Digital Primer

A few years ago I wrote up a Digital Primer to help one of our nieces learn how to use her new camera. In it, I explained the camera in terms of various Components, explaining what each is, and what factors have to be considered for each.

Here’s a sample:

Component: Lens

What: That glass thing in front that forms the image, just like you study in science class


  • Focal length – measured in mm
    • a longer focal length brings objects closer (telephoto) but takes in a narrower view
    • a shorter focal length is the opposite – smaller objects but wider view
    • telephoto lenses have less depth of field, meaning there is more in front of and behind the subject that will be blurry. You can use this to isolate the subject e.g. portrait in focus with flowers etc soft-focus in behind.
    • A zoom lens has a range of focal lengths, usually from somewhat wide to somewhat telephoto – good all-purpose compromise
  • Quality – almost any modern name-brand camera will have a good-quality lens, and you can upgrade over time

You can download the complete pdf here: Digital camera primer


I often talk that art should challenge, make you think. Edginess has always been important in art, and some of my work certainly is. But serenity is important, too.

In Kalashnikov’s Dream, I use his own words of regret, combined with images of child soldiers.

A photo collage of Mikhail Kalashnikov & child soldiers with an AK47
Kalashnikovs Dream

If I could but lift this jewelled veil and set thee free again – what more can I say about this blue heron, found dead after the remnants of Superstorm Sandy blew through Newmarket? The only manipulation here was to deepen the red colour of the leaf that seems poised to pierce the bird’s breast. (The use of direct flash at night was an homage to Weegee.)

Photo of a Blue Heron, found dead after the remnants of Superstorm Sandy passed through Newmarket
If I could but lift this jewelled veil and set thee free again

But a lot of my work is also serene, such as my florals.

In this image, Floating Dock, a dock seems to float on clouds, as well as on the lake.

A dock seems to float on clouds, as well as on the lake.
Floating Dock

Simple foods is just that – a simple composition of bowls with flour and hummous and a couple of pita chips.

Photo of bowls with flour and hummous
Simple Foods

In Thanksgiving, I reflect on how much I have to be thankful for. It was taken on Thanksgiving, and I love the Autumn.

Photo of a yellow Muskoka chair with autumn leaves

The Wedding Tent is a deceptively simple composition. I had to position myself so the lighting on the tent was right, then wait for the little clouds to move where the tent’s peak would be in front of them, seeming to hold them.

Photo of the peak of a large white tent with blue sky and clouds
The Wedding Tent

So – edginess is important, but I also understand that art should be enjoyable. Serene images can be part of that enjoyment.

New square work

I’ve been working pretty hard getting ready for the 2017 NGA Studio Tour. Matting and framing, mainly; learning how to use the new grids I bought. Printing greeting cards. Finding old work and re-framing some of it – I swap frames a lot (doesn’t everyone?)

So – why am I making new work? It’s so time-consuming, even for a photographer. I get it that painters, stained-glass artists, jewellers etc have even more reason to try to avoid new work, but still – it’s work. And while I’m asking myself this, why am I blogging?

Thing is, I had a couple of 20×20 square frames that had work I don’t want to show this year, so I thought I could sub in some new stuff. I usually shoot full-frame, so not much of my work is open to radical re-formatting to a new aspect ratio.

So – meet “Afternoon Lily” – Peggy tells me it’s a Montego Bay.

Photo fo a Montego Bay lily blossom
Afternoon Lily

Printed, it has a luminosity that doesn’t really come across on the screen, which is pretty unusual. It works in square format because that allows the blossom to burst out of the frame.

And meet “Pitcher Plant” too. It’s a Sarracenia purpurea. I took the photo up near Parry Sound. Again, it works square because it pops out of the frame.

Photo of a Sarracenia purpurea pitcher plant
Pitcher Plant

When I showed Rachel “Afternoon Lily” and we talked about the square format, constraints, coming out of the frame, etc, she said: “It’s like the world, isn’t it?”

I can’t add much to that.

PATH to Emptiness

Photographer’s notes

This series was taken early on a Sunday morning in Toronto’s underground PATH. As I was walking around in the deserted commercial space, I began to see it as a metaphor for the emptiness of our consumer lifestyle.

In all frames, note the hard linear wall surfaces, and the grid of the floor tiles. Nearly every image also holds some commercial signage.

I shot with a high ISO as I had no tripod; the resulting graininess enhances the images. Nothing in any of these images (except The Black Gate) was arranged – it’s all shown as it was. As well, all the images were shot full-frame.

