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Sunrise, Seagull, and Spring

You would think that with the arrival of Spring, we should expect warmer temperatures, but that was hardly the case when I went out to shoot the sunrise on the first day of Spring. With temps nearing -10C, it was far from the Spring weather we are more used to.

With each sunrise shoot I go to, I always make it a point to come out with at least one decent shot that I’m happy with. If I come out with more, that’s a bonus. That morning the skies were relatively clear with just a spotting of clouds here and there. Overall, this didn’t make for any particularly interesting display of light.

A sunrise with clear skies and few clouds.

A sunrise with clear skies and few clouds.

This particular morning my interest quickly turned from the skyline to the seagulls that just wouldn’t go away. There were a number of them flying about where I was stationed (perching myself and my tripod on top of one of those corrugated steel pipes may have piqued their interest), while one particular seagull decided to show me what it could do.

Seagull flying with the sunrise colours in the background.

Seagull flying with the sunrise colours in the background.

In a display of pure wilderness, it eyed beneath the water and once it saw something, it quickly flew up and nose-dived into Lake Ontario, coming back up with its prize.

A seagull nose-dives into Lake Ontario in search of food.

A seagull nose-dives into Lake Ontario in search of food.

His first catch was a crayfish of some sort, although he soon realized with its hard shell, it would require much more work for a tasty breakfast.

A seagull catches a crayfish from Lake Ontario.

A seagull catches a crayfish from Lake Ontario.

While I was surprised to see a seagull capture this, I was even more surprised to learn that we had living crayfishes in Lake Ontario! After capturing the crayfish, it flew back onto the pipe I was standing on, trying to get at the crayfish. It picked and picked to no avail and eventually let it wash away into Lake Ontario again…but not before showing me who was boss.

Seagull grasping a crayfish in its beak.

Seagull grasping a crayfish in its beak.

The seagull’s second round under the water yielded in a small fish, which I’m sure he was able to enjoy much easily. Unfortunately the only photo I have of this was blurry as I was focused elsewhere at the time.

Seagull captures a fish in Lake Ontario.

Seagull captures a fish in Lake Ontario.

While I was following the seagull’s adventure, another photographer approached me and asked if he could take my photo silhouetted against the rising sun. He later emailed me the photo, as seen below. It’s a great shot since you can see where I was standing, and it includes the seagull I was eyeing all morning.

A silhouette of Taku taken by photographer David Allen

A silhouette of me taken by photographer David Allen, with his iPhone 5c.

You can check out David Allen’s site here, where he’s accumulated quite the collection of photos from High Park.

The above photo was taken shortly after I took the skyline photo below.

Orange and blue on a clear sky.

Orange and blue on a clear sky.

It wasn’t the most dramatic of sunrises, but I’m happy to have come out with some interesting shots of the seagull and its breakfast adventure. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from shooting sunrises for the past two years, it’s that you can never predict how things will turn out. And if the sunrise turns out to be a dud, then you’re better off turning your attention to something else that may make for a more fruitful photoshoot.

A victorious seagull cries.

A victorious seagull cries.

Bokeh effects the natural way

Nikon D800, 8.0 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 8.0 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 14mm

When you’re out shooting and you’re concentrating on your subject, it’s easy to forget about your surroundings. This is what happened one morning while I was busy shooting the sunrise. I loved the colours in front of me so much that I was too busy setting my camera and settings up when I didn’t realize the waves crashing against the rocks in front of me would be capable of splashing beyond the rocks.

It caught me by surprise and I had no time to react when a huge wave came crashing on the rocks in front of me, splashing water all over myself and my camera. I was lucky I layered myself so that only the outer-most layer got soaked. My second layer actually kept me dry for the remainder of my shoot that morning.

As for my camera and lens? Well, it was wet, but with the wind blowing hard, it dried the rain off of my gear in no time. I wiped the water off of the glass and was ready to continue shooting again.

I underestimated the weather that morning as I didn’t realize being at least 10 feet away from the rocks wouldn’t be enough to keep me dry. Every now and then I would get mists of water splash on my lens, forcing me to wipe the lens. It kept me from concentrating on taking more pictures.

The light was so magnificent that morning that a little bit of water really didn’t bother me. I took this shot above before wiping the mist off of the lens, giving me a natural bokeh effect from the drops of water on my front glass. You can still see the background sunrise and the great colour it was giving off, which makes this for a great photo despite the circumstance.

It’s these imperfect pictures that will tell a story year down the road, and will make you smile again at all the trouble you went through to get that golden sunrise moment.

Being at the right place at the right time

This is just a precursor of another post to come. I thought I’d share with you a glimpse of what I saw today just because I happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Being at the right place at the right time.

Being at the right place at the right time.

