Iceland and others

2014 was a really busy year, and I shot less with my camera than I have in some time.  I also posted less here on Enthusiast Photographer.  Part of that is (and continues to be) that my primary editing PC was in a closet for most of the 2nd half of the year.  I still have a few shots that haven’t made it to my secondary (travel) PC.

Anyway, here are a few 2014 shots that I like that hadn’t made it to the blog yet.  Some of them are touristy, which is fine with me 🙂

Quick scenic stop on our way to Akureyri, the 2nd largest city in Iceland

Quick scenic stop on our way to Akureyri, the 2nd largest city in Iceland

Another scenic stop on the way to Akureyri

Another scenic stop on the way to Akureyri

We were very lucky to catch the Northern Lights.  Tripod and very long shutter speed required!

We were very lucky to catch the Northern Lights. Tripod and very long shutter speed required!

The cabin we stayed at...

The cabin we stayed at…

In the museum in Reykjavík, there was a display that caught my eye...

In the museum in Reykjavík, there was a display that caught my eye…

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The opera house / theatre in Reykjavík

More sculptures from 798 in Beijing

More sculptures from 798 in Beijing

I thought this was an...interesting...contrast

I thought this was an…interesting…contrast

It is time to get back to some more creative shots, but I still really enjoy my travel photography!

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Japan (and Singapore) 2014

My job sometimes takes me to really cool places, and recently I was sent to China, Japan and Singapore. I didn’t get a chance to get out at all in Beijing, but got around a fair bit in Japan. Finished with several days in Singapore, but most of the photography from that leg was pretty touristy, so most of the images below are from Tokyo.  I was in Macau earlier this Summer, but haven’t had a chance to pull those together as I’ve been swapping computers.  I’ll come back to those soon…

In any case, I was apparently in an abstract mood… 🙂

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14573067759_bc953e98d9_cLEE_788214737037866_63cf1d2dfd_bI feel like these images do a better job taking me back to the place and time than “regular” photographs, and I find myself paying a lot more attention to my surroundings and the small details everywhere…  🙂

What is your favorite travel/vacation photo?

 

 

What I’ve been shooting lately… (Part 1)

It has been an incredible run of travel this year – well over 100,000 miles in the air and over 60,000 since July.  I’ve seen a lot of the inside of a metal tube, but I’ve also had the chance to go to some amazing places.  The more I shoot, the more comfortable I am with my equipment and just as importantly what I need to work on.  So that is the lesson for this post – shoot more and think about what you need to learn to improve when you’re looking at the shots you don’t like as well as then ones you do.

I had my first try at bird-in-flight (BiF) photography.  Verdict:  HARD!  Knowing how to set up my AF was key to getting some decent shots for a first outing.  More knowledge and tuning needed.

I had my first try at bird-in-flight (BiF) photography. Verdict: HARD! Knowing how to set up my AF was key to getting some decent shots for a first outing. More knowledge and tuning needed. D300s & 70-200 f/4 @ f/4, 1/4000, ISO 320, AF-C w/ 51-point tracking

My son came out to feed the gulls. I sat down with my back against the house, and after shooting a few shots with flash I realized I was missing a much better shot without the flash...

My son came out to feed the gulls. I sat down with my back against the house, and after shooting a few shots with flash I realized I was missing a much better shot without the flash… D300s & Nikon 18-200 @ f/7.1, 1/640, ISO 200

I left for Japan the day after returning from the beach.  I took a few photos I like, but I really enjoyed a chance to get a better shot of Tokyo Tower from the Mori Tower.

