34th Edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Every year at this time of the summer, the Jazz Festival rolls into town. This year, it is the 34th edition. That is right, 34 years! This is one of the premier events in the cities summer line-up of festivals.
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However, this is one of the last festivals still around that puts Montreal on the International map. The two other big ones are: the Formula One race and The Just for Laughs Festival. Once upon a time, we had an International Film Festival, but that went down the 401.

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And International it is. We really do have people who come from around the globe, just to converge on the Jazz fest. It also occupies a good slot on the calendar, for it butts up against July 1st and July 4th.

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Because of this, we have many Americans coming up here to attend the Jazz fest, while staying here until July 4th – and some beyond. Many people from outside the province will also come here because it is a long weekend – July 1st, Canada Day – and will enjoy the festival as well.
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All these tourists bring in lots of money for the service industry and fill up an otherwise empty downtown core on the weekends.

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The Jazz fest really comes to a crescendo in the evening time. If you are not a fan of large crowds, the Jazz fest is not for you. Thousands of people congregate in an area of a few city blocks.

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The mood is very festive and i have never heard of anything bad happening. Of course, you are going to have people who tend to drink to much, but there is always a good Police presence.

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If you are hungry, there are plenty of restaurants around the area. Mind you, they will all be packed like sardine cans. You can always move West on St. Catherines where there are more restaurants to choose from, or you can go south of the venue into Chinatown.

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I am by no means a big Jazz fan. As a matter of fact, i can only put up with a small sample of any kind of Jazz music. Though, the Jazz fest itself has kind of morphed into a more eccentric mix of Jazz and other flavours of music genres.
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Again, i am not Jazz fan, so I do not understand what brings people back every year. I guess one attraction is the vibe and the good night life surrounding the event. For me, if you have seen on Jazz fest, you have seen them all.

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If you are new to the festival, don’t even bother bringing your car. Take public transit. A Metro (subway) station stops right at the venue itself.

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Because of the thousand people deep crowds, be very aware of your valuables in your pockets. Also, plan an exit strategy in case an emergency situation arises. I always tend to stay at the edge of crowds.

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I am a parent myself and i take my daughter down, but i take her in the afternoon when the crowds are very small and there is not much going on. There may be a few acts playing; but as i said before, things don’t start rocking until after dinner time. With the big crowds in the evening, it just is not the best place to bring small kids. They can easily get lost if they get out of your sight for just a few seconds.

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Of course, bring your camera! Lot’s of great photo ops down at the venue, especially during the afternoon. In the evening, you really are going to need a fast lens. You can probably get away with a regular lens like the 18-105, but you will need to boost your ISO and keep it wide open. You need a fast shutter speed to get the action on the stage.

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As always at venues and festivals such as this, things are very expensive. Don’t bother bringing a huge bag to put a bunch of food and drinks in. That bag will get searched and any glass containers or alcohol will be confiscated at the entrance.

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Besides, you really don’t want to be wading through the crowds with a big bag anyhow. Travel light.

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Respect the venue as well. I like to have a clean city. There are plenty of trash cans around, so use them. Respect your fellow festival goers as well. Everyone is there to have a good time, let’s keep the festival… festive!

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If you enjoy Jazz, night life, people from around the world and a festive atmosphere, the Jazz Festival is for you. And if you like, you can come back year after year.

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Eating apples

Eating apples

There seems to be an invasion of grey squirrels in my backyard. At one time, i have seen a total of five running around, climbing in the trees and sitting around on the lawn.
I suspect they come to my backyard because of the yummy things they can eat, such as apples.
Some will sit on top of the telephone post and munch away, while others will sit on the telephone line and munch at their apple.
I am not quite sure what kind of apples they are, but they are obviously good to the squirrels.
It is always nice to see these little guys run around and do their acrobatics in the trees. Makes for some good entertainment.

