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Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….

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Travel

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.

The Namib Desert at Sossusvlei – Land of the Red Dunes

Towards the end of our trip we made our way to the place I was most looking forward to see – Sossusvlei and ultimately Deadvlei.  This is the area of the Namib desert that is world famous for it’s towering red dunes and dead trees.  We stayed in a campground right outside of the park, and were first in line pre-dawn to make sure we didn’t miss the gorgeous sunrise.

We arrived at an area called Dune 45, which is the famous dune that they have open to the public for those willing to try the long and sliding trek to the top.  We started the climb prior to the sun rising; below is a picture of Adriana in front of me on the walk up the dune.  The next photo is the view from the top of the dune prior to the sun crossing the horizon.  To get a sense of scale you can see in the distance another early riser with his equipment out to capture the scene as well.

And then the sun started to rise. I captured this photo right when it was breaking the horizon. I used a circular polarising filter on my lens that allowed the sun to twinkle a bit without being fully blown out.

I always find times like these to be almost nerve-wracking. First of all it’s an incredibly beautiful moment.  Even though the sun rises every single day, each occurrence is awe-inspiring.  And trying to capture that on camera when you’re at an equally awe-inspiring location can be difficult.  I know wedding photographers fret over not getting that perfect picture for the bride – well I worry about not getting an image that really captures my feeling of the moment.  More on that in a bit….

In this picture of Adriana you can start to see the light hitting the dunes in the background (and you can see the sunlight isn’t on her face yet).  I know that photographers (myself included in the coming generalization) often talk about light. How important it is, how it changes the look of photos, how critical time of day is because of the angle of sunlight, etc.  Well if there was ever a place in my life that seemed to change color every 30 seconds, this was it.  If the sun went behind a cloud, the color changed.  If it popped out and only shone on the tips of the dunes, then the tips of the dunes were dramatically different in color to the rest of the sand.  It was just incredible to see how much the landscape changed based on where I was looking and what the sun was doing at that precise second.  The two photos below were taken exactly 5 minutes apart according to the EXIF data and you can see the difference in color.

Taken at 5:57 am
Taken at 6:02 am

You can also see the cloud cover is changing.  It was unfortunate (as you’ll see in my next post on Deadvlei) that we had cloudy skies for the rest of our morning with only sporadic bits of blue peeking through.  That being said, it did give a different view of the desert that few people get to see.

Eventually it was time to start heading down and start our hike, but not before I took a picture of the two of us, and Adriana took a quick snap of me at the top of the dune.  And now I go back to my earlier comment about capturing the moment.  These pictures are my favorite of the bunch – it was my birthday and the entire trip to Namibia was a gift from Adriana, and I really feel that this picture of the two of us at the top of a red sand dune in Sossusvlei is what I’ll remember the most.

Just because I’ll remember them most doesn’t mean I stopped taking pictures!  Far from it!  On the walk down the sun was getting brighter, the clouds were moving in and out of the frame and I got some pictures I’m pretty pleased with.  Both of the below pics were taken on the walk down, one looking up and backwards, the other looking down to the parking lot.

In the picture above I introduced a bit of “glow” from OnOne Software.  I think it added an ethereal effect and I especially like what it did to the sun.  I’m sure some won’t like it but it adds a bit of variety to the photos.

The pictures below are some others I took on the way down; I slid the aperture wide open to create a small window of focus in the middle of the “small dunes” that are created in the sand.

I also took this picture of Adriana on the way down.  This is a great shot proving yet again how much the light changes the color.  This was taken a little bit later after the sun had risen higher in the sky.

Once we arrived at the bottom (and after eating a bit of a surprise b-day cake!) I took a few more photos.  I was trying to capture the grandiose size of the dunes in the pictures below, so it was critical to make sure there was something to compare them to (hence the trees or shrubs).  I wish I had another crack at these; I’ve seen postcards and other travel photos of the dunes that are absolutely incredible in showing their size.

And finally a few pictures from the bottom.  This is the sign for Dune 45 (the one pictured above and the one that we climbed).  You also see another picture of the sign with the parking lot in the background and the resolute hikers making their way to the top.

