Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Favourite Photos of 2015

When all is said and done, I think 2015 will go down as a good year for me. Lots has happened and I've been challenged in so many ways, and if you want to know what I mean, just go back and read my posts from this year.

In March, I upgraded my well-used Nikon D80 for a newer, better model, and I carried it with me almost everywhere, from vacations to concerts, from jaunts to and from work to model photo shoots. There were some growing pains as I learned new features and different buttons, but overall, I'm loving my D7200.

So, without further ado, and as we say goodbye to 2015, here are the photos that I feel are among the best that I took this year.

And be warned: one of the photos may not be safe for work.

My Bate Island Project has been over for nearly two years, but every once and a while I like to return to this peaceful spot and point my lens eastward, toward the downtown core. On this frosty winter's day, in January, a fog shrouded the river. The lonely bench, close to the river's edge, where I stood for all of those photos, looked out onto nothing. This photo, which captured a colourless day, begged to be processed with a black-and-white effect.

In December of last year, as I walked from my office to my car, I noticed the light dusting of snow on the line of evergreen trees that provide shelter from one end of the parking lot. I captured an image on my smartphone, and over the weeks, I would repeat that shot as I took notice of the changing light.

One of my good friends liked one of those pictures so much that she painted that image and presented it to me for my birthday. That painting is prominently displayed at my desk.

I was determined to not make a photo project of these trees, but I still couldn't help myself from shooting them every time I was struck by the light. The following shot, captured with my D80, shows how the morning light played with the trees.

Winter in Ottawa isn't complete without a visit to the world's largest—and most scenic—skating rink. The following photo captures some stick-wielding skaters as they pass under the Bank Street Bridge.

One of the nicest parts of the Rideau Canal Skateway is the little side trek, under the Patterson Creek Bridge. Not a winter goes by where I don't stop along here. On a frosty night, I grabbed my camera and tripod, and took a long exposure. This shot ended up being shown on CBC News Ottawa, during Ian Black's weather report. It was one of many that were shown on television over the year.

For the first time in my life, my family and I attended Carnaval, in Québec City, on what was perhaps one of the coldest weekends of the winter. With the brisk winds, daytime temperatures dropped to nearly –40°.

Surprisingly, my D80 held up. Which is more than I can say for my mittens.

Where the Rideau River meets the Ottawa River, we have a beautiful waterfall—in any season. But when the water freezes, the effect is particularly striking.

One of the biggest milestones for me, this year, was turning 50. And the best way that I could celebrate my birthday was around family and good friends, and watch a performance by one of my all-time favourite musicians, Midge Ure.

This photo was also among the last that I shot with my D80: it's the last one from that trusty camera that I have for this blog post.

As I was getting used to my Nikon D7200, I found myself wandering the Glebe and Lansdowne Park. On a cool April afternoon, I explored the artwork that adorns the top of a hill at the far end of the football stadium. It's hard to believe that this photo was shot on a bright, cloudless day, but it was. The black is actually blue sky.

I was nervous going to my first model shoot with my new camera because I was still getting used to it. At the time, I couldn't understand why the ISO would automatically change on me, even when I had the camera in a manual mode. As a result, many of the photos that I shot came out overexposed because the camera didn't seem to understand that I had a flash trigger attached to it.

I did, however, get some shots that I was able to work with, after much post-processing.

When I got the hang of my camera, I started another photo project: 100 Strangers. I wandered the Glebe, Byward Market, Westboro, and even New York (more on that, later), approaching people I didn't know and asking if I could take their photo. It was a challenging project for a shy person like me, but I found it therapeutic and a lot of fun. I was disappointed when it came to an end.

I asked more than 120 people for their portrait: 102 people said yes but two of my shots didn't work. I have a lot of favourites but I thought I would share the two that I am most proud of, Number 1 and Number 27, because of the conversations that led to the pictures and because of the results.

In May, my wife and I joined some of our closest friends, Bee and Marc, in New York City. By this time, I was starting to get the hang of my new camera and I was able to figure out and fix the problem with the automatic ISO setting.

The sensor in the D7200 is much more sensitive than the one in my D80, and I was able to take lots of low-light photos. As the four of us waited for a train at the 23rd Street Station, I played with some shots across the tracks. When I got the lighting just right, I was about to take one more photo, when I saw a woman, walking hurriedly, into my frame. I was going to wait for her to walk past, out of my frame, when I realized that, no, she was the subject.

This is not only the best photo of my trip to NYC, but I also feel it may be one of the best photos I've ever taken. It tells a story: the woman is walking determinedly, though her eyes aren't looking at where she's going. She is preoccupied by whatever it is that she's reading on her smartphone. She is encumbered but not suffering in her movement. The position of her legs, with the wide stride, are perfectly positioned, her heel lifting off the back of her shoe. The pale pink of her bag and the colour of her scarf blend in with the surrounding.

It's like a modern Norman Rockwell image.

I have made two large canvas prints of this photo: one hangs over the fireplace in our family room; the other hung, for months, on the wall of Bicycle Craft Brewery.

It's for sale, if you're interested. Contact me: we'll talk.

This summer, I led a late-night photo walk through the Byward Market, Major's Hill Park, and Nepean Point. Five photographers, including myself, spent more than three hours taking in this part of town. As always, the National Gallery of Canada is a big draw, and with the Great Hall lit up in red light, it was hard to resist. This shot is taken from the far end of Major's Hill Park.

Of course, my favourite piece of art isn't in the gallery itself. And, at night, Maman looks especially ominous.

I've already shared a photo of the Rideau Falls in winter, but on a summer night, it looks great, too. Because of the sensors in my new camera, I found that I spent more time shooting photos at night.

