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B&W landscapes can be dramatic

iPhone 6 Plus, 4 second exposure

iPhone 6 Plus, 4 second exposure

I’m not the one to make black and white landscape photos, but when I see one that works, I stick with it. This photo that I took with my iPhone 6 Plus is one such example.

This was in fact a long exposure of about 4 seconds, which is why you can see the rocks so clearly. The exposure was long enough to smooth out any movements from the water.

I was standing on the edge of the icy area so I was restricted in where I could place my camera and tripod, but I knew somehow, this place would work well. While I was pleased with the coloured version, as soon as I edited this in black and white, I knew instantly this was the version I wanted.

When you have an instinct for a photo, go with it and take it. The same can be said about your editing!

Cold mornings

Nikon D800, 70mm, f/14, 6.0 sec., ISO 100, B+W 6-stop ND filter

Nikon D800, 70mm, f/14, 6.0 sec., ISO 100, B+W 6-stop ND filter

Did everyone enjoy the cold mornings over the weekend? While I wasn’t crazy enough to go out for a sunrise shoot this past weekend, I did shoot this during a sunrise one early morning last winter. I don’t remember what the exact temperature was, but it sure felt like it was -40C.

The morning colours were fantastic that shoot, as the sun rose silently but gloriously from the east. Using a B+W 6-stop ND filter, I was able to increase my exposure time to 6 seconds without blowing any of the highlight details out of my image.

This version of the photo was edited in Lightroom and with Topaz Lab’s Clarity app, which is something that I’m trying to test out these days. When you know what to do, Lightroom is quite a powerful editing tool—although it still won’t be replacing the things that Photoshop can do.

With the use of the gradient filters, I increased the saturation of the blue and orange bands on the horizon. If I really wanted to, I could have made the entire Toronto skyline a silhouette by painting in black throughout, but I wanted to keep a little detail in there to show some of the sunlight reflecting off the side of the buildings.

For the bottom part of the photo, I wanted to show the texture of the water and ice. To achieve this, I brought the photo into Topaz Lab’s Clarity app, which does a great job in increasing contrast at different detail levels. It’s worth playing around in this to get the exact look you’re after. After I was happy with how the water look, I simply combined the top half of the image that was edited in Lightroom, with this bottom half, using Photoshop.

That’s all there is to this image!

Into the wormhole

Here’s a classic wormhole shot taken from the first train of the subway in Toronto. While many photographers love to do this with their mobile phone, I had a chance to do this with my Nikon D800 a while back. It’s a simple photo but because of the fast motion going through the curved tunnel, it makes for a great effect.

Nikon D800, 1.0 sec., f/3.2, 24mm, ISO 400

Nikon D800, 1.0 sec., f/3.2, 24mm, ISO 400

On the left you can still see a faint reflection from the lights behind me, and on the right, you can see a little bit of the yellow sign, left there from the early part of this long exposure.

How does one do this?

Make sure to go to the very front of the subway train. Put your camera up against the window. Hold it steady and do a long exposure of about 1 sec. so that you won’t blow away any of the highlights, and you still maintain the details of the tracks below. That’s really all there is to it.

Enjoy your next subway ride!

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!

Product Review: GripTight Mount by JOBY

If you ever wanted to take long exposures with your iPhone—or any other mobile phone for that matter—it’s always best to keep your iPhone as stable as possible. One way to go about this is to use a tripod. Most tripods, however, do not come with an adapter that can hold your iPhone, relegating you to dig deep down inside to your MacGyver instincts and come up with something creative. Duct tape anyone?

Folds flat to a mere 7mm!

Folds flat and has rubber grips on its arms for protection.

If you don’t know who MacGyver is, don’t worry as the fine folks at JOBY have made a great mount to attach your iPhone to any tripod. The GripTight Mount from JOBY is a compact mount that is capable of holding your iPhone and attaching it to your tripod of choice. The mount comes in two sizes to accommodate all models of your phone: the Regular mount holds anything from 54mm to 72mm wide, while the XL mount holds phones 69mm to 99mm wide. Otherwise, the two models are identical.

