Saturday, 8 October 2016


My passion for photography is fueled by a thirst for
Bogside, Derry, Northern Ireland
exploration and a curiosity to discover the world around me. It's an inner quest that can unfold in my back yard or half-way around the world. This quest helps me to steadily develop new narratives and subject matter. 

That being said, there are themes woven through my photography. For instance, nature based work has been my main focus over the last ten years, as seen in my DISTANT HORIZONS sequence which explores the elemental forces of Nature that are at work even in a big city. Prior to that people were my main subject.

Teaching and mentoring others is equally important to me. It helps bring the creative process full circle and allows me to give something back for all the richness and meaning photography has brought into my life; all my life I've trained and led people, in one form or another, and I love it. 

I teach privately and at a local college in downtown Toronto. My passion for teaching initially came as a surprise to me given that I'm completely self taught. But really it comes down to this; it's taken me years to learn things that could've been acquired in months with the right guidance. My goal is to help others move along the learning curve in a timely fashion. The world needs the contribution of new photographers now

Whether it's delivering one-to-one training or working with groups, my approach emphasizes the ‘art of seeing’, perceptual skills, and the creative use of digital technology in pursuit of photographic expression.


  • Portraits (with digital and/or film)
  • My photoworks as inkjet, silver or platinum prints 
  • Workshops (e.g. The Art of Black and White, The Photo Project)
  • Private Camera Training on any subject or technique read more
  • Private Lightroom® Training - for refining vision
  • Private Portfolio building/review sessions see more
  • Individual Creative Direction and Coaching Sessions
  • Custom Individual Mentoring Programs click here 

Sunday, 25 September 2016


Private camera training lessons vary from session to session but, usually combine explanations and exercises to help deepen one's mastery of camera controls and photographic concepts thus helping you become a better photographer. This is sometimes done along with guided and focused hands-on practice in the field. To this is often added coaching on approaches, styles and individual problem spots.

Here is a few words from Mary (last name with held by request) describing her private session.

"I have known Michael over several years, having taken two photography courses with him, and recently reconnecting when I signed up for one of his private camera training sessions in preparation for a wedding shoot. In fact my first wedding shoot.

"Michael is patient teacher; knowledgeable and passionate about his subject he clearly approaches it on a deep level that comes from experience. I have always been impressed with the way he pursues his craft, searching it out broadly through exposure to art, film and through his clear love of interacting, teaching, and sharing with others.

"On the wedding prep outing he introduced me to the concept of location portraiture in open shade. He also pointed out that, no, you don't always want the sun behind you, you want it behind your subject (when shooting in bright sunlight). His attention to the particulars of my shoot was marked and I was, again, impressed with the urgency he clearly felt re: my nailing down several issues before the shoot.

"After watching Michael, I can see that in addition to helping others he is committed to steadily improving his own understanding of photography. This dedication translates to and permeates his teaching and lends itself to an environment that is truly conducive to learning. It has been a pleasure having the chance to look at photography together with Michael." 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


Nature provides endless opportunities to 'see' the world around us in black and white. This cloud image is finished in NIK software Analog Efex which is one of the approaches that I'll share during the Black and White Digital Photography Workshop in 10 days. Its being held at the Centre for Social Innovation near the vibrant Kensington Market/ Spadina neighborhood on Sept. 24 - 25. CLICK HERE for workshop information.

Summer Clouds
©Michael G.O'Brien

Sunday, 11 September 2016


The way B&W accentuates shapes, form and texture makes it perfect for exploring architectural detail like this handle found on one of the the front doors of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, at 42nd St and Fifth Ave. It's one of the four research branches of the NYC Public Library system.
Although there was directional light coming in from camera right, also present was enough light bouncing off the surrounding white marble walls to provide the perfect amount of fill light that softened the shadows slightly. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016


Making Black and White (B&W) photographs is not just a bunch of techniques. It's a way of seeing and a tradition reaching back to the beginnings of photography 177 years ago. CLICK HERE to find out more about the Black and White Digital Photography Workshop that I'm leading this September 24 - 25.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


Composing black and white photos is different than working in colour. Certainly lines, perspective and content are still important, however, even more so is the tonal range, and the use of light in the image as well as the distribution of 'weight' throughout the composition. A balance of the various visual building blocks helps the viewer find their way through and sit with the image.
These and many other factors will be covered in the upcoming Digital Black and White Photography Workshop

Inside the New York Public Library  ©Michael G.O'Brien

Monday, 6 June 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE no.16 - Artist, Gil Abelha - Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

I met artist Gil Abelha when my guide Francois Duc took me to visit him at his studio. Gil is one of Bahia's treasures and a successful, well known artist. Click here to see more of Gil's work.

