Shooting Katy Perry @ MuchMusic

    Photographed Katy Perry @ MuchMusic yesterday.
    Some shoots go like clockwork, others are a struggle. This one had some glitches, which is very unusual for shooting at Much.

    This is the second time I've photographed her recently. At Fashion Cares she was very relaxed and cooperative with the media. Yesterday she was distracted, skittish and not very forthcoming for most of the media op. I guess she came all the way up to Toronto for the minus seven degree weather.

    We were informed she would be available right off the top of the show when she was being interviewed, but that didn't happen. Neither did the concert segment.

    After several delays the publicist finally gets her lined up with the MuchMusic sign in the background for a quicky headshot. Just as we start to shoot the room lights (which were our only illumination on her) go off because they are back from commercial break and all we have is Katy silouhetted against the backlit sign. All the studio lights are aimed the other way. She does a 10 sec. smirk for each photographer then takes off for the green room like that's it. Photo shoot over.

    There is no question of using a flash in this circumstance. You're not allowed to use flash in the studio. The lighting that had been on her went out because the show was once again live to air. Using a flash would have resulted in security removing me from the premises.

    When you see a broadcast of this sort at home it is one continuous feed. But live in the studio there are short bursts of live taping interspersed with long minutes when the house lights come up and everyone sits around bored waiting for something to happen while they run a pre-taped segment. Usually it's during these off-air moments that media are allowed to shoot set up photos (we're also allowed to shoot the interviews or live performances most the time, but this wasn't the case for Katy Perry)

    As well, with an audience in place and many tech people scattered throughout the studio (it's a smallish studio too) photographers don't usually show up with bags and a ton of equipment.
    Standard for this assignment would be something in the range of a 24-70 2.8 on one body and a 70-200mm 2.8 on another. I'm using the Digital Zuiko 12-60 2.8 (24-120mm equiv.) on the E3, and the 50-200mm 2.8 (100-400mm equiv.) on the E510.
    No bag. No flash. This allows for much easier movement and you don't have to annoy them by putting bags down on the floor or work surfaces. Sometimes photogs don't even show up with coats on (nowhere to put them so you end up wearing it in a very hot lit studio environment). It was a chilly trip from the carpark last night.

    After our debacle in the dark the woman from Reuters, the guy from Getty and I gather around in a circle to compare and all we have is ... well, nothing really. Just a silouhette of her with a bit of rim lighting and minimal detail in the shadow areas.

    So the publicist assures us we'll be able to shoot Katy when she comes back from the green room, but she just blows right past us without stopping when that moment arrives.
    So the new plan is to do her next commercial break... which becomes next commercial break ... which becomes just before she does her last live song - as in, just before she leaves the building.

    This actually works out, but the lighting is set for the opposite direction from where she is standing, so the single overhead light we're stuck with does nothing but render her make-up grossly overdone. However this time she does spend a little longer giving each photographer (there were six in all) a look.

    The problem with the second sequence, which should have been our best shot, was they were set up to do her live singing performance and we were positioned opposite to the key lighting for a complimentary look.
    Such is life when you are shooting in the middle of a live TV broadcast.

    Also, MuchMusic used to have two studios side by side. The one across the hall from yesterday’s was always a lot better from a lighting stand point. I did Rihanna and Elisha Cuthbert in there and it was just superb. But now E-Talk has that studio (gotta keep Ben Mulroney looking good I suppose :)

    So the last sequence where the exposure is good doesn't do her justice, and has a very busy background with the studio audience back there. Thus I decided to try rescuing the grossly under-exposed JPEG from the first sequence.

    This required a few trips through Neat Image noise removal program, some radical curves and selective levels adjustments, a little bit of fill lighting applied, and just a bit of light cloning. Surprisingly, banding wasn't as bad as some less under exposed images I've worked on in the past. I expected the backlit sign to blow out completely but it held up fairly well.

    In the end we got the photo above, which, while not perfect, is a hundred percent more useable than I ever expected considering what I started with.
    Heck, If I was using the new Olympus E30 I could say I actually did it intentionally with one of those fancy art effects filters. You know, the 'Heroic PhotoShop Intervention Filter'

    Olympus E3 camera with 12-60mm f2.8 lens.

    Photo copyright All rights reserved.

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Recent Events

    It's been a while since my last post. Time to catch up with recent concerts and shows.

    Virgin Unite: Lady GaGa @ Circa Nightclub

    Virgin Unite is a charitable organization affiliated worldwide with Richard Branson’s group of companies that specializes in throwing swank, celebrity-fuelled evenings so people can party away, while contributing to the worthy cause of fighting Youth Homelessness.

    The celebrity headline act for the evening’s concert was Lady GaGa, the singer behind last summer’s most infectious dance hit, and opening act was the 15 yr. old wunderkind who goes by the stage name of Shiloh, also with a current radio hit.

    With the kind assistance of the club’s lighting crew I was able to position myself perfectly behind the lighting board for a photo that would frame the performer with the crowd’s hands, capturing the energy of the night’s performance.

    Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, the Circa nightclub is an interesting environment with four floors of stylized nooks and lounges surrounding a large floor to ceiling central performance space.

    A fun evening for a good cause.

    TSO Afterworks Series - Holst’s The Planets

    The Toronto Symphony Orchestra have started a new series aimed at the busy professional.

    It’s called the AfterWorks Series, and the basic premise is that each of the three concerts in the series has an early start time of 6:30 PM with the aim of having patrons out of the hall by 8:00 PM at concert’s end.

