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Capturing a January Snowstorm with the iPhone 14 Pro

Toronto ended up getting a proper snowstorm late January. While it wasn’t the first snow of the year it was the first proper storm that saw 15cm of snow (or more) coming down over the course of many hours. In fact, the snow was coming down heavily enough that I didn’t want to risk my non-weather sealed cameras: I’m happy to get them damp by snow but in this weather they were certain to get soaked.

So what was I to do? Despite not being in love with the iPhone 14 Pro it’s a weather sealed camera and capable of making some decent images. So I grabbed it, donned my winter weather gear and some smartphone-compatible gloves, and headed out for a few hours of capturing the city.

When I went out I decided to increase the exposure a bit–set to 0.7–to keep the snow from coming out grey, but I found that exposure kept resetting. I half suspect that this was due to a combination of the somewhat bulky gloves I was using and the water on the screen resetting or modifying the exposure slider. Still, given that I was shooting in ProRAW I could generally modify exposures to my taste when I got home and did some light post-processing.

Speaking of the ProRAWs…I accidentally left the 24mm (equiv.) sensor set to 48MP images from the last time I was shooting with it! Which in hindsight explains why it often took so long to go from pressing the shutter button to capturing an image; I’d thought the delay was because of an issue with the conductive gloves or the cold or the water on the screen but, in fact, was was due to the file size. As always, I should have fully checked my equipment (and its software) before heading out. I’m just glad that I have a 512GB iPhone so at least I didn’t need to worry about running out of space on the device!

I did end up coming home with some smaller files using the main sensor from when I was shooting in burst mode. In burst you will default down to taking 12MP images on the 24mm (equivalent) lens and I used it when shooting faster-action scenes earlier in my walk.

In some notes to myself about the iPhone 14 Pro, I previously wrote:

The 48 megapixel main camera (24mm equivalent) when shot at its full resolution, in ProRAW, doesn’t work well for street photography. I tend to shoot bursts to get people stepping just so in a shot, but there’s an approximately 1 second or so delay in capturing one image and being able to capture another. That’s a shame as this is supposed to be a highlight feature and the A16 processor and specialized ISP just cannot process things fast enough for how I shoot street.

At the time, I didn’t realise the camera app would shift from taking 48MP to 12MP images under burst mode. It’s, also, not something that is apparent in the user interface. Just like, when in the camera app, there’s no indication or warning that you’re shooting at 48MP! All of which is to say that the stock Camera app on iPhone is getting very long in the tooth and is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Lest it sound that I only have negative things to say I should be very clear: I managed to go out and make images for several hours and came back with some that I liked. I couldn’t have gone out with my other camera gear. Since I thought I was shooting with the 12MP 24mm (equiv.) main lens quite often I tried to be fastidious in how I framed shots because I wasn’t going to be able to crop much. By happy accident, this ultimately meant that the images shot on that lens ended up being much higher quality than anticipated due to capturing 48MP images in all of their glory.

I also took the time to use the ultra-wide as well as telephoto lenses. I admit that I just don’t have a huge amount of experience shooting ultra-wide and so this was a fun experience in seeing what I could capture in the scene. Other images that didn’t quite make the cut saw me experiment with cutting the frame in two, with a divider in the centre of the frame and building scenes to the left and right of it. While I didn’t get any publishable-quality photos it was a good experiment and reminded me of just how challenging it is to replicate photographic masters who use this technique, like Sean Penn. The images I made with the 78mm lens, however, often ended up being too soft and ultimately I’ve opted to publish only one of them (above, woman walking away from sign with an arrow on it while looking at her phone).

When I went out I had hoped that I’d be able to capture the sense of how much the snow was beating down on everyone in the city. I think this came true as the iPhone didn’t shoot above 1/120 of a second the whole day, and at times was as low as 1/23. The result is that the snow is apparent and the subjects–unless they were relatively unmoving–have a bit of blur to them as they raced from place to place.

At the same time, because of the snow most people couldn’t move as quickly as they would on clear sidewalks and roads. It was an interesting personal lesson, insofar as I realised that in this weather I can probably easily get away with 1/80 to 1/200 and get sufficiently sharp images that still communicate the fury of the weather.

