Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Favourite Photos of 2014

Every year, I feel that I grow as a photographer. Be it from acquiring new equipment, from learning a new photographic technique, from shooting a new subject, or from learning new post-production editing features, I like to think my photography is getting better.

It's when I review the photos that I shot over the year that my growth as an amateur shows. I can look at a photograph that I took months ago, having forgotten all about it, and say, "Wow."

Sometimes, it's hard to whittle down a year's worth of photograph to a mere dozen or so images. For example, when my family and I travelled to France, in August, I took photos every day. It was really hard to pick a single favourite from that trip, and because I didn't want to repeat a lot of the photos I've already shown, I did my best to keep it to four. Or five.

(If you want to see more of the photos from my France vacation, check them out in my Flickr album.)

I spent a lot more time outdoors this year and a lot less time in the studio, though I'm still interested in learning about studio lighting and in photographing models. As a warning, some of the photos in this post may not be safe for viewing at work or around minors.

I played with long exposures and wide angles: a lot of times, my head was tilted skyward. I stood outdoors in the cold, in the pouring rain, and in the dark. But the results always made it totally worth it.

So, after months of scrutinizing over the thousands of photos I shot in 2014, here are the ones that I feel are my best efforts.

I also enjoyed converting my photos to black and white. In the past, I would post a photo without colour to mask the exposure errors or because the photo was otherwise dull. But I often made the decision to produce the photo in black and white before I even captured the subject. This shot of a stream in winter, taken behind the Mill in Wakefield, screamed black and white to me: dark water and trees, and snow. Shot at night, the exposure was just shy of 30 seconds. The result made it one of my faves of the year.

I held three photo walks in 2014: one for each season, less summer, over which I was too busy planning for my family vacation. This year will go down for the lowest attendance records for these walks. I had two photographers join me in winter, one in the spring, and none in the fall (my wife joined me but took no photos). I don't know if it was the early hours at which I held two of the photo walks or the fact that I scheduled one walk over the Thanksgiving long weekend; nevertheless, there were still those who took advantage of the light or of the quiet streets.

The photo above was shot during the winter photo walk, at Mer Bleu Bog, shortly after sunrise. I loved how the sun was diffused by the light cloud cover that almost seemed like fog. The dying tree gave the impression of loneliness, or isolation. It was a bit of a sad shot, and that's why I love it.

A lot of my photos this year were shot either early in the morning or late at night. This photo (above) was also shot just after sunrise, along the Rideau River, when the late thaw was causing flooding around the region. With the river meeting the roadway along which I was driving, there was a sense of calm in this spot.

Sometimes, I went crazy with colour. During the annual Tulip Festival, it's hard not to capture a cornucopia of vibrant colours, but for the above shot, I wanted to exaggerate the vibrancy. This photo was shot at sunrise, near Dow's Lake, during my spring photo walk.

About 10 minutes away from my home is a beautiful mill that is naturally photogenic. I have shot Watson's Mill, in Manotick, in the fog, in autumn, and at night. This image, shot over 30 seconds, shows the motion of the Rideau through the dam. I could have sworn I saw a ghostly woman looking out one of the windows.

Like I said, not all of my photos were shot outdoors. I did attend a couple of studio-photography shoots, though I found that I am becoming more picky with my shoots. I want to keep them simple, without any pre-conceived themes. I want to focus on getting the light right for the subject without having to worry about props.

One of the models that I met on one of my shoots, Fredau, was a treat to work with because she knew how to work with the light, needed little instruction, and had a great attitude and sense of humour. I've worked with her in a couple of shoots, including an outdoor shoot in the pouring rain (the shoot ended when my camera got soaked and finally stopped working) in Gatineau Park.

The following photo is a simple nude and is not safe for displaying at work. You've been duly advised.

Fredau, as you can see, has stunning blue eyes, and while I did enhance them in this shoot (along with the red nail polish) they were all I could look at when I composed my shots.

I do tend to shoot photos with few or no people, but I do shoot people. I was going to start a daily photo project, whereby I photographed total strangers, but I have shyness issues and find it extremely intimidating to approach someone I don't know and ask for permission to take a picture.

Fortunately, I attended a portrait workshop in November, which showed the best approach to asking a stranger for a photograph. The workshop ended with a challenge, over the next year, to shoot 100 strangers. I have accepted that challenge and will start showing my photos over 2015.

If I am going to take a photo of someone, I tend to do it from a distance, just as I had with the next photo.

Of course, I wasn't going to ask Hawksley Workman to stand still and hold a pose while I photographed him. Instead, I listened to his wonderful music, uninterrupted, and shot from a safe distance.

No one can accuse me of not loving my city. I take photos all over Ottawa for my Where In Ottawa challenge and I have shot some of our unmistakable landmarks countless times. And I never get tired of doing so.

I especially love shooting photos around Parliament Hill, in the Byward Market, and the National Gallery.

The photo above was taken after the great hall of the National Gallery underwent renovations and repairs, but before all of the drapes where hung from the glass roof. Illuminated at night, the skeletal frame screamed for a long black-and-white exposure.

After the drapes returned, so did I: this time, with a super-wide-angle lens. Again, the shot called for black and white: in post processing, I also gave the shot a grainy texture.

As I said, my vacation to France lent itself to great photographs. There was the Arch de Triomphe...

... and the colusseum in Arles (which, with its colourless stones, called for black and white).

And though the rocky outcrops of les Alpilles was stunning...

... nothing made me gasp like the sunset in Paris, as seen from the Louvre.

What I love the most about this photo is that it was unplanned. It came down to me being in the right place at the right time. There is no exaggeration in the post processing. While I did have to balance the light and increase some of the colour, I believe that I have accurately captured what the sky looked like in this photo.

If you don't believe me, you can ask my youngest daughter and my friend, who were with me when I took this shot.

It was a magical hour to be there.

I purchased a super-wide-angle lens about halfway through the year. In France, this 10-20 mm lens was on my camera more than any other lens. It came in handy when I shot indoors but also was great at capturing landscapes. One of my favourite photos that I shot with this lens was taken inside the domed hall in Les Invalides. While I was able to capture both the dome and Napoleon's tomb in the frame, doing so created a less-than-appealing distortion. But I didn't mind the distortion when I pointed the lens upward, capturing just the dome.

While the sunset shot at the Louve was, without doubt, the best sunset that I captured in 2014, I did capture one sunset shot that I also like. And it's not so much the light from the sun that makes this photo, but it's the subject, the reflections, that do. For me, at least.

This sunset shot was actually taken just before my family and I left for France, and until the sunset at the Louvre, it was my favourite sunset shot of 2014.

When the long-overdue Strandherd Bridge was completed, in July, it brought the southern Ottawa communities on both sides of the Rideau River together. And when the bridge opened, I had to use it.

And shoot it.

This 10-second exposure shows the motion of the traffic in both directions. If you look carefully, you can see the shadow of me and my camera on its tripod. Ian Black, of CBC News Ottawa, showed this photo during his weather report.

I'm looking forward to 2015 and the photo opportunities that await me.

Thanks for following me, for your encouragement and inspiration. All the best to you for the new year.

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