While wandering around the Scarborough Bluffs Park, I was Periscoping the view, showing the world the wonderful view that we have, when all of a sudden I hear loud noises coming from afar. I look to my right only to find a barrage of jet skiers making their way towards the beach area of the Scarborough Bluffs.

It was almost like something out of a movie, and I was in the front row watching everything unfold in front of my eyes. I managed to Periscope the entry, in addition to the jet skiers performing a little show for us above, as they swirled around and around in the waters, making waves and noise.

I managed to shoot many with my Nikon, but for this post, I leave you with one that I got with my iPhone 6 Plus. Another post will follow in the next few days, where I will show you the beauty of the Scarborough Bluffs (again), with all the jet skiers down below.

Love where you are

That one moment when you're glad you woke up at 5am.

That one moment when you’re glad you woke up at 5am. Nikon D800, 1/160 sec., f/13, ISO100, 22mm

Sometimes you get so stuck in the moment that you just keep doing what you’ve been doing all along. One morning while I was heading to the park, I decided last minute to go somewhere different for a change. I looked around for another vantage point and eventually ended up here. I had to walk through shrubs and tree branches but the short walk was well worth the spectacular view that I was present that morning.

What I later found out that morning was, there was an entire group of photographers a few feet away from me just outside of the brushed areas. There were about 20 of them, all lined up along the shoreline taking pictures of this very sunrise.

I have to say though, that I appreciated my spot since I was surrounded by all this nature, bushes…and a few ducks.

Friday morning, this is the place to be

I’m almost a little dissapointed that this spot in particular won’t be the place we will be going to this Sunday morning. However, if things work out, this Friday morning this spot may prove to be great as well with the sun rising somewhat near the CN Tower.

Only time will tell!

iPhone 6 Plus Vs. Nikon D800 Sunrise Shootout

Here’s another comparison photo from my iPhone 6 Plus and my Nikon D800. They may not be a fair comparison per se, but it’s always fun to see the difference in quality between a mobile photo and that from a dSLR.

I posted the square cropped version of the iPhone 6 Plus photo on Instagram. But this is just one example where square just doesn’t cut it. The full version, as seen here, us much more dramatic and screams for attention.

The long exposure was done through Slow Shutter Cam app; I believe this was either a 4 or 8 second exposure. I believe I edited the colours in Instaflash Pro, and then put it through VSCOcam, where I applied the M4 preset to get this overall faded yet colourful look.

iPhone 6 Plus edited in VSCOcam

iPhone 6 Plus edited in VSCOcam

The Nikon D800, shown below is a 1 second exposure. It was edited in Lightroom where I enhanced the colours near the horizon, added a saturation gradient to the sky, and sharpened and brightened up the buildings a touch. The composition is very similar to the iPhone 6 Plus, but you can see that it is zoomed in much closer to the skyline.

Nikon D800, f/9.0, ISO 100, 1.0 sec., 70mm

Nikon D800, f/9.0, ISO 100, 1.0 sec., 70mm

I personally like the Nikon D800 version better with the vibrant tones to the sunrise. I love the subtle mixture of blue, yellow, and orange half way up this photo. The sharpness of the buildings can’t be matched by the iPhone either.

Still, it’s amazing what a mobile phone is capable of accomplishing in a matter of minutes. The edit oh my iPhone took a lot less time to do than the edit in Lightroom—and I could change the look and feel of the photo in seconds with the tap of a filter.

That’s the payoff with mobile photography!

A winter storm approaches

Nikon D800, 1/125 sec., f/8.0, ISO 400, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1/125 sec., f/8.0, ISO 400, 14mm

This was the day that I went out shooting a little unprepared. Little did I know that it would eventually rain freezing rain. Coupled with strong winds, it was not the most ideal condition to be shooting in. Nevertheless, I kept shooting because I already made the effort to come to the park.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about the families that came to the park with a photographer to take family photos. As I was making my way back to my car, I see at least three families (related to each other) come out into the cold. The freezing rain had stopped but there was still some precipitation, not to mention the cold. For reasons unknown to me, this photographer thought it would be a great idea to keep going with this family photoshoot session. There was a little girl dressed up in a pretty skirt, and parents dressed nicely without their jackets. I overheard one person mention that he thought the family photoshoot was a great idea, thinking it was in a studio!

Meanwhile I looked like a mess covered in ice, with all my photography gear covered…like what you see here:

Camera gear after shooting in the freezing rain.

Camera gear after shooting in the freezing rain.

I just hope she was able to get some decent shots with all the family members. I gather she could have made things easier on herself had she opted to shoot on another day when the weather was a little less…freezing.

