Project 52: Week 52

Boy oh boy, does a year go by fast. Twelve months ago, I started this little personal project that didn't know would take over so much of my free time like it did. I started it out of sheer frustration with many less-than-stellar things happening in my life at the moment, and a need to put some of that energy into a personal project, with no expectations whatsoever, but I'm glad to be able to say I actually did learn a lot by doing something like this for an entire year.

The obvious thing would be to say I am now a better photographer, having shot with one camera and one fixed focal length lens for 52 weeks (although not exclusively with this camera), and very cheap ones at that. With all the limitations that came with this cheap camera setup, also came problems that needed to be solved and that is what I enjoy doing the most in life. So here goes, some of the things I've learned, in no particular order:

  • It really isn't about the camera, it's whomever is behind it.
  • But a good camera really, really makes it so much easier...      
  • It's all about practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Nobody is born with a photography eyeyou train it.
  • On that note, not matter how frustrating and counter-intuitive is to operate a particular camera, you get used to it and it becomes second nature. Habit is a tremendous thing. 
  • A tripod and a little patience at night is better than all the image stabilization technology in the world
  • Most times, you don't need 5 lenses and 3 bodys. You only need one camera and one lens—the one you have it you (and this includes iPhones). And the smaller the better.

As much as I've enjoyed doing this project, and the tremendous things I've learned this past year, I wouldn't do it again any time soon. It has taken too much of my time, and in the end, I'm not sure if intentionally crippling my photography workflow is really a good thing. I have been more frustrated than not. This old hunk of metal had the worst menu system I ever experienced, the loudest and clunkiest shutter ever (DSLR or mirrorless), and its rather less than acceptable low-iso performance. 

For my last week, and in the vains of shooting things I never shoot, I decided to do a self-portrait. Well, of sorts: My ever-present wife was the one who pressed the shutter. As with most photographers, I rarely am in front of the lens, so it seemed a fitting ending for this project for me to be on the other side for once. It only made sense that I included City Hall as the background, a regular subject of my street shots, and the real highlight of 2015 in this city—the Toronto sign, left over from the Panam games.

Project 52: Week 51

Here we go, one more week left, and other shot at trying something I rarely do: Product photography. With the help of one of my wife's trusty troll dolls, a homemade lightbox, and the flashlight from my ol' iPhone 5 as the main light source, I've put the lowly E-PM1 to test for a quick and dirty macro studio session.

I'm not a happy camper. It's not bad, but the amount of Lightroom/Photoshop work needed was more than I can usually bare for this kind of for-shits-and-giggle project. The 5 year old sensor on the E-PM1 is shit. Shadow recovery? Next to none. Dynamic range? Forget it. But the real culprit is the lens. I think if I had a slightly better piece of glass in front of the Olympus, this would be a fair contest. But the constant f8 toy lens is seriously just that - a toy.

Project 52: Week 49

For the few weeks that I have left in this project, I wanted to try my hand on some stuff that I usually never do. Long exposure, day or night, is something I NEVER do, mainly because I'm just too lazy to carry a tripod. It's the polar opposite of street photography. It requires patience, trial and error, and visualizing the final photo in your head in a very specific way, unlike the quick shoot-and-run that is street.

If anything, this project is forcing me to try things that I would have never even considered in the past. This is definitely not the best long exposure that I could have taken, but I know now what to do next time to make it better.

It really helps to have a light, compact tripod. Carrying a big chunk of metal in a cold December night is a bit less painful when you can tuck it in your messenger bag.

The Olympus camera rig however...

It really produces some very sharp images (at least in the centre), but it is really a pain to use. Shooting long exposure means shooting in manual mode almost exclusively, and changing even simple settings requires too many button presses. The low-light capabilities of the old sensor is particularly not good with the dark skies. However, it's tiny and light, always a plus when it comes to portability.

Project 52: Week 46

It's been the warmest November ever, but Toronto had the first taste of winter in the form of light flurries. Which means I will need to find ways to shoot indoors, because cold. I hate the cold. In the meantime, here's a shot of Christie Pits while the temps were still in the double digits.

Project 52: Week 42

When your crappy toy lens has a fixed f8 aperture, and your crappy mirrorless camera can barely handle 1600 ISO, you really need get resourceful when shooting in low-light. Looking for the bright spots, searching for some dramatic hard lighting, finding those solid reflective surfaces, and wasting a lot -a lot- of shots, until you get a decent one.

Project 52: Week 40

City Hall must be one of the Toronto spots I've shot the most. The obvious way to shoot this iconic building is the classic postcard pic - straight up front (now enhanced with the Toronto sign leftover from the Pan Am games). But the real beauty starts when you walk around the block that surrounds Nathan Phillips Square, and start looking at it from different angles. There's always an interesting way to shoot this building.

Project 52: Week 39

Definitely hit my all-time low this week with this project: I haven't taken a single photo with the "el cheapo" Olympus this week. Not one single one. Nada. Blame it on the new job, I say.

Instead, here's another reject from a few weeks past. As a Torontonian, especially living in downtown, you take for granted all the great art in the city because they just become part of the landscape after long enough, like this installation by multi-disciplinary Canadian artist Michael Snow. One of the things about these projects is that it forces you to see everyday objects and places in a different light.

Project 52: Week 38

I've spent a LOT of time at Sugar Beach this summer, and taken more shots that I could care to share. It seems adequate that this is the shot of the week, since I will likely not spend as much time there as I did in the last six crazy months.

As photographers, we often forget the reason why photography even exists in the first place. It's easy to get lost in pixel-peeping, technical perfection, and obsessive composition, when the original purpose of taking pictures is to capture moments and preserve memories.

Project 52: Week 36

One of my favourite spots to shoot in the city is Chinatown. In fact, I make sure I visit the local chinatowns when I'm travelling. They usually hold a wealth of history and culture, unique to each city and country, not to mention cheap and amazing food.

Toronto is fortunate to have not one but two Chinatowns. This shot was taken in the oldest one, in the east end of the city - now far from its heydays and overshadowed by the bigger and more vibrant one in the west end. Who knew a bunch of piled up vegetables would make a good photo?

Project 52: Week 35

I've been trying to shoot things other than street for a while with my cheap Olympus rig for weeks, failing miserably. A quick long-weekend day trip to the nearby Niagara Falls could make the difference. How can you take a bad picture of the world-famous attraction? Bad, maybe not. An interesting picture? That's much harder. 

It's really challenging to take a shot of something that's been shot to death, and that's really, after all, just a really large amount of water, falling. 

Even when shooting landscapes, I can't seem to shake off my street photography instincts, and I need to bring that sense of timing into the frame. Fortunately, a blistering sunny day and the passing Maid of the Mist seemed to align perfectly, just when I had my Olympus in hand. 

Project 52: Week 33

I always bring a camera with me, everywhere. Part of being a photographer is to be ready for the job at hand, and have the right gear for the occasion. Most of the times my iPhone is more than enough for everyday scenarios, but because of this project, I carry my cheap Olympus in my bag almost always. 

This week's pic was taken on my way to work, on a quiet weekday morning, where there just happen to be an international Taichi congress happening at Yonge-Dundas Square. So to recap - Good photos = 90% being in the right location in the right moment + 10% having a camera, knowing how to use it.