100 metres from my house

I’ve never really understood how someone with a camera could run out of ideas. To me, there’s always something worth pointing a camera at. (Whether I get up off my lazy ass and do it, is another matter, though.) I hear people say things like ‘there’s nothing worth photographing here,’ or ‘this place is boring.’

Bukowski once said something along the lines of ‘It’s only boring people that get bored,’ and I tend to agree with him.

To me, it seems that there’s always things to take pictures of. If it doesn’t seem apparent at the time, I just haven’t seen it yet.

I’m forever finding things that I’ve overlooked, or either didn’t think of, and there are some things that I’ve gone back to shoot plenty of times, but still haven’t come up with anything that I like. But I’m never really out of ideas. I’m not saying that every idea is a good one, but sometimes, it all comes together, and I get something that makes me happy. 

The purpose is to get something that I’m satisfied with.

I live in downtown Toronto, that to be frank, is  rather nondescript. There’s nothing here that anyone would come to see or do, there’s no restaurants or shops nearby, and if it wasn’t for a major-ish intersection right in front of my house, no one would really know that the area even exists. 

That’s why I live here.

I suppose you could say that it’s ‘inner-city residential.’ Plenty of new Canadians mixed with second generation immigrants, and some (what the fuck do I even call myself? Canadian? Old generation Canadian?) folks like me. Apart from the occasional parking argument, or traffic smash-up, nothing much ever happens.

But, there’s still tons of things to take pictures of -at least as far as I’m concerned. 

I came up for the idea of this post, and thought, ‘instead of going out and shooting new stuff, let’s see what I’ve already got.’ Then, I decided that every shot had to be taken within 100 metres of my front door. 

Turns out, I didn’t have to go out and take some more shots. Everything was taken less than 100 metres from my front door. Most are considerably less -I erred on the side of caution.

The first shot is just a night shot of the usually busy intersection that I mentioned above. Typical long exposure of passing traffic, but because of the fog, I was intrigued by the possibilities. I just checked the EXIF, and I took it in 2007, at 1:37 a.m. It’s all about the fog, and the night exposure. Distance from home: 60m.

The second shot is the hydro pylon, like the kind you see everywhere. But, the sun was on the horizon, partially obscured by some evening clouds. One of those rare occasions where I let the scene keep it’s colour. Distance from home: 80m.

The next one, the snowy street scene, is one block over from me. This one was all about the dusting of snow that coated everything that morning. Also, I was looking for a scene that had a lot of depth to it that I could compress with the long (200mm) focal length I was using. Distance from home: 50m.

The shot of the tall grass, which I took on Christmas day just over two weeks ago, is just across the street from me, a couple of metres into the alley. I just had the idea of sticking my 24mm lens (equiv.) into the midst of it, and firing off a couple of shots. Distance from home: 20m.

And the last one, of the Brussels sprouts, (I cheated a bit here) I took at home. Distance from home: 0m.

So there you have it. It’s all right there in front of us. It’s up to us, who are holding the camera, to present something that we are satisfied with. 

It’s as hard, or easy, as we make it.

The romance

I remember exactly where I was. Rome, 1996, I think, on a via leading up to the Colloseo, overlooking  Palatine Hill. (Am I being pretentious enough for you here?  Well, in the words of the late great Billy Mays, BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!

I saw a somewhat portly, late middle-age man with glasses, and silver hair, walking around snapping pictures. I like to imagine him as German, because he had an old Leica M4 slung around his neck, with a  tanned Leica strap, and matching flip case.

That’s what I thought I’d eventually be.

I imagined a whole back story about the fellow. That he had a family, worked as some company stiff his entire life; that the camera he was wearing was something he bought as a young man when he started his family; that he was now retired and had gotten away from the wife on holiday, so he could spend time taking pictures…

Now, I never knew if I’d ever be married, and I never wanted to have kids, so there’s that, and for all I know, I could have been way off the mark with this fellow. 

He could have stolen the camera, was on the run for not paying child support, and taxes… Who knows? 

But it’s my fantasy, so I’m gonna stick with my version.

That’s the camera I wanted. I wanted a little camera that you had to hand crank Ilford HP5 through, that slowed you down as you were taking your pictures, so that hopefully, you put more effort and thought into composition. Limit myself to two, maybe three lenses, max.

At the time, I was shooting through my Nikon F3. Fantastic camera, yes, but the Leica, to me, represented minimalism, slower shooting, and just as important, classic styling!

I sort of got there, but not. 

If you know a bit about cameras, you probably know that Leicas are almost prohibitively expensive. Yes, they’re that good, but only if you are happy to shoot to their strengths.

I’m not a rich man -probably what you would call lower middle class, and although I probably could have saved up the ‘dough-re-mi’ over a couple of years, my photographic path never really intersected with Leica. When I went digital, there wasn’t any offerings from them, and a few years later, when they released their first full frame digital, it was nowhere near as good as the Nikon D700 that I already owned. They were pretty ‘slow getting out of the gate’, as far as digital was concerned.

