Gates of Madrid Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 

Madrid architecture reminds visitors at all times that Spain used to be the most powerful country in the world once, and Madrid needed to convey that sense of grandeur and scale.

Puerta de Toledo

Puerta de Toledo

One of the ways this is evident is in the gates, or arches, that dominate certain points of the downtown area. They are remnants of old city walls and were erected to celebrate different events or rulers. Their locations indicate the spots where major roads would leave the city.

The one on top is Puerta de Toledo, aptly named because it is on the road leading south to Toledo. These days, the easiest way to get to Toledo is by train; we’ll talk about that more in a few days. If you’re in that area, check out the flea market that goes on every Sunday in a neighborhood just a few blocks away.

The other photo is of Puerta de Alcala, a gate on the east side of town, at the end of Alcala street. That part of town seems a bit more high-end – Ferrari store is just a few blocks away, for example.

Puerta de Alcala

Puerta de Alcala

One thing these gates have in common is that I had meals in the immediate vicinity, with great views of the gates. As far as experiences go, I highly recommend that.

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City Postcards: Seattle Monday, Nov 21 2011 

A few months ago, my friend and photographer Tyler invited me to spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest. Although our main target were the National Parks in the area (photos from Mt. Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park are coming shortly), I wanted to get a good look at the city of Seattle. So, here’s a selection of best shots that I created with my new Mamiya 7 camera; all photos were made on Ilford Delta 100 black and white film.

We’ll start this post with a view of Seattle’s most famous building.

Space Needle

Space Needle

I’ve been on top of a few famous buildings, so I didn’t want to spend time and money climbing on top of Space Needle. I’m sure the view is great, but I had limited time to spend downtown, and the ticket was slightly over priced. Nevertheless, it’s still a very cool, sleek structure, in the middle of the city, surrounded by parks and businesses of all kinds. We’ll come back to it in a moment.

Pike Street Market

Pike Street Market

Almost as famous as the Space Needle is the Pike Street Market. It’s blocks and blocks of shops and vendors, centered around the intersection of Pike Street and First Avenue. You may have seen the whole fish-throwing act; that’s right here. According to the clock, it was around 3:30 P.M. when this was taken. It was Thursday and it was lively; people having lunch, running errands, tourists with cameras around their necks, UPS truck deliveries… It’s a city center in many ways.

Coffee House, Seattle

Coffee House, Seattle

Rewind a few hours, and go back about a mile, and this is the scene in a more quiet part of Pike Street, further up on the hill. One other thing that Seattle is famous for is coffee, and the coffee houses are everywhere. This one caught my eye because it was particularly colorful, with its teal paint job and a gold window frames. And yet, as I often do, I preferred this b/w film shot to my color digital. Maybe it’s the old-school font in the name of the business that gave the whole scene a more serene, relaxed look.

Downtown Seattle, from Gasworks Park

Downtown Seattle, from Gasworks Park

The August days were surprisingly sunny, but this Monday started like a traditional Seattle day – gloomy, overcast, with a bit of a drizzle. I explored the neighborhood of Fremont and moved along the shoreline until I got to Gas Works Park. Tyler has made some fantastic images there, and I was excited to see the old machinery that still resides there, but the park is also a nice overlook to downtown Seattle on the other side of Lake Union. There’s Space Needle again on the right edge of the photo.

Machinery, Gasworks Park

Machinery, Gasworks Park

An interesting note about the machinery photo above is that I heavily corrected the vertical perspective in PhotoShop. In the original image, the chimneys were converging toward the middle axis of the photo. Because of the correction, the chimney on the left looks unusually large, but I’m satisfied with the overall result.

And, finally, here is my favorite photo. With only a few hours before I had to head back to Seattle-Tacoma International airport, I took a bus toward Volunteer park and then walked over to Lake View Cemetery. I wanted to visit one of the most visited grave sites in the US, the final resting place of Bruce Lee, my childhood hero and one of the coolest icons of the world of film. The cemetery office was across the street from the gate, so I stopped by to sign the guest book and pick up directions to find Bruce and his son Brandon.

How cool was Bruce Lee? Well, consider this: Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris were among the pall bearers at his funeral. Rest in peace, master.

The Dragon's Eternal Nest

The Dragon's Eternal Nest

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Friday, Feb 4 2011 

As I mentioned before, this past January I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Alas, I get antsy if I spend too much time sitting by a pool or on a beach, so I eventually have to do some exploring.

Puerto Vallarta is a fairly large town, built on tourism, where flashy condominium buildings, villas and hotels meet the traditional, humble dwellings of the local workforce. Dominating the downtown area is the unique Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its signature crowned tower.

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The church was being built throughout the opening decades of the 20th century, and the main tower was not completed until 1952. The tower concludes with quite an interesting crown, which was said to resemble the crown worn by the mistress of emperor Maximilian in the 1860s. On top of the crown is a cross sitting on what seems to be a soccer ball.

