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Moody Nights

It’s been incredibly dull and rainy in the city these past few weeks. Today is likely the last warm day above freezing we will have before winter sets in.

Despite the urge to stay indoors, I did venture out a couple of times to make some pictures. Since it was grey during the day anyway, I brought my camera with me when running some errands downtown. Here are a few images from recent days, all taken with Fujifilm X100F.

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November Cold

Our Canadian winter is almost upon us. We put on our snow tires, put away our T-shirts and dug up our sweaters, and switched from air-conditioning to heat.

I haven’t been feeling well lately, but I try to go out to take some photos anyway. It’s definitely more challenging to do street photography in the cold weather. Everything seems more dull and people are bundled up, rushing to get where they need to and in from the cold.

In a big city, it’s still possible to find lots of subject material thanks to the abundance of indoor spaces like shopping malls and transit.

Ironically, the city gets prettier when we actually have snow on the ground. I’ve already stocked up on gloves, hoping that it won’t be too cold when we do have snow to do some photography. In the meantime, some recent images from out and about.

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Halloween on Church Street

It’s been several years since I’ve gone down to Church Street for Halloween. Church Street is the home of Toronto’s gay village and as one might expect, people really get into costumes there. For as long as I can remember, they close down the neighbourhood for a Halloween street party.

While I really enjoy using my Fujifilm X100F, I decided to go out using my Nikon D5500 with a 35mm lens. I felt more confident using this in a burst mode than I do with the X100F – don’t ask me why.

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How Photography Can Improve Mental Health

A number of years ago, I lost someone dear to me to suicide. Two years after that, I lost my dad very suddenly to leukemia. As a result of both events, I was diagnosed with PTSD a year later and fell into a period of severe depression.

I still deal with depression even now – I don’t know if it will truly go away for me. I’m definitely better than I was 15 years ago when it first started. One way to address anxiety and depression is the concept of mindfulness – the ability to be fully present in the moment, and not let our “automatic” responses (anxiety, panic, etc.) take over.

Mindfulness can be practised in a number of ways – the most obvious form is meditation. It sounds easy, but is actually quite difficult and I never really got the hang of it. The closest I come to some kind of meditation is when I work out. For me, focusing on my breath as I lift weights allows me to be in the moment.

Sadly, I haven’t worked out in months – it just hasn’t fit into my schedule. But it has occurred to me that photography is a form of meditation. At the very least, it’s a way to for me to focus on what I’m doing at that moment. This connection isn’t anything new – many people do regard photography (or almost any other hobby) as a way to cultivate good mental health.

As the linked article says, going out to make photographs involves mental discipline. As a street photographer, I’m definitely in the present moment when I’m shooting, looking for interesting shots around my environment and focusing my attention on what I’m doing. And of course, the physical benefits of going on a walk and getting fresh air are an added bonus.

Capturing very precise moments is incredibly satisfying. Take these images below for example:

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This was taken recently when it’s been cool in the mornings and evenings, but warm in the afternoon. I liked that I was able to catch this man in the moment when he’s taking off his outer jacket.

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When I saw this couple, I had planned to capture them from this angle because it was interesting that you could only see the woman’s legs. I was doubly lucky to catch the man yawning at that precise moment.

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I’m not sure what this woman was doing – she may have been waiting to meeting someone or deciding what store to go into next inside the mall. I try not to take pictures of people looking at their phones, and I caught her when she was looking up.

In the featured image at the top of this post, I had planned the shot in my mind several days before. I had taken a similar shot of people from the waist up on a crowded train, but thought it might be more interesting to show how impersonal my daily commute can be if I showed people without their faces. I tried to get this at many subway stations, but had to find just the right one where it was crowded enough to execute my idea. (All images in this post taken with Fujifilm X100F.)

One of the best things about street photography is that I can do it any time. I don’t necessarily have to plan to bring extra equipment with me, or even plan to wait for a particular time of day to shoot. If I feel restless, going out to shoot can help me channel my energy.

Depression is hard thing to manage. But in recent years, I’m encouraged that more and more people are talking/writing about their experiences. Our crazy 24/7 world where hardly a moment goes by when we’re not connected in some way to technology, and allowing stress to take over us, it’s not surprising that it’s taking a toll on our mental health.

So if photography as a hobby is a healthy thing for mental well-being, then it’s an even more worthwhile pursuit.

No End to Learning

My partner is participating in a learning exchange program and on Saturday, we welcomed a visitor from Oslo, Norway.

We spent the weekend taking her to a few neighbourhoods in the city, which also gave me a lot of time to take photos too.

Since I got my Fujifilm X100F just over two weeks ago, I’ve shot more than 2,000 images on it, and before that, I’m guessing a few hundred street scenes on my Nikon. Not all of those have worked out, of course, but I know the important thing is to keep taking photos. I know that I am better in street photography now then when I started a couple of months ago. And I know I am better now generally than when I first got my Nikon two years ago. Our visitor remarked how she liked some of the early photos I took and had framed for our house – photos which I don’t like much anymore, because I know I can do better.

I’m posting a lot on Instagram these days. It’s more for me to look at my work than to get “likes.” The problem with social media is that it’s easy to get addicted to others’ opinions of your work through those likes. I still think it’s funny how people gravitate towards images that I don’t particularly like or put that much effort into making, while the images that I like myself don’t get much attention from others. This approval from others also varies from platform to platform. On Facebook, the activity is much lower overall in street photography groups I’ve joined. And on Flickr, opinions (via likes) also vary.

So not only am I learning the art of taking better photos, but in the process, I’m also learning to take photos for me, and not anyone else.

That said, I still look to social media and artists’ websites for inspiration. Along with Aaron Berger, this one by Pau Buscató I came across made a huge impression on me.

