Sunday, July 30, 2006

Photography: Crowning Apollo

Most of the photographs I take are spur-of-the-moment things, but sometimes an idea comes to me that actually requires some planning ahead of time.

One day, when walking across University Ave in Toronto, I noticed that the tip of the shadow of the Airman's Memorial (better known as "Gumby Goes to Heaven") was just reaching the end of the boulevard that divides the street. When meant that if I were to stand just short of that, I could get this funky backlit shot:

Gumby Goes To Heaven

Further down University is another memorial, the South African War Memorial. Looking at it one day as I passed on my way to work, it struck me that if I did a shot like my backlit Gumby shot, I could have Nike (the victory figure at the top) crowning the Sun. So I set out to plan this one. Obviously, I'd have to be there at just the right time -- when University Ave pointed right at the Sun. I brought my camera to work and headed over at lunch.

Unfortunately, I discovered that it won't work at this time of year. The Sun's too high in the sky at lunch, so I have to stand almost right under the status, and everything's too foreshortened to get the effect. I'd have to wait to December to get that shot.

That didn't mean I couldn't get something, though. I brought the camera to work again and tried some shots on my way in. Because the Sun's in the east, I had to stand on the west side of University, behind Campbell House. That didn't quite work, because the shadow fell behind a fence, so the closest I could get to lining things up was this:

Crowning Apollo

Not what I was after, but I like the effect. I especially like the reddish halo showing in the clouds, the result of the sunlight refracted in the water vapour. That didn't show up until I touched up the colour levels.

Since I couldn't line things up in a morning shoot, the only option was an evening one. Most of the time, though, I left work too early to get anything -- the Sun would be too close to (or even behind) the buildings south-west of the memorial. One day, though, I happened to not only be leaving late, but I had the camera along (and the tripod, even!), and I found that the tip of the shadow was just reaching the sidewalk on the east side of University.

It was tricky to shoot, though. With no cloud or haze, the sun was too bright to look at through the viewfinder. I had to set up the shot low, with the sun out of frame, then angle the camera up and hope I got things lined up right. The first few shots were 'way off:

Crowning Apollo

The block in the lower right is one corner of the famous Canada Life Building, known for the weather beacon on top of its tower.

Fortunately, with digital, I could tell immediately if I missed, so it didn't take too long, and eventually I got the effect I wanted:

Crowning Apollo

(BTW, there's some subtle detail that tends to get lost in these reduced images -- it's worth following the link and seeing the image in "Large" size)

I'll still be going back in December to try out my original idea, though!

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