Thursday, April 25, 2013

Toronto: A walk around one of my favorite cities

I used to travel to Toronto all the time, but over the last couple of years, I had not made a visit to this great city. So, I was happy when I was asked to return and train the folks at Henry's (a great chain of camera stores in Canada). At the end of March, I flew to Toronto and caught the last of their long Winter.

I was staying right by Nathan Phillips Square, so I decided to head out one evening and shoot the square just after sunset. As you can see from these images, there are some really cool arches over the unused ice rink.

I had fun moving to different locations around the ice rink to see how I could photograph the arches from completely different perspectives.

For this last shot of the arches, I set up at the far end of the rink and waited for the ambient light to drop.  I dialed my exposure compensation down 1/3 stop to emphasize the shadows and changed the white balance to bring out the blue color in the sky. (Photo shot at f/18, 15 secs, ISO 100, with the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens, Lexar 1000x CF, Gitzo tripod)

I was walking away from the square, when I turned around and saw the blue and pink skies in the distance. Time for one last shot of the evening.

I swear that it snowed for 90% of this trip. But on my last day, I had an hour of clear skies and I was able to grab a nice shot of the CN Tower in the background, nicely framed by the buildings and flags. (Photographer's note: When shooting photos of common landmarks and buildings, try to find something different from the "typical" photo. Sure, I could have walked to a location to photograph the CN Tower unobstructed, but most people take that photo and I want to photograph the tower in a more dramatic way. I saw the sunlight highlighting the flags and saw that as the perfect foreground to my image.)

I love the contrast between old and new architecture...

While walking around downtown, I came across this really cool art museum, with a very modern building built directly on top of this older building.

On this evening, I had walked about 5 miles and was pretty tired and cold, but when the sun set and the deep blue skies appeared, I could not help myself. I had to stay out and shoot some more. I found an interesting location (in front of the Superior Court of Justice building) and framed this shot.

After shooting the first evening shot, I then moved next to University Avenue and grabbed this photo. This particular shot has the shutter open for 25 seconds. I was surprised and happy to see the Canadian flag so clear during such a long exposure.

And here is a tease for the next blog post. Next week you will see images from my exploration of Toronto's "Graffiti Alley".

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bridges at Night - Some of my favorite images!

For the last 6 years, as I have traveled around the world, I have captured night images of some really amazing bridges. I am not sure why I am drawn to these images so much, but they still remain some of my favorite shots in my portfolio. In that spirit, I have collected some of my favorites (mostly in chronological order) to share with you in this week's blog post.

I took this photo back in 2006, in one of my favorite places in the world. There is just something magical about Sydney, Australia. This was shot with a Canon 30D and processed in Adobe Photoshop CS2. This is considered old technology now, but it goes to show you that even the older cameras and software worked well.

This was taken the same evening as the first photo, but just later in the evening, after the evening light had disappeared. I had my taxi driver go to the North side of the city and shoot back in the opposite direction, this time facing the front of the Sydney Opera House, with the Harbor Bridge as my main subject.

I shot this photo from a freeway overpass in Bristol, England. The sun took forever to set, so I sat there on the overpass (on a sidewalk) for almost 3 hours waiting for the best light. For those of you who know me well, you know that I can not usually sit still for this long, but I really loved the composition of this shot and wanted to capture it in the best light. (Taken with the Canon 30D, ISO 100, f5.6, 8 second exposure, -1 stop of exposure compensation. Shot on a Gitzo tripod and using a Lexar 300x CF card.)

For those of you who have ever been to the world's largest photo show (photokina) in Cologne, Germany, you will surely recognize this bridge. It is funny how each of these photos bring back memories to me. I distinctly remember shooting this image while being sicker than a dog. I was flying home the next morning and was determined to get this shot before leaving. I am glad that I did.

A shot taken of the Bay Bridge from Treasure Island, across from downtown San Francisco. I had to climb to this position, as parking is not allowed in this area. I like this composition but still want to head back to this same spot to capture this image with the deep blue night sky, as opposed to this pitch black.

Believe it or not, the next two photos (above and below) were taken within 24 hours of each other. I was heading on yet another trip to Australia, and decided to have dinner with my mother in San Francisco, before flying out. Since we had a little time to kill, we drove over to the Marina area in the city and I shot this sunset image of the Golden Gate Bridge...

...And then many hours later, and not wanting to sleep just yet, I went and photographed the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset.

This is yet another sunset shot looking over the San Francisco Bay Area (my home). I was shooting a Bar Mitzvah somewhere in the Oakland hills, and with some free time in between the service and the party, I went up to the highest point I could find and shot this. At this point, I had upgraded to the Canon 40D.

And then, believe it or not, I was back in Australia for visit #12 and wanted to shoot something different. I took 6 or 7 images and stitched them together for this wide panorama of Sydney Harbor. I was lucky enough to have the wedding couple in one of the shots, which really enhanced the overall photo.

I shot this photo from the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Even though most of my images were of that bridge, I really like the composition of the Manhattan Bridge with the Empire State Building in the background.

Back to the Golden Gate Bridge, this time to teach someone how to shoot night images. You will notice that the large rock in the foreground is slightly lit. I turned my car to face the right direction and used the car's headlights to help illuminate the rock.

