National Geographic spotlights Toronto


National Geographic Traveler director of photography Dan Westergren is in action as he photographs a worker at a furniture store in Toronto’s Distillery District. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — National Geographic Traveler Director of Photography Dan Westergren’s career over the past two decades has seen him climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the Matterhorn in the European Alps.

But two weeks ago he flew into Toronto for a different challenge — to participate in the Google+ Hangout on Air broadcast to commemorate National Geographic Traveler’s publication of the world’s first-ever digital super mag, an in-depth look at the “50 Places of a Lifetime in Canada.” Westergren toured the historic Distillery District in the east side of Toronto’s downtown in an event that was sponsored by 500px.com and the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC). [To watch the entire broadcast on YouTube, click here.]

The broadcast allowed viewers from around the world to tune in and communicate live and in real time with the accomplished photographer while he snapped pictures. The conversation ranged from how to frame your shot, to working with and around sunlight, to  photographing indoor versus outdoor, and other tips for taking outstanding travel photographs.

While Toronto may not be the most exotic or dangerous place Westergren has visited in his career he enjoyed shooting in the Distillery District.

“I like how the city has kept the historical character and added modern shops,” said Westergren, who spoke about almost running out of ideas when a curious dog walked up to say hello and his owner let Westergren take a picture. “It was good as well, because the people were so great, so helpful. I didn’t have to ask if they wanted a picture, they just went along. The people of Toronto were very amicable to being photographed.”

National Geographic Traveler Captures “Flavour” of Toronto

The day started with Westergren speaking to his audience from the downtown offices of Fat Dog Media, where he discussed the National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Places of a Lifetime in Canada edition (follow all the news related to the edition on Twitter using the hashtag #Canada50). He also talked about what makes a photograph worthy of publication in National Geographic Traveler. Following that discussion, it was off to the Distillery, where Google+ Hangout on Air viewers could see him taking photographs while speaking to them on his iPad, which streamed video of Westergren’s tour live.


The 19th-century whiskey-making facilities of Toronto have been transformed into The Distillery, an area filled with boutique stores, restaurants and coffee shops like Balzac’s. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

One of the things Westergren liked most about the Distillery — which features converted former alcohol-making facilities that date to the 19th century — was its unique characteristics and boutique stores. The area resembles a European square. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most popular places in the city for tourists.

“What we really like for our look at National Geographic Traveler is to get photographs of the people who make the neighbourhood what it is,” said Westergren, who punctuated that point with a portrait of a sales clerk at Reiners Leather Ottomans, one of the Distillery’s popular furniture stores. “We really expect our photographers to find the people, restaurants, patrons that stand out and are the flavour of a neighbourhood. As soon as I saw the ottoman shop, I liked it. If we were in a different neighbourhood that didn’t have that particular flavour, then we would try and find out what their flavour is. Something reflective of the neighbourhood, and visually interesting.”

The Google+ Hangout on Air has turned out to be such a popular project that the CTC is considering having more of these photowalks in 2014 in different parts of Canada. The ability to broadcast live and to a wide global audience is an inventive way to showcase Canada’s destinations and introduce many people to Canadians through photography, a medium that many travellers love.

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Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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