I left for Japan the day after returning from the beach. I took a few photos I like, but I really enjoyed a chance to get a better shot of Tokyo Tower from the Mori Tower. The conditions were tough again – very windy, but this shot came out OK anyway and really showed the value of VR (vibration reduction). D300s & 70-200 f/4 @ f/4, 1/15, ISO 1000

One of the next places I went was Bangkok.  To say there is a lot of texture there is an understatement.  I'd love to spend a few months wandering around there - amazing, beautiful place.  These fruits were so colorful at a street-side stand, and seemed a perfect time to play nearly wide-open.  D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/2.2, 1/60, ISO 200

One of the next places I went was Bangkok. To say there is a lot of texture there is an understatement. I’d love to spend a few months wandering around there – amazing, beautiful place. These fruits were so colorful at a street-side stand, and seemed a perfect time to play nearly wide-open. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/2.2, 1/60, ISO 200

The Chao Phraya river in Bankok offers just as much to see as the land.  A good example of the versatility of the 18-200 VRII for both the zoom range and the stabilization.  D300s & 18-200 VRII @ f/7.1, 1/250, ISO 320

The Chao Phraya river in Bankok offers just as much to see as the land. A good example of the versatility of the 18-200 VRII for both the zoom range and the stabilization. D300s & 18-200 VRII @ f/7.1, 1/250, ISO 320

Coming off the river is a combination of a dock and a shopping center, an awesome jam of people and products.  D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.9, 1/160, ISO 800

Coming off the river is a combination of a dock and a shopping center, an awesome jam of people and products. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/160, ISO 800

At the temple of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha.  Behind it are metal pots - you make a small donation and get a cup of old coins to plink in the buckets.  The sound as many folks walk up the row is really cool.  Tough to get a sharp shot as it was pretty dark and I didn't want to push the ISO.  D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/30, ISO 800

At the temple of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha. Behind it are metal pots – you make a small donation and get a cup of old coins to plink in the buckets. The sound as many folks walk up the row is really cool. Tough to get a sharp shot as it was pretty dark and I didn’t want to push the ISO. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/30, ISO 800

An elephant statue at the Erawon Temple in downtown Bangkok.  I should have dialed the ISO down to 200 here -  it was pretty bright. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/1250, ISO 320

An elephant statue at the Erawon Temple in downtown Bangkok. I should have dialed the ISO down to 200 here – it was pretty bright. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/1250, ISO 320

The Summer kept hopping from there – I took another trip to Asia and went a few other places too. I’ll post a few more photographs from those trips soon. In the meantime, I’d love to see YOUR favorite pix from this year so far!

What to take when you travel

TTUD60v2ContentsOne of the most common posts I see on the various photography forums is a question that goes something like this “I’m going to <somewhere far away>, what should I bring with me?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a single answer to that question.  What photography equipment you should take with you has a lot to do with what you’re planning to shoot, what your style is, how much space you have to travel with your equipment and what you’re comfortable carrying.  If you have a story to share, please feel free to leave it in a comment!

I travel extensively for work and do a fair bit of individual/vacation travel as well.  Personally, I tend to travel heavy – I’m a pretty big guy, and I prefer to have more than less.  That won’t work for everyone, and over time I’ve figured out what I do and don’t use.  I’ll pass on what I bring, and then offer some thoughts on how you might decide what to take when you travel.

Before I talk about what I bring, I wanted to tell you how I bring it.  Since over 80% of my travel is business (especially internationally), I’m almost always sharing space with my gear for work – a laptop (and sometimes more than one), power adapters and other various gear.  Generally my strategy is to carry the key stuff – the body and lenses – and pack the rest in the suitcase with my clothes.  Unless I’m protecting it or I need it while flying I try to put it in the suitcase – batteries, L-brackets, filters, chargers, etc.  For the most part, these things are a lot easier to pack in a suitcase where they’d take up valuable space in your shoulder bag. If that only adds up to the ability to carry one more lens, you’ve still achieved a significant benefit.