The last set of photos are of our hike.  After climbing Dune 45, we took a 5 km hike into the desert to arrive at Deadvlei.  The hike was great, but a bit frustrating.  Because of the cloud cover I didn’t get the contrast of the bright blue sky with the red dunes.  But also because of the cloud cover, the hike itself was very enjoyable with no sun beating down on us!  Anyway here are the last few pics from our hike to Deadvlei.  The last picture is of the actual clay pan with the dead acacia trees.  Those pictures will be in my next post on Namibia, so you’ll have to wait!

Finally, if you’re interested in getting a closer look at any of these pictures please click on it and you’ll get a nice big image.  If you’re interested in owning one of these photos (without a watermark), please click on the thumbnail below or check out my portfolio on SmugMug.  And as always, thanks for reading!

The Skeleton Coast of Namibia

Back in June of this year, Adriana and I spent over a week cruising around Namibia.  One of the stops on our journey was the town of Swakopmund, where we spent two days to enjoy the scenery, eat at some nice restaurants, and of course taking pictures! Swakopmund is on the western coast of the country, part of what is known as the Skeleton Coast.

The area is named the Skeleton Coast due to the large number of shipwrecks in the region.  The coast is apparently very difficult to navigate, and when a ship does wreck it certainly doesn’t last very long.  Here’s a picture of one of the boats that we saw, an old fishing vessel that apparently wrecked in the 70’s.

But the Skeleton Coast is interesting for another reason; the Namib desert extends straight to the Atlantic in this area of Africa.  This creates some beautiful vistas and images, but is a living nightmare for sailors unfortunate enough to get stranded here.  Imagine swimming for the coast, overjoyed to be out of the water only to realize you now have desert stretching in front of you for over 100 miles!  Not a situation I’d want to be in….and we found the remnants of this guy amidst the sand (this is not a joke).

One afternoon, Adriana and I hired a jeep tour that took us further south past Walvis Bay to an area called Sandwich Harbour.  We basically went four wheel driving across the dunes, taking pictures of the incredibly beautiful formations that the sand makes and admiring how the ocean meets the desert.   On our way out to the area we passed a seal, the only one we saw on the whole trip.  I was only able to snap this one picture before he waddled away to the ocean.

Eventually we got closer to the sand dunes and the beauty was just incredible.  I hope the photos do a good job of capturing what it was like to glide across the sand, and have this incredible sense of timelessness as you see the wind constantly working and molding the sand into these flowing shapes.

Needless to say the area is barren; anytime you can get something other than sand in the frame it tends to give a nice sense of scale.  I took the picture below of this sign that sort of made me chuckle – “No Entry” – which begs the question who would want to enter a desert like this and run the risk of walking past this sign?

An even better sense of scale is provided by this picture of the 4×4 that accompanied us on the trip.  You can really get a sense of how small these vehicles are compared to the shifting sands of the dunes.

I also included a few pictures of … you guessed it … us!  It was pretty windy while we were there, but aside from some crazy looking hair it didn’t stop us from getting some good pictures.  Here’s the two of us together posing for the camera and then a lovely picture of Adriana with her out of control hair!

The other thing that I spent some time focusing on was the shadows.  As it got later in the day the shadows became very pronounced.  Our shadows certainly became longer, but it also worked wonders in changing the look and colors of the dunes themselves.  I tried to capture this in the images below.  

In the following two pictures I tried to take a picture of the wind; you can vaguely make out the sand blowing in the first picture, but you can definitely see the intimate shapes that the wind has created in these ridges.

The picture below I kept at an angle.  Usually I’m pretty meticulous in making sure that my horizon is straight, but in this one I liked the leading line that the coastline made going off into the picture so I decided to keep it at the harsh angle in which it was taken.

A black and white version of the sand draws out the shadows in a way only B&W can do.

Before we went on our jeep journey across the sand I was sweating bullets about whether or not I should change lenses in the desert.  This was a brand new camera and every book in the world says that sand and sea air are the two worst things to expose your camera to.  But you know what?  I changed lenses anyway and I don’t regret it one bit.  To be clear, I was very careful about it – I only changed lenses while I was in the car with the windows closed and my bag ready to accept the lens I was taking off.  I know people have different opinions on this but mine is relatively strong.  If I spend all this money on a good camera and good lenses, only to be too afraid to use them when I’m out taking pictures, then what’s the point?  This is also why I tend to bring my DSLR with me rather than carrying a smaller portable camera.

