Friday, April 15, 2011

Fire away

So, I'm not much of a gun violence enthusiastic, but I thought LaserQuest was a pretty fun place to hang around. The basic rule for winning - or accumulating points - is shooting down opponent players. Sounds similar to Paintball? It actually is so, except for the lack of pain and restraint game environment.

A game lasts anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes, time during which you are equipped with a protection vest and a laser gun. The vest is important for two reasons. First, it protects you from the laser radiations. This does not mean that radiations are harmful for the human body, if exposure is kept to a relative minimum. However, try not to trigger the laser at another player's eyes, as prolonged radiation could seriously damage his/her eyesight. The vest also has four light sensors, which capture the enemy's laser signal, when you get shot. It is important, and only fair, that you do not hide your sensor receptors.

Before going in, think of a nickname that you would like to use. I was "Deathknight".  Yes, some people use provocative names. I chose mine based on a World of Warcraft character class, that I used to play - some few months back.

A mandatory informative session is held by the Marshall (your all-time staff reference during the game) previous to each game, during which equipment usage and basic rules are explained. The game takes place in a neon-lighted three floors high labyrinth.  You move from level to level by diagonal ramps, instead of stairs, as to avoid falling down and hurting yourself, given the strained lighting and competitive - somewhat violent - nature of the game. Running, climbing, jumping, sitting, kneeling and lying down are prohibited, for the obvious reason of preventing all risks of injury. After the info session, the Marshal guides you to a preparatory room, where all players must equip their protective vests and laser guns.

As mentioned above, the vest serves two important purposes: protection from radiation and capturing an opponent's hit. To all vests are attached laser guns, both of which are clearly identified to the player's nickname. The vest has four sensors. If you get hit to either one of those target points, you lose points. When your gun hits either one of the opponent's sensors, you win points. There are  also additional sensor receptors on guns, so you could target either the vest or the gun of your opponent. On the vest, sensors are situated in the front, back, and on each shoulder. On the gun, sensors are  to be found on each side and in the front. All sensors are identified by flashing lights - as to get a better grasp of your target.

After a preliminary countdown, the Marshal leaves you on your own. In case of emergency, or equipment problems, just hold your gun up high and yell "MARSHAAAAAL"! Not to worry, he is patiently keeping an eye on the game from an upstairs cabin, and will promptly respond to your distress call.

You now shoot away at opponent players. There are two different kinds of games offered to the wide public: solo games and team games. During a solo game, your purpose is to shoot down any other player, all targets being identified by red-green-blue lights. During a team game, you should  only shoot players of the opponent team, being either red-colored only, or green-colored only. The more on-target shots, the more points you will accumulate.

When you get shot, your equipment gives out a warning sound, along with a short vibration, all the while automatically shutting down for the next five seconds. During these few seconds, you can either hide and cry in a corner - if you wish, or find a better shooting spot, since no one will be able to shoot you. The equipment restarts, and you are free to fire away.

What I found particularly fun about this LaserQuest labyrinth was that the construction in itself allowed you to shoot through walls, mirrors, floors and ceilings. While it is more challenging to defend yourself, it is also easier to aim at opponent targets without being seen.

As for the 20 to 25 minutes game duration, I walked in there thinking it would not be enough. But, to be quite honest, I was surprised at how much effort I had put into those few minutes, and came out of my first game quite sweaty.

At the end of the game period, all equipments shut off. You are to report back to the preparatory room and leave your vest and gun on the indicated hanger. As you are walking out of the labyrinth, to the waiting room, computers calculate the number of points - hits and losses - of all players. After a short waiting time, the Marshall comes out to distribute report sheets, which indicate your total number of points, which players you have shot and who shot you (only uses players' nicknames), along with targeted sensors and number of hits. The first three places are announced out loud, and all players burst into cheering and clapping.

There is a two-game limit per player, per day. A game costs 9$. Membership prices go down to 6$/game. I recommend making reservations beforehand, since the place gets particularly crowded on holidays and weekends.

So, there you have it! I came in 11th, out of 27 players, during my first game, which I thought was not too bad for a newbie.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Portrait photography around town

Assuming you are not a famous fashion model working for Vogue magazine, you will want to consider your options very carefully when deciding on a particular photo studio.
First off, let me tell you that any decent place around town will get you spending a few hundred dollars, in no time! This is true for all Montreal studios, but remains just as true pretty much everywhere else in the Western World (North America, Europe, Oceania). Despite the accessibility of digital cameras, professional photography remains a luxury... at least from a client's point of view. There are, however, several important elements that might help you choose a certain studio over another. Ask yourself these questions:
  1. What decor are you looking for?
    There are two photography decors you will find around Montreal city. The third decor is generally much rarer, but not impossible to come around:
    1. Urban
      Urban photographers generally carry very light equipment. They use their camera, and sometimes an extended flash. The flash will either be attached to their camera, or completely external, triggered by a cable, or sometimes a wireless transmitter. The big external flashes usually require energy plugs, which are difficult to come around in an urban decor. Most photographers have plug extensions from their cars' engines. This means that wherever you go, you will have to travel by car, with your photographer. Urban photographers don't usually hire assistants, so this decor employs a much more personalized approach on the part of the photographer. You usually work one-on-one with him. The biggest issue with urban photography is the weather. You could well plan ahead and schedule a photo shoot, but if the sun isn't on your side, it will all be in vain. You will have to start anew and reschedule the appointment.