Sunny days are ahead

Nikon D800, 1/800, f/8.0, ISO100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1/800, f/8.0, ISO100, 14mm

Well, we all hope so, at least. The day that I shot this, it was fairly cold. But the sun came out halfway through the day and warmed things up a little. While I was walking by the shorelines, I passed by a cross-country skier. She spoke out first and we started chatting for a while. Why aren’t there more people enjoying this beautiful weather outside? People tend to stay inside during the winter times, but really, if you make the effort to go out, it can be a real breath of fresh air.

She went on to ski, and I went on to take more photos. It was a nice moment between two complete strangers enjoying the outdoors on a brisk Toronto winter morning.

Then I had to wipe my nose clean!

Almost abstract

Nikon D800, 8.0 sec., f/14, 58mm, ISO 100

Nikon D800, 8.0 sec., f/14, 58mm, ISO 100

I never thought about this until a few months after taking this photo, but this long exposure photo seems almost surreal and abstract. There’s no special effects applied to it, just some simple colour enhancements in Lightroom and a little bit of smoke removal from the horizon.

If you look at this photo for a while, you almost convince yourself that you don’t really know what you’re looking at. The dark blue areas within the water are merely waves caught in a long exposure while the beautiful gradient of the sky is smooth because there wasn’t a single cloud that morning.

This photo is in fact a sunrise photo taken just before the sun rose above the horizon, in front of a lake. The long exposure makes the water in the foreground blurred and surreal, while the overall colour of the photo enhances this feeling. The full 8.0 seconds was achieved with a 6-stop ND filter (B+W) attached to my 24-70 f/2.8 lens. Otherwise, I would have easily blown out the highlight areas of the photo.

I’m almost tempted to go back and do this with a 10-stop ND filter. Now, if it wasn’t for the cold!

What to do with a photographer’s block

So you’re a photographer or a photography student, and you feel unmotivated to get out there and shoot something. Even worse, everywhere you look you feel like there’s nothing to shoot. What can you do to make those creative juices flowing again?

Nikon D800, 1.0 sec., f/16, ISO 100, 26mm

Nikon D800, 1.0 sec., f/16, ISO 100, 26mm

The photographer in me has always been keen on seeing things through the lens. I’ve caught myself a number of times thinking how this view in front of me would look as a photograph. But when this curiosity to shoot fades away, you’ll be surprised at how little effort you need to make to rekindle that fire in you to shoot again.

For me, all it takes is a little bit of searching on the Internet to find new places to go to near my area. I don’t remember how many times I’ve google-mapped an area to look for possible places to shoot. Google also conveniently provides images for most places that you search for, allowing you to see what the area looks like even before you step out your door.

Using Google maps to locate your future shooting location.

Using Google maps to locate your future shooting location.

I tend to navigate towards natural landscapes for my photography, so my googling often starts near the waterfront, or other areas of nature that are interesting to shoot, like waterfalls and gorges. You can see above that most of the green spaces near the waterfront are parks that are open to the public. Just drive to any one of those and start photographing!

Just seeing the location on a map starts my creativity juices by thinking how the picture may look if I stand there at that location. It really is a super easy way to find new places and get excited again about taking photographs.

Casa Loma caught in the sunset on my way home from work.

Casa Loma caught in the sunset on my way home from work.

Shooting nearby

If you’re not in a position to go too far, simply take your local transportation to somewhere you’ve never been before! This could be a subway stop that you don’t normally get off at, or just take the bus to the other side of town. Get out and explore the area. Everything will be new to you, giving you a refreshing look at your city. I’ve often found that new places tend to jumpstart our creative juices, since you’re not familiar with the area and you’re looking at everything with a fresh perspective.

Hitting even closer to home, I usually take the subway on my way home from work. But those days when I feel like shooting something, I forgo the subway and take a little walk instead. On my walk, I often find a number of interesting places to shoot, and to think I go by the area on a daily basis!

When all else fails

When all else fails, see what your peers are doing. See where they’ve gone and what they’ve been shooting. There’s no shame in taking photos of something that other photographers have already taken. You’ll be adding your own take to the scene and will inevitably come out with something different.

During one of my photography workshops at Luminato Festival, we took the students to the Distillery District. For those of you who don’t know the area, it is a set of historic red-brick warehouses that are now transformed into event spaces, galleries, restaurants, and small shops. It’s a great place to take a walk and even better place to photograph. The whole point of going there was to get the creative juices flowing for the students as they explored the historic grounds. I approached one student who didn’t seem to be taking many pictures, and asked why. She responded, “there’s nothing to take around here!” I was quite taken aback at that comment when everybody else was busy snapping away. I told her all her friends were taking photos so why not have a look at what they were doing and perhaps get some ideas from them.

Hopefully these ideas will give you a start on something to do when you’re stuck for ideas to shoot. It’s a great way to get outside instead of staying in all day long and wasting a perfectly good shooting day.