Hope you enjoyed these pictures; below I have a few of them that I think are worth hanging on a wall.  If you agree with me, feel free to click on the thumbnail which will take you to my portfolio and you can print a copy for yourself!

Until next time, hope you take some great pictures!

The Colours of Copenhagen

Many years ago, before Adriana and I were married, we went to Denmark.  In February.  And it was cold.  I really remember the trip because it was one of my first trips with my “new” DSLR, a Canon EOS Rebel Xsi or something like that, the equivalent of a Canon 300D.  We wandered around the city and I swear the population was reduced to about 11 people; there just weren’t many people around due to the cold weather.

Well this time we went again, to enjoy the city in the summer.  I think Scandinavian countries are just awesome, particularly in summer.  There’s something about the culture and the population that really makes me want to take advantage of the extended northern sunshine.

But enough about the sunshine, let’s talk pictures!  As usual we stayed in a cool local place right in the center of town.  We were able to walk to an area of the city called Nyhavn Canal.  This is a great area with beautiful old buildings from the 17th and 18th century.  We ate dinner here one night and spent a fair amount of time taking photos (as does everyone else!)  The light was perfect and we were able to get some pretty good shots.  I’ll be honest – we spent a lot of time here and you’re going to see a helluva lot of pictures of Nyhavn Canal!

So let’s start with the evening photos.  The sky was cloudy which can create a nice backdrop; I like the atmosphere in these photos.

These happen to be 5 shot HDR photos.  The picture above has a nice leading line along the harbor that draws the eye into the frame.

I also snapped a picture of my beautiful wife – is that a baby bump I see there?

On this trip I didn’t bring a tripod so wasn’t able to take any high quality night photos. I did however take a night picture just to flex the ISO muscle on my camera.  It came out okay but this has had some noise reduction done using Dfine2.  But honestly the colours here don’t come out well so I’m not too impressed with that pic.

I also took some shots from “head on” – i.e. the other side of the canal (there’s only one side that has the colourful buildings).  So the picture below is the one I took in the evening, the one under that is the one I took the following morning.  I’m curious to see which one people like more.  I love the color pop and I admit I’m guilty of possibly overcooking these but honestly the colours were just so incredible while we were there and I wanted to re-create that memory.

I think I like the one taken in the morning more, but not quite sure.  I edited the “sunny” photo in Photoshop and used levels on the water to bring out the reflections a bit more, I liked the way the colours melded together as if in a painting.

The morning sun was really great, and we took full advantage walking around the docks to get shots of the buildings from all angles.  And there were plenty of people around to make sure we got some decent pics of the two of us without a tripod.  I used my small 270 flash (trying to get used to carrying less weight while doing city breaks) and it did a nice job of providing the required fill light.

I also took a few more pictures getting the whole view down the long canal.  In the first one I processed it a little bit differently than normal and essentially took clarity out of the photo (usually I add a little bit in).  This creates a sort of glowing look; not sure if it works but wanted to keep it interesting.

The image below is the one you would see when you first walk to the canal.  This is the beginning of the entire group of buildings.

Finally I’ll close with this shot; this is at the other end of the canal, the yellow building there on the right is essentially the last building in the line.

I’ll stop there for now – I think that’s more pictures of colourful buildings than most people can deal with!  We also walked around other parts of the city and spent some time in Tivoli Gardens so in the coming days I’ll put a few more photos up on another post.

Now of course it’s time for me to hawk my goods; if you see any photos you like please check out my SmugMug portfolio or click on one of the photos below for a high quality print.

Where to photograph London’s Tower Bridge – and a farewell to the Olympics

Well…..

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  I know I don’t have a whole lot of readers or followers so it really won’t matter all that much but this is something I set out to do for the year and let’s face it I’ve definitely taken a two month hiatus.  But I do have a really, really good excuse – Adriana’s pregnant!!  We’ve obviously known for a while and it’s led to a bit of a re-prioritization on my part.  I can’t say that because she’s pregnant we’re moving house or jobs or anything else too significant, but it’s just been a little more busy than usual and things that were important to me before haven’t been all that important lately.