    2. Studio
      Studio photographers are much more stable. They also use a lot more equipment, as to stimulate different natural ligthings. The major difference between urban and studio photography is not necessarily the pose adopted by the subject, but rather the decor. In a studio, you will generally be given a choice of different color backgrounds, including either black and white - sometimes even both. The advantages of a studio photo shoot are the infinite ligthing possibilities, thus making your pictures look more artistic. It is generally a more dynamic and beneficial environment for a family, whereas the urban decor is much more interesting for fashion models. Urban decors are generally also preferred by couples or single subjects. Travelling to and from the studio with your children is easier than travelling all around town, stopping at different photogenic spots. In a studio, you will also find an assistant, which usually helps with the setup of lighting, posing, and entertaining of the children.

    3. Rural
      Rural photography is generally more difficult to find around Montreal. There are some independent photographer willing to travel a greater distance for a great rural spot. This is, however, generally more expensive. The photographer might or might not work with an assistant, depending on the spot he works on, and the equipment, along with the subject involved.

  2. Why are you having a photo shoot? What do you want to do with the pictures?
    Depending on the reason of the photo shoot, you might want to choose one decor over another. Rural and urban photography result in generally more original shots, since the photographer can change the decor to his wish. If he is experienced enough, he should know of at least a dozen photogenic spots around the city, in which he could eventually place his subject - you.
    So, if you intend on doing a big poster with your pictures, urban and rural photography are interesting choices. If you want however, to surprise your grandparents on their 50th anniversary with some pictures of the whole family, then I would definitely recommend studio photography. Studio photography doesn't always have to look traditional (some artistic lighting can give any pose a unique look, as I said before), but they can easily be transformed in a more conservative looking picture. Again, it is easier to assemble the whole family at a single place - the studio in question - than to run all over town with the 12 members of your extended family.
    An important thing would be to decide on what you want to do with your pictures BEFORE meeting with your photographer. At a studio, they will generally offer you many product choices. It will seem like a difficult thing to decide on the spot what you want to do, so you might want to be prepared beforehand.

  3. What is your budget?
    This is often the first question that comes to mind, although I believe it shouldn't be so. First off, ask yourself what is the quality of the product you wish to purchase? How do you perceive a photo shoot, in general? Is it an investment - a souvenir that you will keep of that one particular moment for a lifetime, or is it an experience that you will be having every now and then?
    If you want a product which will remind you of a particular period of your life, a product which you plan on keeping for 10 years or more, then I suggest perceiving it as an investment. However, if you know you will be having several photo shoots over the course of the following ten years, the quality of the product might not seem so important. In either case, I think quality is a number one must! And let me tell you why...
    A photo shoot is a luxury, that has become affordable to any regular citizen - fashion model or not. It is still perceived as a luxury, both on the part of the photographer, and the subject and I hope you will not let anyone convince you otherwise. Photographers used to insure their survival on the basis on fashion models. It has become increasingly popular for a family of four to have professional photo shoots, for the mere reason of a souvenir. The job of the photographer, however, has not greatly changed, as the subject itself has little to no importance to the different techniques used. Lighting is manipulated in exactly the same way, no matter what the subject is. Same thing goes for the relationship photographer-subject, etc. I believe this is a luxury that is definitely and undoubtedly worth the trouble. But hey, don't mind the bias here - I am a photographer, and I love the idea of immortalizing the scene!

  4. What will you have to do?
    A photo shoot is always a stressful experience for the subject. If you learn to stay cool, however, you might even have some fun and enjoy yourself. First off, think about the fact that photographers have seen hundreds and thousands of people through their cameras. Nothing - no crooked tooth / big nose / messy hair / ugly feet / etc. - will surprise us. You will not be the first, nor the last person with these attributes, and I can assure you that all are attributes that we are perfectly comfortable working with. The most important thing is to stay cool, and behave as natural as possible. After all, we want to capture the true you, and not some impersonation you put on for that particular day.
    For urban/rural photography, you will most likely meet with your photographer before hand. This is called a consultation period. You will go over his portfolio. He will tell you what would work best for you needs, and you will set up a date and a meeting place for the photo shoot. On that given date, you will meet him at the established place, and will quickly go over what you will be doing. You will most probably be asked to walk around town to different locations. Due to transportation issues, sessions might last anywhere from 2h - 6h. After your session, you will part with your photographer, which will inform you of the photo editing delay. This can take anywhere between a week to a month - depending on the number of files he will be selling you. You usually pay him on the spot, and wait for his call informing you that the CD and/or prints are ready. You generally meet again with him, a third time, to collect your order.
    As for studio photography, the client experience is very similar, excluding the various lenghts of transportation. You take an appointment by phone. I recommend looking up their portfolio online. You won't find the prices there, so if that is one of your major concerns, you should definitely call ahead and have them explain their different packages. Always ask if there are any other promotions available, because there generally are. The photo session lasts from 45 minutes to a full hour, depending on the studio