As I kept walking, however, a number of annoyances returned. I absolutely hate how holding your finger on the shutter button in the stock iPhone Camera app records a video instead of firing of a burst shot. This was a problem because when I was trying to take a single image sometimes I’d get a very short video, instead, meaning that I was without a photograph! I get that this is how most people probably want to use the app but it’d be nice to be able to customise the app’s functionality some. Especially if these are supposed to be ‘professional’ devices. Also, for reasons I couldn’t figure out, the Podcasts app also sometimes sped up the episodes I was listening to, or even skipped to the next podcast. Frustrating!

It had been quite some time since I’d walked through Chinatown during a real dropping of snow and it was great to see very familiar scenes in slightly different situations. Catching someone shovelling while, at the same time, a customer was taking refuge in a doorway was a real catch for me. I’m sure I’ve captured images from this location (as in the very spot I was standing in to make the image) dozens of times; this is a very different feel and texture than those I tend to make at this location. Win!

I ended up walking through Kensington Market last year during a slightly-less intense snowstorm and was rewarded with an image that was amongst my favourites of the year. I don’t think that I caught images that will necessarily fall into the same bucket this year, in part because several times I wasn’t able to activate the iPhone camera quickly enough. Still, I liked capturing how desolate the Market was, which was largely reflective of how quiet it was.

I did like how, towards the end of the shoot and into the evening, the snow started to come down even heavier which had the effect of leaving little droplets of water on the lens. While these blotches do upset the ‘perfection’ of the image I think they, also, have the effect of making it that much clearer what the weather was like and ideally put the viewer more firmly into the cold and wet scene.

It was on my return trip home that the worst of the weather was apparent for those who had to brave the wet snow that had piled up over the past many hours. There were relatively few pedestrians out, even at the major intersections, as compared to better-weather times. Hoods were up and high, foot slips were common, and cars were throwing up huge volumes of grey and brown slush onto anyone who happened to get too close to the curb.

Amongst the bravest of the brave were the few cyclists who continued to try and share the road with Toronto drivers. Between the streets that hadn’t been cleared and the erratic behaviour of vehicles whose owners hadn’t driven in the snow in over a year, it seemed risky and not that much faster than just walking. Still, they made for interesting subjects when they were waiting for a chance to get onto the road and make their way to their destination, and especially with the streetcar lines overhead layered with snow.

While cyclists arguably had a hard time of things, even harder times were surely experienced by the parents I saw who were trying to push strollers around. The snow routinely got into the wheels with the effect that parents were just pushing the strollers without the help of the wheels. Still, almost every stroller had a plastic barrier separating the child from the storm which at least meant that the little one’s weren’t getting soaked on their ways home.

Ultimately the images that I came back with after several hours of shooting are qualitatively different from anything I’d have made with my Fuji X100F or Ricoh GR or GRiiix. At least to my eye, they have a feel of an older camera and, due to the slow shutter speeds, many of the images remind me of film photographs I’ve seen of past Toronto winter storms from the 1970s and 1980s. Many also have an almost more intimate quality, to my eye, due to the technical imperfections that resulted from lighting conditions and occasional focus challenges. Still, I feel like they present the experience of the storm that lasted throughout the day and night, and which left the city blanketed in white by the following morning.

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First Snow of 2023 Photowalk

We got our first snow of the year on Sunday. I kept waiting for it to come and as soon as the snow started to fall I grabbed my Fuji X100F with a Cinebloom 10% attached and headed out to make some images.

I live in a densely populated section of Toronto. Notwithstanding the snow there were many people out and about when I first hit the streets. But it was as I moved to side streets, or into parts of the city that tend to be populated by tourists, that it was apparent that huge chunks of the city were largely depopulated as people decided to stay inside where it was warm and dry.

There were, of course, some people out even in the less populated parts of the city. They, however, tended to be trying to get out of the snow—which functionally turned into snow that was almost indistinguishable from rain towards the early evening—and generally wanted to just avoid getting wet or cold.

Somewhat surprisingly I saw almost no other photographers out and about. I’m sure they were there, somewhere. But, at the same time, I wonder how much the weather dissuaded them from getting out and shooting the streets or urban landscapes.

