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The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was once the largest manufacturer of alcoholic beverages in all of Canada (Photograph by Dan Westergren)

A Virtual Photo Walk Through Toronto

At National Geographic Travel we know that our readers are passionate about using cameras to document their adventures abroad and at home. The number of ways we can share our photographs these days can be overwhelming, so, I consider it my duty to add yet one more option to the befuddling array: Google Hangouts on Air.

For those who don’t know, Google+ has an interesting feature called Google Hangouts that allows you to have a video conference call with up to 10 other G+ users. Google Hangouts on Air takes the concept a step further by enabling some participants to join from their mobile devices.

Our editorial team had recently published a special online feature called “Canada’s 50 Places of a Lifetime,” and we were looking for clever ways to let our readers know about it. A Google Hangout seemed like a good call, so we partnered with 500px, which hosted the virtual event, and invited photographers from Canada, Germany, and France to join us in Toronto‘s reinvented Distillery District with two simple goals in mind: to show how different photographic personalities capture the essence of a place in pictures — and to share the experience with the world in real time. A live broadcasted photo essay, if you will.

Armed with an iPad mini attached to the top of my camera and a 4G hotspot in my pocket, I headed down the street on a quest for scenes that would say something about the neighborhood and the people who make it hum. I started my walk by photographing the most distinctive visual element I could find, a restored sign from Gooderham and Worts, the erstwhile centerpiece of the Distillery District.

We staged the walk at 3:00 in the afternoon so we could catch the best light of the day. In this first photo (above) you can see that I used the sun to highlight the sign and bricks; I was also careful to include a tall building from the city of Toronto to give this opening shot a strong sense of place.

When Traveler sends photographers out to a new place to shoot for the magazine, meeting — and photographing — the people who live and work there is absolutely vital. To that end I was looking for an interesting store that might say something about the essence of the neighborhood. My eye was drawn to a shop selling very distinctive leather ottomans, so I dashed inside and asked the sales girl, whose name was Brittany, if she minded me taking a picture of her.

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Brittany holding an elephant-shaped footstool in the doorway of Reiner’s Leather Ottomans (Photograph by Dan Westergren)

Since the sun, at that point, was still overhead, I asked her to stand just inside the doorway, out of the harsh sun. This “open shade” provides some of the most flattering light for portraits and allowed me to snap a nice vignette of her in the shop, and, by extension, of the Distillery District.

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Dennis Oppenheim’s “Still Dancing” sculpture pays homage to the Distillery District’s glory days (Photograph by Dan Westergren)

One of the next things that caught my eye was the brick streets. Much of the character of the neighborhood comes from the restored brick architecture, so why not specifically show that in a photograph? I laid down on the street to get a shot of the bricks, making sure to include in the background a huge picnic shelter that resembles the condenser of an old alcohol still — the signature outdoor sculpture in the district.

To follow the theme of distilled spirits a little further, I ducked into a pub that had more than a dozen local beers on tap, made some close-up pictures, and headed back out to the streets looking for the subject of the final photo in my live action photo essay.

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Stephen posing with his dog with the street scene unfolding behind them during “golden hour.” (Photograph by Dan Westergren)

Just when I was starting to feel desperate, I spotted a small dog and his owner on the sidewalk, backlit by the late afternoon sun. The combination of the two provided a good opportunity to get another picture of a colorful local. After a little convincing, the owner, Stephen, picked up his dog and I was able to make a nice compelling portrait of life on the street in the Distillery Historic District.

Dan Westergren is director of photography for Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @dwestergren and on Instagram @danwestergren.

Watch the Entire Hangout

Part One:

Part Two: