting and shadows were wrong. It became a mind-numbing experience, but I couldn’t stop trying. Not sure why everything clicked this time. I suspect it’s because I was far more patient than previous expeditions.

I did play around with this photograph in Photoshop before I was satisfied. I used the software’s autocorrect to bring a better perspective to the image first. After that, I pulled down the amount of yellow. I need to explore the camera’s settings a bit more to understand why everything was so yellow and how to prevent it in the future. Once the colour balance was corrected, the building’s shadows popped out.

The sharp lines and clarity in this photo surprised me. I must be brutally honest; I didn’t expect it. I’m used to slightly fuzzy edges in any of my night photos. The lesson is clear – tripod & patience are the keys.

Don’t forget to look at my previous post on night photography. These are more from the same batch of street photos so enjoy.

2 Streets of Toronto photos – dusk in the city

2 Streets of Toronto photos – dusk in the city

2 Streets of Toronto photos – dusk in the city

Finally, some new streets of Toronto photos. I was on a job downtown yesterday afternoon and thought, what a great chance to try out a few new techniques I’ve been reading about. I wasn’t disappointed.

The secret to improving is to keep reading and examining photos from accomplished photographers. I often tear apart components in a picture, trying to figure out what it is about that image that I find attractive. I love night photography – the warm, yellow glow coming from buildings, the changing colours of darkening sky, the way headlights streaks offer a sense of motion to the evening.  But it’s frustrating to capture. One site I’ve been studying made a recommendation that set all sorts of bells go off in my head.

Use the camera’s histogram.

I know I’ve read this before, and I use it extensively with Photoshop, but this time, it made resonated. Not sure why it did, but we’ll just enjoy the epiphany for a bit. I’ve prepared two of the photos to show. One I converted to black and white, the other I left in full colour.

Streets of Toronto photos

After setting up the tripod, I fussed with a number of settings and just watched the histogram bounce around. Adjustment, after adjustment and a couple of test shots and I was good to go.

Streets of Toronto photos showing Yonge street at night

Yonge near Front Street

This was fun. I found a good focus point and waited. Thank goodness for the remote clicker. Saved my hands from freezing off. This photo looked good in full colour, but the black and white brought out the mirror effect in the tall building. Instead of seeing just cars coming, my eye was drawn to reflections. I’m still working on the rest from this spot and will post more later in the week.

Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame

I’ve taken more photos of the Hockey Hall of Fame than I care to think about. It’s not easy to get. A lot is happening on that corner of Yonge and Front and that makes getting a good shot difficult. But, I have to say, this picture makes me happy.

Streets of Toronto photos - Hockey Hall of Fame from the outside

Hockey Hall of Fame with a truck whizzing by

This was epic. When I set up on the corner of Front and Yonge, suddenly the traffic evaporated. And I wanted to capture their lights. I waited and waited. Finally, cars and trucks appeared.

The warm yellows and deep blue came out so well in this series of shots. The building remained in focus and the street signs tie the photo together. I managed to capture the truck rushing by as well. I did a little happy dance on the street when I reviewed this one. So, yea, if you were down near the Hockey Hall of Fame last night and saw a small woman dancing around a tripod, that was me.

I shouldn’t be, but I’m surprised at the sharpness. It all boils down to using the tripod and watching the histogram. There were no blown highlights, so I had lots of room for adjustments in Lightroom. I think, this is the first set of photos I’ve taken that I’m truly proud of because of all the work I put into understanding the basics.

I have more photos to process, so check back later in the week for another round. Also, in March there will be a super moon, which is why I’m so hot on learning more. Fingers crossed the weather will cooperate.  Check out these earlier night shots I took in December and compare them to these new ones. Research & experimentation my friends. That’s the secret.

3 Toronto’s Skyline At Night Photos | Bitter Grounds Magazine


4 Construction site photos – Hardhats and diggers

4 Construction site photos – Hardhats and diggers

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

Photo of a church on Avenue road undergoing a condo conversion

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

Construction site photos - digger in a hole

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.

Photo of a gutted church being turned into a condo

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 crane lit up at night

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.

Last thoughts

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


3 Toronto’s skyline at night photos

3 Toronto’s skyline at night photos

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

Toronto skyline, north facing - night photos

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

Night photography- skyline with a bit too much light

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

Night photo showing a car in the parking lot

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