Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….



Copenhagen – Tivoli Park and the Little Mermaid

Back to Copenhagen we go!  At the end of August my wife and I took a trip to the capital of Denmark for a brief weekend getaway.  I already shared my post from Nyhavn Canal, where the beautiful colors provide for some great photographic opportunities.  Later that day we proceeded to walk around the city and check out the rest that Copenhagen has to offer.

We started by walking towards the Marble Church, which you can see here in the background.  In this picture I used a very large aperture (small number) so that Adriana is in focus and the background is blurred.  This works well here, particularly because there are people meandering around in the background.

Below you can see an image of the Marble Church itself, also known as Frederik’s Church. This is a beautiful building that we passed on our way to the Little Mermaid.  In this photo I boosted the clarity in Lightroom to give it a bit of a gritty look.  I also did some editing in Focal Point.  This software is pretty cool and I’m still getting used to it.  On this photo I created a slightly blurred effect with a vignette around the edges.  The effect is fairly subtle but it draws the eye into the frame.

As we continued our walk through the city we went through the Rosenborg Palace Garden and I snapped this photo of the Rosenborg Palace.  I like the photo below because of the symmetry that is ever so slightly off due to the left tower being slightly higher than the other.

Eventually we made it to the famous (infamous?) Little Mermaid.  It was packed.  And when they say Little, they do mean little.  Personally I wasn’t all that impressed with this statue and we walked a good way to get a picture.  But I guess it’s one of those things that if you’re there you almost need to see, as it’s arguably one of the more famous sites in the city.

We left the Little Mermaid and walked through the fort/castle on the way to Tivoli Gardens.  I took this simple picture of the red building – I liked the way the white window frames and door really stood out, and the placement of the light on the left side seemed to balance the image.

Last but certainly not least, Tivoli Gardens. I absolutely loved this place.  Apparently it’s the second oldest amusement park in the world, and the atmosphere is incredible.  I can’t really describe it; the age of the place really comes across but not in an antique way. Instead I found it a romantic, nostalgic reminder of what an amusement park could be.

In the photo above I used the same effect as I did on the Marble Church; this is the entry arch when you come into the park.

In the picture above I tried to capture the movement of the hammer and the attentive focus of the young boy as he played the age old gem of a game, whack a mole!  (At least that’s what I call it!)  Of course I tried my best to win some prizes for Adriana but failed miserably :).

This photo is of the Nimb Hotel, also called the Moorish Palace.  It’s basically a series of restaurants and bars.  Unfortunately it started raining while we were walking around the park and we had already had a long day, so I wasn’t able to take as many photos as I would have liked.

I love this picture of the swings; there’s just enough motion so you can sense the movement in the image.  I really wish we’d had more time at the park.  Quite honestly it’s a photographers paradise; there’s a huge amount of nostalgic material here and I do hope I can return some time when the weather is better.

Below is a map where I show where the pictures above were taken.  This will hopefully help you plan your journey to the city.

And finally, just a few photos that I’m adding to my portfolio.  If you’re interested in purchasing any of these just click on the image.


Travel Photography at the Great Wall of China

When we were planning our trip to China (including stops in Singapore and Bali) we had a lot of new and amazing sites to see.  But for me, they all paled in comparison to the Great Wall of China.  My anticipation throughout the entire trip was palpable; it was indeed a case of saving the best for last.

There are various areas of the Great Wall that I’d expect you to research before planning a visit; we wanted to make sure we got some good pictures of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we went to two different sections of the wall – the North Pass section near Badaling, which is arguably the most famous part of the wall, and also an area known as Mutianyu, which is east of Badaling.  At the bottom of this post I’m including a very general map that I found along with a link to the agency that describes the areas in a bit more detail if you’re planning a trip.  The Great Wall is ancient, and it’s true that what you’re seeing at Badaling and Mutianyu are reconstructions.  For those of you that are gung ho and have the time, you can explore some very remote areas of the wall where you can see how nature is slowly overtaking the ancient stone.

