Cape Cod Sunset, A Study in Tools Wednesday, Oct 15 2014 

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Cape Cod, Massachusetts for the first time. It’s a place of quiet fishing villages, trendy tourist destinations and hip hangouts. Since it’s a peninsula, it’s also a very convenient destination for both sunrise and sunset photography – on multiple days, I was able to shoot both golden hours.

In this post, I present three shots taken within moments of each other, with three different cameras. It was a sunset shoot at Rock Harbor, not far from the city of Orleans, MA. The extremely low tide left many tidal pools and exposed sand dunes and grass patches, so there were plenty of ways to experiment with composition.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Film Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Film Camera

First up is my massively reliable medium format camera, Mamiya 7, which was loaded with the legendary Fuji Velvia 50 film. The metering for a sunset scene is never easy, and for a contrasty film like Velvia, I wanted to preserve the highlights, but the shot still ended up quite underexposed — most of the foreground is just too dark. On the other hand, the setting sun and the sky at the horizon have a great color to it, and I love the dark fluffy clouds on top set against the still bright sky. The composition of the foreground is also pleasing, with the patch of grass in the tidal pool. As usual for a shot done on Velvia, I didn’t do much post-processing; I tried to improve the shadows a bit, but not to the point where the photo becomes too grainy.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Digital SLR Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Digital SLR Camera

A few moments later, the sun finally set, but the sky was still pretty bright. This shot was taken by my digital camera, Canon 7D, at the widest setting on my 17-40mm f/4L lens. The composition seems a little different, lower to the ground, and the horizon falls closer to the rule of thirds. The bluish tint is typical for the “blue hour”, but there is still some reddish hues to add interest to the shot. As in the film shot, the tidal pool provides a great reflection, and I like the ripples in the sand, too. I would have liked some more color in the photo, but it still has a nice moody quality – of the three shots, it would probably work the best in black and white. And speaking of quality, even at ISO 800, there is almost no noise or grain in the image.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Smartphone Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Smartphone Camera

Finally, we have the humble smartphone camera; I had with me the Droid Ultra and its 10 megapixel camera, which is more than decent. I metered for the brightest part of the image and let the automatic settings fall where they may. As it happens, I like this shot the best, and it’s partly because of the very wide native format of the camera, which works well with the scene. It’s also very bright, but nothing seems too blown out. There is some chrominance noise in the clouds, but other than that, the shot looks very sharp and clean. I posted it on my Instagram page in its cropped form.

In the end, no one shot is significantly better than the others, but this exercise helps me compare how different cameras see the same scene, so that I can use them more efficiently next time.

Advertisements

Happy Birthday, Sarajevo Saturday, Apr 6 2013 

April 6 is the anniversary of the liberation of my home town from German forces in World War II. Around the same time of the year, a more somber anniversary is observed in the city, that of the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern warfare. With this post, I’m making a small contribution in marking these anniversaries.

Sarajevo, 4:30 a.m.

Sarajevo, 4:30 a.m.

This shot was taken during my June 2009 visit to Sarajevo; it’s still one of my favorite trips, partly because it extended to a few days in Dubrovnik, Croatia, but mainly because I spent it in the company of all my dearest family members. I wanted to finally take some good sunrise and sunset shots of the city from some of the many hills surrounding it. The trouble with that plan is that the days in the middle of June are really long, and the dawn breaks as early as 4 a.m.

After a few days of recovering from jet lag, I got up really early this one morning (this was taken around 4:35 a.m.), got into a cab and went to Jekovac, a little park overlooking the old town. I took this shot from the same place, and you can see how foggy it was back in October 2007. This time around, the sky was clear, but the actual sunrise was ruined by some low-hanging clouds, so I didn’t get good shots until a few days later.

I brought two film cameras to this trip, but one thing I wasn’t comfortable doing with them was long exposures. This was 8 seconds at ISO 100 with my Canon 20D digital camera; if I took a shot with my Velvia 50 film, it would have had to be 30+ seconds, due to film reciprocity failure.