For example, I haven’t taken or processed a photo in a long time.  Actually wait – I take that back.  I have been taking some pretty awesome pics of Adriana pregnant (to show the belly grow and make a book) but aside from that I’ve been in a holding pattern with my camera.  I still have a ton of pictures to process from Namibia and I do promise to get some really cool ones out there soon.  We’ve also traveled to a few places over the last month and I’ve taken some snaps so will get those online as soon as I can.  Anyway – enough apologising about not posting, let’s get on with it already.

So, unless you’ve been living in a cave you’ve noticed that the Olympics have come and gone through London.  Wow, what a time to have an aversion to my camera.  I was thinking about making a big effort to do some street photography while all of the visitors were here; opportunities like that don’t come across all that often but alas it wasn’t meant to be.  Adriana and I were fortunate enough to go to a few events, and I took some pictures of men’s volleyball and the women’s gold medal football (soccer) match (which the USA won I might add!)

One of the things that I did have the determination to photograph during the Olympics were the Olympic Rings hanging on Tower Bridge.  These were put in place a month or so before the Olympics and were taken down on the 19th.  I finally dusted off my camera and got down on the evening of the 17th to make sure I got a few pics.  I was fortunate that the weather was cooperative, but the sunset wasn’t quite as outstanding as I’ve seen in the past.  So I wanted to write a brief post on where to take pictures of Tower Bridge.

The photos: 

I’m going to post four of the pictures that I took – as far as I’m concerned they’re your pretty “standard” Tower Bridge photos.

The picture above is taken on the north-east side of Tower Bridge; the same side of the river as the actual Tower of London.  I’ve seen this picture taken many times, it’s very popular on Flickr.  Sunset was scheduled for 8:18 pm so I was down there by 7:30 to walk around and take some pics.  This is a 5 picture HDR – it’s taken very wide (17 mm on a full frame camera) so the original picture was skewed.  I had to adjust the photo in Photoshop using the transform function to straighten the bridge and the flag on the right.  As you can see I didn’t fully straighten the flag; it made the transform too obvious.

This picture I quite like – this is a 7 shot HDR.  My 5d mark III can do anywhere from 3-7 bracketed photos so I wanted to flex it’s muscles a bit; can’t say I can tell much of a difference from a 3 shot HDR but maybe it’s just me.  This is taken from the exact opposite side of the river from the picture above; so the south east side of Tower Bridge.  You’ll also notice in the foreground a slick looking sidewalk with rocks – this is actually the river bed of the Thames.  Many people don’t appreciate how tidal the Thames river is.  This was taken at low tide, so I was able to walk down the stairs and essentially out into the river (obviously there’s no water).  Several hours later and where this picture was taken from would be filled with water.  I like this photo for the clouds; there’s a nice pink tinge to the clouds but unfortunately shortly after this was taken the clouds were blown away and the rest of the sky became rather boring.

I love this pic above.  This is Tower Bridge taken from a very standard location (at least for me and many visitors).  This is the south west side of the bridge, basically taken while standing in front of City Hall.  At the time I took this picture the sun was really going down (the sun would obviously be behind me here) but there were few clouds and after I processed the photo I thought it would look better in B&W.  One of the things that was really interesting about Tower Bridge during the Olympics was that the lighting was a bit different.  Apparently GE, in partnership with the City of London, has upgraded the lighting on the bridge with some LED lights.  This creates an incredible effect and I think this B&W picture brings it out better than many of the others.  Funny how a black and white photo seems to show light better than a color one…

And finally my closing image.  This is taken from roughly the same location as the one above, just further west.  By this time the sun had definitely set and the lights were coming on, so you can see the brighter cables and the Olympic Rings are well lit.  Tower Bridge really is beautiful and I believe it’s the most iconic sight in London, possibly second only to Big Ben.  Many people mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge, which is further west along the Thames (and is also lit in a cool fluorescent orange at night; possibly an interesting picture waiting to be taken).

