Toronto. At night. In the rain.

I always try to fit in a little photography when I travel and my recent trip to Toronto was no exception. The weather wasn't great, but I've learned that my little Fujifilm X100T will stay fairly dry if I tuck it under my palm as I walk (having the camera on a wrist strap makes this fairly easy). And rainy nights in a city give means lots of mist, reflections and vivid colours.

Here are a few shots in those conditions taken around Toronto's City Hall at Nathan Phillips Square.

Paris: Day 2

Day 2 wore me out. But in a good way. I spent about nine hours walking and standing, starting the day in the famous and overwhelming Musee du Louvre (more on this in another posting) and ending it off with a visit to the Sainte-Chapelle.

Sainte-Chapelle is not one of the bigger churches I have visited, but it is far and away the most memorable. It is extravagantly beautiful. Many of the cathedrals of Europe impress because of their rich histories and associations with the pious and powerful. Some churches, like Reykjavik's Hallgrimskirkja, capture attention because of their unique architecture. Other houses of Christian worship are notable for the purity and simplicity of their vision. But, again, Sainte-Chapelle is extravagantly beautiful.

I expect that many medieval churches were more beautiful in their day, but now we see only their bones with the plaster and decorative painting removed. Even so, how many churches of the period had the stained glass treasures that Sainte-Chapelle still enjoys? So much of the wall space is devoted to glasswork that the ceiling is supported by little more than light and dancing colours.

Built by France's King Louis IX (later canonized as Saint Louis) between 1238 and 1248, the church has now been annexed and partially absorbed by offices of the Palais de Justice de Paris.

But nothing can hold a candle to those windows. 



Paris: Day 1

I have taken advantage of the fact that I am between assignments at work to spend a few days in Paris. Although the city has the reputation of being very grey during the month of February, I seem to have lucked out with a forecast that calls for a sunny week with temperatures of 10 - 12C. Just a bit warmer and less snowy than the Ottawa Valley at this time of year.

So here I am with only my Fuji X-E1 and X100T for company in a city that is a photographer's dream. I've got some ideas for a project but the challenge, as always, is to say something visually that hasn't been said in Paris a million times before. I'm here for a break, though, so I may just let the challenge go and enjoy myself. We'll see.

Here are some night shots from my first evening in the city. All were taken handheld at ISO 3200 beside the Canal de la Villette in the city's 19th arrondissement. 



Sunset in Tadoussac

My youngest son recently had a day off school, so we decided to make a long weekend of it in Tadoussac, Quebec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Tadoussac is about 700km from where we live so it made for a lot of driving over the three days.

And it was well worth it. Situated at the meeting of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers, Tadoussac is probably best known as that starting point for whale-watching tours in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The town is touristy but not overly so and the whales (Fin, Minke and Beluga) and seals did not disappoint. The three hours we spent in an open zodiac with fresh air and brilliant sun on a surprisingly smooth river were wonderful. We couldn't have asked for a better late-September afternoon and everything we'd heard about the magnificent marine mammals of the estuary was true.

But the evenings surprised me. The lingering sunsets in Tadoussac's harbour are beautiful and the long stretch of rocky coastline seems tailor-made for landscape photography. (And although I've been casting furtive glances at the new Fujifilm XPro2, my X-E1 continues to deliver results that please me.)

This is just a little of what I saw. I hope you experience some of the enjoyment that I did.

Lights, camera... more lights!

Like many other users of the Fujifilm X-series cameras, I've been salivating over the recently-released X-Pro 2. Saliva or no, it's just not the right time for me to be looking at a new camera, however. That means I'll be contenting myself with my X100T and my X-E1 and lenses. Three or four years is not a long time in human terms but, given the current pace of innovation in digital photography, it's a significant chunk of the lifespan of sensor technology. All the same, the discontinued X-E1 is still a very capable  camera. 

As if to prove that point to myself, I used the X-E1 during a night-time tour of The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. The museum, commonly known as the "Neon Boneyard," was opened in 2012 as an outdoor collection of illuminated signs from the Vegas Strip of the 50s and 60s. I was hoping to visit during the photographic magic hour but all tours were booked up for that time of day while I would be visiting Las Vegas. Unguided tours are not available, so I would be doing the tour in full darkness—I'd need to crank up the ISO on the camera, even with the illumination of the signs themselves.

I'd like to have spent more time in the Boneyard and a little more light would have been nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Our guide kept things moving at a clip and clearly knows (and loves!) his Nevada history. My only real regret was the rookie mistake of not checking the histogram more often and exposing to the right: the camera sensor and I were both fooled by the brilliance of some of the signs against the dark sky, so my exposures were routinely underexposed by 1-1/2 stops. Thank goodness for Capture One Pro 9's ability to pull the best out of the raw files.

Still, I'm happy with the images I got. If you plan to be in Las Vegas and you're a photographer or have any interest at all in local history, show business, American culture, typography or the visual arts more broadly, go visit The Neon Museum. Just make sure to book a place on the tour well in advance!

