Sunday, December 18, 2011


This is an amazing concept.  I will let the video speak for itself but it is an amazing example of how we can all be inspired by the creative process.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lighting and more ...

Getting that perfect balance of lighting is always a challenge.  I really feel that I've started paying a lot more attention to the quality and quantity of light that I am using.  I watched this video and it really helped me cement some basic understandings of lighting.  It helped, but be warned ... it is a long one (2 hours).  I thought it might help others out there.  In any case ... enjoy if you have the time!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Women's Market - Zhenski Pazar

 A quick afternoon stroll to downtown Sofia would undoubtedly introduce you to the statue of Saint Sofia, Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the Russian Church and maybe provide a tasty little lunch at Happy.  One little gem that can be easily overlooked is the Women's Market just Northwest of the city center.  Although it has had a reputation of being a location for unscrupulous vendors, this location is a photographers smorgasbourg of faces, sights and sounds.

After walking downtown to pick up some crushed chickpeas to make humus for our Christmas poker party, I took a moment to sit back and take in the exceptionally warm weather in which Eastern Europe currently basks.  As the glow of the setting sun bronzed the faces of the Bulgarian shoppers, I took a moment to ponder the meaning and traditions of Christmas of the countries in which I have lived.  A beautiful way to spend a winter shortened Saturday afternoon.

My recent portrait experience has caused me to focus on DOF.  After a recent photo-shoot with a friend, I have realized that the sharpness of my images can be greatly improved.  Reading extensively about the subject, I realized my mistake.  I have been shooting wide open (f4.0) with a 200mm lens and missing the focus on many of my subjects.  Today, I boosted the ISO and increased the aperture to shoot at between 7.1 and 11 to help solve the problem.  I also shot mostly at 70mm to help increase the DOF.  The first photo seemed to have worked out well.  The others are not fantastic but I thought I would post them just for people to get a sense of the people who attend the market.  In any case, I think I'm more prepared for portrait work these days.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Weekend at the Center of the World

Rome is surreal.  It appears dug-up from antiquity by the gods themselves.  With ruins scattered throughout the city, the people, cars and modern buildings seem to create a frail, make-shift shanty town which exists in the grandeur of a people and time long past.  Known once as the center of the world, Rome has to be seen to be believed.

These pictures were taken in various places around Rome.  The shots of the Colosseum were taken hand held at a l/8 of a second.  Other shots are a mixture of HDR and some make shift tripod work.  Rome truly is a beautiful city with a ton to offer any visitor. 



Sunday, November 20, 2011

Edelweiss and Milk Bottles

With the wife away in Portugal this weekend, I was forced to find new and creative ways to feed myself.  Being a horrible cook, I figured that trading food for something I was decent at would be my best option.  When Edelweiss offered another all inclusive weekend up Borovets in exchange for taking a few photos I jumped all over it.


Milk bottle diffuser
I took a new approach to this job.  I tried experimenting with a DIY diffuser made from a translucent milk bottle.  After cutting a hole in the bottom of the bottle, I proceeded to point the speedlight straight up and place the milk bottle over the head of the flash.  It turned out to be an excellent diffuser for large rooms and acted as great fill light outdoors to give detail to the shadows.  I experimented with tilting the bottle/flash combination to create subtle shadows as you see under the nurses nose above.  I liked what I got from it and I will definitely use this again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Communist Fall

Beside the obvious play on words, I have been searching for a way to inject colour into the urban landscape of Sofia.  Since my arrival, I have noticed that Bulgaria is a stark contrast of natural beauty and square, grey, suburban communist architecture.  Although the city center is a collection of impressive cultural structures, I sometimes feel trapped by the contoured liquid rock that forms the buildings within which I work and roads on which I travel.  The mountains, parks and countryside provide a convenient escape when the rigid grey walls seem to creep in.