Photo by Pau Buscató

The fact that he saw the detail of the rip in the tarp and how it mimicked the shape of a bird, was impressive enough. But then he went the extra mile and waited for who knows how long for a real bird to come along to complete the image is absolutely amazing to me.

You can see more of his work on his website – I think artists like him take street photography to a whole other level.

I would one day like to be able to produce similar work. Work that intrigues people just as Buscató’s affected me.

Here are some recent images I took. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Rainy Days

We had a rainy weekend here in Toronto, but not so bad that I couldn’t venture out to shoot. I hadn’t really gone out in the rain for photography before, so it was a first for me.

I’m trying to get out as much as I can before winter is here. I hate the cold. The other night, I already had to use the lightest of my winter coats and I actually needed gloves to shoot.

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My Father’s Son

Photography — especially street photography — is, in many ways, coming full circle for me.

I was reminded of this when I had posted a few recent images on Facebook and my cousin Kwoi commented that my dad would be proud of my work. I mentioned to my partner Kenneth what a compliment it was, coming from Kwoi — a professional photographer and filmmaker. Because of their mutual interest in photography, my dad and Kwoi were pretty close. “You didn’t tell me that,” my partner said. “Did you get into photography because of your dad?”

No. Well, maybe.

I was still pretty young when my dad took up photography as a serious hobby. I don’t have much recollection of it, other than remembering that he belonged to a camera club in Toronto’s Chinese community, and that they would go on photo walks. I think I might have gone with him a few times, but I probably didn’t understand the attraction of taking photos of boring buildings and trees. He was pretty into it – my sister still has a few of his cameras that he left. He even had a Hasselblad, so I don’t feel so bad splurging on my Fujifilm — I don’t even want to guess how much he spent on his gear.

My dad passed away in 2004. It was quite sudden – he became ill and within days, he was gone. In the years since then, there have been many moments when I realize how much I am my father’s son.

I already knew that at an early age, as I demonstrated a keen talent for drawing and sketching – just like my dad. At one point, I even considered going to an arts high school. But being the practical man he was, and not wanting to see his son become a “starving artist” (he was a commercial artist himself), my dad was just as happy when I decided not to go.

It wasn’t until Grade 10 that I fell into what would become my early calling – journalism. It was sheer luck that my school happened to have journalism class. It was also luck that my school happened to have a school newspaper, of which I became editor in the following grade until I graduated.

From there, it only made sense to attend Ryerson which was one of a handful of schools offering a program in journalism at the time.

Taking photos was part of my first job as a reporter and that’s when I really picked up a camera. My editor at the time was quite skilled at photography and taught us the basics of taking decent enough shots of people and places to accompany our stories.

And now, here I am, instead of reporting about events and writing the “first draft of history,” I’m documenting every day moments in people’s lives with a camera, trying to capture a story with a picture.

The above image is one of my recent favourites and I think my dad would have liked it. I don’t know what he would have thought about street photography in general – I think he would think it’s mostly strange for me to take photos of strangers on the street. But I also think he would have recognized my passion for it, and in his way encouraged me, but not discouraging me — as is the Chinese way.

So this is for you, Dad. Thanks for passing on your talents, and for encouraging and teaching me through the years.

Using the new Fuji X100F

Even though it cost an arm and a leg, the Fuji X100F did not disappoint. I took it out for a spin and really enjoyed using it.

Focus was sharp and fast, and it really is so much lighter and easier to use. Very discreet too, as people don’t seem to notice it as much as a DSLR with a long lens attached.

Another plus of having a fixed-lens camera is that I know I have just one field of view. It makes me more disciplined in framing the shot in my head, knowing that if I’m not close enough, it likely won’t work because I can’t zoom.  This helps me plan my shots well in advance.

Here are some images from my first few days of shooting with it.

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The Street Photographer’s Camera

The Fuji X100F is the perfect camera for street photography. Or, that’s what I’ve been told anyway.

I just purchased this beauty this week and have yet to really shoot extensively with it. 

The X100F was announced at the beginning of this year, hitting stores in April. It’s been getting rave reviews and has been extremely popular — when I bought mine, it was the last silver one in stock (there’s also a black version which I don’t looks as nice).

When I got into photography, this brand never really entered my head. I always considered Nikon, Canon and Minolta to be the ones to go to – mostly because I knew that’s what my dad used.

The main reason why I chose the X100F is because of its portability and its silent shutter. I found using my Nikon DSLR for candid shots to be a bit tricky because even though it has a quiet shutter setting, you can still clearly hear it activate. Not a great thing when you’re trying to blend in on the street taking pictures of people up close.

A few things I’ve already found that I like:

  • You can use the viewfinder and turn off the LCD display – another plus for not looking like you just took a picture.
  • A fixed 35mm-equivalent lens. I had already been using my 35mm crop frame lens on my Nikon. The Fuji also has a very fast lens which is useful for low-light conditions and the fixed focal length forces you to get close to your subjects. I think “zooming with your feet” is a good practice to get into because it requires you to think carefully about your framing. Last week, I tried to take a shot of the Gooderham Building, but without my wide-angle lens, I couldn’t fit the entire building in from where I stood. Prime lenses tend to be sharper too. Besides, zooming in on someone with a telescopic lens is a dead giveaway you’re taking their picture.
  • It’s so much smaller than my Nikon. Actually, let me be more specific. It’s FLATTER than my Nikon. That’s mostly a plus as I can now carry this easily every day with me. The slight downside is that I have to get used to handling controls on a smaller device.
  • The retro styling. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for pretty things. And this camera is beautiful. The silver aluminum finish takes its cue from film cameras and holding it, you know you have a quality product made in Japan.

There are still lots of features I haven’t had the chance to explore yet, but this could be a really great camera for every day shooting and for street photography.