The Roundup for February 24-March 2, 2018 Edition

Evening Dream
Evening Dream by Christopher Parsons

For the past few weeks I’ve been deliberately constraining my photography by shooting exclusively by a 35mm equivalent lens. This was the focal length that really convinced me that I enjoyed photography as a way of seeing and experiencing the world. I’m a big fan of zoom lenses, and keep eyeing the Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 Pro lens, but I find that I learn the most about a scene by having to walk around it with a bright prime lens.

Alien Reach
Alien Reach by Christopher Parsons

When I travelled to Cuba, having to march around with a 50mm equivalent lens meant I went into entirely new places and angles that I wouldn’t have if I’d had a zoom lens to otherwise get a shot. And while I’ve previously used my 35mm equivalent, I have to admit that I’ve been far more reliant on some of my zooms and the 50mm; I just haven’t focused on learning to use the 35mm lens because there is so much more walking-by-zooming that I have to do with it compared to even my other prime lenses.

Sound Off!
Sound Off! by Christopher Parsons

But that’s silly: I enjoy the focal length, I just have to work a lot more to get things out of the camera. So I’ve been using it at night, during the day, and exclusively attached it to my camera body for the past month and intend to bring it (along with an 80-300mm equivalent lens) when I travel to South America in a week and change. I like the idea of an unobtrusive lens as my walkabout, and then the zoom for when I’ve trekking through nature. And, perhaps most importantly, I really like the idea of forcing myself to get a lot more comfortable with my current gear as a way to inhibit my desire to buy more gear: I have functionally underused equipment, and I should be playing with it, first and foremost, before even considering the purchase of new kit.

Inspiring Quotation

“We start on the path to genuine adulthood when we stop insisting on our emotional competence and acknowledge the extent to which we are – in many areas of our psyche – likely to be sharply trailing our biological age. Realising we aren’t – as yet, in subtle ways – quite adults may be the start of true maturity.”

Great Photography Shots

Mobiography’s landscape photography shots are really, really amazing and showcase just how much you can do with a contemporary smartphone and good lighting conditions.

Jagged horizon, Monument Valley…
Jagged horizon, Monument Valley… by Joseph Cyr
It’s been a good day… full of weather again..
It’s been a good day… full of weather again.. by Fi Austin
Snow & Fishing Cottages
Snow & Fishing Cottages by Jen Pollack Bianco
Windswept by lkbside

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for February 17-23, 2018 Edition

Midnight sunrise by Christopher Parsons

I find it really hard to identify the stories in my photographs, prior to actually pushing the shutter button. When I look through, say, my best photos of 2017 I can see which ones have stories embedded within them but it’s a pretty rare thing that I saw, and decided upon, the story before taking the shot. In part, I think that my challenges are linked to only taking my photography more seriously for a relatively short period of time.

But some of the difficulties I’m encountering are also linked with my still learning to take ‘technically’ good photos, after which I think I’ll be more comfortable with more ‘narrative’ style shots. And I want to get better at the latter because I take Martino Pietropoli‘s statement pretty seriously: “Good photos tell stories. Average photos are just beautiful.”

Pietropoli’s article is excellent, insofar as he spends the time to walk through not just the importance of building a story into a photograph but because he also shows examples. In choosing examples he doesn’t merely say ‘here are narrative photos’ but, instead, he spends the time to spell out some of the narratives which might be bundled up in the shots in question. For me, his article was a particularly clear and poignant way of thinking through what stories might be in any given shot, and also as a way to differentiate between what he identifies as narrative versus ‘merely’ beautiful shots.

If I have one critique of the article — and I think it’s pretty minor — it’s that there’s an assumption that someone understands how to take photographs competently, and using this basic competence they can take shots with story. Put another way: I think that a lot of the efforts to create popular stylistic shots are very helpful in teaching people how to use their cameras and lenses, and to think through the importance of framing. Does that mean the people may end up with a series of ‘generic’ skills that many other photographers can roughly approximate or precisely imitate? Absolutely. But just as it’s important to learn how to write the five paragraph essay before breaking into longer-form writing that breaks all the rules of that high school essay format, learning the high-school format in the first place is an important skill that leads to more advanced writing.