This is image is less a photography, and more a representation of the diverse city of Sofia.  The bottom layer of this image is an HDR photo of Boris Gardens in Sofia while the top layer is a black and white photo of one of the many buildings found here in Sofia.  The two photos were merged using Photoshop.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bell Tower Bike Ride


Colors, concrete and contrast dominated my day on Sunday.  As I stepped out of the apartment I was met with a brisk, refreshing breeze that tightened my skin and caused my eyes to widen.  Suddenly I was awake.  With the first two rotations of my bike's pedals, I was already enjoying the fresh weekend breeze.  The steady whir of my tires grew louder and smoother and a began slowly wound my way down hill and through intersections towards the Ring Road, and eventually the Bell Tower.

Taking my usual path to work, the initial plan was to start in the direction of school and find my way over to the Bell Tower by using well known roads.  The Bell Tower Park is the location of a communist monument and park which served to commemorate peace.  There had been some controversy over the purpose of the monument as some claimed it had a less peaceful purpose.

As I crossed the ring with cars whizzing by on either side, the little boy in my took hold.  My eyes opened wider as I saw a path leading from the highway into the woods.  The next 3 hours were spent riding through the beautiful colors of fall at the base of Vitosha in search of the Bell Tower.  I would eventually find the tower and park, but I have to admit, the journey was the true fun of this adventure.

The pictures were taken with the purpose of experimenting with mood.  I took all of the pictures within 5 minutes of each other.  I was trying to get that cold, communist feel and contrast it with a more warm fall-like feeling.  All shots were taken with the 17-40mm L4.0 lens and I played with some of the tonal curves to create the effect that you see in the pictures.

Bells from various countries line the base of the monument.  This is the Mexican bell that can be rung by visitors to commemorate peace.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fortissimo Fest 2011 - Janice Eteme and Kevin Deas

Fortissimo Fest 2011 came to a close last night with a performance from Janice Eteme, Kevin Deas and the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra.  The 7th floor of NDK was awash in deep vocal harmony as Kevin, Janice and the orchestra filled the auditorium with music ranging from Oprah to American classics.  Kevin's deep, booming vocals were accompanied by Janice's stunningly accurate range to create a dynamic and captivating performance.

This performance, being the last of Fortissimo Fest 2011, forced me to reflect on the event as a whole and consider the take aways that would stay with me after the festival was long gone.  It did not take long to come to the conclusion that a love ... no ... obsessive passion for music was the undercurrent of the festival.  From Sarah Chang, through Romaneno and up to Janice and Kevin, the event has been characterized by committed and skilled musicians that enjoy sharing the talent that they have been so lucky to receive.  These people serve as inspiration for us ... inspiration to embrace our creativity and expressive nature ... inspiration to take the internal art, whatever form it may take, and externalize it.  This is the lesson that lives on from Fortissimo Fest 2011 in my eyes.

The images captured during this event were taken in a similar way to the previous three posts.  The only changes that were made were that I shot most of the images in manual mode with at 125th and 4.0. This was successful due to the fairy consistent lighting arrangement in the venue.  I also continued to play with some different tonal curves in post production.  

On a different note, I did explore recording and posting some of my processing procedures only to discover that my computer was too slow to support screencasting and Lightroom at the same time.  This is a positive thing as I am not in the market for a more up-to-date computer.  Enjoy the images!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fortissimo Fest 2011 - Roma Rhythms

Simple.  The highlight of Fortissimo Fest 2011 to date.  This unique blend of Cuban rhythm and Dixie Land showmanship coupled with a splash of accordion jazz made for one of the highlights of Fortissimo Fest.  Romaneno performed their unique brand of music to standing room only audience at the Sofia Live Club last night.  The popularity of the band and their music became increasing evident as the performance time grew near.  People slowly filtered into the venue until seating was full, audience members were peaking around poles, sitting on end tables and relaxing on the steps in front of the stage.  None of them were disappointed.  This is an excellent band that is a must see if they are neck of the woods.  You can check out the band's profile and music here and here if you are interested.