In the foreground is the Old Town, anchored by the City Hall, built in the 19th century by the Austrian Empire and later converted into a library, which was then burned down by Serbian military forces in 1992, in the first days of the Siege. Bottom right is the cemetery dedicated to the defenders of the city during the Siege. Further westward, you see the modern buildings of the newer parts of the city, and above, in a fortunate astronomical circumstance, you see the full Moon, about to plunge behind Igman and Bjelašnica mountains.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park Friday, Mar 22 2013 

Entrance to Fort Jefferson

Entrance to Fort Jefferson

Although I’m a big fan of the National Park Service, I never even heard of the Dry Tortugas National Park until I visited Key West, Florida in December 2012. It’s an ecological paradise, sanctuary to countless species of birds and marine life. The only catch is that it’s located 90 miles to the west of Key West, which makes it one of the more difficult National Parks to get to.

Nevertheless, a few photos on a brochure I looked at convinced me that the trip is well worth taking. My hotel made arrangements with the speedy boat to take me there early one morning. The ride is a couple of hours long and on this particular trip the sea was quite choppy, so some passengers lost their breakfast before they got to the destination.

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson – looking over the moat to the Loggerhead Key in the distance (film shot)

When we finally docked at Garden Key, we were greeted by the massive Fort Jefferson, built in the 19th century to provide a strategic stronghold in the Gulf of Mexico. Wikipedia says that it’s a largest masonry structure in the Americas, consisting of 16 million bricks. It even has a moat built around it, with a walkway that circumnavigates the fort.

Rodman Gun, Fort Jefferson

Rodman Gun, Fort Jefferson

The fort was fully operational during the Civil War and it included a prison, whose most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd, serving the sentence for treating the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth following his assassination of President Lincoln. Mudd ended up serving as the fort doctor during the outbreak of the yellow fever in 1867, which in part led to his pardon.

Civil War history of the fort is also evident by several heavy cannons that can still be found around it. Pictured above is a 10-inch Rodman gun, one of the most common in the fort.

Fort Jefferson, View from Bush Key

Fort Jefferson, View from Bush Key

Finally, since the tide was pretty low, I decided to walk across a small sandbar onto the Bush Key, which appears as a separate island on most photos I’ve seen, because the sandbar gets submerged. Looking back to Fort Jefferson, you can see on the left the catamaran ship that brought me there, and the seaplane which originated in Alaska judging from the tail insignia.

Bush Key walk was thoroughly enjoyable and I made some nice photographs that I will share in a separate post.

Palacio Real, Madrid, Spain Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 

Palacio Real, Madrid

Palacio Real, Madrid

I’ve been posting some photos from my trip to Madrid I took a few months ago, and yesterday I mentioned the grandiose architecture you can find all over the city. Nowhere is that more evident than right here – Palacio Real.

Quick linguistic note – seeing letters “r, e, a, l” together immediately takes me to the English word, but in Spanish, the word actually means “regal” or “royal”. And there are quite a few “real” things about Madrid, the seat of the Spanish royal family.

Speaking of the Spanish royal family, this building was their main home for centuries, until very recently, when it was open to the public. It’s just gorgeous to look at, opulent and extravagant, and I caught it in nice late afternoon light. I even included a tighter crop of the shot I took with my long lens, to show some of the detail on the roof and the facade of the building.

Palacio Real, detail

Palacio Real, detail

Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

Sunset, Grapevine Lake, TX Saturday, Sep 15 2012 

This photo is literally the last photo I took with my Canon 20D.

Sunset, Grapevine Lake

Sunset, Grapevine Lake

I mentioned yesterday that I owned a Canon 20D digital camera for a few years. I bought it from a friend who had upgraded, and I really liked it. It had the dial on the back, which made selecting options very easy. The camera had a nice heavy feel to it and fit nicely in my hand.

