Photography with altitude

 buildings Toronto

Vertigo sufferers look away now! Canadian ’Tom Ryaboi explains why he shoots from the edges of skyscrapers...

When did you start taking  rooftopping  shots?

I have been climbing things sincc before I can remember. My father says I would frequently climb stuff around the house, like the fridge, and get stranded on top. I always felt more comfortable up there a bit like a fish in water.

In its current form, rooftopping started quite innocently. I took up photography when I started travelling, and couldnput the camera down when I got home. I was walking near a construction site in the heart of Toronto one day when the thought hit me: a photo from the top of this building might make for a great shot. When I got up there I was struck with a sense of wonder that brought me back to my childhood. It was only around 15 or 16 storeys high, but there was a whole other world up there, quiet and serene, away from all the noise below.

It felt as though I had discovered something big, and I quickly convinced some friends to follow. It wasnlong before we had little on our minds but topping every roof in the city, daring to climb the tallest and most spectacular buildings in Toronto,

Canada. It became a tight knit community of people from all walks of life, determined to reach for the rooftops, and westill at it.

How do you avoid security guards and CCTV to get access to the rooftops?

I donavoid, run or hide from security. If a buildingcovered by CCTV, I want to be seen by it. I really donbelieve I am doing anything wrong, and if Iseen or caught, so be it. What Idoing isnany different to someone exploring a forest or a mountain. I live in the city and Igoing to explore it. Getting into these buildings never involves breaking in, and the only thing I take is whatcaptured on my memory cards.

So how do you react when rooftoppers are accused of acting illegally and endangering themselves and others?

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. However,

I donbelieve Iputting anyone at risk no more then driving at 45mph in a 40 zone, say. There is nothing in this world thatworthwhile thatrisk free. I am not reckless and I donencourage others to follow my path. I know the consequences and Iwilling to deal with them.

What are the biggest technical challenges you have to overcome when taking photographs like this?

There are a great deal of challenges to deal with when shooting from a roof —in my case, it s mostly to do with the harsh climate of Canada. Strong winds and extreme cold are a problem for obvious reasons. Using high ISO settings and wide open apertures gives me the fast shutter speed I need to deal with the wind, as does weighing down my tripod with sand bags.

However, if I ve learned anything, it s to expect the unexpected. Last spring while on a roof with some other photographers, we were suddenly attacked by a creature from the sky. We didn t know it at the time, but weventured onto a roof where two urban falcons were nesting. Obviously they weren t pleased with our presence there, and began to dive bomb us from above.

We rounded up all our gear and left as quickly as we could —it was scary. After

being back a few times, though, it seems like the falcons are getting used to us, and they just watch us from afar now.

 buildings Toronto

How do you manage to frame shots when you re holding a camera over the edge of a tall building?

I ve become quite used to shooting without looking through the viewfinder. I think this comes from my love of street photography. It takes a lot of time to get to know and feel your camera, and more specifically your lenses, in order to shoot like this.

You often don t have time to compose and think about your shot too much when shooting on the street, you just go on instinct. I usually just take one lens when

I go out shooting and really get into it.

I start to see things through this lens even when I don t have the camera up to my face. This can get really interesting when you shoot with a telephoto or a fisheye.

What type of building do you prefer to shoot from?

I don t really have a favourite, as they all have unique traits. Skyscrapers are the jewels of the city though. They have some of the most jaw-dropping views of our urban environment, and often require some social engineering to undertake.

Construction sites present more of a physical challenge, because to get to a high vantage point you usually have to climb a lot of stairs. However, theywell worth the effort because these sites offer lots of open spaces with no windows and lots of interesting foreground subjects.

Ill Make Ya Famous  (page 32) is an image that put rooftopping in the spotlight. Did you know you d got something special when you pressed the shutter release that day?

I never expected this shot to get so much attention, but I knew I had something special when I took it. Itaken hundreds of photos that day, but that one leapt off my screen.

After posting the shot online, I was contacted by several news syndicates that

wanted to run a story about this new’, as they called it. The ball really started to roll from there. It was right around the time I had started to take photography more seriously, so it gave me a great stepping stone to learn a lot about the industry. I learned that one shot can really change your life.

Apart from the sheer height involved, what other features make for the coolest rooftopping shots?

Although Ishot from the three tallest buildings in Toronto, I actually prefer the buildings in between all the tall structures  the ones that are nested in the urban jungle, slightly lower then the tall skyscrapers that surround them. This is where you really get a sense of the magnitude of the city, and capture some of the best vertigo-inducing images.

I love the way that the city of Toronto moves about in the daytime, like a well-oiled machine. Shadows and light wrap around urban canyons all day and the city never looks the same when youup there at different times of the day.

Pm also lucky enough to live in an environmentally active place, so fog, rain, thunderstorms, snow and ice are just a few of the things on the menu here.

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