    This leaves you with either time for dinner afterwards, or an early journey home. The concerts have no intermission.

    We went to the first of the series, Holst’s The Planets on a Wed. night and I think they are onto something here.

    The standard start time of 8:00 is often a bit awkward, offering inadequate time for dinner before, or a late light snack afterwards as your only alternatives.
    And with the busy lives we lead these days there is often homework to be supervised at home, or shopping and errands that need doing.

    The early start and end times of this series takes a bit of the stress out allowing an enjoyable concert experience that can fit in with a busy lifestyle.

    For The Planets the TO was in fine form delivering an impassioned performance of this classic piece that ostensibly assigns a movement to each planetary body in our solar system, but, arguably, the composition is really about the arc of life, from birth to death.

    The orchestra showcased a huge dynamic range and precise, nuanced playing throughout.

    Future concerts in the Afterworks Series will be; Mozart’’s Jupiter Symphony w/ Peter Oundjian conducting on Jan. 14, then Prokofiev and Ravel w/ Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting on Mar. 25

    National Ballet’s The Nutcracker

    A holiday classic, and an absolute must for the young aspiring ballet star in your family (and what little girl doesn’t want to be a ballerina?)

    The Nutcracker is a stunning, lavish enchantment that brings a child’s fantasies to life with a rich, creative production that makes it an experience for the entire family. I know people who go every year as a Christmas family tradition.

    And every year various celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds are given the opportunity to be part of the production as the ‘cannon dolls’.

    For the opening night I photographed Dan Levy and Jessi Cruikshank, hosts of MTV‘s The AfterShow, hamming it up as the slightly inept cannon crew.

    A treat for children of all ages, The Nutcracker runs until Dec. 28 at The Four Seasons Centre For the Performing Arts, Queen and University

    COCC’s Dickens Of A Christmas

    The Canadian Childen’s Opera Company presents their annual opera based on the Dickens classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s encounter with the ghosts of Christmas, and his conversion to the spirit of the season.

    Staged at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre, always a warm and intimate venue that is perfectly suited to the larger ensemble numbers in the show, this production has it’s uneven moments but these are nicely offset by the charm of the youth performers who really give it their best.

    The opera moves briskly along with the straight forward telling of a tale that needs no further embellishments.

    A nice start to the Christmas season.

    Tarragon Theatre: Moliere

    A romp through the theatre world of France’s King Louis XIV, The Sun King, this play highlights the creative rivalry of the leading playwright’s of their day, Moliere and Jean Baptiste Racine, contrasting their diametrically opposing personalities.

    Moliere’s lusty, bon vivant exuberance starkly contrasts with Jean Baptiste Racine’s tightly wound, obsession with tragedy and melodrama. Life is serious business in Racine’s world.

    Throw in an scheming Machivelian Archbishop Prifixe, who may remind people of a certain current Prime Minister, and the play quickly achieves a undertone of menace as the dark forces of these two major manipulators move to squelch the light and laughter of Moliere’s world in service to their own personal ambitions and nation state manoeuvring.

    It’s a cleverly produced production with simple yet effective staging that, with a simple swivel of a large proscenium arc allows for glimpses of the on-stage theatrics from both the audience and backstage views, as well as doing double duty to move the play ahead chronologically.

    The performances are uniformly terrific, especially Richard McMillan as the lead character Moliere and Julian Richings as the Archbishop.

    Pacing never lags, the humour can be broad and coarse in keeping with the era, but there are many subtle asides and ironic moments echoing our own recently perogued society.

    This a hugely entertaining play with a stellar cast, even attracting the attention of film director Atom Egoyan, who was among the opening night crowd.

    Moliere may not be seasonal fare, but it may just the thing when ’seasonal’ is beginning to wear.

    Moliere continues until Dec. 28 at Tarragon Theatre’s MainSpace.

    ROM’s Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine

    Ukraine's First Lady, Mrs. Kateryna Yushchenko opened the ROM's new Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: The Remarkable Trypilian Culture exhibition last week and there was quite the media zoo following her around the narrow display space, everyone trying to get the First Lady in the frame.

    I've done this before in galleries (last time was the Govenor General and a Danish Prince) The key is not to get stuck in the pack. You pick a spot ahead of the entourage. This gives you the shot as they approach, puts you right up front for the talk about the display. Shoot a couple frames then duck out and move to the next spot on the tour. If you stay too long you'll end up at the tail end and have a marvelous view of the twenty other photographers in front of you for the rest of the morning.

    But owing to the distorted perspective of the ultra wide angle 9-18mm, where things look further away than they really are, I think I accidentally got a little too close a few times.

    On this shot I was literally shooting over the shoulder, almost touching him in fact, of the exhibit's curator as he was talking to her. I think the two well built fellows in the background who looked to be her security detail thought it was verging on too close as well. At 100 percent you can see they are both watching me intently.

    Apparently National Geographic is coming up to shoot the exhibit. It's a very interesting glimpse into a little-known culture that thrived 7,000 - 5,000 years ago, then inexplicably disappeared. In their time the Trypilian societies built the largest human settlements anywhere in the world.

    Mysteries Of The Ukraine runs until March 22 at the ROM’s 3rd floor Centre Block
    Olympus E510 w Zuiko 9-18mm, existing light @ 1600 ISO

    Canstage: It’s A Wonderful Life

    In a small 50’s era radio station actors are bringing this classic story to life - which was actually produced as a radio broadcast before the movie version was released.

