Sunday, October 31, 2010

iPhone Diaries #258: "Halloween in two cultures"

prelude to a carving - pumpkin with the top off
It was quite a surprise to me, coming from the Philippines, observing the way Halloween is observed in Canada. We are all too familiar with the October 31st ritual: for adults in the workplace, getting dressed up in costumes and for children, getting dressed up in school and at sundown, going trick-or-treating. It's great for the costume-makers and the Nestle/Cadbury/Mars conglomerates. I don't think I'll hear the kids complaining about the situation.

It's a more sombre observance (celebration?) in the Philippines. October 31st is All-Souls' Day, and the day is devoted to remembering deceased relatives and celebrating their memories. There is the visit to the cemetery(-ies), meeting relatives and friends (live ones), and a stop for refreshments (bud-budpan de sal and Coke). Cemeteries are fascinating places; Philippine cemeteries are not the neat affairs familiar to Canadians. Jammed full of tombs (cremation is unusual in Roman Catholic Philippines), overgrown with weeds between tombs, some decades-old sunken tombs revealing bleached bones. Tropical weather has a distinct effect on cemeteries. On arrival at the house, a small bonfire is lit in the backyard where the kids would jump over and around the fire so that the spirits of our ancestors who have attached themselves to our bodies may ride the bonfire smoke as it rises to the heavens. There would be night/midnight service later on.

On the following link is an image of one of the smaller family-owned cemeteries. The cemetery I am refering to above "houses" thousands more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October Poetry Slam at the eBar on 41 Quebec Street, Guelph

Awesome vibes at the eBar amidst poets and optimists! Many thanks to Beth Anne and company for allowing me this opportunity to start honing my latent video skills while sitting in rapt attention to the mesmerizing words of word-crafts persons. Shot with both 5D2 and 60D, edited in iMovie'09. (I would use a tripod more often...either a GlideCam or a SteadyCam would also have helped.)
Details and video clips at:
(There should be a total of 16 videos...uploading is so slow that it may be another week before all the clips are up).
Looking forward to the next Poetry Slam at the eBar on Nov 20th! For more details, check out:

Friday, October 15, 2010

A very thin layer of life

This week's dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners should serve as a reminder of the tenuous nature and fragility of life on this planet.

Consider for a moment this fact (and certainly I'm not the first to point this out): A kilometer beneath the surface of the earth the temperature becomes unbearable for humans and at two kilometers, uninhabitable. With increasing height, air temperature drops uniformingly with altitude at a rate of approximately 6.5 Celsius per 1000 metersAt a height of 3 kilometers, life is not sustainable without the proper equipment.
So we are born, prosper, and die on this 4 km deep sliver that supplies us with all the sustenance we could ever need. And this sliver of life is a one-in-a-billion occurence that only took billions of years to  occur! And it's all we have.

And yet we carry on brutalizing both this planet and  our fellow denizens as if our tomorrows are guaranteed. Ours is a ball of blue life floating in the inky darkness of space and unfortunately, we all seem to be hard-wired to screw it all up.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

iPhone Diaries #254: "Three interesting books"

I was just popping in to Chapters last night to pick up a pound of Pike Place and to check  the shelves if the latest Vanity Fair and Popular Photography were in. I ended up talking to Matthew Jackson (writer-photographer) and Randy Duncan (illustrator-writer), who are on a tour to promote their respective books.
A quick glance through the pages of the Canada Chronicles and He Shoots...He Skewers sold me on their merits. Chatting with Matt and Randy was a bonus (and so was the book, Never Trust a Smiling Bear)! I'll be writing up my review of these books on this blog but here are my initial impressions.
Fresh off from listening to CBC's Radio2's Song Quest
I am all pumped up to consume more Canadiana and this book is perfect for gorging on. Like a hitchhiker whose start-and-stops are mini journeys fitting in to the bigger trip, this book lends itself to reading at any pace and at any length per sitting. I look forward to learning more about Canada from the comfort of my bed, deck chair, or toilet seat.
For more info on the book, check out Matt Jackson's website at:
This book came as a free bonus for purchasing the other two books. Honestly, I would have paid for this book. I'll be asking my 7 year-old to read this book to both of us. It's a well-known fact that  a great children's book should be just as appealing to adults as it is to children, Dr. Seuss being the exception :-).
I'm not a big hockey fan but I follow the sports section of any newspaper religiously and so I do appreciate the hockey content, the context and the humour. But I didn't buy this book for the text; I got this book for the beautiful illustrations. I love the spare prose, the economical use of ink, and the use of asymmetrical white space! Randy goes beyond the craft and into the realm of art!
It was a pleasure to have met Matt and Randy, two very likeable and engaging guys. I got them to autograph the books, one for each of my three sons! Look out for my upcoming book reviews.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wedding photographer in action

Directing a group (crowd) shoot from a third floor window at the Ancaster Old Mill. Photo courtesy of the bride's favourite aunt, Andrena. Oct 9th.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

iPhone Diaries #253: "Morning glory"

At the front of the house, Oct 10th.

iPhone Diaries #252: "Dragonfly"

Found on the deck, Oct 10th.

iPhone Diaries #251: "Mother-of-pearl clad building"

Front Street, Toronto. Oct 9th.

iPhone Diaries #250: "Images from the Ancaster Old Mill"

Scenes from a smallish, intimate wedding last night at the Ancaster Old Mill. Great, down-to-earth, beautiful couple with wonderful guests in a delightful venue on a warm fall October day. (Squash soup, shrimps, scallops, sea bass on a bed of basmati rice, greens with sugared walnuts, and the best gelato this side of College Street.)
Oct 10th.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

iPhone Diaries #249: "The CN Tower"

The CN Tower as seen from under the awning of the entrance to the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto. Oct 6th.