I will never be accused of babying my cameras. My Fuji X100F lacks the weatherproofing of the newest version and, so, when I’m out in the snow I tend to protectively place one hand over it’s screen and eyepiece, and keep the lens pointed downwards and slightly in towards my body. It doesn’t prevent all the precipitation from getting onto the camera but, along with brushing off water when it starts to gather on dials and such, has always seemed good enough to keep the equipment safe.

The mix of heavy coats and umbrellas is something that I’m always curious about, if only because I can’t recall ever seeing something similar while I was growing up or when I visit parts of the country (or world) that receive large volumes of snow. I don’t dispute the potential utility of an umbrella—it will, obviously, help to keep your head wet and my uncovered head certainly got soaked after 3-4 hours outside—but it always seems like an instrument that is out of place. Though they look very distinct in the snow and so I definitely took the chance to make images of people who were carrying them!

Though there were people out and about, and evidence in other cases of someone having been present recently, much of the city felt oddly solitary. When I make my photos I’m often trying to communicate a sense of, on the one hand, the press of other people around and upon us and, on the other, the loneliness or isolation experienced while being in these massive urban environments. Dismal weather almost always draws me to the latter and wanting to express how large our environments are and what they look like with few figures or, alternately, in the absence of humans entirely. What will the city look like when the humans are gone?

When I watched one of James Popsys’ videos recently he mentioned that, when taking his landscapes, he likes putting either a human or a human-made thing in his images. Doing so has the effect of communicating human presence and, often, what the natural environment looks in our absence. Human-made things, also, have the effect of drawing us into an image on the basis that we ‘see’ something of ourselves in the otherwise natural environment.

In an almost modernist way of thinking those solitary human-things have the effect of both showing the attempt to overcome, or start overcoming, nature while often simultaneously showcasing the majesty and longevity of nature against the transitory existence of human-made things. Or at least that’s how I see and study such images.

I don’t know how well I really captured ‘nature’ in my walk—save towards the very end of my walk—but Popsys’ words have resonated in my head for some time. For years when I’ve made images of the city it’s often been with a view that the humans are transitory; they move though the frame, they enter and exit the city, they live and die. The built infrastructure and the protected landscapes interspersed throughout the city, however, will (should?) persist for a far longer period of time. Yes, Toronto is a city undergoing profound construction but looking through historical photos of the city reveal that key things have remained for a century or more in spite of the changes.

Of course that isn’t to say that the old has stayed perfectly the same; the bridge I took the below image from is literally a bridge to nowhere that was disconnected from the surrounding roads in 1964. While there were plans to remove it, apparently it’s more affordable to do minimal maintenance on it than tear it down; it’s only a matter of time, though, until this economic calculus changes. The city keeps putting up fences and warnings to keep people off the bridge but there’s only been once in the past decade where the fences were intact and I was prevented from getting onto the bridge. In the summer you can regularly discover some pretty cool graffiti along its struts.

The bridge sits over the Don River and, looking south, you have a view of a highway that our municipal and provincial governments continue to pour money into, as well as industrial lands which have been in declining operation for a long time. While the specific buildings will almost certainly change—most likely to be replaced by condos—the character of the landscape should remain the same for decades insofar as the highway and walking path should persist. Though it may be that a similar image will only be accessible to those flying small drones when the economic calculus for maintaining the bridge changes.

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January 1st Graffiti Photowalk

I routinely try and take a bit of a longer photowalk at the start of each year. It’s an opportunity to stretch my legs some and a great way to start of the year while, also, getting a chance to document the city while it’s still recovering from New Years celebrations.

This year was no different, save that I ended up leaving for my walk later than intended and was drawn to a number of Toronto’s alleys throughout the evening.

While I did the majority of my shooting through the late afternoon and evening in monochrome, I couldn’t help by see how the positive film simulation in my Ricoh GRs would showcase the vibrant colours of graffiti under artificial lighting situations.

It was only once I’d brought the images home and looked at them that it became apparent that the majority of the photos were made from the same angle. I had no idea I was doing this at the time but, in hindsight, I definitely wish that I’d made images from wider variety of angles.

When I was wandering through some of the alleys I wished that there had been more people about to include in some of the images. Even a wisp of a figure would, I think, have added a bit of a haunting character to many of the photographs.