I’ve got a pretty nice kit of lenses these days – six total (see In My Bag for the list).  While I can get them all into my Urban Disguise bag, it is a pretty heavy carry.  Before I head out on a trip, I think about what kind of shooting I’ll have the chance to do and what my goals are – higher goals often drive more gear.  Travel photography generally boils down to scenes/candids, landscapes, creative shots and walk-around shots.  The good news is I can usually cover most of that with two or three lenses:

  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8:  Great for wide-open landscapes as well as capturing the most of tight interiors like churches and other historic buildings, this lens comes in awfully handy.  Since it has a fixed f/2.8 aperture, it does a nice job in those low-light interiors.  However, because it is a fairly bulky lens and little limited in overall usefulness it is the first lens I drop among my three core travel lenses.  The shot below could only be taken by my 11-16 – I would have had to stand in traffic with my next-widest lens.  It created a pretty dramatic angle, too… (click on the photos to see them larger)
La Madeleine church in Paris.

La Madeleine church in Paris.

  • Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-f/5.6 VRII:   This is the ultimate walk-around lens.  Pretty darn wide and pretty darn long, it offers a lot of flexibility.  A lot of lens-snobs turn their nose up at this lens, but it can be pretty darn sharp and has a moderate carry weight.  It does a nice job at the wide end for landscape shooting and has enough reach to allow you to bring back some texture.  As a variable-aperture zoom, it isn’t a low-light champ, but it pays you back with extensive range and versatility.
Tyn Church in Prague

Tyn Church in Prague

  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8G:  When it comes to creativity, I find it hard to beat my primes.  The ability to use shallow depth-of-field and shoot in low light gives you the ability to create a lot of mood and atmosphere in a shot.  While I’ve used my 85mm to get some good shots, my 35mm f/1.8 has yielded a big chunk of my favorite shots, including the one below (which will look familiar to return visitors), and is almost weightless.
Love locks in Prague

Love locks in Prague

Those are my three key lenses for travel.  When it is just the body, the 18-200 and the 35mm, the kit is reasonably light.  From there I’ll add lenses situationally – the 70-200 if I need reach and ultimate sharpness in low-light, the 85mm if I think I’ll do something portrait-like or a little more reach vs. my 35.

The first lens back in my bag for travel is the 28-75 though – it offers a lot of flexibility as a walk-around lens has has terrific sharpness, contrast and color along with f/2.8 creativity.  Occasionally I’ll substitute it for my 18-200 if I don’t think I’ll need the longer zoom capability.

The other thing you have to think about is whether you’ll need a tripod.  I bring my monopod on travel more than my tripod because of space and weight.  I don’t own a travel tripod (which fold down to a super-small size), and it is fairly heavy and bulky to walk around with, despite which it goes with me about half the time.  My monopod is small and fairly light, and has been really handy in dark interiors but only makes the trip about 1/3 of the time, mainly due to how much my tripod travels.

Sometimes I bring a bit more than I’ll need for a single situation and pack only the things I think I’ll need on a given day, leaving the rest in the hotel room safe.

So here are some questions to ask yourself before you travel:

  1. How much room do have to bring things with you?  You can optimize space by packing bulkier items with your clothes.  You won’t need your charger when you’re walking around anyway.
  2. What kind of shooting are you going to do?  along with “what lenses/filters/other equipment are necessary to get the shots?”  Be realistic here or you’ll wind up with almost everything you own.
  3. How much weight can you carry around for extended periods?  Generally I’ll choose to be a little more tired and sore to get the shots I want, but some don’t have that option.
  4. What else are you going to be doing?  If you’re on vacation and will do some shopping, it is  a good idea to leave some space in the bag for the things you pick up along the way.

The last thing I’ll mention is that sometimes not having the perfect lens means an opportunity to be creative.  If you’re faced with a situation where you think “I really wish I had that other lens”, the next thing should be “How do I create a shot with the equipment I do have?”

Travel photography should be fun and add to the experience.  If you’re frustrated, hurting and tired, you’ll probably remember that more than your shots and it may take you out of the creative zone.  Keep it simple, travel with reasonable comfort and plan ahead a little and you’ll find you like what you come home with more.

How skinny do you travel?  Anything you’ve found hard to live without when on the road?  Please feel free to share any travel stories below.  Thanks!