The Normal (left) and XL mounts (right).

The Normal (left) and XL mounts (right).

The grips have rubber padding on them, cushioning your iPhone as you release the spring to hold it in place. The two springs on the GripTight are strong enough to create a solid grasp of your phone. However with the iPhone 6 Plus being so tall and the grip of the GripTight so narrow, before purchasing this, I wondered if the grip would be wide enough to hold the iPhone securely. Admittedly, the iPhone can shift in place if you’re not careful, but if I’m composing a photo with my iPhone, I always just adjust the tripod until I see what I like anyway.

JOBY GripTight mounts holding an iPhone 4s (left) and an iPhone 6 Plus (right).

JOBY GripTight mounts holding an iPhone 4s (left) and an iPhone 6 Plus (right).

What I love about this mount is that it is one of—if not the—most compact mounts I’ve come across so far. The grips fold in, making the tripod a mere 7mm thin and fits neatly into my pocket so that it doesn’t get in the way. The tripod I use for my iPhone is equally compact, so together, my entire iPhone and tripod system is as compact as I would ever need it to be.

My configuration for doing long exposure photography on my iPhone.

My configuration for doing long exposure photography on my iPhone.

The mount connects to a standard 1/4″-20 screw and even has a small hole for you to attach a lanyard to. It is unobtrusive, small, and even looks great. Combined with my tripod, it’s a great system and one that I’ve been using ever since my iPhone 4. I’ve created countless long exposures with it, and I don’t know what I would have done without it.

The JOBY GripTight mount attached to a mini-tripod.

The JOBY GripTight mount attached to a mini-tripod.

The top grips of the JOBY GripTight mount.

The top grips of the JOBY GripTight mount.

As an example of what long exposure iPhoneography can do, here’s a photo that I took with my iPhone 6 Plus, with my mini-tripod and JOBY GripTight mount. I perched my system up on a fence, and let the shutter go for about 2 seconds.

This photo couldn't have been done this smoothly without my tripod and JOBY GripTight mount.

This photo couldn’t have been done this smoothly without my tripod and JOBY GripTight mount.

The JOBY GripTight mount is an ideal product for your long exposure iPhoneography. It is an indispensable tool in my workflow and I take it with me wherever I go.

For more information on JOBY and their products, visit their website at: www.joy.com.

Colonel Sam Smith Park II

It’s nearing the end of March and it looks like winter is still here to stay—at least here in Toronto. So, allow me to post yet another one of my Winter Wonderland series where I trek outdoors in “ungodly” hours to take sunrise pictures.

This was actually taken back in February, when there was a lot more snow on the ground, and the sunrise was still quite early, around 6:30am. I’ve visited Colonel Sam Smith Park before (in fact, this is the park that started this entire series), however, seeing as it’s nearby my house and is actually not a bad park overall, I decided to revisit this old gem.

Above: The golden colours from the sun coupled with the clear and crisp blue morning sky, captured in a long exposure with the use of my neutral density filter makes this one of my favourites of the morning.

Above: One of the last photos I took in the morning gave way to the mist coming from the water as it started to heat up from the morning sun. A relatively short long exposure, you can see the water starting to become silky smooth.

Above: Right as the sun came above the horizon, I took a long exposure allowing the sunlight to burst out from the center of the frame. The water is smooth while I included the details of the ice and snow in the foreground as a contrasting element.

Above: You never know what you will find when you go out shooting, so always be sure to look around you for any other photo opportunities. I looked behind me and found the moon still in the morning sky. I like this photo of the moon with the pastel pink and blue hues. Had I thought even further, I would have taken a panorama with the sunset on one end and the moon on the other end of the frame. I’ll have to leave that for another time.

It’s only fitting that I end off the Winter Wonderland series with the park that started it all. However, we’ll see if I’m up to any more early morning shoots within the next couple of weeks. Only time will tell.

Until then, enjoy the cool, crisp, morning sunlight while you still can!

Autumn 2013 at Letchworth State Park

Every year in autumn, I try my best to go a short distance to somewhere where I can soak in the colours of mother nature at its best. Last year, my wife and I discovered Killarney, Ontario, which you can also discover in my posts here, and here. Yes, we went twice!