When I bought it, 20D was already obsolete – 30D was already on the market and 40D came up shortly after that. But those cameras didn’t really offer anything I wanted. The Live View on the 40D would have been nice, but it wasn’t enough for me to switch.

I went on many trips with the 20D, shot several studio sessions and a wedding. But when Canon released their 7D, I was ready. The new camera was faster, more powerful and easier to use, it shot HD video and it wirelessly controlled off-camera flash. So, a few days before my new 7D arrived, I took my 20D for a visit to Grapevine Lake, where I took some sunset pictures including the one above.

It’s a good reminder to not rush into “upgradeitis” — maybe the shiny new device that just came out isn’t the right choice for you. Instead, get as much use you can out of the one you already have, and upgrade only when it makes sense.

Missed Sunrise, Mount Rainier Tuesday, Sep 11 2012 

Almost exactly a year ago, I traveled to Seattle to visit my friend Tyler, and visiting Mount Rainier was on top of our to-do list. And, sure enough, we drove up there one afternoon, scoped out some spots to shoot the following sunrise, drove around for a bit, and then retreated to our campsite. I was excited to finally get to use my new Mamiya 7 camera – it’s the one I wanted for a while.

Missed Sunrise

Missed Sunrise

So, the following morning, I loaded it with Fuji Velvia film, expecting the sunrise to fire up the massive mountain in warm tones of orange and pink. Just as expected, the sunrise was spectacular. I used my Canon 7D digital camera mainly to meter the scene, and I kept firing the Mamiya every few minutes, as the light was changing.

When the magic light was gone and it was time to go, with no small amount of horror did I realize that I had my lens cap on the camera the whole time. You see, Mamiya 7 is a rangefinder, which means that you look through the viewfinder, but not through the lens (like with SLR cameras).

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

A classic rookie mistake, and now I was left only with those digital shots. I barely found a few that sort of worked; the one on top is during the magic light, but the second one is less than 20 minutes later – the magic was definitely gone.

Let it be said here that Mount Rainier is one of the most impressive sights I ever saw. It’s an enormous volcano, covered in glaciers, rugged and foreboding. It is the center of the eponymous National Park that is definitely up there with the most beautiful places on Earth and you should definitely go there if you get the chance.

What’s your favorite National Park? Leave a comment below.

Traditional Sunset, Eagle Crags, Utah Tuesday, May 17 2011 

I’ve been traveling with Tyler and John for four years now, for purposes of enhancing our friendship as well as our photography skills. And if there’s one thing that we bonded over more than over lens caps and ISO settings, it’s botched sunset shoots.

First, there was not one, but two sunsets in Monument Valley, a year apart, that left something to be desired. Then there was one when we didn’t get to Lake Powell in time on our way from The Wave, even though I hit 100 miles an hour to get there. There was one at Yosemite’s Tunnel View (although, the Sierras paid us back a few days later with a magnificent sunset from Sentinel Dome). And then the one when the skies finally cleared only when we were already many miles on our road out of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park…

If there’s one thing we can count on, that’s a less-than-perfect sunset.

Traditional Sunset

Eagle Crags, UT

And here we were, three hours before sunset, after a morning hike to Angels Landing, after driving up a bad dirt road, getting perilously off the hiking trail, setting up our tripods in between the bushes and trees, wondering if we will get rained on before the skies clear and allow some sunlight onto the peaks in front of us.

The peaks are called Eagle Crags, and they’re located just outside Zion National Park, near Rockville, UT. We saw them a few sunsets earlier, as they were the peaks getting the very last light, due to the fact that they’re outside the main canyon of the park, so the light lingers on them just a little longer. Tyler found a road on the map, and the road led us to a BLM hiking trail, which eventually goes all the way to the foot of the Eagle Crags hill.