For all of these photos I used my tripod.  I’ve heard that there are “guards” on the south west side of the Thames that sometimes slap you on the wrist for using a tripod, but this has never happened to me.  I’m really happy that I was able to get out and take these pictures; I think they’re timeless photos of my years in London and it was a great experience to witness the Olympics firsthand.  In some future posts I hope to share some of the photos I took while attending events.  I’m not promising much as it was my first attempt at sports photography but hopefully we’ll all learn something from it!

Hope you enjoyed the post and I look forward to sharing more photos in the future.  And of course, if you’re interested in purchasing a photo for a low price (I have a baby on the way now!) you can click on the links below which will take you to a full res non-watermarked image in SmugMug.  Enjoy and keep snapping away!

Safari Photography Tips – Etosha National Park, Namibia

On our trip to Namibia, we spent the first two days in Etosha National Park.  This is a large national park in the north of the country, home to many species of African wildlife. This was my second safari; we’d done several while in Tanzania after our summit of Kilimanjaro. We only had two days and the animals were a bit sporadic, but we did have some major sightings that I was really pleased with.

Throughout this post and in line with the main idea of Postcard Intellect, I want to share some of my experiences and give my thoughts on taking photos while on safari; hopefully you’ll get some ideas for taking better wildlife pictures.  At the bottom of the post I have 5 tips for better Safari Photography.

First off, the golden rule of photography (whether you’re on safari or not) is to make sure you get the best light.  We were in Namibia during winter (in the southern hemisphere) so we were fortunate to have access to better light.  The picture above was taken from our camp at sunrise – I underexposed the photo to make the trees a silhouette, and also took some of the clarity out of the photo to create a bit of a hazy image. One problem that I have on trips like this is that I’m not on my own time.  What I mean by this is that we’re on a tour, with other people, and a guide, so it’s not like my wife and I can control our own destiny.  We were up early enough (hence the photo above) but by the time the group was ready to go it was an hour after sunrise.  Not the end of the world, but sometimes frustrating.  I was able to capture a few pictures below on the way to the park that still caught the good light.

I particularly loved seeing zebras.  I find them to be amazing animals for various reasons; their stripes, hugely noticeable to human tourists, tend to confuse predators when the animals are in flight.  And the fact that they’ve stubbornly maintained their “wildness” in light of their highly domesticated cousins is pretty unique.

We also saw other ungulates while on safari – including wildebeest, giraffes, and antelope.  In Namibia the “antelope du jour” is the Springbok, which is very common.  By the end of the trip we had seen so many of them that we sort of drove by and barely glanced at them without taking a picture.  Imagine that – me not taking a picture! 🙂

For all of the pictures above, I generally use the same camera setting – I set the camera to aperture priority mode and maintain an aperture anywhere between f/5.6 and f/8.0 or f/9.0.  This makes sure that I get the bulk of the image in crisp focus but due to the zoom of the lens I also get some blur in the background.  I shoot with the focus in One Shot AF, which means that when I press the shutter button halfway the autofocus kicks in but it doesn’t track.  If you look at the photos above, these animals aren’t moving (at least not moving fast).  So One Shot AF works fine and is my preferred setting for the stationary animals. Later in the day we saw some elephants at a great watering hole near Halali.  They honestly came in droves and it was a beautiful location; we had shaded seats to watch the big guys walking around.

This brings me to another point when doing safari photography, and that’s the challenge with composition.  Unless you’re paying insane amounts of money, you’re generally sitting in a jeep of some sort, with other people, and restricted to certain roads, watering holes or rest stops (if you work for the BBC or are a professional nature photographer, you’re reading the wrong blog!)  This creates a challenge when it comes to composition.  Ideally you’d want to get a picture of an elephant with more than just a natural background – you’d want to be standing close to it, take it from the ground looking upwards (I know, a bit frightening…) or do something else clever. Since I’m limited in situations like this, I focus on getting pictures as sharp as I can and then think a lot about the magic word – CROP.  All of the images above were cropped to create a more interesting composition.  I take full size images with my camera to ensure a relatively high quality when cropping; this isn’t required and requires a bit more diligence (as an example, you have to be willing and almost aggressive in deleting pictures that you’re not going to use, or else your hard drive will fill up too fast).  In the photos above I cropped close on several images to get the elephants skin up close; the wrinkles and texture really add a prehistoric look to these pachyderms.

