Category Archives: Travel photography

Photoessay: Iceland from Above

Iceland has to offer the most abstract landscapes in Europe, short of some areas in the Italian Dolomites. The country has every photographic cliche and wonders you could want; mountains, waterfalls, river beds, glaciers, and lava fields. It’s a place of rugged beauty and extreme weather conditions, blessed with an amazing quality of light.

In August, golden light lasts for 4-5 hours* so that there is no rush. But it also means that you have to stay up late and get out early in the morning. At least photography doesn’t clash with dinner and breakfast.

There is direct sun but your prefer a cloud to create soft light? Just wait a few minutes. Dark clouds and rain add mystery to the landscape, while shortly after, they let some rays peak through to create a rainbow. There is good light almost anytime during the day.  Iceland is indeed a paradise for photographers.

River bed of the Tungnaa, Iceland.

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Fossography

I never understood why waterfalls grab the hearts and minds of so many photographers. Go to any location that advertises a waterfall and it is guaranteed that there will be a large parking space, lots of cars, and buses with their engines idling. Masses of people, often out of shape, hike along a trail. The first action when the lookout point is reached is to pull out a camera and photograph the falls. In post-processing the images are cropped just above the pool, around which the fellow visitors had their picnic.

Gullfoss, Iceland. Nikon D810, Nikkor 28 f/1.4, at f/11, 4 s, ISO 50. Composite image with focus stack on foreground. 6-stop ND filter.

More recently, a popular thing seems to be “dying for a selfie”; people standing extremely close with their back on the brink of a fall, trying to get the best perspective of themselves leaning over the gorge.

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The Photographer’s Guide to Cruising Antartica

Today there are a lot of choices for cruising to Antarctica, within a considerable price span and a variation of the main focus: whales, geology, penguins, skiing, and of course, photography. But which one is best suited if you are serious about your hobby? Here are some thoughts born out of experience from a cruise we took in November 2016.

Iceberg, approaching Weddell Sea.

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Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. ND filters are often used to achieve motion-blur effects with slow shutter speeds, blurring water or cloud motion, reducing depth of field in very bright light (when 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second is not short enough for the large aperture), or to reduce the visibility of moving persons.

Iquacu falls. Fuji Velvia 50, f/32, 2 seconds. No ND filter needed.

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Americans in Havana

Today’s photo assay is about Americans that have lived in Havana for half a century but are not allowed to leave the country; a Cuban curiosity.

Of course I had been aware of the pre-revolution US cars in Havana. But what came as a surprise were the tens of thousands classic automobiles still in circulation, as collective taxis, rented out for weddings and quinceanera parties (when girls turn 15), or used as tourist transport. The majority of them are Chevrolet and Ford, but also Buick, Dodge, and a variety of vanished brands such as Packard, De Soto, Mercury, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile. With no access to original spare parts, these vehicles are often assemblies of adapted parts from Soviet cars and trucks, and fitted with Hyundai or Mercedes diesel engines.

1952 Dodge Coronet 4-door Sedan

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An Engineer in Havana

Havana has been for long on my bucket list. Havana’s amazing heritage of architecture, the abundance of American cars from the 1950s, used as collective taxis or tourist transport, combined with the tropical sun and the life and character of its inhabitants make Havana one of the visually richest and (still) photo-friendliest places to visit. The rich color palette of the buildings reflecting into the shadows yield an amazing quality of light.

Portraits of the Revolution: Che Guevara, Fidel and Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, La Habana, Cuba

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Ode To A Penguin

O creature which in southern waters roam, To know some more about you I would wish.

Though I have seen you in your limpid home, I don’t think I can rightly call you “fish”.

To taste your body I did not decline, From dainty skinner’s fingers coming fresh,

’Twas like shoe leather steeped in turpentine, But I should hardly like to call it “flesh”.*

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King Penguin Study I, South Georgia Island

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Testing a Preproduction DSLR in Sri Lanka

I have been given a camera to test. Not just any camera but one that is not available yet. At first glance it is not even terribly exciting, no Foveon-type full-format sensor, no digital medium-format camera in a Mamiya 7 gestalt, no curved image sensor, and no 36 MP light field camera. It is simply a major update of a full-format DSLR.

I am not allowed to reveal the brand and model name, but I was told I can post a review and images from it. I was lucky enough to have this camera for a test during a recent trip to Sri Lanka (more about this trip in future posts).

Stilt fishermen, Koggala

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2015 in Review

Another year has passed far to quickly, in particular for someone who was taught photography on a Kodak Retina IIIc. For me it has been a year without new gear but lots of opportunities to increase my return of investment. So was it successful? Ansel Adams said that if you are able to retain 12 images in a year, then it has been successful one. So let’s see what we can do; my favorite photos and memories from 2015, in captured order.

All the best for the new year. SR

Venice

Venice Cliche 1, Italy

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Bastard Chairs, Beijing

Back from my second time to China (after 10 years) with images quite the opposite of what I had expected and planned for.

The reason is that most of the traditional living quarters in Beijing and Shanghai have been cleared for wide boulevards, and their inhabitants have moved to gated, high-rise apartment complexes.