Sahara gang
Las Vegas Club
Tropicana Mobil Park

Liquid colour in Manhattan with the X100T

I got the chance recently to spend a couple of days at a conference in NYC. Given that I'd only be there a short time, I decided to take just my Fujifilm X100T rather than pack the whole kit.

In my mind's eye, New York lends itself to black and white photography particularly well but I was concerned that I was falling into a rut. Or perpetuating photographic clichés. Or both. Or... well, whatever it was, I thought it was time to try something new for me. I'd be in meetings all day and it would be getting dark before 5:00 pm, so I'd have to try my hand at night photography. And I decided it was time to add some colour to my NYC shots. On top of that, the weather forecast called for quite a bit of rain. So there it was: night shots in colour in the wet. Challenge accepted!

I debated whether to rig some sort of waterproof cover for the X100T but decided to chance walking around with the camera on a wrist strap, held flat beneath my palm. I'd be ready at a moment's notice and still keep the worst of the rain off the camera body and lens.

To help deal with the wildly different light levels in the city, it was also time to try the Auto ISO setting rather than fiddle constantly with ISO and exposure in the rain. I usually shoot at the lowest ISO I can get away with to help keep the image quality up and have always been worried that the camera would choose sky-high ISOs just to avoid camera shake. This time, I opeted for simplicity: the fixed 23mm lens, Aperture Priority, Auto ISO and wide open at f/2.0. I'd add exposure compensation where necessary. 

And I was happy with the results. The X100T didn't get too wet, scenes were well exposed and I had a riot. Easily the most fun I've had in the rain (a decent waterproof jacket is also a big help).

To my mind, it worked. I'd be glad to hear what you think.

Prince Edward Island with the X100T

I went a little mad before leaving for our summer vacation this year and bought a Fujifilm X100T. I liked the idea of having a very compact camera I could carry everywhere and that was capable of producing excellent images. I still love my X-E1 and suite of lenses but, as light as they are, there are times when I'd like to walk around with even less.

I was also secretly looking forward to the discipline of using nothing but the X100T's fixed 23mm lens. I have a (bad?) habit of changing lenses fairly often when I'm out with my camera, depending on the effect that I'm after. After being made aware of this by another photographer I began to wonder if all that lens-changing might be a distraction from concentrating on the subject, rather than on the equipment. But would I be up to the task of working with just one optic? (Yes, I could have accomplished the same thing by using my X-E1 with one lens but I was dying to get my hands on the beautiful X100T. There, I've said it.)

It was time to find out. I forked over the money at the store I patronize and told myself I had 15 days to return the camera if buyer's remorse set in. I packed both cameras, just in case, and set out with the family.

And I needn't have worried. During the week we spent on beautiful Prince Edward Island on Canada's Atlantic coast I never felt the need to reach for the X-E1 and lenses. Oh sure, there were times when I would have liked to go wide with my 14mm or long with the 55-200mm zoom, but I never felt that I was missing a crucial element for a shot. Instead, I re-learned to "zoom with my feet" and became very familiar with a particular angle of view. In many ways, the simplified approach turned out to be freeing, not limiting.

And the buyer's remorse? No sign of it.

Cold weather photography with the X-E1

Living in most parts of Canada means that you're either going to have to make friends with cold weather or resign yourself to spending large parts of the year indoors. Unless all your work is done in a studio, the same holds true for Canadian photographers -- and the start of this winter has been unusually cold.

I've had my Fujifilm X-E1 for almost a year and have been interested to see how it performed in the cold. A number of people have raised concerns about the lack of a weather seal on the X-E1, but I can't say that I've found it to be a problem. I never use my cameras unprotected in a downpour and am careful of blowing sand at the beach, so I take the usual precautions -- some sort of cover in the rain and an hour in a sealed plastic bag when coming in from very cold temperatures.

I recently spent an hour and a half taking pictures with the X-E1 and the 18-55mm zoom at the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. The estate is an interesting place visually in all seasons and just 15 minutes from where I live, so it is a good option for blowing off the cobwebs. This day, however, the temperature was hovering around -17C with a brisk wind. After 90 minutes, the camera was still working as it should and there appeared to be plenty of battery life left (although I've been fooled before by the X-E1's battery status indicator : it can drop from a "full charge" reading to almost nothing in a matter of minutes. Not helpful.).

I'm happy to report that I didn't end my little cold-weather safari because of the camera, but because the light was fading and my hands were freezing.

As a sidebar, I'd be interested to hear how other photographers keep their hands warm in cold temperatures. I got tired of the mitts-on-mitts-off approach and now use Lowepro gloves. The gloves are a big improvement as they combine a covering for the hands with enough flexibility to adjust camera controls (the raised bumps on the gloves helpfully provide extra grip and tactile feeling on the controls). At the same time, they're still not warm enough for really cold weather over extended sessions outside. Manfrotto used to manufacture an interesting looking pair of gloves, but they seem to have been discontinued. Any other ideas or approaches?

So, it's 2014. Stay warm, keep shooting and have a happy and healthy year!