Before I get to the photos, I have to mention very briefly the adventure we had in getting there.  We wanted to take a train to Badaling from Beijing on our own.  Yes, that’s right – no tour guide, no nothing.  We arrived at the Beijing North train station at crazy o’clock in the morning, trying to figure out how to buy a train ticket to Badaling.  No one spoke a word of English, we waited in a confusing line that didn’t move – I truly felt like an alien on the planet Earth.

After hours of frustrating failure, we didn’t want to lose the day so we hired a driver at the last minute to take us to Mutianyu first.  It was less than 2 hours from Beijing and when we arrived it was a bit strange.  First of all we were the only ones there – I’m not kidding.  There was no one around.  And for some reason it also didn’t “feel” like the Great Wall of China. I guess when you spend 30 years of your life hearing about the place and then arrive to an empty parking lot, the brain does a bit of a double-take.  Is this really the Great Wall of China?  Like, THE Great Wall, the thing that’s supposedly visible from space?  (It’s not by the way).

We got over this strange feeling and proceeded to walk the wall, taking some great pictures of the emptiness and vast expanse of the Chinese countryside.  And after being there for a while, we were thrilled to have the entire wall to ourselves.

The area around Mutianyu is mountainous, so I tried to make sure the background scenery showed in the photos.  In the picture below I leaned outside the wall to get a glimpse of it as it rounded the corner.  It gave a little different perspective than some of the other shots.

You can walk for maybe a mile and a half on the wall.  At the western end of Mutianyu there’s a massive hill.  You can see a glimpse of it in the background of some pictures below.

Can you see what I mean by the steep gradient in the back of the pictures above?  Here’s a zoom of two poor souls hoofing their way up to the top.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not lazy, and I debated walking up there to get a shot back of the wall.  However it was getting to be late morning and I would have been shooting straight into the sun.  So we decided to not go all the way to the top.  Looking back I took a few pictures directly into the sun.  The one below is the first shot in the panorama that I put together.

I also took a few other photos and processed them slightly differently, giving them an older, darker look.  I particularly like the one below where I used a wider aperture to blur the background a bit.

Although it didn’t feel right when we first arrived, Mutianyu definitely delivered!  I’m very happy with the pictures that we took and it was great to be the only ones there!

Our second day we made another attempt to take a train to Badaling, and this time with the help of some friendly Japanese girls we were able to get a ticket and take a train to Badaling.  This is not for the feint of heart.  In hindsight taking the train was probably more trouble than it’s worth but Adriana in particular was determined to do it, and we ultimately succeeded!

Once there – it “felt” like the Great Wall!  Tourists were everywhere, people out selling a wide assortment of souvenirs, and family photographers were hugely abundant.  The structure of the wall at Badaling is slightly different than at Mutianyu.  The stone seemed a little more grey than the earthen toned wall at Mutianyu.  But both sites were worth visiting and after going to Badaling I was really pleased that we’d also seen Mutianyu.

Upon arriving at Badaling, the image below is the first you can take as you step off the chairlift.  You then walk to the right and proceed down the steps that you’re looking at here.

You may or may not notice that I’ve processed these photos above a bit differently. While looking them over on my computer I started to experiment with giving these pictures a dreamy look. So instead of bumping the clarity slider to the right, which I normally do for most of my photos, I moved it to the left on a lot of the Badaling photos. This creates an ever so slight “glow” for the pictures and I quite like the effect.

I also took several pictures sort of “hanging over” the side of the wall; this seemed to be more effective at Badaling for me, I think the wall twists and turns a little bit more and has a slightly more interesting formation than the wall at Mutianyu.

Finally, I took the picture above which I processed differently again.  I put the picture in Photoshop, used a saturation slider to take out all of the color and then masked over the people walking on the wall.  I was trying to accentuate the size and magnitude of the wall and yet still highlight the tourists.  Popping color can be really overdone but on occasion it’s a nice effect.

And of course I needed to include a good old fashioned HDR.  Actually several of these photos are HDR but I’m purposely processing them a bit differently so it’s not incredibly obvious.  Lately I’m getting a little tired of the look in the photo above but I did like the way this one turned out.