In their absence, however, I largely (though not completely) tried to channel Tatianna Hopper. She sometimes engages in a kind of street photography that simultaneously showcases the existence and absence of humans. Graffiti and human trash, or waste, expresses this concept to my mind.

In a number of alleys there were quasi-monstrous or demonic imagery. I see more and more of it around the city and have met the artists of some of it. The effort they’re putting in is amazing with really interesting effects; when shooting with humans in the frame and in monochrome, I find the graffiti adds an interesting graphic element and juxtaposition. Even on its own, however, the juxtaposition between colour and monochrome graffiti causes its own novel contrast.

Almost the entirety of 2022, and the tail end of 2021, saw me shoot 99% of my images in monochrome. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made on the street and can see the very real improvements in composition and ability to ‘see’ in monochrome. However I’m inspired by Alex Webb and Gustavo Minas’ ‘Maximum Shadow Minimal Light’. Both use shadow in colour photography and I’d like to develop similar skills . Maybe that means I’ll experiment some through the year in trying to translate what I’ve learned about light and shadows in monochrome images into colour photos!

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Which Photo (Or Three…) Best Represents 2022?

‘Til Pandemic Does Us Part | Excluded Audience | Amour by Christopher Parsons

Neale James, host of the Photowalk, challenged the ‘Extra Milers’ to look through our pictures and find one (or three…) which really spoke to our 2022. It could be a best photograph, or one that captures some memory or another, or really anything…the question was deliberately left pretty open to interpretation.

It served as a good experience for me. I went back through the past 11 months of images and, in the process, was reminded of numerous photos and experiences I’d forgotten about.

The first image (“‘til Pandemic Does Us Part”) speaks to how seriously some were still taking the pandemic much earlier in the year.

‘Til Pandemic Does Us Part by Christopher Parsons

The second (“Excluded Audience”) is very similar to an image I made in early 2020 which defined that stage of the pandemic in Toronto for me. “Excluded Audience” is meant to call back to that image and showcase that while things were going back to normal as the year progressed, that normal isn’t necessarily positive for everyone in the city. I’ve also included that reference image (“Down But Not Out”) below, after the set, just to indicate what I was trying to call back to.

Excluded Audience by Christopher Parsons

The final image of the year in this set (“Amour”) is meant to document how things are, today, with those in love able to see and hold one another amongst crowds once more. As a set, I think they have a symmetry in story and composition across them.

Amour by Christopher Parsons

And, finally, the reference image really just captures what Toronto was like in the early days of the pandemic when the entire downtown core had just shut down in its entirety.

Down But Not Out by Christopher Parsons

In terms of process for selecting photos, most years I start by reviewing images that I posted to social media that year, which in 2022 has been Glass. From the 300-365 images I work down to 30 images or so that best tell the story of the year. However, using this process I miss some photos that I really like but haven’t uploaded and, at the same time, include some images in the sort that I’ve somewhat fallen out of favour with since posting them.

All of which is to say: I think that going through and taking the time to review/re-examine all the images we’ve taken over a year is a splendid exercise, and especially because there’s a bit of time between when an image was captured and now. For me, at least, this helped to surface work that resonates more today than I think that it did when I first made it.

How do you go through and review your photos annually? What’s your best photo or photo set of the year, and what’s the story behind them?

Glass 365 Days Later

(Wintertime Rush by Christopher Parsons)

I’ve been actively using Glass for about a full year now. Glass is a photo sharing site where users must pay either a monthly or yearly fee; it costs to post but viewing is free.

I publish a photo almost every day and I regularly go through the community to view other folks’ photos and comment on them. In this short review I want to identify what’s great about the service, what’s so-so, and where there’s still room to grow. All the images in this blog post were previously posted to Glass.

Let me cut to the chase: I like the service and have resubscribed for another full year.

The Good

The iOS mobile client was great at launch and it remains terrific. It’s fast and easy to use, and beats all the other social platforms’ apps that I’ve used because it is so simple and functional. You can’t edit your images in the Glass app and I’m entirely fine with that.

(Fix, Found by Christopher Parsons)

The community is delightful from my perspective. The comments I get are all thoughtful and the requirement to pay-to-post means that there aren’t (yet) any trolls that I’ve come across. Does this mean the community is smaller? Definitely. But is it a more committed and friendly community? You bet. Give me quality over quantity any day of the week.