I was personally unaware of the plight of the Roma people until moving to Europe.  More information about the Roma can be found here.  The discrimination and racism that they are subjected to can be quite harsh.  Some would justify this treatment by providing information about thefts and other illegitimate acts the that they have conducted.  I see this as a bit of a chicken and egg argument as the racism and prejudiced seems to have oppressed the Roma to a point where they have no real option for legitimate income.  In any case, it was wonderful to see such a large crowd turn out to see such talented musicians, despite their ethnic background.

After shooting Guitar Trio last night, I decided to take a different approach to this shoot.  I continued to use the high ISO values with a wide open aperture but this time I used some different processing techniques.  I was aided by the fact that the lead signer was wearing a white shirt.  This helped me use the RAW file data to obtain a more accurate white balance for the photos.  I also decided to experiment with different tonal curves.  This has opened up a whole new world of processing for me.  As I continue this blog experiment, I am considering creating some videos on my processing techniques in the hopes that people will comment and help me along in this visual journey.  Stay tuned as I hope to include some short videos in upcoming posts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fortissiomo Fest 2011 - Guitar Trio

Sofia Live Club lit up last night for Bulgarian brothers performing an energetic and entertaining classical guitar concert.  Accompanied by violins, violas, a cello and drum the music entertained the serene crowd in the dark and relaxing venue.  As the music gently flowed around the room, the communication between the members of the trio seemed almost extrasensory.  Looks and glances communicated changes and shifts in the music's tempo and rhythm while the more than occasional smile displayed the musicians' pure joy with their opportunity to play music.  While the performance was of the highest quality, it was also an entertaining display of professional musicians enjoying their craft.  The involved and expressive communication between band members created a warm mood in which to enjoy the performance.  When attending these kinds of events I always marvel at the talent of artists like the ones I saw last night.  Whether you are entertained by the style of music or not, it is always a treat to see such talented people who have found their calling in life.

While shooting the Sarah Chang concert, I felt that the low light conditions were the most challenging that I had faced to date.  Well, the anti was raised last night.  The dark venue and colored lights played havoc with white balance and the simple availability of light.  I shot this concert in Av mode at 4.0 (wide open) at 3200 ISO with a 70-200mm 4.0L without flash.  Although I didn't think that these images would work out due to the grain of the high ISO, I had to continue as these were the only settings that would allow me to stop the blur of the performance.  Come on Canon 1DX!  I need that low light sensitivity.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Light - From Ethics to Physics

A Yale lecturer has uploaded a fantastic presentation on the new advances in light technology and photography.   He talks about the ethics of the newest advances, such as face recognition, sensor technology, 3D TVand images along with a whole range of other fascinating topics.

This video is a little physics heavy but it is worth a watch if you are interested in any of the above topics.  The one point that sticks out in my my mind is the fact that the megapixel race continues to march on and he discusses how irrelevant it has become.  He starts by mentioning the fact that our ability to to measure light has become more advanced than the light it is collecting.  This means that more megapixel does not translate into better, sharper images, but instead only drives consumerism by demanding that the market produce better sensors, lager storage devices and faster computers to process the increasing amount of irrelevant data.  Therefore, the megapixel race is convincing us to part with our hard earned money but not necessarily creating better images.

If you are in the market for a new camera, this video is a must watch.  Do you really need those 30+ megapixels?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fortissimo Fest 2011 - Mr. Brass

Mr. Brass at the Sofia Art Gallery for Fortissimo Fest 2011
Fortissimo Fest continued tonight in yet another downtown Sofia location.  The walls of the Sofia Art Gallery buzzed with the humming, musical vibrations of Mr. Brass.  Playing a mix of Bulgarian and American music, they entertained a standing-room-only audience.  Mr. Brass worked their way through a solid hour of music by interspersing a playful on stage presence with lively music and emerged for an encore dawning clown noses to finish off the night.