In 2010, Fuji released the retro styled, and retro designed X100. 

To me, and plenty of others like me, it was a huge eye opener. 

Here was a camera that looked and felt like an old rangefinder, had most of the important controls outside of the camera in the manner of old film cameras, and produced very good images, as well.

You can bet I was interested. 

It received very good reviews. But, for the first and only time that I know of, those reviews came with a warning: The autofocus was slow; the menu was a pain in the ass… Which was strange. The reviewers seemed to insinuate that the greatness of the other features of the camera, somehow made up for it’s shortcomings.

Now I HAD to try it.

They were right. I bought one. 

It was a fabulous little camera. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest for certain things, but what it did do, it did exceptionally well. Besides, I still had my DSLR for more extreme shooting.

Since it’s initial release, there have been three other upgraded iterations of it; X100S, X100T, and the current X100F. I’ve owned the 100, ‘T,’ and currently, the ‘F.’ Apparently, there’s a new model coming out soon, but I really don’t see how they could improve much on the current X100F -pictured above. We’ll see.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of mine. It’s by far, my most used camera for street photography, and it’s the camera that I can just ‘grab and go’ with. It’s small, inconspicuous, and dead silent, if you set it up to be.

A while back, I picked up an attachment that converts the native 35mm (in full frame terms) down to 28mm. There’s also an adapter that will bring it up to 50mm. Who knows, maybe I’ll get that some day as well.

Leica owners are quick to point out the quality, and durability of their cameras, and lenses, and they are right to do so. It’s a fantastic system, and there’s a reason why they’re still around after all these years.

But, my little X100F beats the current Leica offerings in just about every way that’s important to me, at about a quarter of the price.

So, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully realize the dream that I had all those years ago, but maybe, I’m fine with a modified version of it.


“I’ve always wanted to get into photography…”

If you do it enough, eventually people start thinking of you as the guy/gal with the camera. Occasionally, people come up to you saying something along the lines of, “I’ve always wanted to get into photography, but…” And then they’ll talk about a wistful desire to progress beyond their phone cameras.

My response? Don’t.

Stick with your phone -for now.

A beginner can learn so, so much from a phone camera; much more than I think most of them know. 

These days, the cameras everyone already owns -cellphone cam, are capable of truly amazing things. Compared to what was available 30 years ago, when I was starting out, (not really that long ago, in the grand scheme of things) these things seem like some kind of voodoo, black magic. Back then, if someone had described what we all take for granted today, I would have thought they were out of their mind, or at the very least, a fanciful dreamer.

Obviously, I would have been wrong.

As I just mentioned, you can learn an incredible amount about taking pictures, just from your phone cam.

-Framing. What’s in the picture? How do the objects look/influence the over-all image? Are you looking at everything (and this was a biggie for me, at first) that’s in the frame when you take the picture?

-Composition. Where is the main subject(s) in your picture? Why? Is the horizon straight? Do you want it to be?

-Light. Where is your light source? How much light is there?

-Exposure, colour balance, contrast, sharpness, etc. How do they look? 

-How’s the depth of field? Is enough of what I want to be in, or out of focus, the way I want it?

-Flash, or no?

And there are probably plenty of others that I’m forgetting right now.

As far as I know, just about every modern smart phone has a manual mode. We’re able to adjust the processing parameters of them, just like the big kids do with their real cameras.’ (Make no mistake about it, phone cameras ARE real cameras. Any time I hear someone with a DSLR, or traditional camera, talking shit about phone cams, I think that they’re either insecure, or they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.)

And that’s the divide.

I think that most people who dream of one day perhaps getting a dedicated camera, and pursuing photography as a hobby, don’t realize that they’re going to have to put in the effort to learn how the camera works, just like the effort you’d have to put into wringing out the full potential from a phone cam.

When I mention this to people who express a mild interest in pursuing photography farther, that’s the point where the conversation usually fades off…

Sure, even the highest of high end cameras can be set up to shoot ‘auto everything’, and to function as a really expensive point-and-shoot, but why would you do that?

Probably because the brand name on the front of your camera is more important to you than the images you are getting with it.

Think of a flat linear graph. At the beginning is a point marked ‘the camera did it.’ At the end, is a point marked ‘I did it.’

Where are you?

I’m not saying that you can’t get good images from shooting with your camera set up fully auto, -occasionally, I do it myself, but putting in the effort to fully understand, and use all of the options that your camera offers, is not only extremely satisfying, but ultimately, broadens your horizons, and increases the amount of shots that you like.

The above shot was taken with my Samsung Galaxy s10e. Perfectly fine. I would have liked a shallower depth of field, and the mid-day light is kinda harsh, but had I waited till later that afternoon, it probably would have been long gone. 

I did a B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro, which took about 20 seconds. It’s nothing special, I took it just after getting the phone, but at that size, it’s sharp, and crisp, and does everything it’s supposed to do.

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