All subscribers have the option to have a public facing profile, which anyone can view, or ones that are restricted to just other subscribers. I find the public profiles to be pretty attractive and good at arranging photos, especially when accessing a profile on a wide-screen device (e.g. a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone in landscape).

The platform launched as iPhone only, to start, though has been expanding since then. The iPad client is a joy to use and the developers have an Android client on their roadmap. A Windows application is available and you can use the service on the web too.

(Birthday Pose by Christopher Parsons)

Other things that I really appreciate: Glass has a terrifically responsive development team. There are about 50 community requests that have been implemented since launch; while some are just for bugs, most are for updates to the platform. Glass is also the opposite of the traditional roach-motel social media platform. You can download your photos from the site at any time; you’re paying for the service, not for surveillance. That’s great!

The So-So

So is Glass perfect then? No. It has only a small handful of developers as compared to competitors like Instagram or Vero which means that some overdue features are still in development.

(‘Til Pandemic Does Us Part by Christopher Parsons)

A core critique is there is no Android application. That’s fair! However, iOS users are more likely to spend money on apps so it made economic sense to prioritize that user base.1 Fortunately an Android application is on its way and a Windows version was recently released.

A more serious issue for existing users is an inability to ‘tag’ photos. While photos can be assigned to categories in the application (and more categories have been added over time) that means it’s hard to have the customization of bigger sites like Flickr. The result is that discovery is more challenging and it’s harder to build up a set of metadata that could be used in the future for presenting photos. Glass, currently, is meant to provide a linear feed of photos—that’s part of its charm!—but more sophisticated methods of even displaying images on users’ portfolios in the future may require the company to adopt a tagging system. Why does it matter that there is or isn’t one, today? Because for heavier users2 re-viewing and tagging all photos will be a royal pain in the butt, if that ever is something that is integrated into the platform.

(Tall and Proud by Christopher Parsons)

If you’re looking to use Glass as a formal portfolio, well, there are almost certainly better services and platforms you should rely upon. Which is to say: the platform does not let you create albums or pin certain photos to the top of your profile. I entirely get that the developers are aiming for a simple service at launch, but would also appreciate the ability to better categorize some of my photos. In particular, I would like to create things such as:

  • Best of a given year
  • Having albums that break up street versus landscape versus cityscape images
  • Being able to create albums for specific events, such as particular vacations or documentary events
  • Photos that I generally think are amongst my ‘best’ overall

This being said, albums and portfolios are in the planning stages. I look forward to seeing what is ultimately released.

(Public Praise by Christopher Parsons)

As much as I like the community as it stands today, I would really like the developers to add some small or basic things. Like threaded comments. They’re coming, at some point, after discovery features are integrated (e.g., search by location, by camera, etc.). Still, as it stands today, the lack of even 2-levels of threaded comments means that active conversations are annoying to follow.

Finally, Glass is really what you make of it. If you’re a photographer who wants to just add photos and never engage with the community then I’d imagine it’s not as good as a platform such as Instagram or Vero. Both of the latter apps have larger user bases and you’re more likely to get the equivalent of a like; I don’t know how large Glass’ user-base is but it’s not huge despite being much larger than at launch. However, if you’re active in the community then I think that you can get more positive, or helpful, feedback than on other platforms. At least for me, as a very enthusiastic amateur photographer, the engagement I get on Glass is remarkably more meaningful than on any other platform on which I’ve shared my photographs.

The Bad

Honestly, the worst part about Glass is still discoverability.3 You can see a semi-random set of photographers using the service which isn’t bad…except that some of them may not have posted anything to the platform for months or even a year. I have no idea why this is the case.

(Stephanie by Christopher Parsons)

The only other way to discover other photographers is to regularly dig through the different photography categories, and ‘appreciate’4 photos you see and follow the photographers who appeal to your tastes. This isn’t terrible, but it’s the ‘best’ way of discovering photos and really isn’t great. While the company ‘highlightsphotographers on the Glass website and through its Twitter feed, the equivalent curation still doesn’t exist in the application itself. That’s non-ideal.

The developers have promised that additional discovery functions will be rolling out. They intend enable search by camera type or location, but thus far nothing’s been released. They’ve been good at slowly and deliberately releasing features, and new features have always been thoughtful when implemented, so I’m hopeful that when discoverability is updated it’ll be pretty good. Until then, however, it’s frankly pretty bad.

