How To Shoot A Zombie

First of all show up this Saturday for the Toronto Zombie Walk taking starting at Nathan Philips Square. If estimates are correct, we might see 10,000 zombies on this year’s walk. That’s a lot of shooting.

Peter West Photo-1-21-XLSo how do you shoot a zombie? Peter West Photo-1-181-L

First dress right. Here I mean wear really sturdy shoes. Hiking boots won’t be out of place as you’re going to walk…a lot even if you don’t move from Nathan Philips Square. Second don’t over dress as you’re going to get warm carrying your gear and moving from shot to shot. If it rains (and it looks like it won’t so far), wear hight rain gear. If it’s cold put a pair of really light gloves in your packet. (You’ll thank me for this one!)

As for equipment, you do what you think best, but I don’t bring my camera bag. It’s just too much weight on the shoulder especially after five or six hours and since it’s bulky you’ll keep banging it into the zombie hordes. You don’t want to do this to your equipment or to the zombies.

If you’ve got a choice bring your most robust cameras. For example I’ve got a complete Olympus pen setup with three bodies and six lenses and an external flash and I love the images I get with this really light and street-worthy setup but for shooting zombies it can’t compare to my Nikon setup with a D-300 and D-90 bodies with an 18-270 on one and a 12-24 on the other with one external flash with an external battery pac on my belt if it’s an overcast day (the flash bangs up the light in the faces).

2010 To. Zombie Walk (1 of 1)Why the Nikons and not the Olympus? While the Olympus Pens can produce an image as good, if not better than the Nikons (sacrilege I know but they do), the Nikons can shoot all day long with their external battery pacs and the Olympus Pens cannot. Also use at least 16 gig cards that are as fast as you can afford. I prefer 32 gig cards as I can shoot most of the day without having to change.

It’s that simple. When it comes to shooting rapidly over a long period of time the heavier and more robust Nikons are the way to go.

Now if you’re just shooting casually then anything will do as you’re in a very target rich environment.2010 To. Zombie Walk (1 of 1)-4

So again how do you shoot a zombie?

First get in their face where they can see you. 99% of all zombies will perform for you if they see you’re a serious photographer.  Bared teeth (where there are teeth) and bloody hands reaching out make for some great images.

Don’t waste time. Shoot on “P” (program mode) as depth of field isn’t as important here (and if it was you’d be shooting in aperture mode) as getting the shot right the first time. Crop in camera exceptionally close and run your autofocus on single point or all points and continuous focus depending on what works best for you and your camera system.

I tend to shoot on single point as I am filling the frame with the person’s face and I want my focus to lock in right away.

Now as to whether to shoot JPGs or RAW?

This is a serious consideration when shooting a couple of thousand zombies in one day. RAW is great as you can do so much with it when it comes to exposure and special effects.

But some cameras (most) will shoot faster using JPG mode as compared to RAW. But you don’t want to be shooting in high speed mode either as you’re just going to fill up your hard drive with tons of duplicate images which you’re going to have to edit in post. Ugh! So if you’re camera can handle the size, shoot RAW so you’ve got tons of data to edit.

Peter West Photo-1-578-X3Here’s my post setup.

I’ve got a MacBook pro with 8 gigs of RAW and a solid state and regular spinning hard drives plus I’ve got two external drives. I will manually download images off the memory card and put them on one of my external hard drives and the internal spinning drive in the computer.

So now I’ve got my images (RAW or JPG) in two separate places plus the memory card. Then I’ll remove the card(s) and put them in a safe place as I fire up Lightroom 5 and I don’t import the images but just add the image information to the LR catalogue without moving the actual images themselves.

From then on I only use Lightroom to do anything with the images as LR is a database and it goes nuts if any other program moves the files.Peter West Photo-1-31-L

So once LR is ready to go I go to the Library module and I rate my keeper images. With any luck I can get 1500 – 2000 images down to 700-1000 in the first pass.

If I’m in a real hurry I can batch process all these images and if they were not shot as JPGs, make them into JPGS of suitable size (100 kb for online display to full resolution for downloadable prints on my SmugMug gallery at Peter West Photography and I’m done as I offer all my Toronto Zombie Walk images to the zombies for free.

If I’ve shot in RAW and there are a bunch of really good images (say about 200) I’ll take the time to edit them in LR using NIK’s excellent external editors or my newly purchased Alien Skin Exposure 6 editor or Seim Filter’s really great presets (I own them all!)

Since you’re working with lots of colours it’s really nice if you’ve got a Passport Checker to shoot the colour squares and create your own camera profile for running in Lightroom. Plus calibrate your monitor.

You can see by my images that I like special effects and using external editors. When it comes to zombies, I mean why not.