Gil Abelha, Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
©Michael G.O'Brien

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE no.15 - Living treasures of the Pelourinho

People are the main reason that Latin America attracts me. Along the way, good fortune has been with me, allowing me to meet fascinating people at every step. When time is limited and a place is totally new to me, I hire a guide to lead the way. As fate would have it Francois Duc, a local guide extraordinaire, connected with me and made my stay in Bahia productive. For instance, we met Ascendinha (below) while exploring the inside of an old cathedral where we found a passageway into the bowels of the huge structure. The back basement wall had crumbled and opened up to a view of the Bay of All Saints. This is where Ascendinha had lived for the past twenty years. She was in her 90's, was sharp minded and friendly. She gave me permission to make these pictures.

Ascendinha, Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
©Michael G.O'Brien

Ascendinha's livingroom,
Pelourinho, Salvador, Brazil
©Michael G.O'Brien

Thursday, 2 June 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE no.14 - Looking down into the Pelourinho district in Salvador, Brazil

This is how the Pelourinho looked in 2001. Despite (or maybe even because of) all the horrific things that happened to black people in this area during the time of slavery, it had an almost hallucinogenic effect on me all the time I was there. It has real presence maybe because of all the ancestors present and the fact it is such a cultural centre for people in this part of Salvador. I decided to photograph it using Kodak Hi Speed Infrared Black and White film to express this vision I had of the place, which seems to exist in the past, present and future all at once.

The Pelourinho is a historic neighborhood in western Salvador de Bahia. It was the city's center during the Portuguese colonial period and was named for the whipping post in its central plaza. The Historic Center is extremely rich in historical monuments dating from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Salvador was the first colonial capital of Brazil and the city is one of the oldest in the New World (founded in 1549 by Portuguese settlers). It was also the first slave market on the continent, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations.This area is in the older part of the upper city (Cidade Alta) of Salvador. It encompasses several blocks around the triangular Largo, and it is the location for music, dining and nightlife. In the 1990s, a major restoration effort resulted in making the area a highly desirable tourist attraction. It has a place on the national historic register and was named a world cultural center by UNESCO in 1985.Easily walkable, Pelo has something to see along every street, including churches, cafes, restaurants, shops and the pastel-hued buildings. Police patrol the area to ensure safety.

The Pelourinho, Salvador, Brazil 2001
©Michael G.O'Brien

Monday, 30 May 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE no.13 - Salvador, Brazil, Upper City near Praca de Se

The colonial architecture of Salvador is gorgeous and reminded me of being in Cuba. I decided to photograph Salvador in black and white - it had been done in colour better than I could ever do it. I brought a dozen rolls of Kodak Hi-Speed Infrared 35mm film with me on the trip. This is one of the resulting images.

Salvador, Brazil - Upper City near Praca de Sé
©Michael G. O'Brien

Sunday, 29 May 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE no.12 - Hotel Solara in the Pelourinho district of Salvador, Brazil

Although I never stayed at the Hotel Solara in the Pelourinho district of Salvador, Brazil, I walked past it everyday and would pop in to get some water or a snack. People were friendly with me, so it was one of the little landmarks I used during my stay in Salvador. It was right after Carnaval so people were tired, but this child had lots of energy! This image always reminds me of how intense was the sunlight those days. There was a real heat wave that went up to 40 - 45C some days - too hot even for the Brazilians who mainly stayed cool in the shade.

Hotel Solara in the Pelourinho district of Salvador, Brazil
©Michael G. O'Brien

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE - no.11 The Mercado Modelo , Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

These photos were made during a trip to Bahia, Brazil in 2001 - I'd been on a life changing visit to Brazil once before in 1976 - now 25 years later I was returning to Bahia to see if I could find someone that was very special to me. A mentor /spiritual teacher I'd met in Brazil and lost touch with in the 80's. I didn't know if they were alive or dead. More about that as these posts from Brazil unfold.

A lot happens in 25 years - for instance in 1976 the red dirt road from the airport was lined with shanty towns - now it was a 6 lane highway lined with high rises - some of them truly extraordinary buildings. However, many things remained the same so it didn't take me long to orient myself and start visiting the old haunts that I loved in Salvador; like the Mercado Modelo and it's famous wrap around elevated restaurant. The food is ok - the views are spectacular. 

Mercado Modelo, Lower City, Salvador, Brazil
©Michael G.OBrien

Sunday, 22 May 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE - no.10 - Big Mama 1952 Chevrolet Wagon Tin Woody?

