the travels & travails of an escaped lab rat


I was born in Toronto. I grew up and went through the public school system in Toronto. I met my oldest friends in Toronto. My parents, sister, and some members of my extended family still live in Toronto.

Returning to Toronto is literally coming home.

No matter where in the world I might be at any given time, I find myself subconsciously comparing my surroundings to whatever the closest Torontonain equivalent might be. And while Toronto may not always come out on top in these many comparisons, it still remains a yardstick by which I measure my globe-trotting experiences.

Toronto has a bit of a self-image issue, though.

Despite Toronto being the largest population centre in Canada (and the fifth largest in North America), Torontonians — or at least the politicians ostensibly in control of Toronto — seem to constantly want to sell themselves on how “world-class” their city is.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Toronto and all of its wonderful neighbourhoods, parks, hidden gems, and cultural spots. But in my mind, if you’re truly world-class and all that, you certainly wouldn’t need to go around telling people. They’d already know, right?

Personally, it doesn’t matter to me if Toronto is world-class or not. The people are great, the diverse foods and cultures on display are readily accessible, and generally it’s a clean and safe place to go about your business (or leisure). The climate is relatively mild (compared to the rest of Canada), and the standard of living is high enough that I can reasonably expect to get whatever I’m looking to find.

Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan and international cities in the world, with over 49% of its 6 million plus inhabitants originally born outside of Canada. Founded as the Town of York in 1793, it was incorporated as Toronto in 1834, and has since evolved into one of the world’s first “megacities” when the five surrounding municipalities (East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York) were amalgamated with Toronto to form the new City of Toronto in 1998.

Toronto’s cultural diversity make for great eating. Whatever cuisine you’re in the mood for you’ll find it, and in whatever price range you desire. Greasy spoon Mexican? Check. Upscale fine Italian? Yup. Run-of-the-mill pan-Asian? You betcha.

Toronto is also one of the largest cities in the world by area, with an urban core covering 630 square kilometres and its metropolitan area spreading across 1749 square kilometres. Frankly, I’m still discovering places and things in Toronto that are new to me but have, in fact, been around for ages.

I’ve travelled quite a bit in my time, and though I’ve been to bigger cities, more modern cities, more beautiful cities, more historic cities, and more “world-relevant” cities, I keep coming back to this city.

Toronto will always be home.

I suppose you could say it smacks of overcompensation…

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Gigapixels & High Dynamic Range Imaging

(or: “If you’re gonna to gloat, gloat big.”)

My current photography-related obsessions started innocently enough.

It was the middle of February, and I wanted to send a photo to a friend in Toronto showing how much I, too, was suffering through a miserable winter in Monaco (I actually had to wear a heavy jacket in the evenings — OMG).

After looking at the picture I had taken from my balcony, it dawned on me that the single image couldn’t entirely encompass just how much I was suffering in my Mediterranean surroundings.

But how to make the photo convey the statement I wished to pass along? The obvious answer was to take a bigger picture.

At first, I tried the camera’s built-in panorama function. That was a total waste of time. Not only was the in-camera stitching job horrible, the shot itself was limited to only five frames in prescribed directions. What I wanted — needed — was something far larger. I ended up constructing an image from 68 free-handed (taken without the use of a tripod) exposures shot with the camera in my cell phone (a Samsung SGH-G810 at the time), stitching them together and assembling the panorama by hand.

The result was just what I needed to show my friend how much I was commiserating over our mutual winter weather woes.

All kidding aside, I’ve always had a fascination with super-large resolution imagery. I find that having more room to work with in an image lets me put more content in more context in a single frame. The only trick is planning and executing a shoot so that assembly of the final photo won’t be a total nightmare (using a tripod helps immensely).

In addition to panorama shooting, the other trick I often pull from my imaging bag of tricks is the use of High Dynamic Range (HDR).

Basically, by taking multiple photos of the same image using different exposure settings, I can collect a greater dynamic range of luminances than I can with a single frame at the “correct” exposure. Through a process of range compression and tone mapping, I can then combine the multiple exposures to produce a single image that better represents the wide range of intensities found in real scenes than standard photographic techniques and methods would otherwise allow.

I been playing with panoramas for several years, but started really working with HDR only when I got my hands on a camera that allowed me to manually bracket exposure settings for my photos. Most recently, I’ve begun experimenting with combining the two techniques — panorama and HDR — to produce some really stunning imagery.

The only downside to this kind of photography (aside from the not-insignificant investment in camera and accessories) is that it takes time and planning before the shoot, and it takes a lot of time after the shoot in post-production to assemble the multiple ginormous layers and to process the combined colour map for the final image. Unfortunately, it’s not a method you can easily adapt for use with spontaneous photography (which is not, however, going to keep me from trying).

Sometimes, six megapixels in 4:3 just aren’t enough to say it all.

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Monaco - View South from Balcony (2009) pano++Monaco - View East from Balcony (2009) pano++

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