Single-lens challenge

I set myself a challenge when Risa and I took a walk through the wildflower preserve at Todmorden Mills this weekend: to use a single fixed focal-length lens (16mm fisheye in this case) for the entire outing. Something about it seems old-fashioned: in an age when super zoom lenses can be found on virtually every camera, you might as well be wearing pants up to your armpits, wagging your finger and starting every sentence with, “Back in my day…” Still, it’s a good exercise to learn to zoom with your feet again. It gives both you and your pictures perspective.

This being January in Toronto, there just aren’t a lot of wildflowers around. There’s also not much more than a smattering of snow and ice here and there, making everything at ground level relentlessly brown. Even so, the preserve was fairly busy when we went, with a number of families and dog walkers enjoying the short trail, sunny skies, and relatively balmy weather. We were each armed with a camera but seemed to be the only ones taking pictures.

Check out the short gallery below the fold.

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Feather ice

Feather ice detail

Seeing a large ice crystal like this, about an inch long, is fairly rare. Now imagine seeing thousands upon thousands of them:

Feather ice field on Rice Lake

We’re spending a few post-Christmas days at the cottage and awoke to a visual treat on Thursday: Wednesday’s sudden deep freeze and blowing wind gave us a large field of feather ice growing on the lake. The lake began the day on Monday as completely open water; Tuesday brought some long ribbons of ice along the wind lines; by Wednesday only a few open spots were left, and by Thursday morning it was completely frozen over. I don’t know much about the formation of feather ice, but I’m guessing that the low temperatures combined with the wind blowing over the remaining patches of open water on Wednesday picked up enough moisture to cause this field to form near our shoreline. It’s at least a hectare in size.

I would have spent much more time taking pictures, but lying down on a frozen lake while manipulating  an SLR on a tripod at ground level isn’t exactly the most comfortable position I’ve ever been in. Check out the gallery below the fold for a couple of additional pictures I managed to take before my pants froze to the lake.

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"How do I know you're not some kind of…weirdo?"

Warped perceptionI stood on a North Toronto street earlier this week pondering the question that you had just tossed in my direction. If only I hadn’t left my “Non-Weirdos of Canada Club” membership card in my other pants.

This was the second time in about three years  that someone has challenged me for taking pictures on the street. The previous occasion involved a business owner on the Danforth who became quite belligerent after I took a picture of a ghost sign directly above his establishment. By the time he said he was going to call the police on me, I said that I was feeling threatened enough to call them myself, and pulled out my phone to do so. Unsurprisingly, he skulked away when I started dialling. Also unsurprisingly, the business—new at the time—lasted less than two months.

That experience came flooding back into my mind as you continued, “I’m going to go inside now and call the police…” If you’re serious, I’ll wait right here for them. You’ve essentially handcuffed me anyway; if I use this as my opportunity to walk away from your accusations,  it’ll just heighten your suspicions.

Why is it exactly that having a camera and taking pictures in public places marks someone as a weirdo? Or, more commonly these days, a terrorist? Good thing I didn’t have a “professional camera” with me. And even if I am some kind of weirdo, what exactly do you think I’m going to do when I get home with my illicit booty consisting of a picture of a quiet residential street?

“You can’t just go around taking pictures of people…” Actually, yes I can. If I’m standing on the sidewalk, I can take a picture of anyone or anything I can see. I may or may not be able to publish it, but there’s no law preventing me from taking it. That said, there are almost never people in the on-the-street pictures I take, simply because some people don’t like it and I really don’t want to deal with the hassle. Cars and rocks don’t usually get offended when they find themselves in front of my lens. I frequently go out of my way to keep people out of my pictures, and there certainly weren’t any in the two pictures you just watched me take.

“It’s an invasion of privacy…” Cars and grass have no privacy rights. Sorry.

“I can’t just let you come around here, taking pictures of kids…” Excuse me? Do you see any kids anywhere around here? I certainly don’t. I understand that you’re concerned for your children, but don’t accuse me of endangering them by taking a picture of something else entirely while they’re inside a school at least two blocks away.

“Our house was robbed a couple of months ago…” I’m sorry to hear that. Mine was broken into a few years ago and I know how terrible it feels. But I don’t see what that has to do with me unless the guy who broke into your place was armed with a point-and-shoot camera.