(Lonely Traveller by Christopher Parsons)

If I were to find a second thing that’s missing, to date, it would be that there’s no way of embedding Glass images in other CMSes. The platform does support RSS, which I appreciate, but I want the platform to offer full-on embeds so I can easily cross post images to other web spaces (like this blog!). Embeds could, also, have some language/links that ultimately let viewers sign up for the service as a way of growing the subscriber base.

The third thing that I wish Glass would enable a way of assessing if a photo has already been uploaded. At this point I’ve uploaded over 300 photos and I want to ensure that I don’t accidentally upload a duplicate. This is definitely a problem associated with those who use the service more heavily, but will become a more prominent issue as users ‘live’ on the platform for more and more years.

Conclusion

So, at the end of a year, what do I think of Glass?

First, I think that it truly is a photography community for photographers. It isn’t trying to be a broader social network that lets you share what music you’re listening to, or TV shows and movies you’re watching, or books you’ve finished, or temporary stories or images. There is totally a space for a network like that but it’s not Glass and I’m fine with it being a simpler and more direct kind of platform.

(Night Light by Christopher Parsons)

Second, it is a platform with active developers and a friendly community. Both of those things are pretty great. And the developers have a clear and opinionated sense of taste: they’re creating a beautiful application and associated service. There’s real value in the aesthetic for me.

Third, it’s not quite the place to showcase your work, today, if you are trying to semi-professionally market your photography. There are no albums or other ways of highlighting or collecting your images. Glass is much closer to the original version of Instagram in just presenting a feed of historical images instead of a contemporary service like Flickr or even Instagram. And…that’s actually a pretty great thing! That said, the roadmap includes commitments to enabling better highlighting/collecting of images. This will be increasingly important as more people upload more photographs to the service.

(Supervisory Assistance by Christopher Parsons)

Fourth, it’s still relatively cheap as compared to other paid offerings. It is less than half the cost of a Flickr Pro account, as just one example. And there are no ads for subscribers or for individuals who are browsing public profiles and associated portfolios.

(Distressed by Christopher Parsons)

So, in conclusion, I’d strongly suggest trying out Glass if you’re a committed and enthusiastic amateur. It’s not the same as Instagram or Instagram clones. That’s both part of the point and part of the magic of the platform that the Glass team is creating and incubating.


  1. Yes, you might be willing to pay money, dear reader, but you’re statistically deviant. In a good way! ↩︎
  2. Such as myself… ↩︎
  3. The developers are, also, very well aware of this issue. ↩︎
  4. Glass does not have ‘likes’ per se, but lets users click an ‘appreciation’ button. Appreciations are only ever sent to the photographer and are not accumulated numerically to be presented to either the public or the photographer who uploaded the photograph. ↩︎
Aside

2022.9.18

A couple thoughts after shooting with the iPhone 14 Pro for a day, as an amateur photographer coming from an iPhone 12 Pro and who also uses a Ricoh GR and Fuji X100F.

  1. The 48 megapixel 24mm (equiv.) lens is nearly useless for street photography, when capturing images at 48 megapixels. It takes 1+ seconds to capture an image at this resolution. That’s not great for trying to catch a subject or scene at just the right moment. (To me, this says very, very bad things about what Apple Silicon can actually do.) Set the captured resolution to 12 megapixels in ProRAW if you’re shooting fast-moving or fast-changing subjects/scenes.
  2. The 78mm (equiv.) telephoto is pretty great. It really opens a new way of seeing the world for me. I also think it’s great for starting street photographers who aren’t comfortable being as close as 28mm or 35mm might require.
  3. The new form factor means the MagSafe-compatible battery I use doesn’t fit. Which was a pretty big surprise and leads into item 4…
  4. Capturing 48 megapixel images, at full resolution, while using your phone in bright daylight (and thus raising the screen to full brightness), absolutely destroys battery life. Which means you’re likely to need a battery pack to charge your phone during extended photoshoots. Make sure you choose one that’s the right size!
  5. I like the ability to use the photographic styles. But it really sucks that you can’t see what effect they’d have on monochrome/black and white images. I shoot 95-99% in monochrome; this is likely less of an issue for other folks.
  6. The camera app desperately needs an update and reorganization. It is kludgy and a pain in the ass to use if you need to change settings quickly on the street. Do. Not. Like. It’s embarrassing Apple continues to ship such a poor application.

