The Montreal Metro: of people and trains

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I obtained permission to shoot in the Montreal subway system, called the Metro, this weekend. I find the subject quite challenging as it has been shot to death. Because of other commitments, I went only for a quick tour on Saturday (stations McGill, Place-des-Arts and Berri-UQAM) and Sunday (Lionel-Groulx station).

As a metrophile, here are the restrictions on picture-taking in the Metro: outside of rush hours meaning essentially from 10.00-15.00 on weekdays or weekends, no flash or tripod on the platforms and no pictures of Metro employees. I received a written confirmation that I needed to carry around. I must admit that I was quite disappointed that nobody asked for it since for once, I do things by the book…

Since there is such a wealth of pictures available on google, I scanned through to find some angles that are not frequently visited. I decided to focus on B&W conversion and creating diagonal leading lines, combined to movement when possible. Motion blur is pretty much a fact of life since the stations are relatively speaking dimly lit. I could have pushed the ISO further to freeze motion but this is a case where I think motion blur is welcome. I feel that it adds to the fact that each image is a fleeting slice of life in the Metro. I still have to work on the exposure time as there is a fine line between too much and not enough blur. I found that about 1/15s is good for when passengers are moving very close to the camera. When they are further, 1/4s to 1/6s is more appropriate.

I think that the B&W treatment works as it helps focus on the architecture and layout of the various stations. It also makes passerbys more anonymous, which is an effect I also desire.

For the B&W conversion, I added a digital orange filter since the signs for the green line (e.g. ANGRIGNON) and the orange line (e.g. CÔTE-VERTU) register as the exact same tonality in monochrome. The orange filter differentiates between the two when put side by side by lightening the orange and darkening the green.

As the Metro network comprises 68 stations, there is much for me to discover. It certainly is a nice photographic project as one can concentrate on people taking trains but also on the artwork, which are an integral part of the Metro. This is an aspect that I have yet to explore but for now, I enjoy looking at the seemingly random motion of people going about their life. I would also like to shoot during a weekday as on weekends, it is much quieter and the train frequency is higher.

Equipment: Canon DSLR 5D Mk II, Canon EF 28-70mm f/2.8L lens, RAW conversion using Lightroom 4.1

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6 thoughts on “The Montreal Metro: of people and trains

    • Thanx Bella! Not too hard. I communicated with the communications dept. and found out that they allow photography for non commercial purposes with a few other restrictions as explained in the text (and I forgot one: to not photograph employees of the transport society). It probably helped that I was pushed in the right direction by a friend who works for the society! 😉
      They also require about 15 days to get the request approved although it actually took much less time.
      Oh, and I forget: the permission is time-limited. Next time I want to go, I will have to make another request.

  1. Do be vigilant and be prepared to defend your right to take non-commercial photos. Sometimes, things go a little haywire. I once had a janitor tell me it was *illegal* to take photos of the Métro. He threatened to call security. I was not shooting commercially (was visiting my hometown as a tourist) and was not carrying any prohibited equipment. The whole incident left me annoyed for quite some time.

    • Thanx Ricky for your contribution. The subject of shooting in public transports seems to be somewhat controversial and when I asked around whether it was legal or not, I got the full spectrum of answers from yes, to no, to no but who cares, to no but it is tolerated, etc. Since I was not getting a straight answer, I went to the Transport Society itself and found out that with minimum work, it is possible to shoot with the aforementioned conditions. So for me, it is peace of mind to shoot knowing that I have a piece of paper that says that I can. I guess I am saying that I prefer to avoid having an encounter as you describe when possible.

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