“Rooftopping” – (Part 1: The Beginning)

The latest craze for urban photographers is rooftopping.  Many people are still unfamiliar with the term unless they personally know someone who is involved in this current phenomenon.  So for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “rooftopping” you may ask, “what is it?”  Rooftopping is for those not afraid to soar to levels of  death defying heights, and are searching for a thrill and wanting to take their photographs to a whole new level (no pun intended).   As one of the best urban photographers in Toronto, Neil Ta, so eloquently summed up rooftopping as,  “the views captured from above are those from perspectives only construction workers, engineers, maintenance workers, and security personnel will ever see.”  www.neilta.ca

rooftop view | Toronto | 1/30 sec at f / 3.5, ISO 5000 |

When I just moved back to Toronto and was searching for something exciting to shoot, I came across an article about these guys:  Tom Ryaboi and Ronnie Yip.  The article was about how these guys (including Neil Ta) enter into various buildings (usually) illegally, to capture breathtaking views of the city.   thegridto.com/city/places/view-from-the-top/  I thought that moving back to Toronto after being in Paris for almost two years and Florida and Los Angeles for 10 years was going to be boring from a photography perspective until I heard about rooftopping.

Above the Gardner Expressway | Toronto |

Now that my curiosity was piqued, I had to figure out the least intimidating and safest way to accomplish such a feat.  But the biggest challenge wasn’t trying to enter a building, it was finding someone who would want to join me on this adventure.   In addition, possibly know some of the in’s and out’s of rooftopping without having to do any further research.

Mustering up the courage to get a shot down the side of one of the highest condos in Toronto |

However, you will quickly learn in the rooftopping community, the first rule of rooftopping is:  You don’t talk about rooftopping!

Reflection down side of one of the highest condos in Toronto | 1/15 sec at f / 3.5, ISO 6400.

As I became more involved in the Toronto photo scene, little by little I would hear fellow photographers discuss rooftopping.  Eventually, while I was out shooting  with another photographer in Toronto, he mentioned going up to a rooftop.  This was the perfect opportunity to finally see for myself what all the hype was about and get that coveted shot many people desire.  The rules were relatively simple:  Don’t tell anyone which building you were in.  Don’t tell anyone how you entered the building.  Don’t post your photos until a specific date.  Be quiet.  Climb up.  Get your shot. And leave in 5 minutes.  Easy enough.

gardner trails
Gardner Expressway Light Trails | Toronto |

Upon arrival at the building, me and another Instagrammer were told to follow his lead.   We waited for someone to walk into the condo and enter with their key access as if we were residents of the building. We took the elevator to a floor close to the top level and climbed the remaining stairs and opened an unlocked door.  When we reached the top floor there was an escape ladder about 20 feet along the wall that lead to a hatch.  I hadn’t even reached the roof and I was already frightened upon the sight of this barely caged in ladder.  I confidently nodded, to whatever directions my friend just gave, as if I was prepared to go up without a shred of nervousness inside.   Knowing that the view from the top would most probably be better than any other I have witnessed in the city, I decided to soar to the much anticipated rooftop, despite the fact my heart felt like it would jump out of my throat.

View of the Rogers Centre during a Blue Jays game | Toronto.

When we reached the top, the view was spectacular.  There are not that many places in the city were you can get a 360 degree view of downtown Toronto.  Being up there was far less frightening than the anticipation leading up to being on top of a roof.  I was looking down at the city over 50 stories up without anything to protect you from falling over the edge to your death.  I actually felt a sense of calm.

from the top
Sunset from above | Toronto |

From the top you can stand a safe distance away from the ledge and  still be able to capture a shot that would add something new to my portfolio.  I sat myself down on the ground, in order to feel more secure than standing on my two feet, and looked over the ledge.  From there I was able to photograph the city and not have to fear I would plummet over the edge.   I have been up to the top of the CN Tower several times before and have seen the city from what was once the tallest free standing building in the world.  However, being able to look at the CN Tower from this perspective was simply amazing!

looking east
Concrete Jungle | Toronto |

The sky was hazy and the sun was about to set so it was difficult to get my camera settings to the ideal exposure in the short amount of time I had.  I just snapped as many photos as possible from all angles of the building, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

cn roof
View from the 54th floor rooftop | Toronto.

I can see why for some people the thrill of getting onto a roof without being stopped by security, reaching the top and getting to photograph the city from views very few have been able to capture does get your adrenaline pumping.  When we arrived back to the ground safely and unnoticed, into the midst of all the chaos of a summer weekend in the city, I couldn’t help but wonder, “when can I do this again?”

Looking North on Yonge Street | Toronto

Till next time,