I wasn’t part of the demonstration a couple of weeks ago, which started at Concordia University in Montreal and went along Ste-Catherine Street to Phillips Square. But when I encountered it, I decided to follow with my camera.
A funny – or at least, weird – thing thing happened. I am someone who has often been one of the marchers in a demonstration. Starting with demonstrating for the rights of international students in the early eighties, and passing by way a number of other causes right up to my involvement in union negotiations this year, I have been in a lot of demonstrations. In the process I have had everything from blisters on my feet to pepper spray and tear gas in my eyes. So imagine my surprise when some demonstrators started asking if I was a police agent, not once or twice, but several times. Finally, one young woman started blocking my camera with her flag, trying to prevent me from getting any decent shots.
I understand the sensitivity. Recent abuses of police power in Toronto, combined with proof that police have used agents provocateurs in Quebec to urge demonstrators towards violence (thus justifying crackdowns), has made many people – myself included – suspicious of the role played by the law enforcement in the protest community. So while I was a bit offended at the time, in retrospect I get it.
It was all based on prejudice, of course. As evidence, I was walking beside another photographer probably more than 20 years younger than me, with long hair and a scruffy beard (I was dressed for my other activities that day, and was not scruffy, plus I have grey temples and look, apparently, my 50 years). The other photographer sympathised with me, but was not being treated the same way at all. I can only conclude that my appearance made people more suspicious.
The ironic part is that the best shots I got were actually of the police, two of which I’m posting here.
It was a night demo, so I had a certain amount of difficulty with light – I had to crank the sensitivity of my sensor up to the maximum, or almost (the max on my camera’s sensor is 12,800 ISO, which is pretty darned sensitive but also produces a picture with a lot of noise). I also opened the aperture all the way, which on the lens I had meant holding firm at f4.0. This made it possible for me to hand-hold the camera and take photos with a sufficiently high shutter speed (1/30 of a second for this photo) that I could avoid the inevitable blurring caused by shaky hands at slow shutter speeds.
Incidentally, without the image stabilization on the lens, 1/30 of a second would have been too slow. The usual rule is that your speed needs to be a fraction of a second equivalent to the length of your lens. I was using an equivalent focal length of around 105 mm, so the normal shutter speed should have been 1/100 at least, and preferably more. Image stabilization in a Canon lens lets you use a slower shutter, which is handy in situations like this.
The image at the top of the post is one I worked on a bit in Photoshop. I was interested in bringing out the police presence a bit more in the photo, and the male officer’s face was already a bit blown out around the eyes. So after doing a very basic noise reduction on the image, I masked out the rest of the image and added a blur to the officers only, using an overlay mode to make it glow, and reducing the effect to about 20%. I like the effect, personally. I think it brings out an important aspect of the photo without falsifying it. The photo at the bottom of the post (directly above this) was basically just desaturated. I even left in most of the sensor noise.