180808 Ferries - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

There's a joke about a photographer who spent a long time planning for a trip, then took great effort to go somewhere unusual and do interesting work. And then, basically on a lark, took the best photo of the whole trip on the taxi ride home.

I'm not sure if the punchline is funnier if that photo was taken on a ferry.

Sometimes there are quiet ideas that extend something familiar into a new and significant direction. I've often photographed long exposures from moving cars and buses, but keeping the camera out on the ferry back from the islands was something I hadn't though of until a few months ago. Now it's something I do as often as I can.

This also goes back to a rule I learned many, many years ago – on the way home from the Leslie Street Spit. It's to not put the camera away. Just because I think I'm done, and I'm on my way back, don't put the camera away until I'm actually really done. Sometimes there are good photos still to be found even though I think I'm done, and if I'm still thinking photographically and keep my camera out, maybe I'll find them.

There's something else I've had to learn, and sometimes I'm getting better at remembering it. It's not that the trip to and from the destination are also worthy of consideration: it's that the whole process is part of the trip. While I am slightly chagrined that the best photo from a long night was taken on my way home, I'm happy that it's going to be a part of a larger project.

That photo of a forgotten pair of sunglasses is an eighteen second exposure. That's as long as I could push the shutter with a ten-stop ND filter and the camera at iso200 and f/16. It was taken at almost 8:30 in the morning as the first ferry back from Centre Island reached the city.

The second photo is a mere thirteen seconds at f/11, taken just a little earlier in the morning but eight days later. Here we're looking back at the island with a higher leaning-on-the-handrail perspective that feels a bit more like a tired but relaxed trip home.

The final photo is seventeen seconds long at f/11. It's from the ferry to Hanlan's Point, with the shutter open as the ship turned to come into the dock. This is on the evening before the second photo, taken almost eleven hours earlier, and I can honestly say that during the intervening span I never had any down time. True, I had lots of time during exposures – an eight-minute exposure was my lunch break. But I never quite stopped.

Not even on the ride home.