This year our luck took us to Letchworth State Park in New York State. Amazingly, this park is just 45min. away from the Peace Bridge, making this location accessible for even Torontonians. And who wouldn’t want to go to a place nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the East”?

Known for it’s deep gorges, and beautiful landscapes, it’s actually one of the top places in North America to Hot Air Balloon in. While we did not do that this time around, we vowed to come again sometime else to do it.

One early morning, I took it upon myself to wake up at 6am to go to the park and take some sunrise photos. Seeing a number of them all over the internet, I wanted to add my take on this little gem to the net’s collection.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy these photos and they will make you want to go there sometime as well.

The sun rises fairly quickly, so you really don’t have much time to fiddle with your camera. You need to be well prepared beforehand. If you look at the following photos, you’ll see what I mean:

The photo above was taken just prior to the sun peaking out from the horizon. The photo below (and the leading post photo) was taken just a few short seconds later after the sun had risen above the horizon. You can see the dramatic difference in colour between the two.

And here we have a closeup of the sun just as it rose above the horizon.

At the south end of the park, there are three large waterfalls that make for exquisite landscapes. The next three photos are of the Lower falls, Middle falls, and Upper falls of Letchworth State Park.

I didn’t take many photos of the Lower falls as I was in a rush to get to the Upper falls before the sun set. You can see the Lower falls in the backdrop in the center of the photo above.

The Middle falls in all its glory!

The Upper falls—probably the most picturesque of them all—is seen with the railroad bridge towering behind it.

In the photo above, you can see the Middle falls in the foreground and the Upper falls in the background, with the railroad bridge directly behind those falls. It’s a nice view from here.

To get that silky smooth waterfall effect during the day, I rented a 0.9 neutral density filter, which allows me to take long exposures during daylight. In fact I had this filter on for those sunrise photos too, allowing me to take shots with a smaller aperture.

Take a look at more of the silky smooth waterfalls here:

While at Letchworth State Park, there are plenty of autumn colours to see as well. Mixed within the deep gorge, it’s really a sight to see for yourself.

Remember that railroad bridge in the waterfall photos? Well, while you’re strictly prohibited from going up there, it is a well known vantage point to see the park from the highest point in the area (other than from a hot air balloon). It is so high that I was actually a bit scared walking on the bridge as the ground is just metal grates that seem to be haphazardly put together. Despite this, people go there and enjoy the view, much like this one here.

Now, remember I mentioned that Letchworth State Park is one of the best places to hot air balloon in? Well, I only saw one hot air balloon in the air while I was there, thanks to the overcast weather. But the one balloon that I did see, was that of none other than RE/MAX. And that is the photo that I will leave you with for this post on Letchworth State Park.

Astrophotography: My First Attempt!

When I went to Algonquin Park earlier this summer, I tried my luck with astrophotography. While I’ve done numerous long exposure photography in the night before, I’ve never attempted to capture the beauty of the stars and skies.

As luck would have it, the weekend I went up happened to be the perfect weekend for shooting the skies, as a meteor shower was scheduled to pass by in the early morning. We all layed on the lounge chairs on the dock and gazed away as we saw numerous shooting stars left, right, and center. I did manage to capture some of these in my photos as well—in addition to capturing the International Space Station in one of the shots.

After a little bit of research on what to do, how to do it, and how to post-process, I’ve come up with the following images. I hope you like them! What do you think for a first try? Got any tips for future astrophotography sessions?

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

Sunset at Arowhon Pines

TTC Construction

A couple of weeks ago, the Toronto Transit Commission shut down the Queen and Spadina intersection in downtown Toronto, as well as, The Roof Clinic was in charge of fixing roof problems in some buildings around the street because they had drainage problems and it was affecting the pipes of the streets causing damages. To do some streetcar track maintenance, they literally tore down the road making quite the scene in the middle of Chinatown.

Working through all hours of the day and night, the construction crew did their job quite efficiently. I had a chance to take some pictures of the scene at the start of their construction.

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