Updated China and Japan Summer 2012

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As summer approaches, I’m planning another trip to China and Japan. Since my switch to LightRoom 4 over the holidays, I’ve been watching the Lightroom Channel on YouTube, trying to improve my skills.

I thought it would be fun to see what last Summer’s photos could look like. Here are some my favorites. I realize that I didn’t post many photos from my trip to Europe (that started one week after this work trip), so I’ll go do the same thing for those and post them, too.

Like any photography tool, the better you know it, the more effective you can be – Lightroom is no different, though I have to say I’m getting a slow start with it. Guess I need to spend more time with Kelby! 🙂

Favorite Shots of 2012

Well, I figured since it is mid-March (already!) I should get on my favorite photos of 2012…

It was a pretty busy year, full of travel to some pretty amazing places.  I think the biggest jumps I took with my photography are mostly centered around being more thoughtful and confident with composition as well as knowing my equipment better.  The goal (and I haven’t achieved it yet by any stretch, but we’re getting there….:) ) is to make the camera disappear and concentrate on capturing the image as you want it.  And have fun.

I took a lot of shots last year, and there are many that I’m fond of, so choosing a few was hard.  Clicking on a shot will open a larger version.

Strictly speaking, this and the next shot were some of my last shots of 2011.  But since I sort of lost track of them and they didn't make my 2011 series, I'm cheating and putting them here.

Strictly speaking, this and the next shot were some of my last shots of 2011. But since I sort of lost track of them and they didn’t make my 2011 series, I’m cheating and putting them here.  This is the pineapple fountain in Charleston, SC.

My second visit to this boat produced one of my favorite photos ever.

My second visit to this pilot boat in Charleston Harbor produced one of my favorite photos ever.

Spring found me in Alabama for the 10th edition of my favorite car show.

Spring found me in Alabama for the 10th edition of my favorite car show.

A business trip took me to Beijing, where color always seems to surround you...

A business trip took me to Beijing, where color always seems to surround you…

My favorite drink is done well in Beijing...

My favorite drink, a rye Manhattan, is done well in Beijing…

There is an art district in Beijing called 798 where you can find a lot of off-the-wall art, but the old buildings there offer some nice texture, too...

There is a  district in Beijing called 798 where you can find a lot of off-the-wall art, but the old buildings there offer some nice texture, too…

I liked the mood of this shot, but knowing it was taken in Beijing adds a little incongruity to it as well...

I liked the mood of this shot, but knowing it was taken in Beijing adds a little incongruity to it as well…

This statue was in the 798 art district in Beijing, which was ironic enough.  The billboard on the walls just layered on top...

This statue was in the 798 art district in Beijing, which was ironic enough. The billboard on the walls just layered on top…

They wouldn't let me take my tripod and it was really windy 55 stories above Tokyo, so getting this shot wasn't a picnic.  The view was stunning though, so I made due by holding my camera to a railing on my L-bracket, giving me enough stability to get reasonable sharpness.

They wouldn’t let me take my tripod and it was really windy 55 stories above Tokyo, so getting this shot wasn’t a picnic. The view was stunning though, so I made due by holding my camera to a railing on my L-bracket, giving me enough stability to get reasonable sharpness.

I like this shot, though it doesn't do a great job of showing the scale of the world's largest Buddha.

I like this shot, though it doesn’t do a great job of showing the scale of the world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.

This carved stone monolith was near the Great Buddha of Kamakura.    I thought narrow depth of field helped give it a sense of texture.

This carved stone monolith was near the Great Buddha of Kamakura. I thought narrow depth of field helped give it a sense of texture.

Prague is famous for the Love Locks that decorate fences along the waterway inside the city.  It is a growing trend around the world.  This shot was the feature of my "Touristy Photos" post.  If you're looking for cities filled with amazing things to photograph, this area of Europe is your ticket.

