Bryan Bonnici's Portfolio

A new year, a new site — Welcome!

I’ve been meaning to write a handful of blog posts but I’ve been getting completely distracted by things. In no particular order, the following has happened since the time I made the last blog post:

  • I bought the 35mm 1.8 lens
  • My first major photography job
  • I attended another taping of Strombo, featuring Mike Holmes
  • I paparazzo’d Rob Ford and his brother Doug at Ryerson
  • My photos have been published online several more times (Publish count: 7)
  • I rode the classic PCC car on Kingston Rd last weekend
  • Finished off the modeling for my Tripod Dolly
  • Spring arrived, finally, and it feels great.

I’ve been using the 35mm exclusively since I bought it and it’s a great lens. You can see some of my results on my Flickr. The kit lens simply can’t match its bokeh. And where the kit lens struggled big time (low light sports), the 35 shines. I have no desire to go back to the kit, even though 35 is too wide for a lot of construction photography I do; I try and do as much as I can on-camera in terms of framing and composition, and that’s been a lot harder to do without being able to zoom.  There’s many situations when you just can’t get closer, and that’s translated to more work in post. All the more reason to get that 70-200 f2.8.  

Without going into a thousand word diatribe, here are some miscellaneous thoughts about the eight things I listed. 1930s-era control systems were terrible and jerky as hell, but damn if that streetcar wasn’t classy 100% of the way. The guys sitting behind me on the thing knew every single pedantic detail of New York City rolling stock which was very unsettling.  What’s the difference between an R142, R142A, and an R188? Apparently enough to talk about for six minutes. Sitting and having a massive window open while cruising down the street and having the warm air hit your face was like getting fresh batteries. Projectors still suck hard even at the commercial level, and this delayed taping by almost an hour because one that adds the background to the stage crapped out. Mike Holmes is 50, a grandfather, and wants to do a “Buy it Right” TV series. People think you’re a professional if you’ve got a nice camera, lens and flash, and this lets you get into places as media that you forgot to register for. Nikon’s battery manager must’ve been written by the same guy who did the file transfer dialog for Microsoft, because it displayed 2/3rds full then complained empty after one shot. 3DSmax is a huge pain to revise a drawing in if you goof the outer diameter of the pipe you bought. Printing with the Objet costs something like $140 per pound. It’s much cheaper to print with Salmon Caviar than Objet.  Stick with the Makerbot. Rob Ford really is that red in real life.

Occasionally I’ll be asked for the RAW files of some shots by a friend or colleague.  If it’s someone I really know and if it’s for a good reason, I’ll typically oblige. However I’m really apprehensive about it for several reasons.

Before I continue, I’ll explain what a RAW file is for those who don’t know anything about photography — it’s, as its name implies, the raw sensor data from the camera. It’s not an image per se. You need a program like Bridge, Lightroom or Aperture which interprets it as an image. The main reason to shoot RAW instead of JPEG is that JPEG is heavily compressed — if you want to change the exposure, saturation, contrast, distortion, and a myriad of other things, it’s tougher to do on a ‘baked’ file like JPEG, but trivial to do on the raw sensor data. There’s no quality penalty for making adjustments on the latter. With raw, it only takes me 3 minutes with a couple sliders to go from this:

Stairwell J

“Stairwell J”

to this:


Stairwell Z

A photographer’s job is to try and evoke specific feelings or emotions with their work. Sometimes the environment or circumstances don’t allow that to happen as they are captured by the camera. Post-processing allows me to fix my or my camera’s shortcomings to produce an image that creates that feeling I originally intended. The original data never changes – I only change how the data is interpreted, which is stored in a separate metadata xmp file. It allows me to create several different photos (and feelings) without having to duplicate the data. If I want a black and white picture of a flower to complement the extremely saturated picture, it’s merely another small xmp file.

By giving out the RAW file, it means that the recipient has to guess what I was trying to do with that shot. Would you have guessed I was trying to go creepy with that shot of the stairwell earlier? Fair enough if someone else wants to experiment because they see a different path to take my work, but to just completely take over after I push the shutter button, there’s an implicit gesture of “I don’t trust you enough to do this job right”, which why bother hiring me in the first place? If you have a vision, tell me and I’ll use my talent to fulfill that vision! If my creative input is limited to just pushing the shutter button, then you’re better off fiscally and creatively just renting a camera. Often post edits are dramatic and the stills as they’re taken from the camera can be actively bad. I don’t want that to be the first and only impression of me the client sees.

Sure, I could also give the xmp, but that’s Adobe only and as far as I know incompatible with Aperture. So there’s no guarantee my meta-edits will be visible to the recipient. Compatibility aside, there’s also the issue of portability. RAW files are huge. 22MB per image! That’s impractical to send in any appreciable number. And time consuming to transfer by physical means. That doesn’t even include PSD files if I have to make touch ups beyond level adjustments. Basically, you’re going to pay extra, which is bad news to the people who wanted to cheap out and do the edits themselves. Or hire someone else! *Hissssss*

So I never give out RAWs by themselves. Always alongside a finished product. That way I can show how important my role is even after I finish taking pictures.