The following photo is the result of an accident, of my hand slipping while I was playing with some post-processing manipulation of colour. I moved the mouse and clicked when I didn't want to, and the result took much of the blue from the image of the Prince of Wales Bridge, over the Ottawa River. A little blue shows on the graffiti, on the water, and in one corner of the sky.

I don't know what I did: that's what an accident does. I was going to undo the change, but I looked at the image for a minute and decided to keep it as is. I like how the colours have been muted and how the sky has become a black-and-white vision.

Sometimes, mistakes just work out for the best.

In September, Ottawa experienced a super-blood moon for the first time in decades. I don't know if I'll be around for the next one, but I was determined to be there for this one. I managed to capture the moon, as it rose, from the Arboretum, but for the blood portion, as the eclipse was to take place, I decided to move to a more scenic location, and so I headed to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, where I joined dozens of other photographers.

Sadly, clouds rolled in and made capturing a red moon a challenge. None of my photos turned out the way I wanted.

However, while the moon was hidden by cloud, I made use of my time by capturing the beauty of the city that I am proud to call home.

In October, I cycled from Ottawa to Vankleek Hill, for Beau's Oktoberfest. Only, the wind was so bad that I only made it halfway before I gave up the ride. I'm sure that carrying my D7200 and 24-70mm lens on my back didn't help. Luckily, where I decided to call it quits, I still had a way to get to the beer party.

On the Oktoberfest grounds, we were treated to live music and a wide range of beer, but we also got to take in some skateboarders showing their stuff. One of my favourite shots was a silhouette of a boarder, coming to the peak of his upward climb. Is he falling? No. But he is held in time.

Before the temperature drops, as the leaves change colour and start to fall, Ottawa marks Autumn by emptying the Rideau Canal of most of its water, in preparation for its transformation to a skating rink. I learned that this draining usually occurs after the Thanksgiving weekend, and so I got up before the sun and decided to take some photos.

I'm glad I went when I did: later that day, Parks Canada opened the locks at the Chateau Laurier, and the canal started to empty. By the next day, the water level was at half this height. This photo was the last time that the water under the Bank Street Bridge would look like this in 2015.

About an hour after I shot a photo of the Bank Street Bridge, I found myself at the Rideau Canoe Club, looking out toward Mooney's Bay, in time for sunrise. The water was still and the orange glow lit the red leaves of the tree near the Hogs Back Falls. It was a serene morning that was hard to ignore

My timing for the next shot was perfect. The rain had just let up and the sun was starting to break below the cloud, just before it set. This lone tree on Fallowfield is a favourite of mine, and I've taken lots of pictures of it in all kinds of weather.

The next photo is part of a series that I shot with model, Olivia Preston. I wrote about this shoot a couple of weeks ago, for a Photo Friday post. Not much needs to be said: some friends have told me that they liked my series of photos, while others wondered how my wife felt about them. I don't know: she's never said, which makes me wonder if she even saw them.

On my way home from the photo shoot with Olivia, I passed a farm that caught my eye. And while my camera was filled with lots of beautiful photos, I thought the way that the late-afternoon light hit the glowing trees and barn called for me to shoot more beautiful images.

It dawned on me that I approach this kind of photography in much the same way that I do with a model: I keep my distance and take the same kind of care in composing my shot. It's the end result that I'm looking for: a photo that is well planned and ultimately pleasing to the eye as a work of art.

November, in Toronto, was mild and dry. My family was in the city to say goodbye to a friend, but we decided that we wouldn't let a sad occasion stop us from getting out the day before the celebration of a life that was cut too short.

I had an idea for post-processing before I took the following photos. I wanted to mute the colours and cut out the shadows. Both of the following photos were processed with an HDR effect and with the saturation settings pulled back.

I did a similar effect for the next shot, of the Alexander Bridge, at sunset, from Nepean Point. This time, though, after I applied the HDR effect, I isolated the reds and yellows, and applied more luminescence.

By mid-December, Ottawa still hadn't seen more than a dusting of snow and the temperature was mostly above freezing, almost reaching double digits. At my office holiday party, the Ottawa-Gatineau region was shrouded in dense fog. One of my colleages, who knows I'm into photography, noted, as we were looking outside at the fog over Lac Leamy, "It's too bad you don't have your camera."

I did. It was in my car, with my tripod. Before I lost too much light, I went out and took a series of photos of the lake and the Hilton, near the casino, on the other side. As I packed up and started heading back to the party, I passed a lone, small tree. As I walked by, I saw a street light that was illuminating a bike path, behind. From a particular angle, I could hide the light behind the tree and it cast an eeiry glow through the fog.

I set up my tripod again and took a few more shots.

After the party wrapped up, and I headed back to my car, I could see that the look across Lac Leamy was even more dramatic. Once more, I set up my tripod and shot again. The following photo was shared by Ian Black on CBC.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the photos as much as I did taking them. Sometimes, the moment of capturing the photos adds to the excitement of the end result, so I never know if I can present the photos to you as I saw the moments that I experienced in shooting them.

If you're interested in seeing more of my photos, I have them posted on Flickr and on 500px (many of the photos on this site, however, are NSFW).

This is also the last regular post for The Brown Knowser until I finish work on my novel. That's not to say I won't post anything on my blog. If anything, I will probably continue to share photos, but I won't be writing unless I'm particularly moved to do so, when I have time. Thank you for reading, for playing my photo challenge, and for your support.

Have a Happy New Year! I wish you much prosperity in 2016.


  1. That's a fantastic slice-up of the year, in photos. Impressive shots, friend.

  2. looks like copyright infringement of your pic.