Photography and Art

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Urban Cathedrals

This summer, Trish and I have done a bit of biking on the fantastic network of trails that run through Toronto's many ravines. There are two large networks that are accessible close to our house, one that runs south and eventually emerges just to the east of the downtown core and the second that goes northbound to Steeles Avenue, the northernmost street in the Greater Toronto Area.

When we take the northbound route, we ride along a branch of the Don River. At one point, the pathway takes you under a massive bridge that carries the 10 or so lanes of the 401 highway across the river. The bridge was built using huge steel beams suspended on concrete arches. Underneath the bridge, you seem to enter into a strange world where even though the cars and trucks travel overhead, the sound becomes muted. It reminds me very much of the atmosphere inside one of those old European cathedrals.

Visually, there are other cathedral cues: the arched columns in rows, the path running between the columns, the giant roof supports. A photo project seemed called for!

This Saturday, I walked up the path with my slow photography gear (Canon 5d mkII, 17-40 mm wide angle lens, tripod and head) and had a very nice time taking images of the urban cathedral. The path was completely deserted despite the mild weather and I had lots of time to try different angles and exposures. I even tried merging several exposures using Photoshop HDR, but it led to some weirdness with yellow tinting at the edges and I eventually selected an under-exposed image and did some manipulation in Lightroom to get the following image.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Niagara On the Lake Abstracts

Each year, we go to the beautiful town of Niagara on the Lake for a week-end to see a play at the Shaw Festival and buy some wines at the local wineries. This year, I took the Fuji X100 along and became enamored with some of the patterns, textures and colours in the winery yards.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Telephoto Lens Compression

One of the results of shooting through a telephoto lens that always surprises photographers is the compression effect. Here's an illustration using three photos from a recent shoot. I didn't set out to shoot a comparison of three focal lengths, but it just worked out that way.

Here's a photo taken with a focal length of 100mm. The other side of the lake looks roughly like it does to the naked eye.

Here's the same subject taken with a focal length of 200mm. Not only is the subject cropped as you would expect, but the far shore now is starting to look closer than it does to the naked eye. The distance from the sailboat to the far shore is being compressed.

While this is not the same photo as above, the distance to the far shore is exactly the same and the sand bar in the foreground is the same one as in the first two images. This image was taken with the lens set to 300mm. Note how the lake now starts to look like a river. The compression effect is quite severe and if you were familiar with this view, the compression would strike you as strange and bothersome.

Compression is something to think about when you are composing a scene. It can often be used to your advantage. In the photo below, I deliberately used a wide angle lens (24mm) to make the building in the foreground stand out from the background. Most people who shoot this scene use a medium telephoto lens so that the skyscrapers in the background loom over the smaller flatiron building.

Here's an example of the same scene shot with a longer lens (70mm). The intent of this image was to focus on the reflections in the road and compress the background so that the flatiron building and skyscrapers loom in the distance.

It's pretty amazing how the skyscrapers seem to move and get larger from one image to the other.

The moral of the story is: choose your focal length with care. Bear in mind that longer focal lengths produce a compression effect that may be unwanted. Shorter lenses also spread out the subjects in your photo and can also have unwanted consequences. The naked eye is roughly equivalent to a 50mm focal length, so both shorter and longer lenses have the potential to be disturbing. Often, this can be a good thing, but not if the effect is unintended and distracting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Landscapes of Africa

We went to Tanzania in the summer of 2010. I've published a lot of photographs from our trip, but nothing from my collection of African landscapes. Here are some of the better images of a most beautiful part of the world.

The Selous, in southern Tanzania, is dotted with lakes and wetlands. Here's a dead tree with its reflections.

Here's another image of the Selous. This sunset was taken from our small safari boat. The sun sets very rapidly in this part of the world.

We went on a morning hike from our camp in the Selous and had the benefit of a lovely sunrise lighting up the foliage.

This is one of my favourites. Again, it is a photo of a Selous sunset taken from our safari boat. I love the silhouette of the bird in the foreground. It is probably an egret of some sort, but it sure looks like a pterodactyl!

Another sunset, this time we're at the Ngorongoro Crater. I like the multi-layered look of the hills and the cloud.

The next morning, we awoke to find the mist spilling over the crater walls like a liquid.

Here's a typical Serengeti scene, with a solitary tree under sunbeams.

They were doing a controlled burn of the grasslands while we were camping in the Serengeti. The smoke combined with the setting sun to provide us with lots of nice colour.

Our tent looked right at the setting sun. We were sipping a nice glass of scotch while we watched the sun set beneath the branches of this tree.

Here's an early morning view of the Serengeti from a balloon, with our fellow travelers in the distance.

And finally a close-up of the other balloon as we traveled over this vast plain.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trish is a Good Photographer

I needed a new bio pic for an upcoming musical (Christmas Survival Guide) and enlisted my wife Trish who can take a mean picture if she's asked. This is a great example of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Abandoned Farms

When you drive through the countryside as often as I do, you start to notice that things are not going well in farm country. It seems that marginal farms are being abandoned one by one and the land is reverting back to nature. Maybe Mom and Dad hung on as long as they could and the kids beat a hasty retreat to the city, leaving the farmhouse to rot and the land fallow. Maybe the family farm can no longer compete with large factory farms, especially when the land is rocky or the soil poor.

The closer you get to the Canadian shield just north of Toronto, the more you notice abandoned farmhouses, fences no longer being repaired and land reverting to forest. In the Canadian shield itself, farming was abandoned many years ago. If you look carefully, you can sometimes see old split rail fences running through the forest. The soil is glacier-swept and very thin.

In September, I joined a group of friends on a hiking trip in the Adirondacks and the drive south from the St. Lawrence bridge crossing into northern New York State was also littered with abandoned buildings and fallow fields.

It's all rather picturesque (witness the abandoned farm group on Flickr:, but rather sad just the same. I'd rather look at a prosperous farm with cows in the meadow and corn growing as high as an elephant's eye any day.

Here are some photos of abandoned buildings in upper New York:

This house has seen better days. It looks like a tree fell on the roof and administered the coup de grace.

Here's a road-side cabin of some sort. The architecture is interesting and the upper story window looks like it was replaced not so long ago. The structural integrity of the place shows the foolhardiness of building a flat roof in a snow zone.

This looks to be a classic 19th century homestead, probably originally on a prosperous farm judging by its size. The porch is nice. You can imagine roses growing up the trellises.

Here's a barn near the Adirondacks. At one point, it looks like it was painted a lovely shade of red. I'm not sure why it seems to have buckled so badly.

This is not really an abandoned farm building. In fact, the green metal roof is quite recent. I love this cabin because it combines the old with the new in an innovative way. Looking to enhance your cottage and add some living space? Why not buy an old trailer and graft it on to your cabin! Make sure you match the colour of the roof to the colour of the trailer. Aesthetics are so important.