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Princess Joy Villa


The Story Behind That Picture: "The Toronto Experience"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. February 6, 2016

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Learning from Toronto

A little over three years ago I learned a lesson that I often think back to. I learned that what you photograph is more important than what you experience.


A lesson learned in Toronto (We met this fellow in the Diner). Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


A dull experience in life may result in great photos, but an exiting experience might not.


An American city somewhere between New York and Montreal.
Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0


We got on the highway but decided to hit they hay for the night and checked into Red Carpet Inn because I always wanted to try a real American Motel Experience. Dirty, sleazy and cheap it fulfilled every dream I ever had about trying a real countryside American motel and cured me completely for any desire to do it in the future.

Next morning I accomplished to get two speeding tickets within half an hour. I wasn’t driving really fast, maybe 5 miles more than it was allowed on the highway. The second officer who stopped me was a lesson in intolerance. I learned that whether you are an African prince, a terrorist or a proud Viking from the Kingdom of Denmark, you are a “foreigner” and that itself is punishable in the eyes of a redneck in uniform.

As you can imagine, we had quite an adventure already before we reached the Canadian border.


Some of the adventure lying ahead in Montral. Joy and Larry posing. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0

As we continued and I kept an eye on the speed, we decided to look for some breakfast. We looked at the iPad for interesting names along the route and that was how we ended up at Papa’s Diner in Queensbury, a 5 minutes drive off the highway.

We had a ball in the diner and I think they will never forget the day when they got visitors from Mars.


Papa's Diner
Papa, I presume, with Joy Villa in Papa’s Diner in Queensbury
. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0


We headed on and finally we arrived to Montreal where we had rented a great Airbnb apartment with artsy interior, lots of space and two roundtables and a large collection of music on vinyl.

We loved Montreal. We had a rooftop to our disposal and did a shoot on it the last day. Every corner we turned in Montreal we met interesting people.


We met fashion designer Helmer Joseph who have worked in Paris with Dior and all. Now he makes his own fashion in Montreal. We borrowed a dress for out shoot. Here Helmer is fitting one of his dresses for the photo shoot in Montreal onto Joy Villa. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


We had a rooftop to our disposal and did a shoot on it the last day. Larry and Andrew photographing Joy Villa in a dress from designer Helmer Joseph.


Montreal was hip, cool, adventure, friendly, artsy … it was a blast!

The day after the workshop we drove the rental car to Toronto. The photo studio with apartment we had rented turned out to be a dull place and we found Toronto a grey and dull experience compared to what wet had just left.


Toronto 2012. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0


We survived the workshop days with some fun people and managed to meet many interesting people. We also met up with Eric Kim and his workshop students and had a fun diner experience at Thompsons Diner in Toronto.


Thompsons Diner in Toronto. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


But overall the Toronto Experience was not an exotic memory and I sort of decided that next time I went to Canada, I would stay in Montreal.

But I should change my mind.

Thanks to some crazy people in the workshop we survived Toronto ... Here's Chadwick Bromley playing muscle game with a dog. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


The numbers

Without trying I usually do an average of 110-120 photos a day over a year. I have days where I don’t touch the camera and I have other days where I obviously take a lot of photos as part of an assignment or simply because I do. Very few times will I tell myself “You should go see what that weather outside could make of pictures” or something and then walk out simply to make something. I am always amazed how a walk without much purpose will turn in a few great photos.


These people were so bored in Toronto they could be classified as a still-life. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.



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I met this girl in a store in Toronto during a cultural event night. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0


It is true that the more pictures you take, the more good ones you get. It is unpredictable when the good ones occur, and how many great ones you get in a day or month.

When I flew to Europe and a couple of weeks later finished my Montreal and Toronto pictures, I noticed that despite my impression of Toronto, I had just as many good pictures from Toronto as Montreal. In fact, I had more good ones from dull Toronto than exiting Montreal.

I counted and it was true. Toronto had the best turnout in pictures.


Toronto 2012, Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


The Toronto Experience

I’ve looked at this experience many times since. In my workshops I will usually say that we go for the light and quiet places rather than touristy busy places like markets, water fronts and so on.


Lightroom Survival Kit 6


It’s true that touristy places will drain your energy (with or without a camera) and often it’s the most likely place to have somebody try to pickpocket you. But mainly touristy places or obvious photo opportunities are filled with action that you feel you should photograph.

Once in Singapore we spend a couple of hours on a Sunday morning in a neighborhood where you saw a car come by every 20 minutes.

Nothing happened in the world around us. We go great pictures and learned about light.


Toronto 2012, Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


The difference is that in the quiet location, you make the pictures. In the busy locations, you photograph action. You feel you get a lot, but when you edit the photos, you realize you might have gotten a lot of pictures but you didn’t create a lot of aesthetic.

If you try and look at your good – or best – pictures, try to see how many you made and how many of them the environment made. Most likely you will find that you made the best ones when nothing happened. Even if you shoot racecars or dangerous animals, the best ones were most likely the most unexpected ones when nothing was supposed to happen.

But you have to get out to get inspired. If you sit in an armchair inside ... that's nice; but not what I am talking about.


Jeff Swanson out and about in the Toronto Workshop 2012. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0


This is not the exact same experience as Toronto, but I mention that because it sort of confirms the lesson that just because you are having a good time doesn’t mean you get photographic results.

Often great photos are to be made where nothing happens, because it makes you look and think. You start making photos and you slow down time. The photo opportunities are some you create and they don’t disappear in the next second.


Toronto 2012. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0


You can also train to foresee possible photos and wait for elements to fall in place. You got time on your side and you are on top of it.


Joy Villa is an angel. Toronto, September 2012. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


So when I decided to do Canada again this year, I decided to go to Toronto.

Of all places I choose the least exiting city. I know I promised a few people to go to Quebec and maybe Calgary in the future, but in the end I decided for Toronto because I have an unfinished battle there.

Can I make both great photos, and make it a visit to an exiting city?


This time I secured a nice sport for the Toronto Workshop eight months in advance.


This time I rented a place eight months ahead to be sure to have an inspiring place to stay. But the rest I leave to chance and I will see if Toronto is as boring as I remember it, and if it makes as great photos being bored as it did last time.

If you like to join, please do so and sign up here.


One of the Montral workshop students from 2012. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


I hope you enjoyed this little flashback to 2012. As always, feel free to e-mail me with questions, suggestions and comments to


Leaving Toronto on an airplane.
Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.


Thorsten Overgaard, February 6, 2016
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Above: Flying out of Toronto in 2012. We survived, but now we come back for more. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0
© 2012-2016 Thorsten von Overgaard.





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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

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