On street photography, privacy in public places, and small human beings: Why I broke my golden rule

As much as I've been infatuated with street photography over the years, and I haven't shied away from shooting anything and everything, there was one self-imposed rule that I haven’t broken until now.

Ontario photography laws dictate that photographs of individuals of all ages, taken in a public space, are perfectly legal. Selling said photos is a slightly different story but, in a nutshell, there is nothing illegal with capturing people on the streets of Toronto. For the longest time however, I would not share images of children, or any person that couldn't give expressed consent, including the homeless or mentally ill. Even for the few adults that end up in front of my lens, I would--whenever possible--to get their permission when photographing and sharing, and would stop immediately at their request.

I've taken the below photo of this sleepy, fuzzy, and ridiculously fashionable tiny dancer almost a year ago in Kensington Market, and immediately fell in love with it. When I wonder the streets of Toronto aimlessly without a specific anything in mind, camera in hand and finger on the shutter, snaps like this are what I'm looking for.

As much as I loved this image, I struggled to find a justifiable reason to post it publicly. There is a real, ethical dilemma about sharing photos of children with recognizable faces for the world wide web to see, not to mention security implications. But I would like to live in a society where we don't have to wonder whether it's ok or not to share captures of passing beauty and heart-warming fleeting moments like this, because of unrealistic expectations of privacy in public spaces, in Canada, in 2018. Now that I'm the proud father of a 2 month-old baby girl, I can say that I wouldn't be bothered in the smallest, if a stranger street photographer took a similar pic of her and shared to the world with no ill-intentions. Being a street photographer is to capture snaps of real, everyday life, unposed and unplanned, and certain risks should be taken, especially when they are likely founded on our collective paranoia. And I know a thing or two about paranoia now that I have a small human being to keep alive.

That being said, legal doesn't always mean ethical, so should the parents of this little boy were to contact me asking for the photo to be removed, I will do so immediately. It would be unfair and disrespectful to him and his parents to ignore their wishes, just because I'm Ok with images of my own child to be taken in public and shared online. That is precisely how paranoia starts.

House Guests by CORPUS

I have  been following the work of Canadian dance/theatre group CORPUS for the better part of the last decade or so, since I had a chance to experience their Peep Show installation for Nuit Blanche many years ago. I was thrilled to be given the chance to shoot their latest project, coinciding with their 20th anniversary, House Guests.

Shot over three preview performances, the images below are only a handful of selects from this innovative, at times frenetic, but always intriguing, site-specific show that ran from Nov. 21 to Dec 17, 2017. It's rare that I end up with too many keepers from any live or sports eventI usually pray the photography gods for a dozen usable shots or so. This was one of those rare occasions and I had a hard time selecting even the 30+ below. Enjoy!

Photo essay: Markham & Pacific Mall

Boring story short: The in-laws were out of town over the Thanksgiving weekend, and we had to house-sit/pick up produce from their backyard garden. Between giant slabs of cheap BBQ pork and a million pounds of fresh organic tomatoes, I also took some pics. 

All photos taken with the ancient (by digital camera times) Fuji X-E1 and the 7artisans 25mm f1.8 lens. This combo is not only cheap, but has become my new fun every-day camera setup. The film-like rendering of the first X-trans sensor plus the manual focusing and general corner-fuzziness of the toy lens is really a throwback - but the tiny pancake lens is really sharp in the center.


Photo essay: CNE 2017

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE, or The Ex, as we locals call it) has marked the unofficial end of the summer in Toronto since forever, and I haven't missed one since I moved to this city 15 years ago. It's crowded, it's loud, dirty, and everything is a cash grab, including the over-the-top food selections like fried butter (?!), but none of those are really why my wife and I go visit every August. It's our yearly chance to walk around the grounds like a pair of 8-year-olds, with a corn dog on one hand, cotton candy on the other, and ignore that you're an adult with responsibilities for one night, because definitely–most definitely–you totally have a chance to win that giant Pikachu.

Honest Ed's final days : Part 2

I'm glad I made it to the aMAZEment have one last chance to experience Honest Ed's at its fullest. Toronto has made me very skeptical of any new events in this city, but I have to admit that this one was absolutely worth the admission price and then some. Farewell Ed's - No glass tower can replace you.

Read part 1 here.

Photos taken with the Panasonic LX100 (mostly) and the GX85 with the Olympus 17mm f1.8

Macro Monday - January 9, 2017

I'm really not into macro. Actually, that's not true. I'm at awe when I see macro photography mastersindividuals with significantly more patience and curiosity than myself, not to mention longer attention span—showing us the wonders of the microscopical world, with all the details that we are unable to see with our naked eyes. I just don't like shooting it, because of the just mentioned lack of patience. I'm like that dog from Up, when it comes to photography (squirrel!)

Having said that, when you visit Allan Garden's in Toronto for their annual Christmas Flower show (or any time of the year you decide to visit, really), you can't help to indulge your inner botanist and attempt at some shots of pretty flowers, leaves, and bugs.

I haven't owned a dedicated macro lens since I sold my Olympus 60mm f2.8 a few years ago. That one was a killer lens, but I ended using it mostly for portraits. It was great at thatbut it  just wasn't bright enough for low-light use, and the focal length was too awkward for events and performances, which is what I really shot at that time. 

All photos in the gallery at the bottom were taken with the Olympus E-PL7 and  the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens, coupled with the VF-4 viewfinder from Olympus. But can we talk about this lens for a minute before we move on, please?

Panasonic Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH. POWER O.I.S.

This fast portrait lens is probably one of the best things I bought with my hard earned money that I can attach to a camera. Everyone keeps raving about the Olympus 45mm f1.8, but this Panasonic equivalent offers just as sharp, if not sharper photos  in my opinion, and image stabilization—important for people like me who shoots with a non-stabilized GM5. Granted, it's a bit more expensive than the Olympus, but it's totally worth it if you buy it when it goes on sale, like I did. More importantly to the subject of macros, this lens focuses as close as 31cm. Still not real macro range, but it comes in more than handy in a pinch, or when you can't justify spending on a dedicated lens when you shoot macro twice a year (on a good year). There's nothing much to add in terms of how well this lens performs when shooting portraits, it's that good. If you were debating between this guy and the Olympus 45mm, I wouldn't doubt for a second and get this totally underrated Panasonic gem. I've been buying/selling/trading a lot of gear in the last five years, more than I'm willing to admit, and this is one lens I don't intend to part with anytime soon.



Honest Ed's final days: Part 1

Three days left before it closes its doors for good, Honest Ed's already looks like a ghost town. Most of the stock is gone, its iconic hand-painted signs are up for sale, and there is a general feeling of gloom and sadness in the air as you walk the isles.

Like many who made Toronto their adoptive home, Honest Ed's had a special place in my heart not only as a landmark of the city, but as one of its most iconic, almost living and breathing, characters. This is the place that I bought my first rice cooker in Canada for a cool $9.99 (this is an essential item for any Asian) and its unavoidable, giant neon sign will be sorely missed.

All photos taken with the Panasonic Lumix GM5 and the 14mm f2.5 lens.

UPDATE: Some of the photos in this series have been picked up by Toronto Star Touch, Indie88, and Lululemon Toronto's Instagram Feed.

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 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.