    The play follows the production of It’s A Wonderful Life as a radio drama showing the behnd the scenes effects and personalities necessary for mounting such a production.

    Adding authenticity are radio commercial breaks performed by the actors that evoke a Norman Rockwell era of innocence and a boundless future.

    It’s A Wonderful Life presents to the audience a play within a play situation where one can watch the radio drama unfold on stage, or ocassionally sit back, close one’s eyes and listen to a very convincing radio play.

    I found the second half a little long - although, who’s going to edit a classic like this?

    And I wish they had explored the relationships between the actors off-mic more. There are some intriguing things going on by the front door during breaks in the action, but the characters personal lives are never delved into.

    However, at the play’s conclusion the opening night audience gave it one of the most instantaneous, and emphatic standing ovations I’ve ever seen in a Toronto theatre, so suffice to say these small niggles didn’t hamper anyone else’s enjoyment of the production.

    An interesting and unique treat for the holiday season. And Canstage are offering a special $25 for any ticket in the house deal on Mon.Dec. 8. The offer is available for just 25 hours on that day.
    It’s A Wonderful Life runs until Dec. 20 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

    Adeona Productions: Someone To Watch Over Me

    Okay. If you’re really sick of the holiday hoopla, here is your ultimate anti-seasonal injection.

    This play is grim.

    Grim staging, a stone cellar and single overhead bulb suffices for the entire length of the piece. Grim dialogue, three western hostages await their fate chained to a wall amid menacing overtones of violence and cultural clashes of hostility.

    And grim monotony throughout. Not a criticism, it’s just a realistic depiction of the prisoner’s daily routine.

    Deprived of sensory input or stimulation, the audience watches a slow madness creep into the character’s personalities as their fates play out over the 90 minute duration.
    Director Tegan Shohet, a woman who’s real life gig includes serving with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, has done a good job exploring the monochrome existence of these ordinary lives held captive in a violent and unpredictable scenario.

    R.H. Thomson is particularly outstanding, imbuing his character with a vivid back story through a lean, economical performance.

    At one point in the second act the play veers dangerously close to ‘Actors Studio held prisoner’ territory, but at the play’s end people stood so quickly I swear a few shot right out of their trousers trying to keep up.

    Well done, and well worth seeing, but … did I mention it was a wee bit grim?

    Someone To Watch Over Me continues at Berkeley Street Theatre until Dec. 13
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Gourmet Food And Wine Expo

    One of the most fun events of the year - and god help us, they have a free media area - the Gourmet Food And Wine Expo is back at the Metro Convention Centre.

    As the gallery of my new drinking buddies above attests, this show is an unparalleled opportunity to sample over 1200 fine wines, beers and spirits from around the globe. The Gourmet Food And Wine Expo is for everyone, from the novice to collector, who wishes to experience wines from nearly every wine-making region worldwide.

    I personally managed to sample France, California, Spain, Niagara (on multiple occassions), Italy, Chile, and Australia (ahhh ... Australia :)

    Offerings range from the top sellers of wines, beers and spirits at the LCBO to the hidden gems that are only available through Canada’s top wine agents by consignment or private order.

    As with the annual Beer Festival in the summer, take the TTC to the Convention Centre because you just know, with all the wonderful beverages on hand, you'll be trying out more than a few samples. Let the TTC handle the driving and you are free to make the most of the day.

    Visitors can also sample gourmet food products and signature dishes from Toronto's best restaurants.

    Nov. 20 - Nov. 23 Metro Convention Centre, S. Building , 22 Bremner Blvd. Admission: VIP Preview night (Nov. 20) $35, General Admission $15
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Toronto Dance Theatre @ The Fleck

    Choreographer Christopher House is back with his new production, Dis/(sol/ver) - what is with dance companies and playing with the cap locks/keyboard symbols? - running at the Fleck Dance Theatre, formerly Premiere Dance Theatre, from Nov. 18 until Sat. Nov. 22

    It's a georgeous production to look at with warm overhead lighting and earth tone textured banners hanging floor to ceiling in the background.
    As far as the dance itself, I had a chance to see in it's entirety last night.
    Really interesting performance as couples come together repeatedly during the piece only to have one partner disolve in the arms of the other by melting slowly to the floor.
    Over and over the elusive embrace fails while dancers come together to link up in a weaving line that spins off more disolving couples.
    It's really quite beautiful, reflected in the intensity with which the audience was watching. Absolute silence.
    It's as if you are seeing people's romantic history replayed in fast motion. False starts, tentative or awkward moments, relationships that last for a brief time and then disolve, as the dancers cross the stage in random patterns intersecting, coupling, moving on.

    I'm not nearly qualified to critique, other than to say that as an average enthusiast I found it very interesting.

    Of course, at the photo shoot, I was watching it through a viewfinder, where your major pre-occupation is making compositional sense within a defined rectangular area while maintaining a focusing point on the subject. But even with all the distractions, it looked good.

    And shooting dance is always entertaining.

    For this one they did two run-throughs of a two minute segment of the show.
    Hoping for greatness here is like expecting a front page sports shot from just two sequences of downs at an Argos football game.

    Same amount of chaos, same 'where the heck is this going next' seat of the pants thrill ride.

    Of course dance company's are as media savvy as any other arts organization, it's just the high cost of having the theatre for rehearsal means they have to be brief with the photo ops, as they have other business to get through in preparation for opening night.