But here’s a comparison of two separate images of two zombie girls.  On the left I processed it with a warming effect and on the right it’s the same two girls processed using a gritty filter setting. Quite a difference in tone and mood?

The most important thing? Get out there and have fun with your camera.

Peter West Photo-1-222-XL

Algonquin Park Splendour

My two-day trip to Algonquin Park and neighbouring places was a great success. _DSC7935

I loaded up the car with enough food for two days and a thermos of coffee for the two and a half hour drive from Oakville to Huntsville. I brought both my Nikon system (two cameras and a bunch of lenses) and my much smaller Olympus system (three bodies and another bunch of lenses) and I used both over the two days.

Either system would be fine for this type of shooting. The Nikons do bracketing for HDR shooting effortlessly. The Olympus cameras shoot amazing JPGs especially when using the built-in art filters.

I used Lightroom and a whole bunch of presets (Seim Filters) to process the RAW NEFs out of the Nikon. And yes the images are pretty bright. I like bright. _DSC8100 _DSC7913

All of my edited images are on view at Peter West Photo.

Fall Colours 90% In Algonquin

Reports from Ontario’s Algonquin Park suggest that the fall colours (which come earlier to the park which is 250 km north of Toronto) are nearing their peak and this might be THE WEEKEND to visit this amazing photographic event. _dsc0051

Even if you’re just driving up for the day (3 hours each way) it’s still worthwhile as some of the very best shooting can be had from Hwy. 60 which runs through the south end of the park.

Fall colours come early to Algonquin as it’s farther north than Toronto and is situated on higher ground (which gets cooler faster than the lands to the south).algonquin-fall-2009-524

While this weekend should be amazing for shooting, it’s possible that Monday or Tuesday (while 10 degrees cooler) might be even better as the weather forecast calls for partial cloudy weather. Bright sunny blue skies make for contrasty bright colours. Cloudy to overcast make for deeper less contrasty scenes which often look better as photos.

Cloudy weather also makes it possible to shoot at slower shutter speeds which is essential if you shoot water or waterfalls and you want that milky look. Set ISO to as low as possible, put your camera on a sturdy tripod (essential), set your aperture to f/11 – f/16, turn your auto focus off!! and focus manually. (Why? You don’t want your autofocus seeing a blade of grass in the foreground and focusing on it rather than the river behind. Don’t ask me how I know this!)_dsc0128

Try and get a shutter speed around one second or slower and experiment. BTW use a remote shutter release or the self timer to keep camera shake to an absolute minimum.dsc_8140

If you’ve got an incident or spot light meter take it and take your Expodisc if you’ve got one and your PassPort Checker (the colour patch device) to help get your exposure dead on. Check your white balance and shoot RAW if you’re camera has it.

Finally, dress warmer (see photo above) than you think you’re going to need. You can always take off a parka when the sun comes up but trust me if you’re out shooting at dawn in Algonquin Park it can get really really cold. Wear light gloves and a hat ( a toque is perfect) . You’ll bless my name over and over again for this one hint alone :)

BTW if you can avoid the weekend, there will be less competition for shooting spots in some of the more popular places.

Why Lightroom?

A lot of photographers are using Adobe’s Lightroom and many pros like myself or advanced amateurs have bought Adobe’s LR and Photoshop subscription package ($9.95/month for both. This means you’re always using the most up-to-date version. I’m 65 now – when did that happen! – so if I keep shoot for another 10 years my cost will be roughly $10/month X 120 months = $1200 which is way below the cost of the two programs plus occasional upgrades.) Gay Pride-1-312

I’m on a lot of photography chat groups (remember I’m retired now!) and today I answered a post where someone said they had bought both programs but were too scared to actually open them. I know the feeling :)

Photoshop is hugely intimidating and not overly intuitive to use but immensely powerful. There are things you can only do in Photoshop.

Lightroom is much easier to use but…and there’s always a but….it must be setup properly to work. Now this setup isn’t difficult. What I do (and this by no means the only way) is I import my images from camera directly to my hard drive (I’ve got two in my computer: a solid state drive where LR lives and a standard drive where I store my images plus I make an immediate manual backup of the photo file folder on an external hard drive for safety.) and when I fire up LR I have it import the images from the hard drive file and from then on I use LR only (not the computer) to move files.

This is critical as LR is not just a RAW and JPG image editor (and one of the very best) but a robust data base program as well. Most people who have issues with LR haven’t setup their database properly.