I haven’t taken the phone out to shoot extensively at night, though some staged shots at home at night showcase how much better night mode is compared to that in the iPhone 12 Pro.

Anyway, early thoughts. More complete ones will follow in the coming week or so.

Gallery

2022.7.31

Fungi by Christopher Parsons

After spending far too much time agonizing over what to get printed I finally put in an order for 21 prints. Most are black and white from the past 2-3 years, and will be used to create 1-2 gallery walls and refresh another wall.

Untitled by Christopher Parsons

I’m looking forward to getting them through I’m working with a new printer so have some minor degrees of anxiety over what I’ll end up with. I’ve generally had good luck with local printers but the past few personal photo books I’ve had printed (albeit from international companies) have been disappointing when I’ve gotten them in my hands.

The next step will be to purchase a raft of frames for all the prints. And then, finally, actually add them all to my walls!

Thoughts on Developing My Street Photography

(Dead Ends by Christopher Parsons)

For the past several years I’ve created a ‘best of’ album that summarizes the year’s best photos that I made. I use the yearly album to assess how my photography has changed and what, if any, changes are common across those images. The process of making these albums and then printing them forces me to look at my images, how they work against one another, and better understand what I learned over the course of taking photos for a year.

I have lots of favourite photographs but what I’ve learned the most, at least over the past few years, is to ignore a lot of the information and ‘tips’ that are often shared about street photography. Note that the reason to avoid ignore them is not because they are wrong per se, or that photographers shouldn’t adopt them, but because they don’t work for how I prefer to engage in street photography.

I Don’t Do ‘Stealth’ Photography

Probably the key tip that I generally set to the side is that you should be stealthy, sneaky, or otherwise hidden from the subjects in the photos that I capture. It’s pretty common for me to see a scene and wait with my camera to my eye until the right subjects enter the scene and are positioned where I want them in my frame. Sometimes that means that people will avoid me and the scene and other times they’ll clearly indicate that they don’t want to have their photo taken. In these cases the subject is communicating their preferences quite clearly and I won’t take their photograph. It’s just an ethical line I don’t want to cross.

(Winter Troop by Christopher Parsons)

In yet other instances, my subjects will be looking right at me as they pass through the scene. They’re often somewhat curious. And in many situations they stop and ask me what I’m taking photos of, and then a short conversation follows. In an odd handful of situations they’ve asked me to send along an image I captured of them or a link to my photos; to date, I’ve had pretty few ‘bad’ encounters while shooting on the streets.

I Don’t Imitate Others

I’ve spent a lot of time learning about classic photographers over the past couple years. I’ve been particularly drawn to black and white street photography, in part because I think it often has a timeless character and because it forces me to more carefully think about positioning a subject so they stand out.

(Working Man by Christopher Parsons)

This being said, I don’t think that I’m directly imitating anyone else. I shoot with a set of focal ranges and periodically mix up the device I’m capturing images on; last year, a bulk of my favourite photos came from an intensive two week photography vacation where I forced myself to walk extensively and just use an iPhone 12 Pro. Photos that I’m taking, this year, have largely been with a Fuji X100F and some custom jpg recipes that generally produce results that I appreciate.

Don’t get me wrong: in seeing some of the photos of the greats (and less greats and less well-knows) I draw inspiration from the kinds of images they make, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone out to try and make images like theirs. This differs from when I started taking shots in my city, and when I wanted to make images that looked similar to the ‘popular’ shots I was seeing. I still appreciate those images but they’re not what I want to make these days.

I Create For Myself

While I don’t think that I’m alone in this, the images that I make are principally for myself. I share some of those images but, really, I just want to get out and walk through my environment. I find the process of slowing down to look for instances of interest and beauty help ground me.

Because I tend to walk within the same 10-15km radius of my home, I have a pretty good sense of how neighbourhoods are changing. I can see my city changing on a week to week basis, and feel more in tune with what’s really happening based on my observations. My photography makes me very present in my surroundings.