    I did the shoot two ways.

    First time through - where I'm half shooting it, half watching to see what the overall form of the piece is going to be - I was right up at the lip of the stage, at floor level, an angle I really like for group shots, especially if they come really close to the camera.

    The second run-through I was back more and standing. I was going to switch to the 50-200mm and follow just one dancer through the piece, but decided to play it safe and stick with the 12-60mm.

    Toronto Dance Theatre is one of the best dance companies in the city, Dis/(sol/ver) is a new, unseen work, and the cost of admission is as low as $20 per ticket.

    As a date night contender it's a production that will stimulate your senses, spur discussion afterwards, and within the newly renovated Fleck Dance theatre you'll be treated to a classy evening all round.

    All photos shot with the Olympus E3 @ 1600 ISO and copyright
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Coco Montoya at The Diesel Playhouse

    The Diesel Playhouse has been a through a few changes over the years. It's a room that somehow has never managed to find it's niche.

    The most recent incarnation sees the venue shrugging off it's theatre leanings of the last couple years to concentrate on live concerts. This is tough territory to make your mark in, as Toronto has a surplus of intimate concert venues - Glenn Gould Studio, Enwave Theatre, Mod Club, Panasonic Theatre, etc.

    Part of the Diesel's upcoming concert lineup is the Toronto Downtown Jazz Series running from Nov. to mid-Dec.

    Sunday's concert with blues great Coco Montoya is a comfortable fit for the room. Table service for food and beverages, wide aisles, steeply raked seating so there is hardly a bad seat in the house. Somehow it all felt very Miami, and makes for a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

    And relaxed and comfortable is a good description of the artist as his charming low key personality mixed with fiery, soulful guitar work, won people over during the evening.

    There's something about the blues.

    Fast, slow. It's a musical form that seems like a juiced up circadian rythm. No matter how predictable the chord changes and melodies may be, the blues is one of those musical genres that reach into some basic part of ourselves.
    Before you know it you're tapping your foot, swaying to the music, even whistling an improvised version of the last song all the way back to where your car is parked.

    The jazz series continues with: Jane Bunnett - Friday Nov. 21, Kurt Elling - Thursday Dec. 4, Marc Jordan & Friends - Friday Dec. 12, Tuck & Patti - Friday Dec. 19
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Daniel Lanois at Massey Hall

    Probably best know as U2’s producer, but an excellent musician/ composer in his own right, Daniel Lanois played Massey Hall Friday Nov. 14th.

    The concert was recorded for future broadcast by CBC Two, and I can only assume that was the reason for the unwieldy apparatus in front of the artist as he was double miked with a large studio microphone – if memory serves me right it's an RE20 – which didn’t make shooting him any easier.
    This setup was a real distraction in most of the photos.

    At Massey Hall you are only allowed to shoot from the back of the room by the sound board. Since their sound man always seems to line the singers mic up with the centre aisle, there is always a problem with getting a clear shot of the artist you are photographing as the microphone is in the way for much of the performance.
    But the setup Daniel Lanois was using was like some kind of funky bathroom fixture that was in the way a good part of the two songs we were allowed.

    Speaking of sound boards.
    I turned around to get a good look at the sound board they were using and couldn’t believe how small it was.
    About the size of a school desktop.

    Now a sound board is usually a massive thing about ten feet long. It actually consists of modules, each the same, that contains a fader for volume and various EQ, compression and effects buttons.
    Stacking them side by side leads to the massiveness of most sound boards as, with the large number of tracks running simultaneously during a show, many of these modules are needed.

    However, the sound man at last night’s show (and I forgot to ask his name, doh!) explained that they were using a state of the art digital board that stacks the rows of faders vertically on top of each other like pages in a book, about 8 inputs to a page.
    To access an instrument’s track one just scrolls, almost like an iPod Touch, through the digital pages on a screen. All of the controls themselves are touch points on the screen.
    This allows for a very compact board with all the functionality of the full size version, including memorized settings for each track on every song.
    You could practically pack it away in the back seat of your car, something you’d never attempt with your average 48 track board.

    It was very trick, and I would have done a photo of it for you, but only took the 50-200mm to the concert and would have been able to show you a button or two at best.

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ROM's Material Ball: Diamonds

    On the same day as the Gehry /AGO unveiling, the Royal Ontario Museum was holding a very stylish gala in honour of their current diamond exhibit (featuring the third largest diamond in the world on display)

    The ROM celebrated this stunning exhibition with a gala fundraising event Material Ball: Diamonds, hosted by Jeanne Beker.
    The evening featured the North American premiere of the spring 2009 collection by world-renowned fashion designer Giambattista Valli. Proceeds from the evening will support the ROM’s Burnham Brett Endowment for Textiles and Costume and the Renaissance ROM campaign.

    I showed up around 10 PM to shoot the post-dinner fashion show that was staged within the angular walls of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal.
    Waiting for the show to start, I marvelled along with the other photographers at the exquisite gowns and dresses the women were wearing as patrons drifted into the area.
    It was like a designer show had come to life in the audience seats.

    The show itself featured beautiful couture clothes and formal wear but was staged on an awkward triangular runway.
    Oddly, the models did not stop in front of the dozen or so cameras, sailing right past the media riser oblivious to our presence.