So if LR is so great (and it is especially perfect if you’re handling hundred of images say from a wedding. If you load the develop module with some privately made presets – LR is all about presets which you can make or buy – and I use Seim Filters presets which are fabulous and you’ll fly through your editing. I also have presets from OnOne and the entire external editor package (B&W, HDR, filters, sharpener, noise reduction) from NIK which I highly recommend) why would anyone want to buy Photoshop?Peter West Photo-1-220

Photoshop is really useful when you want to work on one image (yes it will do batch edits). It’s great for swapping heads! Wedding photographers do this all the time. When they take the family shot they don’t take one shot they take a bunch then if someone has their eyes closed in one shot and not in another the photo editing program allows you to swap heads from one frame into another and the day is saved. Photoshop also does a whole lot more but the head swapping trick is worth the price of admission for some of us. 

BTW LR and PS both use Adobe Camera Raw as their basic photo editor so one program is not better than the other but each has it’s own capabilities and uses and having both is a great advantage but the learning curve is a bit steep. Here’s where online tutorials from guys like Scott Kelby or come in so handy. I’ve attended Kelby training sessions when they came to Toronto and I’ve watched (and bought) a whole wack of CL how-to videos on LR and PS.

There are other editing programs and Apple is rumoured to be killing off IPhoto and Aperture (both of which I like) and replacing them with something else this fall. Nikon sold Capture NX 2 which NIK made for them and it’s a fabulous RAW editor designed only for Nikon NEF RAW files. It’s very very good. 

If you’re uneasy about getting started go outside and shoot 12 shots in your own backyard and then bring them into your computer and play with them in your photo editor. Once you’ve got the hang of it, just delete these test images and start editing your important shots.

How To Shoot Next Year’s Gay Pride Parade

Despite statements from the Toronto Gay Pride organizing committee that only two photographers would be allowed on the parade route during the World Gay Pride Day Parade, there were scores and scores of them.

Gay Pride-1-199

I wouldn’t think somebody was lying but more likely the parade committee lost total control of their parade and this caused major problems for spectators.

Now I picked a great spot on Yonge Street along with a couple of other photographers which was just south of a viewing area where the crowd barriers were recessed into towards the sidewalk. As we were on the south side, it was a lot like standing right in the middle of the parade. Unfortunately, being behind a barrier no matter how great a spot makes it very tough to get paraders to interact with you as they pass. This is something I’m guessing the media organizer for the parade had never thought about. Oh well.Gay Pride-1-30

Actually my biggest challenge during the day was to forcefully dissuade the many amateur and a few pro photographers who thought they could stand in front of us and shoot the parade from our vantage point. As a former newspaper photographer myself, I’m very good at being very loud and very demanding when it comes to moving these laggards along. Even so, I spent most of the last two days cropping out other photographers from my photos.

Getting politicians and other notables to stop for a photo required a lot of yelling names.

Gay Pride-1-141Thanks to Bob Rae for turning Premier Kathleen Wynne toward our lenses. Same thanks to Olivia Chow for stopping for a few seconds as well.

The Gay Pride Parade in Toronto is wonderful street theatre. Hundreds of thousands of people line the parade route and it’s a great celebration of freedom and choice.

Every year is different and this year the parade started on time which is a good thing but at six hours or so to pass was a marathon when it came to standing in the hot sun. Which BTW we picked the west side of Yonge Street just to avoid the afternoon sunshine.

There was a little rain but not enough to complain about. You’re much more likely to get hit by a stream of water from a super soaker gun so be prepared to wipe your cameras and lenses down with a soft cloth.

Because the barriers were moved onto the road way, there wasn’t the normal crush on the sidewalks along the parade route. Somebody was thinking when it came to this setup. Very good.

Here’s a link to my gallery from this year’s parade.Gay Pride-1-312

And if you’re going to shoot it next year here are my tips:

  • Wear sturdy shoes
  • Cover yourself in sunscreen
  • Do not carry a bag (especially not a big shoulder bag. One amateur did and looked miserable after an hour.)
  • Do not shoot from the side if you want great shots (Ignore the official requests and shoot from the street. You won’t be alone.)
  • Work the parade route and don’t stand in one place for any length of time (If you need to rest, sit down at the side of the road.)

How To Shoot The World Pride Parade in Toronto

ad_panel_btm-slider-1-altSunday, June 29 will see Toronto host the World Pride Parade and you can bet Marion and I are going to shoot it.Peter West Photo-1-XL The Gay Pride Day Parade has always been one of my favourite events and I’ve shot it on several occasions but this parade is like no other.

First it’s estimated that the crowd could approach two million spectators. That’s 2,000,000 hot sweaty people lining a relatively short parade route (roughly west bound on Bloor from Church, south on Yonge to Dundas. Here’s a link to the Gay Pride site.

This means that you have to arrive early to stake out your shooting location. All of the parade is enclosed by police barriers so there’s no way to shoot from the street itself. This is a huge disadvantage for photographers but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a decent sightline. i-vtjx3Tw-L

If it’s a hot day (and it often is) you must wear as little as possible (see photo to right), tons of sunscreen and a hat. Also you should carry as little equipment as possible. Wear good shoes or at the least comfortable Tevas or the equivalent. Bring water.

