This winter is something special. Not only does it take it’s toll on all us Canadians but some of the states have been feeling the sting as well. With record breaking snow falls in Boston to covering the desert sands of Texas. What we can be sure of is how the weather can be unpredictable.
Not all Bad
Not to despair, the winter brings in unique opportunities to the city landscapes allowing us to capture some of the marvelous scenery around Montreal and especially the old district. Here is my take on the overshot Basilica by winter night.
Best sunset of the year
Well I was sure glad to have found my way towards the old port for this amazing sky. Finally the conditions where perfect especially for a shoot in Montreal where only a week ago I missed out on another spectacular sunset.
Zeis 55mm f/1.8 fastest lens ever!
At least that I’ve ever owned. I was looking to take pictures of the city and sometimes the wide angle just doesn’t cut it. You want to zoom in and for that I’ve found to work perfectly is the 55mm portrait lens. The amount of detail and sharpness it can capture is something I’ve never seen before.
How to get the most out of the lens
Coupled with the Sony A7R you’ll get the best of both worlds. Here’s a trick to get the details you want. Keep the aperture at the highest (f/1.8) and use focus peaking (built in the Sony A7R just change to manual focus) this way you can have the focus at the maximum exactly where you want. Afterwards just move the aperture to a lower value (usually between f/10-22 for cityscapes). This ensures you will get the sharpest possible image at longer exposures.
This day I decided to go out to the old port for some day time long exposure tests with my brand new B&W 10 stop filter which I almost lost. More on what happens to it bellow.
Sometimes you’re at the right place, at the right time.
My first stop was in front of the Bonsecours marketplace since the weather was pretty interesting with the dark clouds forming overhead. As I’m passing on the sidewalk to my next angle, I notice a nice horse carriage heading my way. I had mere seconds to prepare and frame the shot before the horse could arrive. Happy to have been able to capture it!
Luck runs out
Next stop, the Clock Tower. One of the worlds most beautiful clock towers according to CNN. I do a couple of shots while being crammed between passing tourists and as I finish my last shot and raise my camera to walk away, low and behold the brand new ND filter decides to fall off the lens hood, through the prison bars and down the ledge of the clock tower where it is pretty much unreachable. After several failed attempts to get it with my tripod.. there was only one way to get it back. Needless to say as you can see from the new pics, I have it back now.
Sony A7R initial impression
It was hard to say goodbye to my first DSLR as it has served me very well in all aspects but it was time for a full frame. In comes the Sony A7R. Things that jump out right away, are picture quality and MP size thanks in no small part to the 36.3mm sensor it sports in a smaller body than just about all full frames. Since the sensor is basically the same one used for the d800 at almost half the price, it was a no brainer. It feels like the first time I got my DSLR as I’m going through the process of learning and testing new grounds.
A bit of flavor
It’s a nice stark contrast noticing the hot Havana Club bottle on the shores of an otherwise cold skyline. Also puts into perspective the need for a real beach in Montreal where people can have a good time without worrying what they can catch from the water.
Finding the right angle
What I find it’s come down to, especially when shooting in the city where many people shoot, you must find something unique and interesting to differentiate. It’s not an easy task but a fun one! Take into account the light of day, the angle of the shoot and anything moving. When you combine the three you are sure to have something different than the usual.
From the top
This was shot at one of the most popular public destinations in New York, the Empire State building. The lineups and journey up are a little long but if it’s your first time, worth it. At the ticketing checkpoint, they do not allow tripods to be taken up. First I was a bit surprised but as we got up I started to understand why. You could barely move through the sea of people making 86th floor a total mob scene. Luckily I was able to squeeze into a couple of spots and take a few shots. Total time spent at the top 5min! If you go I suggest opting for a different time slot, when there is not as much traffic.
Processing night scenes
You’ll notice that as you combine your 3 exposures in photomatix, the saturation is greatly increased and people start to look more like ghosts since it’s a longer exposure than day shooting. Two easy fixes for that. Select “remove ghosts” (I suggest with ‘the selective deghosting tool’) from the menu before processing. After the process simply decrease the color saturation and you’ll start seeing more details.
Happy 4th of July to my friends down south
This is actually a picture I took on the first of July, here we call it Canada day. But the mood is all the same. Everyone is out celebrating and having fun. Don’t be fooled by the picture, we don’t actually have real beaches in Montreal.
Accelerate your work flow in Photoshop
Instead of starting over from scratch to create each effect independently, I like to use Photoshop actions. I have created a series specifically for post HDR sharpening and another one to take off the noise. This significantly reduces my workflow to just about minutes. Ofcourse I do some individual touch ups afterwards but that’s cake.
Canada’s roots in the old port
The old port is one of the oldest parts of Montreal so it comes as no surprise that you can witness the architecture left here by the French. Only wish they hadn’t stopped at the old port. Can you image Paris’ beauty on our streets?
For this first day of summer I was able to capture this half way up St-Joseph Oratory. I was surprised at the amount of people and the diversity of cultures passing and having a good time on the steps its steps. But even more so the conditions where just about perfect this time around. The sky was filled with clouds, sun rays peering through and then as the evening turned into night the colors started to come out. You could see the reds, oranges and pinks in the skies. Great end to the first day of summer.
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I originally stopped by the tracks hoping to catch the light trails from the passing trains in Montreal-West. One of the only places where that almost aligns perfectly West towards the sunset. As I made my way towards the station and started taking pictures, I was greeted by a security guard. He informed me that is a place where you are not allowed to take photographs. A little silly as you can just take out your cell phone and do it. But he was cool about it and let me take a few more shots. As I made my way towards the edge to where the street crossing was, the rails went down and so I turned around to shoot a couple of shots of the people stranded in between as the train was passing by.
Despite the actual time, it was dark. The shortest day of the year. I’ve had in my head the idea of shooting a large ship at this angle for a few weeks before getting the actual opportunity. So you can imagine the anticipation built up. I had to get it at any cost. And so I’ve made my way towards the old port.
As I arrived, the weather wasn’t very promising. I wanted to get the shot with the snow but there wasn’t any at the time but that’s actually a good thing. I’ll reveal how I’ve made the snow in a future post. Thanks to the dreary weather I was able to get close to the ship unnoticed even with workers on each end. As to how I’ve managed, I’ll have to keep that part a secret.
So I took a quick succession of auto-bracketed exposures and made my way towards the “exit”. Mission accomplished.
I was very pleased with the end result and thanks to all of you for making it one of my hottest shots to date.