(Dark Sides by Christopher Parsons)

I also tend to use my walks to both cover new ground and, also, go into back alleys, behind sheds, and generally in the corners of the city that are less apparent unless you’re looking for them. Much of the time there’s nothing particularly interesting to photograph in those spaces. But, sometimes, something novel or unique emerges.

Change Is Normal

For the past year or so, a large volume (95% or more) of my images have been black and white. That hasn’t always been the case! But I decided I wanted to lean into this mode of capturing images to develop a particular set of skills and get used to seeing—and visualizing—scenes and subjects monochromatically.

But my focus on black and white images, as well as images that predominantly include human subjects, is relatively new: if I look at my images from just a few years ago there was a lot of colour and stark, or empty, cityscapes. I don’t dislike those images and, in fact, several remain amongst my favourite images I’ve made to date. But I also don’t want to be constrained by one way of looking at the world. The world is too multifaceted, and there’s too many ways of imagining it, to be stuck permanently in one way of capturing it.

(Alley Figures by Christopher Parsons)

This said, over time, I’d like to imagine I might develop a way of seeing the world and capturing images that provides a common visual language across my images. Though if that never happens I’m ok with that, so long as the very practice of photography continues to provide the dividends of better understanding my surroundings and feeling in tune with wherever I’m living at the time.

Link

‘Glass Time’ Shortcut

man people woman iphone
Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Like most photographers I edit my images with the brightness on my screen set to its maximum. Outside of specialized activities, however, I and others don’t tend to set the brightness this high so as to conserve battery power.

The result is that when we, as photographers, as well as members of the viewing public tend to look images on photography platforms we often aren’t seeing them as their creator(s) envisioned. The images are, quite starkly, darker on our screens than on those of the photographers who made them.1

For the past few months whenever I’ve opened Glass or looked at photos on other platforms I’m made an effort to ensure that I’ve maximized the brightness on my devices as I’ve opened the app. This said, I still forget sometimes and only realize halfway through a viewing session. So I went about ensuring this ‘mistake’ didn’t happen any more by creating a Shortcut called ‘Glass Time’!

The Shortcut is pretty simple: when I run it, it maximizes the brightness of my iOS device and opens the Glass app. If you download the Shortcut it’s pretty easy to modify it to instead open a different application (e.g., Instagram, 500px, Flickr, etc). It’s definitely improved my experiences using the app and helped me to better appreciate the images that are shared by individuals on the platform.

Download ‘Glass Time’ Shortcut


  1. Of course there are also issues associated with different devices having variable maximum brightness and colour profiles. These kinds of differences are largely intractable in the current technical milieu. ↩︎

Glass and Community

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
(New Heights by Christopher Parsons)

The founders of the photography application, Glass, were recently on Protocol’s Source Code. Part of what they emphasized, time and time again, was the importance of developing a positive community where photographers interacted with one another.

Glass continues to be the place where I’m most comfortable sharing my images. I really don’t care about how many people ‘appreciate’ a photo and I’m never going to be a photographic influencer. But I do like being in a community where I’m surrounded by helpful photographers, and where I’m regularly inspired by the work of other photographers.

Indeed, just today one of the photographers I most respect posted an image that I found really spectacular and we had a brief back and forth about what I saw/emotions it evoked, and his reaction to my experience of it. I routinely have these kinds of positive and meaningful back-and-forths on Glass. That’s not to say that similar experiences don’t, and can’t, occur on other companies’ platforms! But, from my own point of view, Glass is definitely creating the experiences that the developers are aiming for.

I also think that the developers of Glass are serious in their commitment to taking ideas from their community. I’d proposed via their ticketing system that they find a way of showcasing the excellent blog content that they’re producing, and that’s now on their roadmap for the application.

It’s also apparent that the developers, themselves, are involved in the application and watching what people are posting to showcase great work. They’ve routinely had excellent and interesting interviews with photographers on the platform, as well as highlighted photos that they found interesting each month in the categories that they have focused on (in interests of disclosure, one of my photos was included in their Cityscapes collection).

These are, admittedly, the kinds of features and activities that you’d hope developers to roll out and emphasize as they build a photography application and grow its associated community. Even the developers of Instagram, when it was still a sub-10 person shop were pretty involved in their community! I can only hope that Glass never turns into their Meta ‘competitor’!