In addition to the big mammals, we were fortunate enough to see some birds as well.  I love the picture below of the Lilac Breasted Roller – this has to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world, and I love how sharp this picture came out.

We also saw some other birds on our trip, including this “Bustard” walking through the grass.

And this picture of the hornbill – it was kinda funny to see these guys flying around, it’s almost like the huge banana on their bill is so non-aerodynamic that they look out of control as they get airborne! And finally probably my favorite photo of birds, is these two owls that we took at the famous Okaukeujo Watering Hole; I think they’re Cape Eagle Owls.

This picture absolutely required a tripod – I tried numerous times to get the shot but the exposure time was a few seconds and it never failed that the owls would move ever so slightly to create a blurry image.  So I bumped up the ISO and kept trying, eventually capturing one that was satisfactory.  And when I first started shooting I didn’t even realize there were two in the tree!  I just love owls – I really do think they have an aura about them as being wiser than other animals.  For a close up of the image above just click on it. The watering hole where the above picture was taken is incredible – it was walking distance from our camp, so I spent a lot of time there and was able to capture the two images below of these beautiful white rhino’s stopping for a drink.  I particularly like the reflection in the first image.

The picture above was actually taken at an extremely high ISO – 25,600.  My new camera handles noise pretty well, but when jacked up that high it was definitely noticeable.  I used noise reduction through Lightroom and that cleaned the image up nicely. We were also extremely lucky on our safari to see one of the most elusive animals in Africa – the Leopard!  And we saw one in broad daylight, slinking from one shady spot to another.  Here’s an image of him walking, and then he posed very nicely for me to capture the next image.

It’s funny when taking pictures of carnivores, especially the big cats.  I just want to see them hunt SO BADLY.  I picture myself as Jon Attenborough, communicating with a helicopter overhead to co-ordinate the photoshoot in line with the animals hunt.  Instead I sit in a roasting car, waiting for the lazy cat do do anything! 🙂 We also saw a lion on our trip, which is posted in the first photo opening this series.  Did you notice the lion, on the right hand side of the picture?  It’s a male lion with a mane that’s still being developed (similar to a young guy trying to grow a mustache a little too early!)

Thing brings me to another point of advice while doing safari photography, and that’s the zoom reach of your lens.  You MUST have a whopping zoom, or you’re constantly going to struggle in getting “close” enough to the animals.  I’m fortunate in that my friend Alan let me borrow his lens, a 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L series with IS.  This lens is absolutely perfect for safari.  I also have my own lens, a 70-200 f/4 L IS, but I chose not to bring it because the 200 mm simply isn’t long enough.  I’m also shooting on a full frame camera, so I’m really only getting 400 mm.  When I used to shoot with my Canon 50D, which is an APS-C size, I would be getting closer to 640 mm because it automatically “crops” due to sensor size by a factor of 1.6.  I try not to change lenses; if I want to take a wide angle photo I use my S100.

I’ll close out this post with some other pictures that I took and I thought were worth sharing.  There’s then a summary of best practices for successful safari photography, and finally some links to my favorite images in case you’d like to purchase a print.

The two pictures above were taken at watering holes during our various camps.  The one above is one of my favorites as you can see the incredible night sky that Namibia is famous for.  I took a TON of photos of the night sky, trying to perfect some star trail photography so I’ll be sharing that in another post.