This shoot was a white balance nightmare.  The strange mix of fluorescent and tungsten lights cast a strange blue/orange light over the band.  Arriving a few minutes early, I was able to create a manual white balance setting using one of the white walls in the concert hall.  This, along with the use of flash, helped create a more natural light.  The backdrop in front of which the band played was a solid white wall.  For this reason, I decided to try some HDR with picture you see in the center to give it some visual interest.  The remaining pictures are taken with flash.  By illuminating the subject with the bounce flash off of the ceiling, I was able to limit the range of the flash and allow the house lights to create a slightly orange tint on the back wall to enhance separation between subject and background.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fortissimo Fest 2011 - Sarah Chang

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a Fortissimo Fest concert by renown classical violinist Sarah Chang.  As her bow danced and sliced its way across the strings of her violin, the musical energy spread quickly throughout NDK auditorium in Sofia.  The performance was an amazing display of talent and emotion.  Sarah played with energy and skill that did not go unnoticed by the appreciative onlookers.  It was a special experience that was exciting to capture.

Classical violin, Roma Rhythms and brass trumpets are but a few of the sounds that will fill the streets of Sofia this week.  All of these events, and more, are scheduled to be a part of the festival known as Fortissimo Fest 2011.  Please use the link to access the schedule of the events.

The challenges of capturing these images lay in the limited amount of light that was available in the auditorium.  Due to this lack of light, I had to pump up the ISO to 1250 to barely squeeze out an image wide open.  These pictures were taken with 70-200m 4.0L and 17-40mm 4.0L l lenses.  There was a sharp learning curve, but for a first attempt I am pretty happy with the results.  Comments and suggestions for improvement are wanted and welcome!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vienna - A Weekend Escape

Stephensplatz - crown jewel of Vienna churches

One of the luxuries of living in Sofia is the proximity to other European countries and cultures.  A $120 Austrian Airlines ticket will transport you from downtown Sofia to one of the most beautiful cities in Western Europe.  Vienna is the perfect place to peruse museums, catch up with the Vienna International Film Festival, enjoy a Mozart and Strauss concert and sip the most delicious coffee ever made ... all on the same block!  The city has condensed an amazing amount of architectural wonders into a compact yet spacious downtown core.  Museums, churches, cafes and cultural festivals are all serviced by an efficient and punctual public transportation system.  Elise and I purchased two four-day public transportation passes that ended up being necessary considering the amount of apple strudel and goulash we consumed ... but it would be completely reasonable to walk this entire city if you were able to show better restraint with the local culinary specialties.  Vienna is a city that shouldn't be missed.

I tried to focus on architectural photography this trip.  The first picture in this post is a composite of 3 long exposures taken inside the Stephensplatz church, located at the heart of the downtown core.  The combination of ambient sunlight filtered through the stain glass window combined with the warm glow of the tungsten lights illuminating the alter created the interesting contrast in color temperature.  The HDR combination of the 3 different exposures gave detail to both the highlights and shadows.  Other pictures below were snapped at different locations around the city.  A Vienna weekend is an excellent excursion for anyone wanting that splash of Western European charm that is missing in their lives.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mmmm ... Bulgarian Tomato Soup

One of the fantastic features of Bulgaria is that they actually have produce that comes in and out of season.  Isn't that a strange concept?  The seasonality of the produce in Bulgaria means that the quality of produce peaks at certain times of year.  Luckily my wife knows exactly what to do with a perfectly grown tomato.

The above picture was taken with two speedlights.  The first was a bare 430ex ii to the back left of the soup to provide back light.  The second speedlight was set up just to camera right and shot into a soft silver umbrella to help soften the shadow of the bowl.  Some tin foil was used on right hand side of the soup to provide a little extra kick from the rear flash as well.  The result ... a very full and satisfied belly.  Mmmmmm ... soup on a cold day.

Trees, Pools and Bows


So I ask you, why not get in a car with someone who doesn't speak your language at a dimly lit gas station and drive into a remote ski village South of the city?  That was the adventure for this weekend.  It is actually much less exciting than I make it sound.  This weekend, Elise and I headed up to Borovets (a small skiing village South of Sofia) to snap a few photos of another team building weekend with Edelweiss Adventures.  The company hosted a group from Vivacom and led approximately 60 people through a series of team building activities that included raft building, archery and tree climbing.  The weekend was magnificent. From the gorgeous accommodations at Festa Winter Palace to the beautiful first snow fall we experienced on our last day in Borovets, we really couldn't have asked for much more.

