Toronto

I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

Landscape photography (like life) is unpredictable.  Sometimes you are presented with weather and conditions that are neither what you expected or hoped for.  I ran into this last weekend.  My hopes were high for capturing the Northern Lights.  The forecast was promising but sadly nothing materialized in my area.  Fortunately I didn't come away completely empty handed. 

With no new images to work on today I found myself digging back through my archives.  As I worked on this image of Toronto my hopes of catching the aurora in action must have seeped into my subconscious (cue the Rolling Stones).  

While the universe didn't present me with the aurora images I wanted, it did provide me with heaps of inspiration.  

 

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A ROOM WITH A VIEW - how to get a great night shot of a city from your hotel room

I’m not much of a city girl (I’ve said it before) but I do love the way a city looks at night.  When I travel to a city I do my best to try and get at least one night time image that captures it’s sparkling features.  Sometimes (often) it is from the hotel room window.  I’ve not always been successful but I have learned a few techniques that have helped me improve my hit rate.  Here are few tips you might find helpful when making your own sparkling city images.

 

PICK A ROOM WITH A VIEW

You can use google maps to locate a hotel that might have a good view.  Perhaps one that overlooks the skyline or a well lit landmark of interest. Once you have chosen your hotel you can check trip advisor to get suggestions from previous guests as to what rooms have good views.  To narrow down your choice further, try www.room77.com to actually see and compare one room’s view to another.  

 

GET A CRISP SHOT

Shooting through glass at night can present some difficulties.  Here are a few things you can do to ensure you get the best shot possible;

  • Turn off all of the lights in the room and try closing the curtains behind you to block out the light and get rid of your reflection in the glass.  Take a few shots and look at them closely before proceeding to see if you have any unwanted reflections.
  • Stabilize your camera.  Either bring a tripod or be sure to place your camera on something stable - sometimes the window ledge is deep enough other times you may need to get creative with furniture or use your luggage to prop the camera up on. Be careful.  Damage is not the goal.
  • Get as close to the glass as you can with the end of the lens. (But please don’t lean against it - I’ve heard terrible tales of glass breaking).  If you are using auto focus, mind that the focus is on the city and not on the glass - you may have to flip it to manual focus to stop the camera from “hunting" for focus.  Once you get the focus right, if you haven’t already, lock it in by carefully (without bumping the focus ring) switching the camera to manual focus so that it doesn’t shift back when you depress the shutter button. 
  • No flash please.  You may need to open up the aperture (low f-stop number) and or increase the ISO to get the exposure right.  To start, I place the camera in manual mode, with my aperture at f9,  ISO at 100 and shutter speed in bulb mode.  I then press and hold the shutter button and start counting. At 8 seconds I let it go and check the shot to see if I am getting what I want. I adjust the length of time I hold the shutter open either up or down to get the right exposure.

 

HAVE FUN 

It’s actually not that hard to get some interesting shots… and you have the added benefit of being warm and dry so take your time and experiment.  For example:

  • try zooming the lens out on a long exposure shot for an interesting effect
  • try long exposures to get light trails on a busy street (as I did in the image at top)
  • take some at sunset and catch the reflections off the buildings
  • try creating some abstract images by zooming in on a building with interesting patterns
  • busy intersection below you? take a few images and process them using a tilt shift filter (or do it in camera if you have one of those lenses) 
  • try bracketing -  take multiple shots at different exposures and then blend these later using photo editing software
TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE  Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.   (click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE 
Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.  
(click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

So the next time you find yourself in a city don’t forget to have a look out the hotel window and consider trying to make a few sparkling city night shots. Have fun my friends.

 

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DECEMBER - A MONTH OF SHADOWS AND MAGIC


There is something magical about December.  Perhaps it's because here in the northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter.  Or rather more to the point, night comes earlier and lasts longer.  

Candles, twinkle lights, fire light  - they all owe their enchantment to the dark.  Without shadow the light would would be undefined.  It's the contrast that makes things interesting.

The Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District is charming.  We arrived around 4pm and wandered around enjoying all the displays and poking in the stores.  But as night fell and the shadows grew, the lane ways lined with glowing gas lamps and twinkling lights morphed into a more captivating world.  Even the horses on the brightly lit carousel seemed to come to life.

As  photographer, I find I'm always paying attention to the light... but my newest discovery is that there is magic in the shadows.

Of course I'm not the first to consider this.  I recall Trey Ratcliff talking about this with regards to processing HDR photos.  A side effect of producing photos with a high dynamic range of light is that often the shadows can be completely eliminated.  This is what allows one to see greater detail in an image.  Trey cleverly recommends making adjustments to bring some of that shadow back into your image.  And I agree it makes a big difference... you need a bit of shadow to define the light and to bring the magic.  (By the way if you haven't already - check out Trey's latest magical endeavour www.thearcanum.com)

So embrace the shadows of December my friends and have a magical weekend.  


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