Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Then and Now

About fifteen years ago my sister gave me a box of photographs and negatives she'd found in the basement of the house we grew up in, and where she and her husband have lived since the mid 1980's. The pictures all seemed to have come from the same camera, or at least a camera that used the then-standard 120 format film. This made a negative that was about two and a quarter by three and a quarter inches. The prints were only a little bigger, since they were contact-printed, rather than enlarged.

This particular one caught my eye.

Sagamore Hill was almost instantly recognizable to me. I've spent many hours wandering the grounds there, and the house itself is quite distinctive. I don't know who took this picture of my dad, or even when, though some quick research reveals that the Sagamore Hill house was first opened to the public in 1953. It's possible my parents came up here one summer day, although this is the only picture they took. Maybe it was the last one on the roll.

I didn't have a problem with running out of film, however. In fact, I brought about half my kit; along with a tripod and flash bracket. The landscape has changed over the last half-century, the tree shading me was most likely a sapling in my father's day, if it was there at all. The tree in front of the house, at the left edge of each picture, is a different one today than in the 50's. In fact, I was talking to the chief of maintenance on my way out, and he told me that that tree is going to be taken down this summer; it's too close to the house.

I may try this one again soon. I was there in the early afternoon, from the looks of the original I need to be there early in the morning, nine or ten o'clock I think. Of course, I'll also need a light gray three-button suit.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bokeh Betsy

May 2009

I don't know if I've ever mentioned bokeh before. Bokeh is the westernized spelling of the Japanese word boke, meaning fuzzy. It's used to describe the quality of the off-focus background in photographs. When you shoot with a lens wide open, i.e., at its biggest f stop, the depth of field, or the front-to-back range of sharpness, is very short. The out of focus areas are the bokeh. The faster a lens is, the large its maximum f stop, results in a shorter depth of field. High-end lenses like this also have more blades on the iris as well which add to the smoothness of the bokeh.

The picture of Betsy, above, was shot with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I was zoomed in at 200, and wide open at f 2.8. Focusing on her right eye, the depth of field is about an inch, from the eye to just short of the end of her nose being sharp focus. Everything else falls off into creamy smoothness.

(When shooting animals or people with a short DOF the best focal point in on the eye closest to the camera. Even if the rest of the picture is out of focus, with the eye sharp it'll look okay.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chaising Rebecca

May 10, 2009

This picture is all about unconventional composition, since the sun was too harsh for me to make anything resembling a decent portrait. I had the 17-40mm lens and decided to take advantage of the extra-wide angle by focusing on Rebecca as she lay on the lounge and tried to turn back generations of northern European heritage. I was drawn to the bisecting lines in the concrete, and the way the lines of the lounge work with the near-vertical line on the right to almost meet and form a triangle.

Post-processing included cropping the top quarter of the entire picture, neutralizing the background tones and boosting the saturation a bit. I seem to be emulating the style of a 1960's southern Californian photographer, I just can't remember who.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Looking east along Spring Street, lower Manhattan. Early morning, with the sun just breaching the horizon, barely scraping the rooftops of Brooklyn and radiating its orange glow upwards through the humid air, silhouetting the East Village water towers.

I'd looked at this scene for weeks, mainly because it was my route to and from the subway, and waited for the right time of day to get this image. I think I used the 70-200 Toyo lens on one of the Pentax ME's.

I can't for the life of me remember where this next picture was taken. I know it was at dusk, and it was on the west side of Manhattan. It's a Mobil station, and it has to near West Street, since the building poking up in the middle is the south tower of the Trade Center. It might be on Canal Street; as a quick look at Google Maps has a vacant lot in front of two buildings with a water tower that fits the bill.

Longtime readers may also recognize these two pictures from another website of mine, where they appeared crudely Photoshopped together under the title Fireworks Factories.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Look Out, Children

That's what I used to think whenever I passed this house. This was on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Rosedale, in the overgrown yard of a run-down house sometime during 1987 or '88. I liked shooting Kodachrome in the early morning light, and the neighborhood I lived in had plenty of creepy scenes like this. The pupils and lashes on the letter O's are very special, and the open vent on the roof makes me think someone may have recently escaped.

I came upon this and a few other interesting shots while looking for something else. What I was originally looking for I've totally forgotten, but since I have these, I decided not to waste them. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cry, Baby, Cry.

I have to admit that I was part and parcel in causing the event pictured here, responsible through my inaction based on my observation of the situation as it unfolded. I watched the child and practically mouthed a narration of the action as it happened. I could have done something, but I didn't. I don't even know the kid.

I saw the woman put the party hat on the baby, and I knew it wouldn't end well. I remembered my own childhood experiences with birthday hats with thin elastic bands, and I knew it would only end in only one way. Pain and tears.

I watched the child's stubby little fingers reach for the elastic where it was cutting into his ear. Baby fingers are about the least dexterous thing a child has, and I don't think this kid even had bones in his yet. He was only able to hold the elastic for a millisecond, but it was an eventful one.

Grab. Pull. SNAP! (pause). Create ear-splitting yell through the use of the pictured mouth/tongue combination.

The child may never look at Elmo the same way again.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Castle on the Hill

April 2009

As I was walking through the drizzle and mist in Majors Park, just above the Ottawa Locks, I saw this and realized the parallels it had with various Hollywood representations of Baron von Frankenstein's castle.