First attempt at HDR

First attempt at HDR

When I had my D5100, I had the corny in-camera HDR feature. I used this feature maybe twice. In all honesty, you are going to get far better results doing HDR with software on your computer. The in-camera HDR feature is more of a gimmick.
Last night, I was wanting to finish my battery off in my D7100 so I could charge it up for the upcoming Canada Day weekend – I really should buy a second battery. Therefore, I thought of finally doing a real HDR image or two.
I went out on my balcony and I noticed that there was a pretty nice sunset going on over the area of our airport (CYUL).
Inside I went and retrieved my D7100, 35mm lens and my tripod. I first set my lens to infinity. You can do this by focusing on a very distant subject and then turning the AF switch to “manual” on your lens. This way, your focus is locked in. Next, I mounted my camera on the tripod, set my ISO and aperture and then set my bracketing up.
I used 5 brackets and set the exposure to be at 1 between frames. I then used my remote to fire off the five exposures. Using a remote is always best, for it will take any camera shake out. Since HDR is usually for low light situations, you shutter speeds are not going to be all that fast; therefore, using a remote is much better than pressing the shutter button with your finger, which will introduce camera shake.
Once my 5 frames were taken, I went back inside and put my SD card in my computer. The software that I used was Photomatix, the trial version. I found it very easy to use and very quick as well. However, expect to have big watermarks across your photo if you are going to use the trial version.
I could have used my Photoshop Elements, but I had to download some DNG converter because my copy of Photoshop is to far behind for it to recognize my RAW files. So, I have to convert to DNG or upgrade to the latest version of the software. Well, Adobe is not getting my money, so DNG it is!
After Photomatix did it’s magic by merging the 5 frames together, you are prompted with some editing options. Play around with them, see what you like best. Once you have the final product done, you then save the file as a TIF.
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I am sure there is a bunch of other stuff I could have done within the whole process, but it was really a learning process for me and a good experiment. I was very amazed at the result and it was nice to be able to have a picture of a sunset with everything exposed around it. Very cool I think.
If you have never tried HDR, give it a go! I think you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Mirrorless camera?

Mirroless camera?

***As an update to this post, I have gone ahead and dumped Nikon for a Fuji X camera.***

Well, I am really intrigued now. I have not really paid much attention to this segment of the industry, especially since Nikon just keeps coming up short. Don’t get me wrong, their Nikon 1 cameras are okay, but they are certainly nothing to write home about. When you start to consider offerings from other companies, such as Olympus and Fuji, you tend to just forget about Nikon and get pulled towards those other offerings.
So, what has gotten me intrigued? Fuji’s XM-1. They are about to go on sale in the next few days and it is a really attractive little camera. I have looked at the specs and they seem decent enough, but nothing compared to my D7100. But let’s not compare apples and oranges here.
I suppose it is the vintage look of the camera that attracts me and hey, I can’t afford a Leica! The compact size is also very attractive and this would make a great go-anywhere camera. What turns me off?? The price of the lenses!!!
I’m sorry Fuji, but to charge $700 for a 55-200 3.5-4.8 lens is just robbery! Bring that price tag down to around $300 and we will talk. I had the Nikon 55-200 VR that costs around $280 and I can not see the Fuji lens outperforming it to the point of Fuji charging $400 more. Craziness.
As much as the Fuji intrigues me, I don’t think I will be pulling out the wallet anytime soon. To have to invest in new lenses that will only work on one camera, is not all that appealing to me at the moment. That is why I keep waiting for Nikon to do something.
As stated before, Nikon’s 1 system is okay at best. The only wow factor for me, is the fact that I would be able to use all my current Nikon lenses on it. But, in all seriousness, when you compare the Nikon 1 to other systems, you really have to wonder what Nikon was thinking when they brought this to market. Just compare the J3 with the Canon EOS M:

http://snapsort.com/compare/Canon-EOS-M-vs-Nikon-1-J3
It makes me real sad. Nikon, that is really pitiful performance!

Let’s see how it measures up against a Sony Nex5R:

http://snapsort.com/compare/Nikon-1-J3-vs-Sony-NEX-5R
I am crying even harder now!

I really do hope that Nikon wakes up one day and does this mirorrless thing right. In my opinion, they seem to be a bit misguided.
They just brought out the Coolpix A, which is the smallest camera with an APS-C sensor, but it is not an interchangeable lens system. What?? Nikon spent time and effort on a Coolpix camera with an APS-C sensor in it, but they are still plodding along with the silly little CX sensor in the Nikon 1 system.
In my opinion, Nikon should do away with that silly little CX sensor, for it is the downfall of the Nikon 1 system. Forget about getting the smallest APS-C camera to market, work on a real mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor in it! Design a mirroless camera around the 16mp sensor that I had in my D5100. Even a four thirds sensor would do much better than the CX.
I would really love to get into mirrorless one day, but not with Nikon and their offerings as they stand now. Nikon seems to be shy when it comes to mirrorless camera systems, for they have brought a 10 pound weakling to a heavyweight fight. They are also perhaps a little apprehensive in bringing out a camera system that would rival their bread and butter line-up of DSLRs.
Perhaps when my D80 dies on me, I just might think of going mirrorless. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be going with Nikon, which is a shame and is a result of Nikon not showing up to the game.