Prague is famous for the Love Locks that decorate fences along the waterway inside the city. It is a growing trend around the world. This shot was the feature of my “Touristy Photos” post. If you’re looking for cities filled with amazing things to photograph, this area of Europe is your ticket.

Budapest is a city filled with history, texture and stunning views...

Budapest is a city filled with history, texture and stunning views…

I wonder how many people walk through the doors of this charge and never look at the detailed and ornate metal castings all around them...

I wonder how many people walk through the doors of the La Madeline church in Paris and never look at the detailed and ornate metal castings all around them…

These shots took me through the end of the Summer, and to be honest by then I was a little worn out!  The rest of the year was also very busy at work and featured much less interesting travel, so I wound up with a sort of involuntary vacation from photography (not to mention this blog…).

So that’s it!  I’m off to a much stronger start in 2013, and I’m really looking forward to warmer weather to get out and have some fun with my camera!  If you’ve got favorite shots from last year posted, paste a link to your blog, flickr or whatever!

Seattle Photowalk

Had a bit of fun today on a work trip…a walk before dinner.  My fun favorite?

My favorite, if just because of the perspective.  He was hanging over the front of the ice-bin...

My favorite, if just because of the perspective. He was hanging over the front of the ice-bin…

My real favorite?
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Full set here: http://on.fb.me/11TNZzY

Enthusiast Photographer Photowalk – Charleston, SC

Every year I shoot this boat, but I try to do something different.

Every year I shoot this boat, but I try to do something different.

One of my favorite things to do is walk a city at dawn and shoot photographs.  Each February finds me in Charleston, SC, and I make a point to get out and capture some of the rich texture so richly abundant here.

The harbor boat above is one of my favorite subjects.  One could say I should find something different, and next year I probably will, but I always enjoy this shot.  It isn’t the most accessible place to get a good composition, but the boat and the dawn sky are great.

Some advice for photowalks.

  • Look for texture and detail.
  • Scout the area beforehand if you can.  Wandering around the day before can give you an idea of where you want to be and where you want to go, and save valuable time while the light is changing.
  • Check your equipment the night before.  Make sure you have a extra batteries and cards, format your cards and make sure to either reset your camera or go through it to make sure there aren’t any settings that will interfere with your shooting (ISO, custom white balance, etc.).
  • Pack light.  If you’ve been able to scout, you probably have a good idea of what lenses to take, etc.  The bag can get heavy fast…
  • Respect “No Trespassing” signs and private property.  Not only is it polite, but failing to do so might lead to some sticky situations with the police or worse.  There’s always something else to shoot.
  • Trust your eye – if you see something interesting, figure out why it caught your attention and try to strip your shot down to that.  Composition is one of my big struggles, but I always have fun with it.
  • Look for the unexpected places.  While I always like to have the photo of the landmark I took myself, try to get an unconventional perspective/composition, and always look for the things other people are missing.

Here are a few other shots from this morning (fairly quickly edited from JPEGS – I’ll play with the RAW files when I get home…):

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I had a lot of fun, and found some new and interesting places my trusting my instinct to turn a corner and see what was there.  If you’ve got some photowalk photos, post a link in the comment area!  Constructive feedback is always welcome, too!

Touristy Photos

I wanted to briefly share a simple contrast between a “snapshot” and a “photograph”.  So often you hear about people coming back from exotic places with a lot of boring photos that just don’t make anyone happy – they don’t excite the people who look at them and they seem only a vague shadow of something amazing to the person who took the photo hoping to catch a sliver.

I did a lot of traveling around the world recently, and my renewed dedication to photography gave me the chance to see different photographic opportunities than I did just a few years ago.  I wanted to come back with as few snapshots as possible, and I wanted my images to mean something to me as well as make an impression on anyone else who sees them.

My vacation was exactly that – a vacation – so I didn’t want to turn the whole trip into a photography exercise.  However, I wanted to use my understanding of composition, aperture and other mechanics to bring home images that told a story and communicated how I felt when I took the shot.