So what did I learn?  Here’s a few thoughts and tips on photography at the Great Wall of China.

  1. Get there early or stay late.  Light is always key.  For us we were fortunate to be there in winter, so the sun is always a little less harsh and the shadows are a bit longer.  At both locations we were there fairly early in the morning and had beautiful days.  But only Mutianyu was void of people.  There are of course other areas of the Great Wall; we only saw two.
  2. Be ready to walk.  Particularly at Badaling the wall is almost slippery in some places.  If it was raining or snowing it would be downright treacherous.
  3. UV and Polarizing filters.  I didn’t have these with me and I wish I had.  The blue skies really were beautiful and using a polarizer would have really strengthened the contrast of the pictures.
  4. Capture scale.  From a composition perspective I tried to do two things.  I wanted to always show the size and length of the Great Wall.  This structure is infamous for being “visible from Space” so people looking at these photos will want to see you prove it.  I tried to do this by making sure I used the wall as a leading line to show the length and scale.  I also, on occasion, used people to make this point.  This is especially true in the B&W photo with the color pop and the picture of the couple climbing up the massive incline.
  5. Foreground interest.  This is a tough one and honestly it’s not something I did well. Hence I want to mention it.  Lots of people go the great wall and do their best to capture the overall scene (basically my point above).  However if there’s not a focal point to the image, lots of those pictures will be quickly glossed over.  So do your best to include a watchtower, tree, or friend/family in the pictures composition to differentiate it from one of the many “normal snapshots” that are taken everyday.
There are a few photos from my trip that I’m selling on SmugMug. You can choose the print size and format, pricing information can be found by clicking on each individual thumbnail.
Below I’m including a map that I found; clicking will link to the website where it’s used.  It gives some additional information on the locations that we visited.  Note that we didn’t use this group or agency or whatever they are so I have no idea if they’re good at what they do….I just liked the map.  

I hope you find this write-up both entertaining and useful.  Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to respond!

Photography in the Forbidden City – Beijing, China

Ah!!  Beijing!!

What a great, great city!  Adriana and I arrived in Beijing after visiting the terracotta warriors in Xian.  We were fortunate with good weather while we were there, albeit cold. The Forbidden City, also known as the Forbidden Palace, was built in the early 15th century.  The buildings are incredible – and it’s just the kind of place that I really enjoy taking pictures.  Once I’m in a closed off area like this (there’s a small admission fee) I feel like I’m in my element.  It’s just great to walk around and have the freedom to take pictures of whatever you want in such a unique environment.

We begin with the main gate and entry at Tiananmen Square.  This is where the Chinese soldiers are guarding the entry to the Forbidden Palace, with a large photo of Chairman Mao hanging on the gate.  The photo below is a pretty classic and basic composition – guard in focus in the foreground with the background giving a sense of place.  Aperture was set to f/6.3 to create enough blur but plenty of detail to recognize Mao.

As you enter, this is the site you see:

This is an 11 picture panorama.  I set my camera to manual, set the exposure (meaning the aperture, shutter speed and ISO) as well as the white balance, and took 11 vertical shots from left to right.  No tripod, no nothing.  When I got back I put the photo into Photoshop and it merged the image, which I then cropped and adjusted.  It came out pretty well for a handheld shot.  Click here for a larger version.

As I entered the site I was really struck by the architecture.  The curving lines of the buildings, the circular, repeating structures on the roofs and the exquisite carvings all created an incredible atmosphere.  Instead of taking standard clicks of the buildings I found myself trying to get more interesting compositions of these aspects.

I chose to process the last picture here slightly different from the others.  Instead of adding a little vibrance and saturation, I did the opposite.  I took away some of the color to give it a more ancient look.  While many photographers strive to create their own style, I prefer to mix things up and keep people guessing!

In addition to being struck by the flowing architecture, there were also a lot of guards around.  These guys were standing stoically, watching the crowds with barely a move.

When shooting photos in a place like this I also like to get a variety of images.  Instead of just getting the buildings, I like to make sure I capture the detail of the place.  Taking close up pictures of the incredible sculptures and carvings can really give a sense of place. And for me personally, it helps me to remember what it was like to actually be there.  We’ve all seen pictures of the Forbidden Palace, but the pictures below strive to be different from the norm to give the viewer a more personal sense of the place.