  5. What are you options for photographer choices?
    If you are looking for urban/rural photography, you will have to find an independent photographer online.
    If studio photography captures your interest, then I suggest one of the following three studio, which are without a doubt leading companies in the public photography industry around Montreal: Magenta Studio Photo, Cheezz Studio Photo or Espace Urbain Studio. They have several location across town, some going as far as Laval and the South Shore. These three studio offer exceptional image quality, along with very decent prints. There are some other smaller studios, such as Sears Portrai Studio or La Baie Photo Studio. These studios however are considerably less dynamic, and poses are often too traditional to my taste. Their print quality is also quite low.

Now, price wise:
Urban / Rural
The price of the photo shoot will generally include a CD with some, very rarely all, of your pictures. Urban photography requires an unimaginable quantity of retouches - generally done by the photographer - which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours per file. This is why urban photographers will only give you about 30 - 50 of the totality of shots taken during the photo session. Prices for the photo shoot + CD will generally depend on the portfolio and experience of the photographer. You should expect anywhere from 200$ - 500$ overall. Rural photography is generally slightly more expensive, given the extended transportation involved, but the final product is generally of similar quality.
The price for prints varies between 5$ - 15$, depending on the quality of the printer. Urban and rural photographers usually work independently. They have agreements with different photo labs, which print their pictures for cheaper, thus allowing them to make some profit off all prints. The quality of these labs, however, is always hmmm... let's just say nothing above average! The problem with this is that you, as a client, will never know where the pictures are printed. It could be at a high tech photo lab, but it could also be at the Jean-Coutu photo centre, around the corner. Needless to say that there is an absolutely HUGE visual difference int terms of quality of impression between the two sources.
I recommend paying for the photo shoot and CD, and thanking your photographer for his great work. With the CD, you should easily be able to find a decent photo lab - one you can rely on - for good print quality. The prices are generally very similar to those offered by the photographer himself.

Studio photography is generally more expensive, because of the equipment and photography treatment process involved. At a studio, you can expect the photo shoot to be priced in with other products. For example, all studios have packages such as "A professional photo shoot of 45min/1h and two 5x7 color prints" The price of a session is generally between 40$ - 60$, but you will never be asked to pay for the session only. The advantage of a studio is that all products are custom made for your own pictures, and everything is done within the studio itself - you do not have to worry about running around town to get your prints, etc.
Prints (without the digital files - no CD) are priced anywhere between 30$ - 50$, depending on the size and treatment of the picture. Standard sizes are 8x10, 5x7, and wallet size (credit-card sized).
If you purchase the CD with your digital files, the price of prints goes down considerably to about 5$ - 15$ per print.
The CD, however, almost never includes the totality of the session. Here, once again, some retouches are necessary. The problem is not the time spent on a single picture, however, but rather the extended number of pictures needing retouches (A studio usually receives many more clients that an independent urban/rural photographer). The CD contains anywhere from 1 to 100 files, depending on how much you are willing to pay, and its price varies between 99$ - 1000$. You have to understand that you aren't paying for the actual files, but rather for the right of usage and/or reproduction of your pictures. Photographers are artists like any others, and their work is their sole property. They will sell you the right of usage (different from owner's rights) of a file, but that one picture will always be their or the studio's property - never yours. The rights of usage and reproduction per picture are priced between 20$ - 40$/picture.
Studio will also have an extended gallery of frames and montages. All frames are built in their private labs, custom made for your pictures. Frames are priced anywhere from 200$ to 3000$.

Some other tips:
- dress as you would normally do. The purpose of a photo shoot is to capture you and/or you family members as they truly are, at this point in time. You want the pictures to be as personalized as possible. For example, if you prefer wearing glasses, and if you do wear them most of the time - your family and friends know you better with glasses, then there would be no point in removing them for the photo shoot. Also, if you dress provocatively in real life, dress similar for your session. Don't dress up more than you would do for a friends gathering.
- be patient. Some appointments go on for longer than planned. Do not worry, the photographer will provide you with the same quality as his previous clients. Young babies and/or large families usually take up more time.


    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Montreal, yours truly!

    So, I realised that I need an actual purpose for this blog. I've therefore decided to talk about everything Montreal, all the while providing some useful insight on different events, hot spots and activities. I hope, in time, this will become a valuable resource to all who wish to discover our beautiful, and one of the most multicultural cities in the world: Montreal. Yeah, I had to put in some grandiose words!
    So, your comments and suggestions are all very welcome. I'll check it out, and maybe post some reviews!