Because of the size of the crowds arrive really early. This year’s parade starts at 1 pm (usually it’s 2 pm) and I’d suggest an 11 am arrival time. If you’re going with a friend one of you can hold your spot while your partner finds some street food. It’s a great idea if you can locate near a place that will allow you to use their washroom :) Don’t depend on the parade starting on time.

This is a fun day and time isn’t necessarily one of the things at top of mind.

For equipment I’d suggest a camera or two capable of robust shooting. This means my Olympus cameras (which I love) aren’t quite up to the job when compared to my Nikons when it comes to fast and furious shooting. I will likely carry two camera bodies one with Nikon’s 14-24mm wide zoom and the other with my new (I bought for this parade.) Tamron 18-270mm zoom. (On special for $365 at Henry’s. It’s light and optically just fine and cheap! Great reach with the ability to capture groups of folks close in.)i-rB6DTvk-L

I’m not going to bring a camera bag as it’s just something else I have to carry and in a crowd of this size it’s not something I want to put down on the ground. (Toronto and especially Gay Pride events are very safe but that doesn’t mean I’ll drop my guard when it comes to where I put my equipment.)

I would definitely expect to shoot a few thousand frames and I will be shooting in RAW format as the lighting on the street can vary from very intense to very dull depending on the weather and I will want to compensate in post. Also the colours at this parade will easily exceed the dynamic range of my equipment and shooting in RAW helps to create the best liking images. (I tend to like vibrant coloured prints so my images online can look pretty phosphorescent.)

Once the parade ends everybody (all two million of your newest friends) will troop into what’s colloquially known as the Gay Village. Your ability to shoot photos will be severely limited solely by the crush of the crowd. Having said that there will be tons of photo opportunities to shoot very interesting and photographic images.

As in any street photography situation it’s important to be respectful but generally you can expect that anyone who dresses up (or undresses for that matter) at a public function is going to be okay with having their photo taken. Due to lingering discrimination here and life-threathening issues back home in some countries not everyone may want their photo taken or displayed online. Generally this isn’t an issue but if somebody asks do the right thing by them.


Gay or straight we can all take pride in the advances this city and its people have made to create a tolerant and safe community for everyone.

Come to the World Gay Pride Parade and prepare to have a great day :)

Here’s a link to my Gay Pride Parade 2011 shots.

And here’s a link to my Gay Pride Parade 2012 shots.

Missed last year but will be there for World Gay Pride!

Photo News

Did your copy of Photo News magazine show up in your morning newspaper delivery?

Mine did and Vol. 23, No. 2 of this free magazine is a winner.

Now a many of you know I was a national magazine editor and group editor and I’m pretty picky about what I like or don’t like when it comes to magazines and I like Photo News.

Why? First almost all of the images are first-class knockouts. Now this is personal preference only as all of the images were shot by very competent pros at the top of their games and I’m not doing a critique here but let’s put it this way: I like sharp well focused images. I like to see contrasty as opposed to bland images. That’s called snap. I like images that aren’t overly posed or overly processed. My background is news photography so I like reality and grit. Oh yeah, I like colour and black and white when handled correctly and I like images that are interesting to me the viewer and not just interesting to the photographer.

Photo News comes through pretty much on all counts.summer2014

And I especially liked the outdoor nature photography. Michelle Valberg’s cover shot (see photo) is sensational IMHO. The landscape and bird shots are amazing. You have no idea how hard it is to shoot a bird that’s no bigger than an expresso cup even if you set up a blind or a background behind your own bird feeder. BTW do you know how pros get those amazing shots of owls flying face-on towards the camera at full speed? Hate to tell you but there’s often a mouse involved who would rather not be there.

So why read photo magazines at all?

It’s to get ideas in your head for shooting when you’re in the field. At my first newspaper we got People magazine every week just to see how the big boys shot people on the run. The online site for the magazine has a shot of kids drinking from a water hose which is classic and likely setup by the photographer. You can get this priceless shot yourself using just about any camera.

BTW check the lenses that most of these photographers are using. A lot of the really good shots were made with lenses that don’t cost a lot or are available less expensively by secondary manufacturers such as Tamron. Photo News has a review of the Tamron (I’m guessing Tamron is a sponsor of the magazine but that’s okay. After my initial experience with my own Tamron 18-270mm super zoom I’m a new fan.) 90mm F/2.8 macro lens which at $500 or so is half the price of my Nikon 105 F/2.5 macro. Sure there’s a difference in the lenses but if you’re not shooting for National Geographic or doing massive blowup printing you’re not likely to see a difference from one image to the other.

The review was by Gordon Brown and here’s a link to his Flickr site. This guy is very very good :) and so is the magazine.




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