And then, after shooting for a little while, and getting ready to pack it in, I decided to show my friend one last technique. This is basically the same composition as the shot above (headlights now off), but I rolled the zoom during the exposure to create the light trails that you see. For those of you who want to try something like this, here is how you do this: First you set your camera on a steady tripod, you then set your ISO to 100 to give you a long exposure. I then set my aperture of f/5.6 to give me a 15 second exposure. Then I hit the shutter release and carefully (as not to move the camera) rolled the zoom out. I do not remember exactly what focal length I was shooting at, but I would guess that I started this at 200mm and rolled it out to 40mm. This works best with lenses that roll, not the push/pull lenses. Try it - it's a lot of fun!

This photo was taken very late on a Saturday night in 2011, after a long day of shooting in Tiburon, CA. I remember this so well, because I was with my son (who was shooting video with me that day) and he convinced me to stop for this shot. I was so tired, that I almost passed this up. Once again, I am glad that I didn't. It was so clear that night and amazingly warm, which is almost never the case for the Marin Headlands, where this was shot.

And the most recent night shot of a bridge was taken last year in London, during the Olympics. This was such an amazing time to be in London, and I loved capturing the Tower Bridge and the Olympic Rings in one photo.

Writing this blog post was a fun experience for me, since each and every one of these photos brings back so many memories for me. I find it nostalgic and exciting to relive each of these times. I hope that you enjoyed viewing this post as much as I did writing it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Teaching photography to a good friend in San Francisco

A little while back, my wife and I made a trip up to San Francisco to visit good friends of ours, and to teach photography. We have known Mike and Jeannie for many years, and we were incredibly sad when we heard that Mike had cancer. This really rocked me, since Mike is that one person who I grew up knowing as the incredibly active and bulletproof guy across the street. I figured that nothing could sideline this guy!

For almost a year, Mike was quarantined in his own home and not allowed to see anyone. Not even his own grandchildren! Since the doctors had taken his immune system to zero, he could not be exposed to any germs. But we could communicate via the phone and email. During one of our conversations, he told me that he was ordering a new Nikon D800 and that he would love to learn to use it better. I promised him that as soon as he got better, I would come up and spend the day with him to give him some pointers (and to get together for some good food and wine).

The good news is that they found a bone marrow donor for Mike and he is feeling better. It turns out that an incredibly generous man in Chicago was a perfect match (even German and Greek just like Mike), and after suffering a loss to the same cancer in his family, decided to be a donor and save someone else's life. Now, a year after those 3 million cells were transfered to Mike, the two men not only share the same DNA but the two of them have a newfound friendship. The two of them have corresponded and plan to meet, once Mike can fly again. What an amazing gift!

After being in seclusion for all those months, he is now able to leave his house and get out into the real world again. Since he is regaining his strength, I figured that this would be a good time to reach out to him to see if I could make good on my promise.

We started shooting at Ocean Beach. Mike was not able to navigate uneven surfaces, so we stayed up on the cement for the first lesson (using long lenses).

I ventured down onto the beach to get some closer shots (using the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 100-400 lens).

I turned back to shoot some images of Mike working his camera. I like the him standing over the graffiti.

I shot this image to talk about composition with Mike. I wanted to show how the eye is attracted to the rider (and his reflection) but also how the viewer's eye is drawn up to the multiple kites.

I liked this image, not so much for the subject in the middle, but for the power of the wave behind her.

Another photo highlighting the kite surfer and his reflection.

After shooting at Ocean Beach, we then drove over to Lands End to get some shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. As it turned out, the harsh lighting and the bald skies made for boring images of the bridge, so we concentrated on other areas for the time being.

We turned the car around and went up the hill to the Legion of Honor museum. It was in this location that I taught Mike about perspective. I used this location to show him how different photos would look when taken from 6 feet vs. shot from a lower vantage point.

I also wanted to explain the advantage of controlling the depth of field in our images. So, for any of you who have ever watched me teach, you know that I like to demonstrate this with the pointing finger example (where I focus on the finger and then the face to show focal control and narrow depth of field).

The next lesson was done inside the museum and concentrated on color. I had my wife sit in front of this painting and then replaced her with Jeannie.

I wanted Mike to see how different the image was, with Annette wearing red as opposed to Jeannie's neutral colored jacket.

The next lesson concentrated on using wide angle lenses. Mike owns a really nice Nikon wide angle lens, but had never used it. Time to break that thing out and use it! For this image, I wanted Mike to get really close to the globe, making it huge in the frame, but also include the surrounding paintings in the room.

As you can tell from his expression, he really loved the results. Afterwards, when we were enjoying a nice dinner together, he told us that this was his favorite image of the day.

And one of my favorite images of the day was taken after we left the museum and headed back to shoot evening images of the Golden Gate Bridge. Mike and I saw the sun dropping behind this grove of trees at the nearby gold course, and I thought that this would be a perfect place to teach him how to get starbursts effects from the sun using a small aperture. We pulled over, and with me helping Mike navigate the grass surface, we went onto the course, positioned ourselves into the shadows and shot this. We used our wide angle lenses (with me using the Canon 16-35mm) at f/22, moved just enough to get the sun coming through the trees, and worked the scene. I shot this at -1 exposure to exaggerate the dark shadows.

The last of the sunlight was hitting the bridge as we pulled up for the last shot of the day. It was a perfect ending to a great day of shooting. And then we were off to a great dinner, not because of the food (although that was good too), but due to the great company. The four of us shared a bottle of wine, recounted the day, talked about our favorite moments, and just relaxed.

A couple of days later I got an email from Mike telling me that this was one of the best days he can remember. To me, that is better than any photograph I have ever taken!