    Also the runway was carpeted. The only other time I've seen a designer use carpet on a runway was at Fashion Week and it was a real trial for the models in their towering heels.
    Last night proved to be no exception as one girl fell and all of the models walked in a very tentative manner.
    Note to show designers: Carpet / runway / bad idea .

    Still, I had the feeling from the post-show buzz that the evening was a success, and people enjoyed the glimpse of European couture the show afforded. The designs were really quite exceptional, and at a level consistent with ROM standards.

    Olympus E3 and E510 w/ 50-200mm 2.8 and 12-60mm 2.8 Digital Zuiko Lenses

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The New Rejuventated AGO

    I had the opportunity to photograph the newly redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario before it opened to the public today.

    Although the project has often been referred to as a ‘Reno job’ owing to the fact that much of the structure was left intact, in fact the final result is a building truly transformed. Frank Gehry’s vision of glass, natural light and wood has breathed new life into the AGO, visually and spiritually.

    Even with the final touches still being applied – at the time I was there the magnificent spiral staircase in Walker Court, and the 2nd floor galleria were still being worked on ahead of tomorrow’s official public opening of the building – it is a building that just feels completely sorted from the moment you enter.

    Perhaps one of the best compliments that could be given Gehry’s design is that I think the people of this city will recognize themselves in his creation. As Torontonians, as Canadians.
    The building speaks to me in a way the older structure simply didn’t. Inspired glass vistas, thick wooden tresses, the integration of the city views into the design, this is a thoroughly modern interpretation that celebrates our history and pushes the AGO into a new era.

    Well done to all who worked on, and contributed to this project. And for the many that gave so generously so it could exist, thank-you!

    The Art Gallery of Ontario opens tomorrow for free public tours all weekend long.
    Don’t miss it!

    Olympus E3 w/ 9-18mm Digital Zuiko lens

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Harbourfront's World Stage

    The "enfant terrible" of Canada’s dance scene, Dave St-Pierre, brings his groundbreaking dance creation, LA PORNOGRAPHIE DES ├éMES (BARE NAKED SOULS) to World Stage at the Fleck Dance Theatre this week until Saturday.
    In a series of fierce, corrosive scenes, a group of dancers rush headlong through a waltz in 26 movements, mixing all kinds of musical genres into one dance spectacle.
    St-Pierre describes the work as a "hymn to mankind, a celebration of his beauty and ugliness, his depth and superficiality."

    It’s beginning to feel like it’s ‘all nude, all the time’ for this year’s World Stage. First Daniel Levaille’s company gets their kit off, then solo artist Kitt Johnson, now Dave St.Pierre's company of a dozen or so dancers.

    World Stage used to be strictly a theatre festival. In recent years it morphed into a theatre/dance hybrid. I was wondering if it had changed again as all the performances so far have been dance.

    But I was assured by a Harbourfront spokesperson that there is lot’s of theatre coming in the new year.
    The preponderance of dance in the front end of the schedule is a combination of the artists touring schedules dictating the dates, and Harbourfront’s celebration of Quebec culture as part of Quebec City’s anniversary year.

    This was a difficult shoot.
    During the rehearsal for this section (the dressed rehearsal) the lighting was very even and focus was easily achieved.
    But when the dancers got into costume (nude), the lighting for the show was used which consisted of a bank of very bright lights from behind rim-lighting the performers, and strobing frontal light accompanying a driving speed metal rock score.
    The lighting ratio between the two key light sources easily outstripped the dynamic range of digital sensors.
    And it was very difficult to get a focus lock with auto focus, not enough light to be reasonably sure of focusing manually.

    Really it depended on luck whether the frontal lighting would be on the subject during the millisecond of exposure or not.
    Not and you get a silhouette – against a black background. Kind of like the black cat in a coal mine.

    But for the few frames when the lighting co-operated there were some dynamic photos. However with five frontally nude dancers, three female and two male, this is one of the few frames where all the naughty bits are covered to just squeak under the bar for nude depiction on Torontowide.

    It’s the second bare naked dance shoot I’ve done in the last month.
    Interesting how ordinary the lack of clothing becomes in only a short time. Five minutes into the rehearsal and you’re hardly aware of it anymore.
    Photographing dancers this way really conveys the body’s musculature, and the contortions these artists force themselves through.
    As a live spectator I’m not sure it adds too much to the experience, but as a photographer I wish I could do shoots like this again as some frames are just beautiful - only under more controlled lighting conditions next time.

    Olympus E3 w/ 12-60mm 2.8 @ 1600 ISO minus one stop.
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The Duhks at Hugh's Room

    Hailing from Canada’s Mosquito capital, Winnipeg, and possibly the hardest working band in the country – they have been on the road since last January – The Duhks (‘The Ducks’) played Hugh’s Room last night to celebrate the release of their new CD Fast Paced World.

    Shooting people singing into microphones isn’t something I really find exciting any more. Time was when the latest band blowing into town was ‘huge’ enough to ignore the sloppy stage littered with equipment, and the often indifferent stage shows were seen as proof in themselves of artist credibility.

    But now I kind of look at these shows as an art form that has ceased to evolve. Same rock star poses, same cluttered staging. After five years of being fortunate enough to see some of the best of Toronto culture and entertainment, rock shows look kind of static by comparison.

    So it’s with a somewhat jaundiced eye that I approach this show at Hugh’s Room.
    But it turns out The Duhks are consumate musicians, with a wide-ranging repetoire making forays into different musical terrain seemingly with every song. Strong vocals, tight musicianship, and a workman-like professional approach on stage quickly wins you over.