“If I see you in the neighbourhood again, acting all weird…” Can you define weird for me? I work just a couple of blocks away and this is on one of my regular commuting routes, so you’re pretty likely to see me again. Carrying my camera and stopping every once in a while to take pictures, is that weird? You might as well just call the police now and get it over with.

“How’d you like it if I took a picture of you?” How do I know you’re not some kind of weirdo? But seriously, go ahead. I’ll even pose for you. You’re welcome. We really should have turned around so that the sun was in front of me; you won’t get any detail in my face with that shot. Oh well.

“Where do you live? How’d you like it if I came to your house and harassed you?” Five minutes ago, I would have been happy to introduce myself and tell you all about what I do with the pictures I take in residential neighbourhoods. I even would have pointed you to this blog. But now that you’ve announced your intention to harass me, no thanks.

“Next time, you should just take your pictures and then leave.” Hmm, that’s exactly what I was doing when you drove your car in front of me and started treating me like a criminal for having a camera. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s of attempting to respond to your questions even though it’s clear you’re not interested in the answers.

But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, let me get back to your original question. Simply put, you don’t know that I’m not a weirdo. And you never will. But I can assure you that carrying a camera, or walking in a residential neighbourhood, or riding a bike, or wearing a purple t-shirt, or even not shaving for a week (guilty!) doesn’t make me any more or less of a weirdo than if I didn’t do any of those things. It’s a sad statement on the state of our society when the mere act of taking pictures is enough to make me a suspect in some imagined crime. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll see you around the neighbourhood again, but it won’t be by my choice.

Take pictures here

Well-distributed photo areas

As you can see by the long lineups at each photo area, the vastly different vistas at each were quite popular with both photographers and spectators.

These were set up near the rest area at the end of today’s Ride for Heart (more about that shortly). No, I don’t know why. I think I’ll file this one in my photo archives under “telling people what to do for no good reason.”

Spring on the Spit: pointing the way

Moon & pylon, Leslie Street Spit

Today’s spring picture from the Leslie Street Spit shows us an artfully-placed traffic pylon pointing up at last week’s waxing gibbous moon, already high in the sky in the late afternoon.

As an aside, I always used to think this phase of the moon was called a waxing gibbon until I was old enough to realize that the term would more accurately describe an ape with a Brazilian.

Spring on the Spit: bridging the gap

Old ship’s bridge at the Outer Harbour Marina

Today’s photos of the Leslie Street Spit take us to the peninsula that contains the Outer Harbour Marina. The old ship’s bridge sitting on the peninsula’s tip is a familiar landmark to Outer Harbour sailors but is virtually invisible to most people visiting Tommy Thompson Park.

These pictures were taken in March 2004, before I had a high-quality digital camera. Looking at them reminds me just how much I miss Velvia and a proper fisheye lens. What I don’t miss is endless hours spent scanning slides. Still, I’m tempted to run a couple of rolls through the old camera this weekend. Maybe someday I’ll get a nice full-frame DSLR and have the best of both worlds.

Spring on the Spit

Brick Beach on the Leslie Street Spit

I usually start stretching my cycling legs around mid-March each year, getting ready for longer rides in the season ahead. Although I commuted and ran errands on my bike throughout this winter, I hadn’t been out for any pleasure rides of significant distance since November. But when that sun starts melting the snow and the days start getting longer, the call of the road becomes too strong to resist. I don’t care if it’s still cold and windy outside; my legs want to spin.

The Leslie Street Spit is my most frequent late winter/early spring destination. It’s one of the few car-free places in the city where you can ride at this time of year and not worry about dealing with snow and ice. It’s also among the most photogenic destinations with a wider variety of landscapes than you’d expect of a long finger of dirt in the lake.

This beach, for example, is made almost entirely of bricks. The constant action of the water has worn away most of the corners so they look like colourful bars of soap. A few feet in from the shore, most bricks still have rough edges. They get smaller and smoother as they get closer to the water. At the water’s edge, they look like colourful little pebbles. In a few years, this could look like just another sandy beach.

Old bricks on the beach, Leslie Street Spit

In the middle of this picture, you can see mortar still holding the remnants of two eroded bricks together.

I’ll have more pictures from the Spit in the days ahead.