The PolSci crew at Ryerson hosted their first Model UN conference (RyeMUNc) this weekend. Given the problems that they had to overcome and deal with to organize it, I would say that it was a resounding success. I look forward to seeing how they can improve on it next year.

I volunteered my time representing the Premier of Ontario at the first ministers conference in this session. We were isolated from the general assembly, which was rather unfortunate, since there were stories of North Korea invading other countries, but we were a clever and ruthless little enclave.

I picked Ontario because I wanted the feds to cough up money for Metrolinx’s Big Move; Ontario can no longer afford a $7B loss in GDP every year because of its gridlock problems arising from inadequate transit. But a $9B budget deficit means Ontario is not really in a position to do capex on infrastructure projects, so it needs help to keep things growing…or, at least chugging. Surely it shouldn’t be a problem. Ontario paid out equalization for its first 150 years.

I proposed a motion that would see Ontario get $1B in dedicated funding for The Big Move every year for the next 15 years; $1B a year to offset $7B a year losses. After arguing about it for an hour, it received almost unanimous support from the provinces — who want Ontario to get back on its feet again and thus stop having to pay equalization to — but our PM shot it down hard. Not surprised. He was Stephen Harper, and I was Kathleen Wynne after all.

Though I lost the battle, I won the war. I won best First Minister Delegate and got to take home the gavel:

2014-03-16 16.10.13

76 days. On average, 66 shots per day(!) 45GB of RAWs and JPEGs. This is the 5000th shot taken with my D3200:

#5000 by BB ON (click to be teleported to my Flickr)

I’m just glad it wasn’t a blurry disaster. I saw it on the bus ride home and braved the cold after to get this shot. -30 in blowing winds! Photography isn’t always cushy, you know?

This also commemorates 400 photos uploaded into my Flickr, though only 394 are visible to strangers.

5000 shots marks 5% of the shutter life of my camera used. In that time, I’ve branched out to construction photos, portraits and even macro. Photos from my camera have been published on two separate sites, generating some miniature fame. It’s gotten me places I never thought I could get into. I’ve learned a ton about the limits of my camera, lens, and how to operate within them. I’ve also  learned how technical it is for something some criticize as artsy-fartsy.

I’ve also learned the value of having a really well paying job because of how damn expensive this hobby is– I don’t think I’ll ever  understand what makes some umbrellas worth $100.

I’ve learned Photoshop, though the most I do with my photos is usually just level adjusting. That alone has had a great effect on the quality of my portfolio, since often what comes out of the camera is bland; for better or for worse, I’ve been blowing out the saturation and contrast this season, since everything is so grey. I really want spring.

Borrowed lenses and equipment have given me a taste of what my equipment is capable of doing, and it’s a road I’d like to follow. $2500 70-200mm f2.8 lens is at the top of my wishlist, but the 35 and 50 mm prime lenses, much more affordable at $200 each, will probably be bought first. Also on the list is an 85mm macro for my own. Plus more tripods, lighting, and remote triggers. You never can have enough kit. For now, it’s just the kit lens and hotshoe flash. I’d have loved to have zoomed in more on that sunset, but since I couldn’t, I used the cold blue snow as a contrast to the warm yellow. Again, compromise.

Here’s to 95000 more!

A while back, I had the pleasure of trying out Nikon’s 50mm f/1.4. It’s such an amazingly soft and flattering lens. I put it to good use in the short time I had with it — I took some headshots for a colleague because he needed some for Linkedin. And myself, because a good photographer should have some vanity. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so let’s skip the chat:


Damon – 3/4 Shot


Damon – Front Shot

I was very impressed, as was my client. I was also grateful that the sun was giving us a big helping hand. No massive amounts of retouching needed. Damon works for a company that’s designing cool quadcopters. Doesn’t this look like someone you want to do business with?

Some people have professional online profiles with a five-second instagram selfie, or worse, no picture at all. If you’re looking for a job and are lucky enough to survive the resume filter, imagine blowing it because the hiring manager looked you up online and saw a really lazy, badly done Linkedin. There’s no shortage of people looking for jobs, and the people who put effort into presenting themselves and maintaining their personal brand are going to be far more successful because it indicates to the hiring manager that level of effort is going to be put into the job. And having a great photo of yourself is an amazing confidence booster.

I haven’t tried the similar 50 f/1.8, but the reviews I’ve been reading say that it’s generally better, or at least much better value than the 1.4, being half the price and with faster autofocus. Given the choice, I’d spend the $500 on the 35 f/1.8 and a 50 f/1.8 rather than a 50 f/1.4. The 2/3rds stop extra doesn’t make the biggest difference — at least, not so much that it’s worth taking over being able to take great portraits both of groups (35mm) and singles/couples (50mm). It’s tough for those lenses to do the job of the other. You’re going to be against the back wall of the room trying to take a group shot with the 50.

I’ll post more pictures soon.