Five Photography Tips while on Safari

  1. Use a long zoom lens – I believe that at least 400 mm is required, although some will get by with 200 or 300 mm.  Image Stabilization or Vibration reduction will help a lot.
  2. Shoot in Av or A mode (Aperture Priority) and keep the aperture around f/5.6 up to f/9.0.  As with anything it depends on what you’re shooting, but generally on an African Safari you’ll have sunny conditions and won’t need to open up your lens all the way.  Keeping the aperture at a middle range also ensures that you get more of the animal in focus.
  3. For stationary shots, keep the camera in one-shot mode.  If you’re fortunate enough to capture a Cheetah running or something like that then by all means switch to AI Servo, but for the conditions I’ve been in on safari I find that those situations are pretty rare.
  4. To stabilize the camera, I DON’T use a tripod.  In a car or jeep the tripod is too bulky. Generally you’ll either be standing in a jeep where the top gets moved up, or you’ll be in a car shooting out an open window.  Either way you’ll be able to support your camera from the car, on the windowsill for example.  The one thing some people suggest is a bean bag, to act as a cushion between the car and the camera.  I think this is yet another thing to bring and add to your bag – instead use a sock or a t-shirt that you wore the day before.  Does the same thing and it’s one less thing that you need to pack.  Some people do use a monopod; again I think this is a bit much but if you can find out in advance what kind of car you’ll be in you can make your own choice.
  5. As mentioned above, composition can be a challenge.  While taking pictures, think about not just the image that you’re seeing in the frame but also the possibility of how you could crop that image for a more interesting composition.  Taking pictures of the animals is easy enough, but getting pictures of them doing interesting things or an image that draws the viewer in is a real challenge in safari photography.

Finally I’ll close with a few images that I think are the better ones.  If you click on any of these it will take you to my SmugMug portfolio where you can purchase the image.  I hope you like this first write-up on Namibia – we did a TON of stuff so I’m sure this trip will keep me writing for quite some time (as I process the photos that is!)

Street Market Photography

As I’ve been traversing the “travel photography blogosphere” I’ve stumbled across this post from Ailsa and decided to put together a quick post on some of the other travels I’ve taken throughout the last several years.

The idea behind this is “Street Markets.”  When Adriana and I travel, we make sure to spend a lot of timing walking through the markets, perusing the souvenirs and learning a bit more about the culture of the place.  Needless to say, some markets are more interesting than others.  I remember being particularly amazed by the Floating Market in Thailand during our honeymoon several years back.  

When looking through my old photos and the many market snaps I had, the next group that caught my eye were the ones from Istanbul in Turkey.  Such an incredible city and my wife and I had a field day walking through the massive souks that they have.  This was a great experience and we learned a lot walking through the markets, bargaining with the carpet salesmen, and perusing the myriad of things they had for sale.  I love the picture below, of the “Turkish Eye” or “Nazars” that they had for sale.  I took this picture from the bottom up to get a more interesting composition.

We eventually ended up buying a small, authentic carpet from the salesmen here.

The markets in Asia and the Middle East are simply incredible, and most of my street market photos are from those locations.  On our trip to Israel, and in Jerusalem in particular, I simply loved the layout of the old city and could imagine the ancient inhabitants as I walked through the cobble-stoned streets.

We also took a trip to Dubai for Adriana’s b-day.  One of my favorite street market pics here is of a series of lights that we saw swaying in a souk.

My most memorable (and potentially most disgusting pictures) is of this guy in India, using his hand to test the goats milk that he’s about to buy.  Yummy!

One of the places I’d always wanted to visit is Nepal.  On the same trip to India, we spent over a week hiking around Annapurna in the Himalayas.  The people of Nepal are just incredibly nice and the country is stunning – I hope that I have the opportunity to return many times throughout my life.  I particularly like the picture below, but the next one of my wife looking over the items is another favorite as well.

We’ve also hit the markets of Egypt, which is my opening picture and one of my favorites of the bunch.

As we move further west we get into Europe – we’ve travelled pretty much everywhere in Europe and truth be told I find many of the “street markets”, at least in Western Europe, to be very similar.  However that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to look at the wares they have for sale – I personally get a chuckle out of how salesmen sell the souvenirs for which they’re known, but I have to say I’d be doing the same thing in their shoes!

Below you see some of the European photos from PisaRomania (which funny enough was one of my very first posts on this blog), and also Prague with the famous astronomical clock(s).

Finally I leave you with a teaser.  That’s right – if there is such a thing, I leave you with a  Street Market Teaser!  This is one of my favorite photos from a Christmas Market (this was taken in Munich).  Christmas Markets are a whole different animal, and I have a billion (yes, that’s right, put your finger on your lips and say “billion” like Dr. Evil) pictures from Christmas Markets.  My wife was sneaky enough to not inform me before we got married that she’s an absolute freak about Christmas markets (and therefore ornaments) so as we get closer to December I’ll spend some time sharing our random Christmas Market and ornament collection.