Blueish glow

The eerie glow of smartphones in the audience. The Glenn Gould Studio, Oct 6th.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First impressions from using the 5D2 for video

I've had 2 occasions to use the Canon 5D2 for shooting videos and although I'm an inveterate reader of photographic magazines and textbooks, there's nothing like just going ahead with shooting and learning. Both occasions had stationary subjects and not the run-and-go situations that I would have preferred.

First off, here is my gear, as basic and as inexpensive as it can get for quality audio and manageable video: 5D2, Zacuto Z-Finder Jr, Azden shotgun mike, Rotolight, Azden WMPRO wireless, Manfrotto 190 tripod with a fluid head.

I had 5 key concerns with using a DSLR for video. I am addressing them below. See my blog on Sept 17th:

Concern #1: Auto-focus, or lack thereof. It wasn't really addressed here as subject was stationary although when the camera had to be pointed in another direction, it wasn't difficult to manually focus by knowing the focusing twist direction on the lens. Maintaining a 5.6 opening allowed for a deeper depth of field allowing for focusing mistakes. Still, if I had to shoot a bride coming down the aisle towards the camera, I'd prefer the soon-to-be-released Panasonic  GH2 or the current GH1. Doesn't work for me.

Concern #2: Audio control. The  latest firmware update for the 5D2 enables manual audio control. Still, I'd prefer a graphic readout with flashing lights going up and down. Doesn't work for me.

Concern #3: Exposure control. I kept it simple. Maintain an aperture of f4 or f5.6, 1/60 sec shutter speed,  auto ISO. Use the exposure compensation to vary the exposure. Works for me.

Concern #4: Form Factor. In a few years, I think we will look back on the use of DSLRs to shoot video as an experiment that we should have known as being unworkable.  The form and shape of a DSLR is just not suitable for shooting video. The just-released Sony NEX VG10 is the logical step in this evolution. Keep the the videocamera shape and functions but incorporate an APS-C sensor. 
The 5D2 with the battery grip (2 batteries) , 24-105f4 IS, audio receiver, Rotolight, plus the 430 EX flash is just too heavy as a package. My favourite  (and very portable)  Manfrotto 190 is inadequate to handle this setup.The DSLR form definitely doesn't work for me.

Concern #5: Motion JPEG capture. No comment yet.

Other observations:
The limit of 12 minutes for continuous shooting time is not suitable for speeches. At 4 gigs per 12 minutes, my 80 gigs will take me to 4 hrs of continuous shooting.
2 5D2 batteries is good for approximately 80 gigs of video.

The video that I produced at 1980x1080p, 30fps, looks amazing. (You'll just have to take my word for it for now. I'll be uploading it later). I admire people who are able to produce amazing videos with a DSLR but I can't do it for paying gigs where retakes and reshoots are not available options. For personal, "artsy" projects, yes, I'll use it.
Photo equipment  should be such that their operation and use becomes intuitive, an extension of one's brain/hands. I can see myself using a Sony VG10-type of camera for shooting videos: big sensor, workable continuous auto-focus, ideal form factor.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A parade of little coffins

A Canadian-born friend and I were discussing the merits of the health care system in Canada. For all it's purported shortcomings and supposedly decline,  it remains a gem of a system, the envy of most other countries. A Canadian child, regardless of any health issues at birth and onwards, has  excellent prognosis. My friend asked me what the situation is like for children in the Philippines.

I have been away from my country of birth for 32 years but I remembered the population of my peers, cousins and fellow citizens who were quite healthy; for example,  food allergies were unheard of and physical disabilities were not obvious. 

I have this recurring mental vignette of a small procession of people, coming from any of the 4 corners, heading towards one of the 3 churches in town; more often than not, the preferred destination was the Catholic Church (on the way to the cemetery). On the shoulders of a few in the procession would be a small wooden coffin, sometimes painted in colours, often just plain white. I witnessed these processions, mornings and/or evenings, as regular and predictable in recurrence as the Hail Mary comes after the Lord's Prayer on the rosary. Inevitability, not sadness, would be stamped on the faces of the mourners.

Life is not kind in a poor country, more so for the most vulnerable: children. The brutal reality is that the weak die and the fittest (and the lucky few who have access to timely intervention) survive. If a child survives the first 5 years...
Unfair, yes. Real, yes.

Nothing has changed since then.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In praise of the CBC

If there's one thing in this world that would inspire me to go out and see the rest of Canada, it would be Song Quest 2010 on CBC Radio 2. Song Quest 2010 asks listeners to nominate the roads (and by extension, the regions) that they want to be celebrated in song. An artist from each of the 13 provinces and territories will create a song for the most awe-inspiring stretch of road from each province/territory. 
I doubt if any of us have enough moments in our lifetimes to take in the soul and beauty of this great country. The closest that I can get to personally explore all of this Canada is by listening to Bob Makowitz, Tom Power, Kelly Catreras (spelling?), Rich Terfry, et al, plus the listeners who call in and/or write (passionately) on their thoughts on their favourite roads. 
The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, the Dempster Highway in the Yukon, Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto, the Louis Riel Trail in Saskatchewan, St. Catherine Street in Montreal, to mention a few, are places I would like to experience. 
I can hardly wait for the release of  the songs created by the 13 artists!

Fun portraits

Portraits taken for the Awards Night for a  bank and credit union group. It was a night to celebrate and recognize their outstanding employees. It was also a night to ham it up a bit. Super fun was a privilege to have been asked to do this gig. Sheraton Airport Hotel, Sept 28th.