In line with the details, I wanted to make sure I also captured the interior of some of the more famous buildings that are on the “main drag” of the complex.  These were challenging to take – there were people everywhere, crowding in to take a picture.  When I confront a situation like this I make sure that my camera is set appropriately (right lens, Av mode) and then wait patiently until I get a center spot.  Once I get that center spot I’ll take a few quick snaps and then get out of the way so that others can have a look. These pictures are HDR, due to the tricky interior lighting and the fact that …. well, I like to take some HDR pics!

The above is the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, one of the larger and more important buildings in the Forbidden City.

The picture above is another famous building, the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

I also wanted to ensure I got whole buildings, so you could get a sense of scale and understand their overall shape and how large they are compared to their surroundings.  Of course my favorites of this group are the ones with my beautiful wife!

The picture below I edited in Silver Efex and made it completely black and white.  I really like the couple walking together with the buildings in the background – it gives an excellent sense of scale and tranquility.

I also like this one – it gives that same strong sense of Asian architecture with the tubular roofs and flowing gables, but also includes the beautiful white Stupa in the background.  This is known as the Miaoying Temple and yes, we visited it as well!  Pictures to come in a future post!

 The next photos I have to guess, I’m not entirely sure which building this is but I think it’s the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  I really like the picture of the building as the colors complement each other very well.

On the photo above you’ll notice at the edges how the gables flare out to the sides.  On top of them there’s a collection of figurines, or charms.  One of the things we learned while reading about the site was that the more figurines a building has, the more important the building.  I snapped a picture of these as well, shown below.

To the north of the Forbidden Palace is Jingshan Hill.  Below you see a picture of the building on top of the hill; the view down on the Palace is one of the best views in the city, which is the opening picture of this post.

All in all, we had a wonderful time in the Forbidden City.  If you get a chance to go, I would say you need over half a day to really get to see everything and not feel like you’re rushing through it.  If you’re a history buff or architecture junkie, you could probably spend more than a day on site.

Below is a Google Satellite image of the site.  We entered from the south and then walked north, which is what you pretty much have to do.  We were there in winter and I can honestly say the light was pretty good the whole time; the shadows weren’t too harsh.

I hope you enjoyed looking at these pics and it gives you a better idea of how you can capture some memorable images from your visit.  We really had a wonderful time exploring the site, taking pictures, and soaking in the history from one of China’s great historical locations.  Any comments and constructive criticism is welcome and if you’re interested in purchasing any of these photos as postcards or prints, you can do so here.  And if you’d like to see more images of our visit to the Forbidden Palace, you can check out my Flickr photostream where I post a wider collection of photos.

Until next time, hope you get some good pictures and for my UK friends enjoy the long weekend!

The Churches of Kiev – Beautiful Sites of Ukrainian Orthodox Christianity

While Adriana and I were in Kiev, Ukraine over the Easter weekend we focused on two things – getting some brilliant pictures of the beautiful churches and spending the day in Chernobyl to capture the history and desolation of what happened there.  This post will focus on the former, as I’ve already shared the incredible images from the latter.

In Kiev, the locals are generally Ukrainian Orthodox, of which there are various Patriarchates, like the Kiev Patriarchate or the Moscow Patriarchate.  I’m not going to focus on any sort of Christian history or try to explain the differences between Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, but I will focus on how I captured some of the images that I took below to give you an idea on where to go if you get an opportunity to visit.  As a general rule of thumb the churches of Kiev don’t allow photography inside.  If you’re particularly aggressive in planning ahead, you could potentially work something out but generally speaking it’s a no no.  There is one place in Pechersk Lavra that you can take indoor photos, as you’ll see below.

There are many, many churches in the area surrounding the city but I’m going to focus on five of the more famous ones.  Yep – this will be a bit of a long post.