I think that spending time looking at Instagram or Flickr or other places which hold ‘beautiful’ images is entirely appropriate for those who are learning to take photographs, and take them seriously. But I also tend to agree with Pietropoli that a photographer must eventually come to a decision: will their photographic style focus principally on technically beautiful shots or, instead, try to engage with the world by evoking emotions and reactions linked to the stories contained in their photos.

New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

  • Cypher – a puzzle game about the history of cryptography

Great Photography Shots

I was really impressed with a range of the shots which won in the 2017 International Photographer of the Year contest.

Wave Crashers’ by Emily Kaszton. First Place, Nature: Aerial (Professional).
‘Neon Desert’ by Stefano Gardel. International Fine Art Photographer of the Year
‘Battersea’ by Giulio Zanni. Second place, Open Category: Long Exposure (Amateur)
‘Untitled’ by Pedro Diaz Molins. Second place, Fine Art: Photomanipulation (Amateur)
‘Lighting Clothes’ by Ramon Vaquero. Third place, People:Fashion/Beauty (Professional)
‘Desert Essential’ by Giovanni Canclini. First place, Open Category: Open Theme (Amateur)

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week



It’s unseasonably warm out at the moment, which is causing an amazing amount of mist to form as snow and ice melt off. So rather than go home and have a meal — and I was starving! — I decided to haul my butt down to a series of light sculptures that have been installed by the waterfront. I had the place practically all to myself and after a few hours, and one dead battery, I’m finally on my way home. And I’m super jazzed that I took the time working my camera instead of eating and lounging around the house!

Photowalk Challenge

Natural Ladders, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

There are a lot of different ways that you can challenge yourself to a photowalk. Use specific lenses or focal lengths or creative formats. Walk a predetermined distance and take a hundred photos from that site. Shoot black and white, mobile only, or focus on a concept, colour, or number.

I think I have a challenge that’s a bit different.

Recently I planned a photowalk to wander along a river in Toronto and, along the way, shoot some sculptures I’ve wanted to look at for the last several months. I got ready to head out, threw my camera over my shoulder, and walked out of my building and into a light drizzle of rain.

The low chances of rain had turned into the reality of rain, and it was only starting to come down harder. Without weather sealed gear there was no way I was going to be walking a few kilometres in the rain and shoot.

I quickly rerouted to an enclosed botanical garden that I live nearby. And pulled out my 12-42mm 3.5-5.6 II R kit lens and started at one end of the gardens and walked all the way to the other end.

Piles, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Sharp Symetry, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Unitlted, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Opening, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Revealed, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

I then swapped out my lens for the Panasonic 25mm 1.7 I had with me, and proceeded to walk all the way through the gardens once more. The shots I got tended to be different from the zoom lens, and forced me to think about what was differently possible to shoot with the prime lens compared to the short zoom.

Rough Hills, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Valve, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Red Frame, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Untitled, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Apex, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

Once I’d walked the length of the gardens once more I passed through it one last time, this time with my Olympus 40-150mm 4.0-5.6 R. This is definitely not the lens I’d normally use for this kind of shooting environment. And that meant that I was forced to really try with the lens and make it perform in a space in which I’m not comfortable using it.

Aligned, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Pals, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

What did I take away from this? That by walking the same space with different lenses possessing different characteristics I saw the space and photographic opportunities differently. It also was a useful exercise in just visualizing the possible: what shots was I willing and able to experiment with based on the lens at hand? What kind of shot — architecture or natural environment – captured my imagination with the different lenses?

The shots shown above are those that I was most happy with. There were, obviously, far more that got deleted (especially from the 40-150mm!). It was a fun opportunity, and a challenge I suspect I’ll revisit in the future.


In closing, I’d like to stress that the best tools at our disposal for mastering composition are not bought from camera stores — they are within us. To better express something about our subject matter and ourselves in our photographs, we should take steps to engage more in the process. Before we start we need to take time to establish a relationship with our subject matter; to engage our hearts and emotions. Secondly, we need to engage our imaginations; to let them run wild to form our vision for an image.

Then, perhaps, we bring our cameras and our eyes into the process. That is to say, having formulated a vision we now use our eyes objectively to see what is actually in the scene. Then, we try to engineer the scene, which may involve simply waiting fo something to move, or adjusting our camera, lens, or shooting position, that the scene best reflects our vision. We do this largely by bringing our bodies into play; using our legs to explore the scene and the options different viewpoints offer.

  • Richard Garvey-Williams, Mastering Composition: The Definitive Guide For Photographers