Chapter One

I was in my second year at McMaster University, unrolled in the Music Education Program. It was that dreaded time of year, exam week. I needed a break from studying and my ears also had enough of Chopin. I had just purchased my first DSLR and I hadn’t even opened it up. There it was, the Canon Rebel T2i sitting on top of my book case, waiting to be snapped. I had the slightest clue on how to operate one, but looking at those grainy pictures from my cell phone just made me cringe. The was the second reason why I had bought a camera. The first reason was because I wanted to make short films. More on that later.

I decided to take a "small" break from Chopin and cracked the seal on the box. "Welcome to the Canon T2i." Looking back at that complicated manual now, who would have thought it was Chapter One to The Midnight Media.

I looked in the box and discovered a whole new world; a world that I now see through my viewfinder. The buttons, manuals, cables, indeed it was overwhelming; however, I put in my 4GB memory card and headed out of my residence, not knowing what was about to happen. The clock read, 2:30AM.

I started to walk around the campus, finding myself in places I probably shouldn’t have been in. I had a camera in one hand, headphones around my head and a tripod over my shoulders. The cold air, the emptiness of the fields that were usually filled with the hustle and bustle of students, the deer eating the fresh-cut grass, everything felt right. I wanted to switch the camera on and capture something incredible, but I had no clue what I was doing. I walked myself over to a bridge somewhere on Main Street, where I stood under a street light to figure out what some of the buttons did. ISO, White Balance, A Random Q, it was like a foreign language. I pushed some buttons and turned some dials and heard my new instrument make its first sound. “Chik-Chik.” I had looked at the preview that showed up on the back of the LCD screen and I was completely blown away at what had been composed. I had seen similar images in magazines and on the internet world. I had miraculously managed to take a long exposure of a bunch of cars driving by, capturing the light trails. It was luminous! Of course, I didn't know what a long exposure was back then.

I got excited and tried it again, but failed. Moved the buttons and dials around some more. Failed again. Mashed my fingers rapidly to change some settings, only to find images of out of focus cars. I was disappointed; moreover, I was so motivated and inspired to learn what had just happened. I failed my exam the next morning. The content I started to read when I got back to my room, the Canon T2i manual, wasn’t exactly on my music history exam. 

Not trying to fail any more exams, I tried to limit my time with my new toy - kind of. At this point I had learned a fair bit of information on how to get a correct exposure. Of course, there was still so much more to learn. I started playing around with still life photography and experimenting with off camera flash.

The name, The Midnight Media, came to me after realizing that my creative process reaches a climax during the midnight hours. From as long as I can remember, film making, photography, composing music, writing a script, story-boarding – it all happened when everyone else was asleep. The world changes at night for me. It comes alive. 

I have a strong background in music theory. I graduated from Recording Arts Canada in 2008 with a diploma in Sound and Audio Engineering. I had released multiple albums on iTunes, built a project studio, performed worldwide, and continued to write music throughout my time at McMaster University. During my second year of Recordings Arts Canada, I had the chance to mix and edit sound and music for an independent film. The film didn't do well at all. I don't even remember what it was about to be honest, but it was at that moment I realized I wanted to score music for film. The following year, I was enrolled at McMaster for Music Education and Composition, in hopes of learning how to score for film. I took a class on music composition for film and I was inspired to write a short film. I started to write my first short film titled, Pay-Off during my second semester. Looking back at that moment now, I can't remember if I was I more excited to write a film, or score the music.


Vinay Dhalla
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Vinay Dhalla
Vaping With Anonymous

The idea of smoke and photographing it, had always been an interest of mine since I first picked up a camera. That ghostly personality of its silver and grey curls, dancing in the air is ominous yet encouragingly pleasant to look at. It's like there is this entity in the room (that's always present) that you see for the first time.

Like many other photographers who want to capture this curious texture, I too started with a simple incense stick setup. I went out to the closest black magic store I could find; in my case it happened to be Kensington Market in Toronto. I picked up a pack of sticks and was ready to hotbox the studio. 

At first, I had a difficult time figuring out the camera settings and how to focus on the texture itself, with the movement been so random. Once i finally figured it out, I started snapping away and the room filled with this eerie haze. It was so great to have captured images that I would once Google, and set as my smartphone wallpapers.

I started adding colored gels to the flashes and even disturbed the flow of the smoke by waving a piece of cardboard in front of it. This is one example of photography where the old saying, "no two pictures are ever the same," is clearly defined.

After years of practicing with incense sticks, I wanted to do something new and unique. Something outside of the box that would be fresh, exciting and give me more of a challenge to work with. This was also the beginning of the new "vape" era. 

Many people around me, including friends, were getting into the fashion of vaping. After noticing its distinct characteristics, I had to bring in a vape artist into the studio. I asked a friend to help me out and without much further delay, there was actually someone hot-boxing in the studio. We tried to be as safe as possible, by using nicotine free vape and by taking several breaks for the room to clear out. Whether or not nicotine free vape is harmless, is not my area of expertise and cannot comment on it. I am sure there are side effects and I encourage you to speak to a specialist, if you are planning on starting. 

Once the lighting was set, we were ready to flash some smoke. I knew that I wanted to use colored gels to create something a bit more vibrant and visually interesting. I was thrilled with what I had captured!


So come January 3rd, 2017-a quiet, smoke free evening in The Midnight Studios. I left my house to get inspired and ended up finding my way to a party market where you can buy masks, costumes, and various party supplies. Walking through the aisles, I came by the anonymous mask and I couldn't resist. I ended up picking it up, along with a couple other accessories and rushed back to the studio.

I called my friend, the vape artist and asked him if he felt like vaping with Anonymous. It didn't take much to convince him and The Midnight Studios were ready to blow some smoke!

This was definitely the biggest and by far the most creative smoke photography shoot I have done. I am usually a strobist photographer, where I use multiple speedlites (flashes) to create a photograph; however, for this particular shoot, I used various continuous lighting setups. Most of the artwork in this series was taken with a combination of cheap LED video lights and the flash light on my cell phone. It was the first time I had used continous lighting for a portrait shoot, which in turn, made this shoot challenging and rewarding.

Anytime I create content, words are not enough to describe the ideas that are going through my head. I never have a concrete plan when it comes to creating art. I let me imagination wander and I basically try to replicate what things look like or sound like in my head. Sometimes I am successful; other times, I learn a whole bunch of new ways on how not to do something.


Until the next frame,

The Creative Owl.

Vinay Dhalla