    It was my first shoot at Hugh’s Room and I made an interesting discovery. You can actually shoot the show quite comfortably right from the 2nd stool on the left at the bar!

    Do a couple frames, swig some Stella while checking out the LCD, do a couple more frames, sip some Stella … you get the idea.

    I hope word of this doesn’t get out. With all the boozehounds in the media it’s likely to look like fashion week next time I show up with gaffer taped X’s on the floor and twenty people squished into a space that would comfortably hold five.

    Nice low key venue, interesting, engaging band. Save my bar stool. I'll be back!

    Photo shot with the Olympus E3 w/ 50-200mm 2.8 (yes folks, with the 2x multiplier that’s the equivalent of a 2.8 100-400mm lens)

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Opera Atelier: The Abduction From The Seraglio

    Tafelmusik Orchestra in the foreground with the artists of the Atelier Ballet on stage.

    Last night I had the opportunity to shoot the dress rehearsal for Opera Atelier's The Abduction From The Seraglio at the magnificiently restored Elgin Theatre, the perfect setting for an opera.

    Opera Atelier is on a roll having scored a critical and commercial success with Measha Brueggergosman's debut in an opera role last year, and with this, the season's opening production, they look to be well on track for another successful outing.
    Generally Opera Atelier stick with early operas featuring the trials and tribulations of mythical figures and gods, but with Abduction ... they are mounting a commedia dell 'arte written by Mozart that is quite funny throughout.
    All of the main characters do a good job of keeping the pacing fast, and the acting light-hearted. And of course, the singing is excellent.

    Gustav Andreassen as the jailer and Carla Huhtanen as the English Maid

    The Abduction From The Seraglio tells the tale of a noblewoman and her English maid who are abducted by pirates from their ship in an almost slapstick manner. The two men who love them hatch a plan to rescue their ladies from the royal harem of the Pasha.
    However romantic tensions between the women and their captors add some spice to the narrative as this light-hearted opera moves to it's dramatic conclusion.

    Pasha Selim, played by Curtis Sullivan, with his Harem.

    If you've never experienced opera before, this production would make a good introduction.
    Tafelmusik choir and orchestra provide an excellent sonic backdrop, the production moves at a brisk pace, there are many funny moments, and every so often the Atelier Ballet breaks into intricate spontaneous dance numbers.
    In other words, there's something for everyone.
    With English spoken dialogue on stage, and surtitles above allowing you to follow the German singing parts, The Abduction From The Seraglio runs two hours and twenty minutes with one 20 minute intermission.

    Konstanze, played by Amanda Pabyan, sparks desires in the Pasha.

    Bathed in the warm glow of Atelier's signature lighting, this lush production plays at the Elgin Theatre Nov. 8, 9, 11, 13, 14,15. Tickets range from $30 - $130

    All photos were done with the Olympus E3 and Digital Zuiko 12-60mm 2.8 and 50-200mm 2.8 lenses.

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Fashion Cares 2008

    After last year's 'Disaster in the Distillery' - an event characterized by women shivering in their best gowns in the cold May weather, snapped stilhettos, and a limp, uninspired stage show - the brain trust at Fashion Cares went on a bit of a hiatus, shifting the event to The Fall, and doing a re-think on the changes that had been made.

    For this year's Fashion Cares the event was back in the comfortable confines of the Convention Centre and once again the show's emphasis was fashion mixed with outstanding musical guests. Phillip Ing is back as the creative director of the show that has become one of the stellar stand-outs in the fashion season.

    This year the musical guests were Caty 'I kissed a girl' Perry, Canadian singer Kreesha Turner, and Dame Shirley Bassey with a 31 piece orchestra.

    Photos from the red carpet at the beginning of the night.

    Kreesha Turner was moving in and out of a dramatic pool of spill light all during one of her TV interviews. I never did catch her exactly right, but the lighting is still more expressive and three dimensional than the usual flat flash-on-camera red carpet effect.
    Olympus E3, 50-200mm 2.8 lens, fill light from the FL50 flash minus one stop.

    A funny moment.

    We're shooting Caty Perry on the red carpet, and I'm beside well known cross-dressing columnist Enza Supermodel, who as usual has the full hair and makeup going.
    Enza gets her to come over and starts whispering in Caty's ear, who's grinning going along with him. I don't know what Enza said next but all of a sudden she jumps back and blurts out "Oh my God! You're a man!"
    And Enza without skipping a beat says "I'm not a man ... I'm a supermodel!"
    Everyone cracked right up.

    I think that was wee Caty's first intimation that this wasn't going to be her average gig :)
    Here, Doug catches the moment of her realisation.

    A highlight of the evening was the performance of Dame Shirley Bassie, seen here arriving for the show. She looks great, and sounded great never missing a note while filling the hall with classic 60's songs driven by her powerful voice.

    Although it got off to a slow start, the show was up to previous standards mixing a Cirque du Soleil sensibility with outstanding contributions from local designers.

    Photos from the show, beginning with the Haloween-themed opening, and including dancers from the National Ballet.

    Proceeds from the evening go to fund AIDS research.

    Photos copyright All rights reserved

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User Review Of The Olympus Zuiko 9-18mm Lens by Douglas Brown

    I've had a chance to use the new Olympus 9-18mm lens for the last week or so on a couple of paying assignments and some personal snapshots, and this little budget priced over achiever really impressed me.