Each day that I stayed in Havana was a new adventure - I had no agenda - knew nothing about the place and was sick as a dog most of the time. But I was still excited and was hungry to see everything I could. Whenever I wasn't walking I was driving around in a big, bad classic car. When this one passed us I had to record it - it was a thrill to see these iconic cars actually in service as taxis. Cubans shared them and paid very little to get anywhere in the city. I'm not positive but I think this one was a 1952 Chevrolet Tin Woody - a seriously beautiful machine with curves in all the right places.

Big Chevy, Havana, Cuba
©Michael G. O'Brien

Friday, 20 May 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE - no.8 - Man with Girl near El Malecon, Havana, Cuba

As I walked around Havana with my camera I felt totally safe during the daytime - night was another story. I ran into this man with a girl on his shoulders and was curious, but didn't ask about their relationship. Even after a few weeks in Havana I'd adopted the Cuban trait of not asking questions. Now I really wish I'd asked. I don't usually talk about equipment, however, as a photographer that also teaches I'm always asked by novices, "what kind of camera did you use for this picture etc etc?" This was made with a Nikkor 28mm lens - my favourite focal length for street photography. It always helps me include exactly what I want in the frame and, over the years, has become an extension of the way I see.
For instance in this image the element of composition I'm using is dominant foreground/contributing background. Even when this lens is at 2.8 it gives me enough sharpness in the background to keep it as part of the picture whilst still allowing for a shutter-speed that's fast enough for this kind of flat lighting. This is important to me for my style and working method on the street.
The 28mm Nikkor is light and small, which means unobtrusive in the streets - again, just the way I like it.

El Malecon, Havana, Cuba
©Michael G.O'Brien

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE - no.7 Barrio Chino - Gateway to Old Chinatown in downtown Havana, Cuba

The Gateway to Barrio Chino
in downtown Havana, Cuba
©Michael G O'Brien

One of the things that I love about walking around Havana is the constant surprises relating to the history of the place. Seeing this gate honouring the Chinese community that had been there really touched me in some way. There was no Chinese people in sight in that place. When I asked what happened to all the people from that community, people evaded my question; in my limited experience with Cubans I found that answering direct questions about history has caused people too many problems so they avoid them like the plague.

Monday, 16 May 2016


Anyone visiting Cuba is, like me , struck by the vintage American cars seen everywhere. It's like being in a time warp.....this is all about to change. For many reasons, the owners of these cars lavish attention on them, in a way that we haven't really seen in North America since the Big American Dream days of the '50's. It's ironic, to me, that in the land of the Revolucion and given the in your face animosity towards America, that we see this kind of care given to the icons of America. Yet so much of it is practicality with a dollop of affection for these old beauties from the golden age of the automobile. They are works of art and they are made of metal so can be repaired with expert welding and spare parts. The engines are also built to last and dead simple to repair compared to what we have today; add to this the fact that people can't afford new cars and the U.S. blockade and you have a country full of vintage cars in flawless condition.
Every morning I'd watch as my neighbour in Havana washed his '57 Dodge while smoking cigars, sharing the daily news with his buddies and taking in the morning sun. It's a special part of the culture and a source of pride and joy for the owners of these Big Papas.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

LATIN AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE no. 5 - Staircase, Havana, Cuba

I spent days wandering through Old Havana. Often I'd just stick my head into the doorway of an old building and get a glance of the dilapidated staircases which I found endlessly fascinating. Each building seemed to have one that was totally unique.

Staircase, Havana Viejo, Cuba
©Michael O'Brien

Friday, 13 May 2016


The Old Guard

While staying in Havana, Cuba, I had an apartment near the Plaza de la Revolución. The day this picture was made it was the anniversary (birthday) of José Marti the fabled poet grandfather of the Revolution. Tens of thousands school children were assembled in the Plaza while speaker after speaker came out to the podium to deliver firebrand communistic, anti-capitalist speeches; some of them looked like they couldn't have been older than twelve. In front of me, a man proudly stood at attention, as if still honouring the spirit of the now totally failed revolution; as if everything he'd sacrificed was worth it to just to see these children relatively free from poverty and oppression.
Seeing this children's political rally summed up my ambivalent feelings for Cuba - it seems to me at once sinister and innocent. However, the rally provoked a question in me - are we really any different than the Cuban regime or do we just indoctrinate our children with different ideals while it seems that conformity is really the chief goal.

La Vieja Guardia
Plaza de la Revolución
Habana, Cuba

Thursday, 12 May 2016


Amigos hanging out in one of the quiet
 neighbourhoods of Havana, Cuba
©Michael O'Brien