Chairs 1, Beijing, China

Yet some of the Hutongs (alleys formed by lines of ancient courtyard residences) have been declared protected and are being turned into amusement quarters with boutiques, art galleries, and hotels disguised by faux historic façades.

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Portraits of Strangers

I don’t believe in sneaking photographs of people. Street photographers may argue that asking a person to pose for an image is taking them out of their natural routine and, therefore, ruining the decisive moment*. I couldn’t disagree more. My objective for taking portraits is to make contact with people, to establish a two-way connection that reflects their openness toward me and thus, indirectly, toward the viewers of the image themselves. In this way, the portraits speak a thousand words about their subjects and the environment they live in.

*Beware of the legal rules for photographing people, which vary from country to country. In short, if you don’t have a consent release, you cannot use these images for commercial purpose. The models can sue you, because you, or your publisher, are using their image to advertise a product or service to which they may not agree. Yet it’s fine to use an image for editorial purposes, for example, this blog post, because I am not promoting or selling any product.

The shot discipline required to make best use of high pixel counts, aggressively looking DSLRs with long lenses mounted on a tripod or monopod (a setup that probably costs more than some peoples’ homes), and considerations about the light and background excludes the run and gun approach anyway. It takes usually a large number of images to obtain a natural look of the person and a final image that doesn’t look staged.

I have found that most people like to have their picture taken. Think if a photographer from a far away place asked you; would you say no? Being 195 cm tall, I have been approached often by Asian girls. This has somewhat faded, which I believe is due to Asians getting taller, rather than me getting less attractive.

People respond well to respect towards themselves and their culture, knowing the local language is important to interact. Where communication problems are to be expected, it is good to hire a guide through a local agency, mentioning the photographic ambitions. Moreover, guides can help to approach a stranger and ask for permission. But avoid those self-proclaimed guides waiting in front of iconic places; you will for sure end up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I always offer to send prints, but I am also not offended when the person asks for small change. In particular with street vendors, you can break the ice by buying a little souvenir.

So here are some stories behind the images. More portraits can be found in this post. All images were shot with the Nikon D800e and the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II (at 150 mm and f5.6).

 

Nun smoking cheroot, Myanmar: In Myanmar women are often seen smoking large cigars, called cheroot, made from mixtures of dried, seasoned softwood and crushed tobacco wrapped in a dried leaf of carbia myxa. I met this nun outside the Hpo Win Daung Caves in Monywa, Myanmar and was attracted by her rejoicing in the cigar. Having never smoked I was not able to check these out.

Nun smoking cheroot, Myanmar

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What’s in the Bag – Loaded for Yak and Yeti

I am on the road (trek) for more than four weeks around the Annapurnas in Nepal. If it was only for the mountains, I could stay in the Alps and actually climb some of them. Obviously, in the Himalayas the peaks are higher and their faces larger, which is difficult to convey in a photograph, however. There is simply a lack of scale.

What keeps dragging me into the Himalayas are ethnical diversity, architecture, culture, and high-altitude wilderness. Moreover, there is this fascinating, rapid change in the way people live in the remote mountain areas. From no access to electricity, phone and television, to wireless Internet and smart-phone (cameras) in less than a decade. On this trip it will also be interesting to study the change brought about by the recent construction of the road in the Annapurna region. Indeed, there are a lot of very different subjects for a photographer.

So what do I bring, and why?

Bag2

It’s not the equipment that takes good images, it’s the photographer. I know.

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Moonbow over Iguacu

I never understood why waterfalls grab the hearts and minds of photographers. Go to any location that advertises a waterfall and it is guaranteed that there will be a large parking space, lots of cars, and buses with their engines idling*.

Iquacu falls, Brazil

Many people, often out of shape, hike along a trail. The first action when the lookout point is reached is to pull out a camera and photograph the falls. In post-processing the images are cropped just above the pool, around which the fellow visitors had their picnic.

Waterfalls just do not photograph well. In nice, sunny weather the contrast exceeds the dynamic range of color film and of most digital sensors. Bright light also produces flair, which is a particular problem for the wet rocks and vegetation that typically surround the falls, and desaturates the color that may be present in the water. From a compositional point of view, the images are often unbalanced and there is no sense of scale, except if  one refrains from cropping off the picnickers. This experience, or prejudice, made me shy away from Iguacu when I first visited Brazil in 1997. Four years ago, however, I came back to Brazil and took a detour to the waterfalls.

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Photographing Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop (or Kolmannskuppe) is a ghost town in Southern Namibia, about 10 km inland from Luderitz. Once a very rich diamond-mining village, it was completely abandoned in 1954 and it is now a tourist destination, famous for its images of sand dunes forming inside the decaying buildings.

Family home, Kolmanskop, Kolamanskuppe, Namibia

 In 1908 German miners settled in this area and built the village in the architectural style of German stone houses. At its peak, the about 400 inhabitants could enjoy a rich infrastructure that included a hospital, ballroom, bowling alley, gym, school, and casino. The hospital was equipped with the first x-ray machine in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 1980 some of the buildings have been restored and the area has been opened for visitors. The gym building features a museum, a souvenir shop, and a surprisingly good cafeteria.

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