    It’s a welcome addition to the Olympus line-up as the only alternative prior to it’s release was the pricy, and frankly cumbersome Super High Grade 7-14mm that, while sporting excellent optical performance, is heavy and at $1,900 not exactly a lens of the people.

    The 9-18mm Zuiko has 13 lens elements in nine groups, including one aspherical ED lens and two aspherical elements. It has a minimum focusing distance of 25cm, and weighs in at just 280g. In the hand it feels about the weight of the 14-42mm kit lens only with a larger front ring that takes a 72mm filter. It’s currently priced at $649 CDN.

    Since we don't do ‘no stinkin' brick wall shots’ when testing a lens; you'll have to wait for a formal review on another site for that type of info. I use the lens in situations I’m likely to need it and evaluate the results from that.

    The best attribute of a super wide lens is its ability to place objects right up in the foreground while still retaining the full scope of background detail. This is not something a 28mm equiv. does well, and in fact is sometimes barely doable with the 24mm equiv. wides.

    This built in superwide characteristic has two effects; adding greater depth to the photograph, and better presence to the subject matter within the frame as even people unfamiliar with the technical aspects of photography can recognise the distinct foreground/background relationship that says 'I was standing right there when it happened' – thus it is a mainstay for news photojournalists.

    Photos taken with a lens of this type have the effect of placing the viewer right in the situation, and can never be mistaken for long Tele images.

    To start with, creating depth within the photo.

    I have a client who requires Fall shots of the city and this first sample was taken at The Brickworks, a nature preserve area just a few kilometres from the downtown city core that is home to deer, herons, egrets, kingfishers, foxes and coyotes.

    From the same assignment, this was done in High Park, a large west end park that was just on fire with Fall colours the day I was there. I used live view with the articulating rear LCD screen on the Olympus E3 for this low angle photo. Note how well this lens allows you to put objects in the foreground while leading the eye to the main compositional element in the background.

    Architectural photography is another area where this type of lens is commonly used and the water filtration plant in my neighbourhood provides just the opportunity to try it out.
    The Waterworks, as it is known locally, is a perfect example of what the modern castle would have looked like had castle building continued right up to the Art Deco period.
    As I have clients who require this type of large exterior imagery, it’s a good chance to see how this lens at its widest focal length will fare doing architectural images.

    The 9-18mm does a surprisingly good job here at it’s widest setting. What distortion there is could easily be handled in post-production. Shot without a tripod or bubble level, the verticals stay vertical with little bowing or distortion (the tower tapers towards the top as part of the design of the building).
    While the building leans over backwards slightly, in my experience correcting all distortion out of exterior shots leads to a very artificial and undesirable result.
    A great performance for this lens at 9mm.

    Also I need to do panoramas of buildings and surroundings, so here are two photos merged for a nearly 180 degree panorama of the grounds. Again, the width of the lens allows for lots of foreground detail to lead the eye to the main subject.

    Also in an architectural vein.
    At the media op for the Royal Ontario Museum’s new Diamond exhibit, The Nature Of Diamonds, this lens made it a breeze to frame the exhibit cases by riffing off the sloping architecture of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal’s walls and the angular nature of cut diamonds.
    With the E510’s in-body image stabilisation I was able to add motion with the blurred figure in the background to the composition without the use of a tripod.

    Covering the city’s pro soccer team Toronto FC's last home game of the season, I decided to take the 9-18mm along so I could supplement the game coverage with crowd reaction shots on the E510.
    Here, Toronto FC scores and over in the stands rapturous fans are celebrating. Shooting from just a few feet away, you’ll notice the lack of flare or loss of contrast on the main subject area even though the sun is in the top right part of the frame.
    There is a nice clarity to this image under lighting conditions that are very challenging for a lens this wide.

    However, it would have been good if the lens had been designed to be a little more beer-proof for such photos as fans have been known to hurl the occasional drink skywards like a liquid space bullet when Toronto FC finds the back of the net.

    A photo of Captain Jim Brennan as the team does a lap around the field at the end of the game to acknowledge the fans support throughout the season.
    This is the presence I was talking about that this lens can give you. There's no way this was shot from a distance with a Tele. You can clearly see the person took the photo from right there on the field. In fact I'm shooting about 3 feet in front of him, he's looking over my right shoulder because, well, basically I'm right up there in his face, at a full 9mm of width.
    The fellow with the yellow media vest in the background to the left is also using an Olympus camera but with a 40-150mm lens that will give a more flattened perspective and thus a more stand off look.

    I think there's remarkably little distortion of the facial features for being so close with such a wide lens. And notice the background stadium light poles are all vertical, no leaning over or bending in towards each other. I’ve used my Sigma 10-20mm on a Canon in the this stadium to do the same type of on-field player photo. It never came close to this kind of performance.
    Although a portion of the sky has been cropped slightly in this photo there is very little vignetting with the 9-18mm. Certainly much, much less than I was seeing with the Sigma 10-20mm which some days looks like it's got one of those freakish wedding masking filters on it.

    People who do landscapes are drawn to waterfalls, and having come across a small but interesting little mini cascade on my walks with the dog in The Brickworks, I brought along the E3 one day to see what I could get.
    Starting tentatively down the muddy slope leading to the stream I ended up doing a perfect pratfall, like a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel, sliding right down the embankment on my side, E3 with 9-18mm held aloft in one hand, leash with Cocker Spaniel attached in the other.
    I finally came to a halt just short of the stream the dog jumping on me, tail wagging, wanting to do it all over again.
    I tied her up to tree and told her to keep an eye on a suspiciously large opening in the ground that looked like some large animal's burrow then went about setting up for the photo.