Eagle Crags, UT

Velvia film shot, not as good as the digital

Skies were dark and foreboding, which made for a dramatic background. We were cheering for the sun to break through the cloud bank to the west and light up the red sandstone. We had reason to hope: it happened a little earlier, but it was not the magical “golden hour light”. I captured it on Fuji Velvia 50 film, shown here, and it looks nice, but it’s not quite the same as the main digital photo, taken just that much later. Light was changing fast, and I never snapped another film shot. I didn’t even time to change my lens – it was gone in a flash.

Still, we’ve seen some photos in the local galleries, and this formation, somewhat off the beaten path, offers great potential for some wonderful sunsets. On this evening, however, our tradition continued.

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.

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail Tuesday, Oct 19 2010 

I mentioned in my previous post that I visited Yosemite National Park during peak water flow. Scott, John, Tyler and I wanted to spend a day climbing up and down one of the signature trails of the park, The Mist Trail, which that day could have been named The Enormous Plumes of Spray Trail. The section just under the Vernal Falls was the worst, and we were more concerned with protecting our expensive cameras from the water than with using them to take photos. On top of the falls, we had to change shirts and expose some soaked clothing to the morning sun.

The final climb to the top of Nevada Falls didn’t quite resemble an unrelenting cold shower like its counterpart downstream, but we still got plenty of gusts of wind that brought the chilling spray upon our weary bodies. By this time, sun hid behind some clouds and the temperature dropped a bit. Wind was strong, and the clouds were moving, which made photography a bit challenging due to the changing light.

We finally made it to the top and enjoyed lunch, before we got on our way back to the valley following the John Muir Trail to the other side of the falls, against a sheer granite cliff. Just after one last refreshment courtesy of some persistent snow melt, we paused to gather our strength for the descent. I fired off a few shots, including the one of the back side of Half Dome I posted earlier.

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail

I then changed lenses and tried a wider composition with my next shot, which is what you see here – notice the similar scattered light. At 17mm, pretty much everything is in sharp focus, and I really love the distorted clouds reaching for the corners of the image with Liberty Cap dominating the center. I hesitated to post this, because it was too similar to the earlier shot, but upon further review, I decided this photo has a character of its own and deserves a spot in the blog.

Model Shoot: Elizabeth Wednesday, Sep 22 2010 

About a year ago or so, I joined Model Mayhem, a web site where photography professionals and enthusiasts get together for creative purposes. My goals were modest, to connect with some local people who like to do the same types of things I do, and maybe get involved with some fun shoots, and hopefully learn something.

Elizabeth contacted me and offered to set up a shoot; after she gave birth to her son earlier this year, she was looking to get back in front of the camera. Her “port” (home page) looked very versatile and interesting, but we could not get our schedules lined up. Then, in July, another model I shot with before, Crystal, set up an impromptu shoot with three models and three photographers in historic West End in Downtown Dallas. Elizabeth showed up wearing a tight-fitting retro dress and a winning smile.

We had a great time with different poses, from which I picked four for my Flickr gallery. She was a terrific sport – not only did she indulge my insane idea to come out into the scorching July sun for a few minutes for some natural light portraits, she even deftly changed into another tight-fitting retro dress. That dress is featured in this shot where her curvaceous body is highlighting the banner for the “Bodies” exhibition (“An Exhibition of Real Human Bodies”).

There’s also this shot where she’s framed by a service elevator opening; that one was a real pain to clean up. It was taken from very close distance with a very wide angle lens, which is usually a no-no for portraits, due to the distortion those lenses create. First I used the lens distortion correction, based on the numbers published by a photographer and blogger Ken Rockwell to get the lines straight. But then I had to change the vertical and horizontal perspectives to get everything properly lined up. I doubt the haywire lines would have distracted from what’s a very nice portrait of Elizabeth, but I’m pretty pleased to have helped keep the focus on the model.

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

Suad Bejtovic Photography etc.

Photography and more