Frame 1: The final rainbows

The bright daylight from beyond the door leaves a spectrum on the floor, echoing the rainbow motif on the wall. The rest lies in shadows.

Frame 2: The beacon

The bright light shines from between the escalators and the stairs. Reflections from the black and clear surfaces continue the scene to the right and through the stairs and escalators. The blue glow is also seen at the end of the series.

Frame 3: The Messengers

The wide angle view emphasizes the isolation of the Messengers near the corner. Their lively colours contrast with the bland setting. They looked like they were waiting to escort me somewhere.

Frame 4: The Black Gate

I had to work at not getting my reflection in the black surface, though I also tried in other images to have my reflection sitting, ghostlike, on the bench.
The image has been reversed to make it look as if the Moneysworth & Best and other stores are behind The Gate. This necessitated re-reversing the logos on the recycling/garbage bin. The low point of view emphasizes the leading lines in the floor, ceiling and lights, and the obstacle between you and The Gate.

Frame 5: The descent

The structure of the lighting is reversed from normal: the near scene is darker than the distance. The lights over the stairs work with the opening to the descending walkway to form a maw, drawing you down the slippery path toward the light.

Frame 6: The holding pen

The black, angled framing emphasizes the glow from the lights, especially the distant blue glow. The chrome chair legs form spiky barriers, but there are clear pathways. And one chair stands ready. Who is it for?

Frame 7: The Empty Throne

Three tables, three chairs, reminiscent of Cerberus. That cold blue glow.


This series was first shown together at The Aurora Cultural Centre in 2012. The descent and The Empty Throne were in The Uxbridge Juried Exhibition in 2012, with The descent winning Best Photography.

Scanograms – a new medium?

There are things I miss about traditional “wet darkroom” photography – the magic of watching an image appear in the developer; the photogram, where objects are scattered on photographic paper, which is then exposed and developed; even the anticipation during the time, often days or weeks, between the exposure and the print. Scanograms use a technique I have invented to create the digital equivalent of the photogram. I open the flat-bed scanner and start a scan. I then “paint” with some object – in this case a tulip – over the moving scanning bar. I don’t get to see the result until the scan finishes, so I also get back some of the anticipatory delay that I have missed.

If you look closely, you will see bands of red, green and blue around some of the scanogram’s features. These are a result of the way the scanner works – sequentially scanning in the digital primaries – combined with the flower’s motion.

The only processing I do on the result is to (laboriously) take out the inevitable dust spots. I also crop it a little bit to make its proportions better for standard frames.

Photographing graffiti

Photographing graffiti has a long history in photography. It brings the usually anonymous wall markings to a broader consciousness, serving as “an equivalent of oral history – retrieving scraps of ordinary lives”. (Max Kozloff, in The Restless Decade – John Guttmann’s Photographs of the Thirties) These days, not all graffiti artists are completely anonymous – we’ve come a long way from Kilroy to Banksy! There are fans who could tell who made the stencil graffiti seen in my image of the laughing grenade, and probably the sprayed tag partly layered with it. Same with the digits in 10.

So – what am I doing here? Why take a picture of someone else’s art? Some will see it as appropriation – I’m not part of the graffiti culture, and understand very little of it. I prefer to think of it as sampling, more common now in music than in visual art. That’s why I framed it as I did – having the grenade and the tag both bursting out of the frame, showing only the top of the 10. I’ve made the images my own, and suggest the uncontrolled nature of the originals.

Many cameras, few Photographers

Few people are actually familiar with what goes into making a photograph, and what is needed to appreciate one.

At the moment of creation, photographers must choose the right framing of the right objects, with the right lighting, at the right moment. The exposure time, f-stop and ISO setting all must be chosen for their proper effects (for example, blurred motion, out-of-focus background (or foreground!) and graininess, respectively).

A multitude of things can be adjusted in the processing – contrast, brightness, colour balance… it’s really easy to overdo it.

In printing, the paper must be matched to the image, with an understanding of how the paper’s characteristics will affect the printed image. The camera, monitor and printer must all be matched

When you look at a photograph, consider the photographer’s choices of subject, framing, lighting, proximity, flatness (or bending) of the field of view, colour, sharpness (or blurring) of focus, depth of field, graininess, brightness, contrast, motion, paper texture and colour, layering or juxtaposition, and so on. Really look.

Then ask – Does this photograph make me see and think differently

PixSilver Images