Hope you enjoyed this collection.  Most of the links above will take you to my Flickr photos, but I also have my more formal portfolio on SmugMug if you’d like to have a gander (and speaking of markets, those photos are for sale!)  Finally, I also have links to some recent posts that have some interesting market photos, particularly Tunisia and Kiev.  I’ve also taken a recent trip to China, with several interesting photos of the markets in the major cities. Please take a look and thanks again to Ailsa for organizing this – a great idea!

I’ll be travelling for a period of time, heading to Namibia to get some shots of the Namib desert, Skeleton Coast and take a safari.  I’m also hoping to have my first legit crack at star trails photography and am really looking forward to some great posts when I return.

Until then, keep taking pics!

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!

Travel Photography in Beijing – Beihai Park and the Temple of Heaven

I’m closing in on finishing the series of posts on China, with Beijing being our final destination.  I’ve already given a description and some thoughts on photography in the Forbidden City, and my closing post will be on the Great Wall of China.  But there are some other sites to see in Beijing, so I wanted to have an interim post to discuss two of the other famous photo-worthy locations in China – Beihai Park and the Temple of Heaven.

Beihai Park is located north-west of the Forbidden City; it’s essentially a Chinese garden, famous for it’s white Dagoba sitting atop an island in the middle of a lake.  We went to Beihai park in the late afternoon.  Although the overall park is open till 8:00, the White Pagoda closes at 5:00 and as a result we were really rushed to get some good pictures from the top (in fact we got kicked out as I was frantically setting up my tripod!)

As you enter the Jade Flowery Islet (by crossing this bridge) you can see the White Dagoba in the distance.  Upon entering through the gate we were confronted by an enormous collection of red ornaments, hanging in the trees.  There was writing on these but I’m afraid to say my ability to read Chinese is not what it used to be, so I have no idea what they said.  I took numerous pictures here as there were so many options.  I wanted to give a sense of place but also create a repeating pattern to show the sheer number of ornaments.

As we came through the red ornaments you walk up another flight of stairs heading towards the famous White Dagoba.  In the image below I framed the stairs with the gate and the overhanging tree canopy.

As I said, we unfortunately ran out of time when we got to the top as they were just closing the Dagoba.  They do have some repeating patterns of these praying monks that I took below – this is a basic composition of repeating figures with a leading line fading into the distance.  Finally you can see a snap that I took the of the White Dagoba itself.  The sun was setting and the light was nice, but once you get up there you’re smack on top of the thing so it’s not easy to get a good picture.

As is usually the case when out traveling in a foreign city, you live and learn.  Beihai Park is a nice little park; a great environment to walk around and enjoy the scenery.  I do think that if we’d had more time you can get some good images from the top of the pagoda of the surrounding area.  To the east is Jingshan Hill, another location where you can get some good pictures overlooking the Forbidden City.  If you’re going solely to get a better view of the Forbidden City, I think Jingshan Hill is a better option than Beihai Park.

On another day in the evening we went to the Temple of Heaven.  This place is just beautiful, and we had great, great light in the late afternoon.  It was pretty busy while we were there, but we hung around long enough for the majority of people to leave and get some good pics.

While arriving at the site, they had these big, red hanging lanterns in preparation for the Chinese New Year celebration.  They provided a great opportunity for different compositions, in many ways similar to the red ornaments hanging in the entry to Beihai Park.

As I said the light was really good; I’m particularly pleased with the picture at the top of the post but I took a few others that you can see below.  The first was taken with the dragon engraving in the foreground; this is located on the middle of the stairway as you head up to the main landing.  The second photo is taken on the platform so that I was level with the Temple.

While we were there we wanted to get the all important picture of us!  So as we usually do we exchanged cameras, took a few shots and then eventually setup the tripod to get a picture of the two of us in front of the famous landmark.  I know I don’t spend enough time discussing this but I think it’s absolutely critical to take pictures of you and your family while you’re there.  I love taking pictures and capturing these incredible landmarks from all over the world, but at the end of the day it’s great to have pictures of you and your loved ones.  As you grow older these are the pictures that will remind you not just what it was like to be there, but also what YOU were like when you were there.

As always, a few select images (non watermarked of course) from this trip are for sale. If you’d like to take a look and purchase you can click on the thumbnails below.

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