Shooting out the window

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For the past month or so, almost every weekend has been rained out! There has been a few weekends where at least one day was nice though. This past weekend was no exception. Saturday was beautiful and Sunday was wet.
Being a bit under-the-weather, i really did not want to venture outside anyhow, so staying inside was not to bad.
But of course, i became restless and i start getting the need to shot something. As i was looking around the house and outside at the miserable rain, i saw a Robin on the telephone wire. He was just sitting there, getting drenched. I would imagine it felt good to him, for he just sat there and did not seem bothered.
I grabbed my camera and checked all the settings to make sure i had the right ISO and aperture i wanted, as well as a decent shutter speed to somewhat capture the rain. I quietly opened the window in the kitchen and sat back and got the Robin in my sights.
Just like a sniper, i sat back from the window opening so as not to stick my camera outside. I got into a nice stable position on the kitchen floor and got him in the center of my viewfinder. Had my 7100 on CH and took four quick photos of him.
I find that the one i posted, is the best one. You can slightly see the rain and you can see a water drop falling from him.
I wish i had more photo ops like this with different kinds of birds, but i am not sure it will happen. As always, i will have to be aware of what is around me and be sure to not miss an opportunity. I hope he enjoyed his shower!

Who dares wins.

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Macro Photography!

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One of my hobbies that i no longer do much of now, is building scale model cars. From doing this hobby, i understand scale and the scale i built the most was 1:24. This means that the life size car would be 24 times bigger than the model i was making. Or, the model i was making, was 24 times smaller.
True macro photography is 1:1. This means that if you are taking a picture of an insect that is 1cm long,
the insect will be exactly 1cm long on the sensor of your camera. That is 1:1 and true macro photography.
So, what do you need for macro photography? Obviously, you need a camera, preferably a DSLR. Second, you need a lens that will enable you to shoot 1:1, which means you should really get a dedicated macro lens. The picture above was not shot with a macro lens. It was shot with my 18-55mm when i had it. The picture is cropped to get closer to the bee, making it look like it may be a macro shot.
You can do close-up photography with regular lenses, but you will never get true 1:1 reproduction. Further, you will never be able to close-focus with a regular lens. But, if you can’t afford a dedicated macro lens, then a regular lens and some cropping will suffice. There are also close focus lenses and extension tubes to be had, as well as reverse-lens macro photography. These are all cost-effective solutions to buying an actual macro lens.
You don’t have to spend alot of money on a dedicated macro lens though. You can check out the used market or, you can look at Tamrons offerings which are very good. Nikon has a cheap 40mm macro lens, but this is not a lens you will want to use if you are shooting bugs. You will have to be right on top of them to get their picture, that is if they stick around to have their photo taken.
Aside from brand, what you really want to look for in a macro lens is the ability to close focus as much as possible, manual focus and a good focal length that will allow you to be at a good distance as to not scare away bugs.
The 40mm would be great to take close shots of flowers and such, but no good for bugs or any other little creepy crawlies. For bugs, i would not go with anything less than a 90mm and Tamron has these for less than $500. Tamrons offering has great reviews.
If you have a bit more money, you can go with the 105mm, which is really the optimal choice. Both Nikon and Sigma have 105mm macros in their lineup; though, they are quite a bit more expensive than the 90mm mentioned before.
If you don’t mind used lenses, there are quite a few used 105mm and 90mm out there on sites such as Adorama, B&H and Henrys. These lenses will be in various conditions and you will find various generations of each focal length. In the end, you will be able to save some money.
Once you get one of these lenses, you will have to learn how to manually focus. This is because the depth of field is so small, that the AF system on your camera may not be able to focus properly on such a small subject against a background – you may get the background in focus instead. If this happens, it is not your cameras fault, it is your fault. You really should manually focus when doing macro photography.
Other than that, all you need to do is get out and find subjects to take photos of. Have fun!

Formula One Weekend

Here in Montreal, we have the Formula One race every year. This past weekend, the teams were here burning rubber on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Aside from the race, there are many other attractions to enjoy, namely the festivals that are held on Crescent Street and in Little Italy.

Ferrari on Crescent St.:
Ferrari on Crescent

Sir Winston Churchill Pub:
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The festivities on Crescent street pretty much end on Saturday night and there is nothing really to be seen on Sunday. However, up in Little Italy, it is a different story.

At the end of Crescent Street:
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A part of St. Laurent Street is closed off to traffic and they line up a bunch of cars on either side of the street. It seems to be stratigically planned, for there are restaurants all the way along this particular stretch of road. In regards to the cars, you will see plenty of modified Mustangs:

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There were also some AC Cobras:

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There was a very tricked out Camaro SS:

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And there was some older classics:

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I do like cars, but they are not really a passion of mine. Therefore, “car photography” is beyond me. I thought of a few ways to change things up, other thatn the traditional side-shot:

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And some engine shots:

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And front-end shots:

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It was great to see all the different types of cars and how people are so passionate about them. It’s interesting to see how much people can modify a car and how beautiful they can be. It brought me into a new type of photography and it made me think a bit out of the box to get some not-so “typical shots”.