Although the church is rather prominent in the city, it wasn’t easy getting a clean look at it. I climbed up and down some side streets, and failed to convince a hotel official to make a restaurant available to me where I would be directly above the church. From the street level, the view of the tower always included power lines going in several different directions. It was quite frustrating, until I decided that the network of cables could be its own subject and embraced my misfortune; the resulting photo is shown here.

Power Lines and Church

Power Lines and Church

My luck changed when I got to the street behind the church; a door was open and I saw two women sitting across from each other at a desk. One of them seemed to be some kind of an official and fortunately knew more English than I knew Spanish, and, even more fortunately, asked the other lady to accompany me into the inner courtyard to take some photos. It turned out that the church now also doubles as a school. As quickly and as respectfully as I was able, I fired off a total of four shots: two with my digital Canon 7D, then one with my Elan 7 camera with Ilford HP5 Plus black-and-white film in it, and, finally, one shot with my Mamiya 645 1000s and Kodak Ektachrome slide film. That shot turned out to be the winner, with a lot of nice details and pleasing colors that I tweaked just a little.

Model Shoot: Ashley Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

Last weekend, I was invited by the photographer Ray Dauphinais to assist him on a photo shoot he did for The Angels Foundation. I worked with Ray a few times before, and I didn’t mind helping around with lights and equipment and learning something in the process.

Most of the shoot took place in a gym of a downtown Dallas residential building, but then Ray and I went exploring the building with one of the models, Ashley.

Ashley had a great attitude and a photogenic face highlighted with brilliant eyes. The impromptu shoot started when she changed from the gym clothes into a little black dress. As she sat down by a window to wait for us photographers to get our gear ready, we put away our flashes and worked with available light. We made a makeshift reflector to fill in the shadows and this quick portrait with her smirk was the best of that series.

Ashley, digital

Ashley, digital

Then we took a quick trip to the roof of the building. The downtown skyscrapers provided great background for Ashley and her dress. After a few digital test shots, I felt brave enough to put a flash on my medium format Mamiya 645 1000S. The idea was to use a few last frames of a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 100 that I had in the camera for months. I climbed on some patio furniture to eliminate the whitish overcast sky and fired off two shots, of which I prefer this one.

Ashley, on color slide film

Ashley, on color slide film

Finally, on our way down from the roof, we walked through a narrow hallway with distressed walls and tall windows. Again Ashley’s face looked great in natural diffused light framed by her flowing hair, so I used another film camera to capture the image. There was a roll of Ilford HP4 Plus in my Canon Elan 7 since my trip to New York in November, and I wanted to get a few shots to wrap it up. Sure enough, this “look”, showing Ashley’s “femme fatale” side, was what I was looking for.

Ashley, on black and white film

Ashley, on black and white film

Lower Manhattan, Sunset Friday, Dec 10 2010 

On the short list of my favorite cities in the world, New York has a special place. I visited it for the first time as a nine year-old boy, and was mesmerized. It lived on for decades in memories and photos until I came back in 2003. So when the opportunity came up to go there again this past Thanksgiving, I spared no expense.

The purpose of the trip was not photographic in nature, so I was content to see the city as a tourist yet again. In addition, the November weather was murky and unpredictable and did not hold much promise for successful photography. But, on the only day when the forecast called for clear skies in the afternoon, I decided to make the pilgrimage to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

The plan was to shoot the sunset and capture the brilliant sunlight reflecting off majestic skyscrapers. But two things conspired against me — one, sun sets really quickly in the Northeast at this time of year, and two, it takes a really long time to get through all the lines and onto the top of the ESB. By the time we went through metal detectors, cheesy green-screen photographers, ticket counters, elevators and more elevators, the sun was gone, and only the glimmers remained. It wasn’t even 5 p.m. when this shot was taken.

Lower Manhattan, Sunset

Lower Manhattan, Sunset

On the plus side, the city lights were coming on, and the south view to lower Manhattan was fantastic. The downtown buildings stand out wonderfully, with the Flatiron, Woolworth, and Metropolitan Life dominating the foreground along with Fifth Avenue. If you know where to look, you can find other New York highlights, such as the Liberty Island (with the Statue of Liberty just barely lit), and Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

Taking the photo without a tripod in fleeting light wasn’t exactly easy. I tried several techniques and spots along the southern terrace of the Observation Deck. The settings I ended up being the happiest with are the ISO 400 (not too noisy, but enough to keep the shutter speed manageable) and f/5.6 (one stop down for my 17-40mm f/4L lens). Resulting shutter speed was 0.4 seconds, so I braced myself into the fence and hoped for the best.

Michigan and Chestnut

The exposure ended up being just a little dark, so I lightened it in PhotoShop, carefully watching not to lose the pink and orange hues along the horizon. The shot immediately reminded me of a similar photo of Chicago I took from the Hancock Tower when I was there shooting with my friend John. Millions of tourists see these same views every week, but the iconic cityscapes represent a universal language that all tourists speak.

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