1) St. Sophia Cathedral

This church is primarily green and white, with a beautiful bell tower standing over the wall that leads into the church.  The bell tower is blue and white with a golden dome on the top.  The first photo is my favorite of the bunch, taken on the first night just as the sun was setting (our apartment was pretty much right behind this church).  That first picture is an HDR photo that after processing I had to do a free transform on the tower to straighten it out a little bit.  I like the color of the sun setting below the building.  The second picture is taken from the Hyatt hotel – there’s a rooftop bar where we spent some time having a few drinks and taking some snaps of the churches (and also to take a few timelapses, as you’ll see below).  The next photo is of the interior of the church yard (once you’re through the wall).  As stated above, most of the churches don’t allow you to take pictures inside.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them out – they’re absolutely stunning and well worth any wait (which there usually isn’t).  Finally I posted a pic that I took just after sunrise in the morning – again I had to do a free transform on the church tower so it didn’t look so crooked.

2) Mykhailivsky Cathedral

This is the beautiful Mykhailivsky Cathedral (I think it’s also known as St. Michael’s in English) – blue in color and facing opposite the St. Sofia church.   I think this is the prettiest of the churches that we saw in the main area of Kiev.  The wall surrounding it is the same beautiful “baby blue” color and the design of the bell tower is simple and well structured.  

During the day (particularly on Saturday and Sunday) we found the locals buying various plants and flowers to bring into church with them.  I took this picture of the row of plants being sold for the locals and thought it created a nice leading line to the Monastery in the background.  I used a small aperture (big number) to make sure I had both the flowers and also the bell tower in focus throughout the frame.

3) St. Andrews

Above is a picture of St. Andrews – this is one of the smaller churches that we saw but unfortunately while we were there the entire area around the church was under construction.  The road was all torn up, and there was a huge crane in front of the cathedral so I wasn’t really happy with the other pictures.  But I wanted to post this one to give you an idea of what it looks like.  Like the other’s, it’s very impressive.

4) St. Volodymyr’s Church

The above picture is St. Volodymyr’s church – this was pretty unique as the color scheme was very different from the others.  I have to say the inside of this church was absolutely stunning – unfortunately you can’t take any pictures.  I respected their wishes, but the artwork inside and the feeling of medieval mystery permeates the interior.

Below I’m also including this street shot I took, of a few local people selling some flowers and plants to take into the church.  I like the way this image turned out; I’m not normally one to be aggressive about street photography but I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit so wanted to share this with you.

5) Pechersk Lavra (Caves of the Monastery)

This is the big one – the famous compound of churches that pretty much every visitor to Kiev should visit.  There are many churches around the area and when you first walk into the main gate you can see a beautiful church in front of you (the first picture above, in more detail in the second shot).  I found the paintings on the outside of the buildings to be absolutely beautiful, and I highlighted these very slightly in the photos above.

Pechersk Lavra is one of the few places where you can visit the interior of one of the churches; below are a few pics of the interior of the church next to the main gate (I’m sorry but I don’t know the name of the church).  The interiors are beautiful and I had full reign of the place, but only in limited spurts of time.  I struggled a little bit with the composition on many of the shots; the area is exceptionally small and even with a wide angle lens it was tough to really capture the essence of the place.

Finally, we captured a few photos of several of the priests while they were getting ready for the service.  I love this picture of the priest solemnly walking down the stairs while his colleague is getting prepped in the dark doorway to the right.  I also captured the image of the cross with the multi-domed gold cathedral in the background.  The lead picture above is also an image from the Pechersk Lavra.  I loved the leading lines that the crosses of the cemetery played to the beautiful gold domed church on the background.  We were fortunate to have lovely weather while in Kiev and it always helps with the photography!

This about wraps it up for the trip to Kiev.  The churches are incredible, the people were wonderful and it’s one of the places that not many people have spent time.  Before going on this trip I struggled to get some real research on the churches and understand where we could get some good images and whether or not we could photograph inside.  Hopefully this post will now serve as a way for others to get clarity on what the place is like and which churches are worth seeing.

I leave you with a time-lapse shot that I took while I was there; the first one that I’ve ever taken.  I’ve produced a time-lapse tutorial for beginners over on the tutorials pages to walk you through how I did this if you’re interested in creating your own.