The best example I have of this from my trip came from Prague.  Along the waterway, there are occasionally fences where lovers place locks for good luck.  The most popular one is very close to the John Lennon wall.  It is a really cool site, but the snapshot I took of it just doesn’t do it justice:

This is what a touristy snapshot looks like. It physically captured the scene, but isn’t visually very interesting and doesn’t really tell a story.  Shot at f/5.6, shutter 1/80.

Standing next to it, this scene is a lot more striking and cool than the above photo.  I really wanted to show off the brilliant colors and the diversity of the locks as well as create a sense of drama for the shot.  Here’s another view of the same scene:

Here the locks are the stars of the show. The composition and narrow depth of field create a much more dramatic perspective, and bring the colors to life. This was shot with the same 35mm lens, but shot at f/1.8 to create the thin zone of focus (focal plane) and composed to create drama and an opportunity for the creamy background (bokeh).  I manually chose the focus point for this shot, and tried several moving left to right down the frame to get the one I ultimately liked the most.

This shot speaks far more strongly to me as a memory of a cool place I visited, and it stands alone as an image, too.  All it took was a few seconds of thought about how best to tell the story of this place, select the best aperture for the job, compose the shot and shoot a few frames.  In this case, the “rule of thirds” applied more to the point of focus than the composition itself.

So often when I’m taking pictures, it is specifically about the pictures.  Whether it is photos of my children at a family event or outings specifically about creating images, my priority is photographs.  On vacation, only slivers of my attention were focused on the photography.  My main goal was to relax and enjoy two wonderful weeks with my wife.  A secondary goal was to bring back images as warm as my memories of the places and the experience.  Getting very comfortable with the hardware, theory and practice allowed me to do just that.

Has photography changed how you take vacation photos?  Did it help you enjoy your vacation more?  Anyone want to share a link to your favorite vacation photo?

Photos from China and Japan

Apologies for the long gap between posts!  I just got back from a business trip that took me to China and Japan, and luckily afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit of time with a photographer buddy taking pictures.  I tend to focus too much on hardware sometimes on Enthusiast Photographer – I hope you enjoy them!  Some of them are kind of touristy, which is fine – I was a tourist!  🙂  I did try to be a little creative, but my main focus was having full command of my camera and having fun.  A D300s looms in my immediate future, and I wanted to be fully comfortable without the nanny “Auto” mode.

So here are a few from my travels.  Comments and feedback are welcome!

Dinner in Beijing

Lights

A Manhattan in Beijing

Woman watches a Fountain Art installation in Beijing

Pipes in the 798 District of Beijing

Impromptu parking garage…

Biker takes a break from the mid-day sun in Beijing

View from the top of the Mori tower in Tokyo

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.  This one is an example of where composition and zoom can actually reduce the scale of the subject.  The tourists in the foreground make the Buddha seem much smaller than it is…

A better composition of the world’s largest Buddha.

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan

A monument near the great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan.

It was a really enjoyable trip, even if it was work!  Even better, my wife and I are heading to Europe for two weeks early next week, so I’ll be a traveling Enthusiast Photographer once again!

By then, all the D600 rumors will probably be sorted out… 😉

As a quick equipment note, this was my first big trip with the all my gear, plus a couple other items – my Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the Snoop insert performed well – if anything, it holds too much!  The Gitzo 2531/Sunwayfoto XB-44 performed well, but the setup is really too large to fly with.  I took my new Sirui monopod and the monopod head/clamp setup provided by Sunwayfoto, and these were a great solution.  The head and clamp gave me excellent flexibility with the monopod, and allowed me to shoot in some pretty low light.  Unfortunately, even monopods weren’t allowed on the top from the Mori Tower, so that shot was hand-held.  I’m debating whether I can/should take the tripod to Europe.  I want to find a way to take it, but I’m thinking it is going to be hard to get on the plane, and I’m not taking a suitcase big enough to put it in.  More on that later…