    This image was done with the Olympus E3 in live view mode, rear LCD screen extended out to the side and angled up, strap wrapped around my wrist, while I hung right out over the water anchored to shore by a tight grip on a small tree trunk.
    That tree goes and I'm in water up to my waist, so I didn't take too many shots of this scene. Lens at the 18mm setting.

    Another example of how adaptable the 9-18mm is for people shots, this photo is an out-take from a session at the Stephen Bulger Art Gallery that was done as part of L’Oreal Fashion Week here in Toronto.
    Canadian label Karamea integrated nature images from renowned American photographer Judith McMillan - who uses an X-Ray machine to create images of plants and wildlife - into the designs for this season’s collection.
    The shoot was at the gallery where Ms. McMillan’s photos were being shown (although the pictures in the background of this particular frame are not hers)

    The reason I include it here is, again, the impressive control of distortion by this lens.
    As with the TFC photos, this image was done very close to her, perhaps as close as 18 inches away, at the widest setting of 9mm, and wide-open aperture. I purposely shot from very close for the dozen or so frames with the 9-18mm to see how the lens behaved in that circumstance, but never mind the lens, it was interesting to see how the proximity of the camera seemed to throw the model off. They are not used to being photographed from such distances ordinarily and I‘m sure she thought I was doing some kind of demented headshot, not realizing her body was in the frame as well.
    And again, the background holds together well for a lens this wide. Sharpness is excellent even at f4.

    And lastly, the 'Spot the Eccentric' photo.
    This wonderfully wacky year-round front yard display is a favourite of mine for testing super wides. The house has been featured many times in local magazines and newspapers.
    Note the lack of obvious purple or blue fringing on the branches silhouetted against the bright white of the overcast sky. There’s a bit there, but it’s nicely under control.

    What I liked

    The Olympus 9-18mm lens is a very sharp lens - think almost 12-60mm SWD sharp - that has above average flare suppression for it’s focal range, excellent distortion traits for interior or exterior architectural shots, yet is so light weight that paired with an E520 you'll swear it's made of helium.
    The 9-18mm has low to no vignetting and CA is only occasionally visible when pixel peeping (mainly near the extreme outer edges), but not obviously so at normal viewing sizes.
    Focussing is quick and nearly SWD silent.
    In curves if you drag the point about one third of the way up the centre line downwards just a touch, add a smidgen of extra contrast and saturation, results from the 9-18mm are virtually indistinguishable from the High Grade Olympus 7-14mm. It's that good... and it's one-third the cost.

    What I didn't like

    Seriously, nothing. Yes the build quality could be better, the max aperture faster, but then it wouldn't be an insanely great superwide at an unbelievably low price, it would weigh a ton, and what fun would that be!

    Compared To:

    The High Grade Olympus 7-14mm has slightly (very slightly) better contrast and saturation, and slightly longer tonal range out of the camera. But as I said, a few tweaks in PhotoShop and the minor differences between the two almost completely disappear.
    I actually much prefer the 9-18mm because the hugely bulbous front element on the 7-14mm is one honkin' optical repair just waiting to happen. That thing just screams ‘scratch me, chip me’. For the kind of work I do, with multiple cameras swinging around and shooting in close proximity to others, the 7-14mm makes me very nervous.
    I also think the focal length range of the 9-18mm suits the kind of subjects I shoot better as I often have people in the frame and distortion at the widest setting is very well controlled with this lens. When you place the 7-14mm at it’s widest too close to objects there’s a smearing effect towards the lens that just doesn’t happen with it’s lower priced cousin.
    The 9-18mm has probably 90 percent of the performance of the 7-14mm.
    The advantage of the 7-14mm is that it is fully weatherproofed, and on the equally weatherproofed E3 you can shoot all day in a downpour (or sandstorm). And it is a full 2mm wider, although not as long, ending as a 28mm equiv.

    The Sigma 10-20mm has only build quality, and having subjected mine to a terrific amount of abuse over the years I can say it is really quite well built, over the Olympus 9-18mm. In every other way the Olympus lens wins. Sharpness, distortion, CA, all are worse with the Sigma.
    Focusing speed, a tie between the two.

    Who should buy this lens

    If you are into nature/landscape photography, photojournalism and street photography, shoot interior and exterior architectural photos, need a light weight option for travel pictures, or are an Olympus user who just happens to have an extra $649 lying around in the bank, you should get one.

    It is a surprisingly good lens covering a very useful spectrum of commonly used wide focal lengths (35mm equivalent of 18mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm).

    Coupled with the image-stabilised E520 you’ll be getting near E3 performance from the camera, and near High Grade 7-14mm performance from the optics, at a fraction of the price but with very substantial weight savings.

    Actually, this could be the ultimate hikers landscape combo (If you find this combo too heavy you must be using oxygen just to get out of bed and make toast in the morning).
    It’s such a good lens, offering such a compelling set of focal lengths and compositional possibilities at such a competitive price point, one wonders what took Olympus so long.
    Now that it’s here Olympus users have a whole new view on the world to explore.

    Douglas Brown has been shooting commercial editorial, advertising, and architectural photography for over 25 years and is the Head Photographer / Editor at

    All photos and text are copyright
    All rights reserved.

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