I only had the infrared camera with me, since this was the morning of my earlier report, Ottawa: Ouest à l'est, and I was on my way to the National Gallery. Given the state of the weather that morning, it was the ideal medium to create the mood. All it needs are a few well-placed lightning bolts.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Weight Room

May 2009

Even though I've been coming to Kings Park for twenty years, there's always something on the property that surprises me. In the past year I've explored sections I've never been to before, as well as revisiting familiar scenes with the infrared camera. Still life ghost town landscapes have been a major influence in my portfolio since I first began carrying a pocket 110 camera back in the late 1970's, and this place has a limitless supply of all of that and more.

I had a hour or so to kill before a meeting, so I decided with an overcast day and a slight mist in the air, that it would be perfect for shooting infrared. I hadn't been to the powerhouse area for a while, so I parked near St. Johnland Road and walked behind the towering hulk of building 93. The power plant sits
behind it on a lower elevation, with the concrete piers of the abandoned rail spur crossing the yard.

I've shot these uprights before, they make for some interesting compositions, depending on the light. But it was a building off to the side of the plant, through a broken window on a loading dock, that I found the image that opens this column.

I'll be coming back for this again. I already wish I'd gone to the car for my tripod; this was the steadiest of the seven shots I made. And even though it was made with the InfraRebel, because of the lack of direct sunlight or organic material, it's more or less a straight black and white.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ottawa: Ouest à l'est

Sherry and I completed the four hundred and ninety mile drive from Long Island to Ottawa in exactly eight hours, pulling in to the driveway of the Marriott on Queen Street at six PM Sunday night. We had a room on the 21st floor, the northeast corner of the building. Being on the corner, it was one of the only four rooms on that floor with a balcony, affording us this panoramic view:

(Click to enlarge)

The Ottawa River stretches and curves in the midground, from the du Portage Bridge on the left, behind the gray granite of the Supreme Court building, with the spire of St. Andrew's Church on Wellington Street in the foreground. The copper-roofed edifice on the right of the spire is the Justice Building, currently housing offices of MP's.

All of the square roofs in the foreground from the center of the picture to the right are buildings lining the Sparks Street Mall. Though not apparent here, they're all glass-faced, and, depending on the quality of light, are interesting subjects on their own. But that's for another post.

Moving along west to east, the nearer of the two bridges in the center-right, closest to the viewer is the Interprovincial Bridge, with the MacDonald-Cartier Bridge behind it. The next tall copper tower is the
Confederation Building, with more government offices. Moving along to the right, that small tower is the top of the dome of the Library of Parliament.

Next we have a bit of an optical illusion, due to our angle of view. While these might look like twin towers, the West Block, on the left, and the Peace Tower, on the right, with the flag, are several hundred meters apart, and different heights.

Center Block and Peace Tower

There had been a series of demonstrations the previous week, Sri Lankan-Canadians were pressing the Canadian government to intervene in their home country's political struggle. The marches came to a climax Tuesday afternoon on the lawn of Parliament Hill. It was a wet, gray, day, and I planned on carrying only my Infrared camera with me. I only wanted one camera, partly as a self-assignment and partly because I was walking to the National Gallery, and I didn't want a lot of extraneous stuff.

There wasn't a lot going on early in the morning, when I first went by. The police were keeping the marchers in the street, although they weren't actively keeping people off the hill. I was able to walk along in front of the West Block and almost up the drive to the Center Block, but there were barricades set up keeping people out from the roadway behind the buildings to the Library. Which also meant I couldn't get to the cat condos, either, which was disappointing.

When I finished with the museum a few hours later, the rally was in full swing. There were what looked to me to be a few thousand people gathered on the lawn, an area about the size of a polo field. I didn't stop then for any pictures, since I still only had the infrared camera with me. That and two and a half hours pounding the hardwood and granite floors of the gallery had left my feet and legs weary.

But at the hotel the TV told me this was an historic occasion, with fifteen thousand people assembled on the Hill. A live report came on, and I opened the door to the balcony, which faced directly at Parliament Hill.

The chants and cheers coming from behind the onscreen reporter were just a split second behind the cheers I heard live from four blocks away. This was beginning to look interesting, and my inner photo journalist started pecking away. I had several hours before I had to get Sherry, so...

After a quick shower and cup of coffee, I loaded a fresh battery and card into the 5D. I agonized for a few moments between the 17-40mm and the 24-105mm lenses before choosing the latter. I wanted the reach of the 105mm, and the 24 was wide enough. I put an extra card in my pocket and headed out.

I still don't think there were 15,000 people there; I've been part of huge crowds before, I've marched on Washington, I've been to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, I was at most of the major concerts in Central Park. This was a big crowd, and surely the largest group of Sri Lankans I've ever seen in one place. Mostly naturalized citizens, from what I read in the papers, mainly settling here over the last thirty years, but not so far removed from their homeland that the pain of the current affairs there haven't moved them to act.

And still, they're Canadians. Which means that for all the people that were there, there wasn't a bit of litter on the grounds, and everyone leaving dropped their signs in a single pile at the gate, where the pickets were already being removed for future use.