Below is a map of Kiev, including the primary photos of the churches and where I captured most of my images.  You can also check out my Kiev set on Flickr to see a wider collection of pics.

Enjoy!  And until next time I hope you can capture some great images!

Freezing cold at the Summer Palace in Beijing

We arrived in Beijing from Xian in the morning, and chose to spend our first day checking out the Summer Palace.  We took the underground (which was it’s own adventure) and arrived at the Summer Palace on a brisk, winter morning.

Unlike Xian, we were fortunate with some blue skys (well, pretty blue) while we were in Beijing.  But it was cold – and I mean freezing cold.  We were bundled up and still freezing our butts off, with camera batteries going dead in no time flat.  It didn’t stop us from enjoying the beautiful sites and gardens though of the Summer Palace.

There are several different sites to see while you’re in the Summer Palace.  I was absolutely blown away by the Long Corridor which is … wait for it … a long corridor.  It’s basically a covered walkway that extends for several hundred meters, and the photographic opportunities are significant.  When I see something like this the first thing I think about is the compositional technique of receding parallel lines, and the simple leading line that the corridor presents.  Below are a few pictures that I took of the long corridor where you can see what I mean.

I like all three of these pictures, but I really like the first and the third the best; the first gives a perfect example of a leading line and the eye is drawn into the frame, just making out the person at the end of the line.  But the one above is slightly different, with the “line” slowly turning to the right, leading the eye around the picture.  I also like the contrast between the vertical lines of the corridor with the horizontal cross beams above.

In addition to the Long Corridor, there are some other interesting sites at the Summer Palace.  There’s Longevity Hill, which is arguably the most famous site.  It’s where the Tower of Buddhist Incense sits, which is the largest building on the entire compound.  In the picture below you can see it to the left.

The lake, known as Kunming Lake, was completely frozen over while we were there.  It made for an interesting scene with many visitors either trying to ice skate or sitting chairs that were built to have ‘blades’ on them so they could effectively skate while sitting down.

Since it was winter the light was beautiful as the sun set and we were able to get some nice pictures with some good light on the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

While there I also wanted to get some shots that were a bit more abstract.  I think it’s important to get some detail pictures while you’re there to mix up the portfolio a little bit.  Below is a picture that’s trying to capture the lines that are common in Asian architecture; we saw these same lines time and again in the Forbidden Palace the next day as well; they’re very representative of Asian architecture.

One of the other highlights of the Summer Palace is the 17 arch bridge – this thing is pretty interesting but a little smaller than I thought.  Later in the day as the sun went down it gave some opportunities to capture some nice silhouettes as well.

There’s also the famous (infamous?) marble boat.  This was built in the 18th century and is not actually made out of marble, but rather wood painted to imitate marble.  The boat just sits there and there’s a bit of a conspiracy about the money spent to build it in the first place.

Anyway, back to some of my favorite pictures taken on the day.  I really liked the color associated with both the Long Corridor and the Tower of Buddhist Incense.  I used HDR in some instances to bring out the color and really make the photo pop, as this is the way I remember seeing it when I was there.

I also really like this photo below with the 17 arch bridge in the distance, and the pavilion in the foreground.  I was fortunate to capture this with the individual in silhouette inside the pavilion, looking up at the interior of the pavilion.   It really creates a sense of scale and the light was pretty incredible at this time of day.

Finally I took this last photo on the way out, again the leading line of the bridge into the small pavilion creates a nice composition.  The light from the sun hitting the bridge with the two individuals in silhouette walking adds to the atmosphere of the picture.

Below is a map so you know where to take pictures when you visit the Summer Palace.  This will give you an idea of how the place is laid out, where everything is, etc.  Remember the picture tags below show where the photos were taken from, not actually what is at that location.  I’ve also included a “sun line” to give you an idea of where the sun was setting while we were there.

Next up will be another palace, this one a little more famous – the Forbidden Palace!  At first glance I’m really happy with the photos that I captured so I can’t wait to get them processed and online!  Until then, happy shooting!

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