The pictures directly above and below were taken in the same manner.  Each photo was set up with a pair of bare 430ex iis on a 45 degree angle to the subjects (one on each side of the camera).  Both speedlights were set to ETTL and a 70-200mm f4.0 lens was used to capture the images.  The last image (below) was taken with the same lens zoomed to 200mm without the use of speedlights.  White balance was especially challenging this weekend as I had to balance the cool overcast light with the relatively warm speedlights.  You can see the difference below in the skin tones of the people in the foreground vs. the people in the background.  Gels could have helped me balance the artificial and ambient light temperature but the continuous movement in and our of the hotel left little time to do any alterations to my setup.  Looking back on the whole experience, with hindsight being 20/20, I might have done a few things differently but overall I am happy with the results.

Look out below - Two concerned onlookers steady the ladder as a coworker climbs high into the trees to retrieve a clue

You want me to do what ?!?!? - Team builders start the day by listening to instructions from their leaders

Sunday, October 9, 2011

First Attempts

Elise and I spent a rainy yet soothing Sunday afternoon walking downtown and exploring a newly discovered vegetarian eating establishment.  It was a delicious restaurant called Dream House located just off of Vitosha Boulevard, beside the McDonalds.  It is a quiet little place hidden behind a stiff metal door and up a spray painted staircase.  Upon entering the small restaurant, we were greeted by a friendly employee along with a room full of occupied tables.  This was obviously a popular eating spot.  We gave our name and phone number and returned when a table was available.  The Sunday buffet and home made lemonade was delicious.  While promising the waitress that we would return and explore the menu on a weeknight, I also asked her if she would be interested in having some photos of her food taken for her menu or website.  She quickly agreed and I quickly returned home to attempt my first food photography session.  The results are below.  I would have liked to use an orange, but the kiwi was all that was available.

This shot is back-lit from above with white fill cards infront of plate to both the left and right of the camera.  I also placed a small strip of tin foil in front of the front edge of the plate in an attempt to soften the harsh shadow that you see at the bottom of the picture.  I'm not happy with the deep colorless appearance of the kiwi but I think overall, the shot works.  I plan on returning to Dream house to do my best for them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A moment ...

Waking up early this morning, with the wife still in bed, I had a moment.  I started by checking my Google reader to see if there were any unlikely updates concerning the newest Canon cameras.  Disappointment was the most accurate way to sum up that experience.  Don't worry, I'm getting use to it.  I noticed that a friend had posted the video below on their +Google feed. I watched the video and took some time to ponder the technical sides of the photos, admired the colours and star photography and moved on to Flickr.  I casually perused Flickr in search of inspiration and then went on to read the CNBC article about Steve Jobs.

I'm not sure if it was the random yet leading combination of the events this morning, but I have definitely arrived in a new place.  Where that is, I am not sure.  I spend my days teaching children that authors, good authors, carefully use words to craft an image that conveys a specific and intended, deliberately sculpted mood.  From the the first page to the last, writers use their literary talents to spark our individual imaginations in individual ways.  Photographers are no different.  They are the visual alchemists of literacy.  They use the technical terms such as aperture, white balance and vignetting to impress a mood, a fraction of time, a thought in the viewers mind.  Perhaps this seems obvious to many, and perhaps this is not the first time I have had this revelation, but by reminding my self of mood I feel that I have regained a key aspect of photography that can sometimes become lost in the details.

An Inspirational Flickr Group

CNBC Article on Steve Jobs

Landscape Photography Video

Sunday, October 2, 2011

More mountain biking ...

Quick Update: After attempting to find the sponsor of the race I photographed, I came across this video on their website.  This is worth 5 minutes of your time.  The videography is stunning.  Also, for those interested in mountain biking Bulgaria, these two websites give you a good head start

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Vitosha by Wheel

Rimming the southern outskirts of Sofia, Vitosha Mountain serves the people of the city and surrounding area in many different ways.  In most capital cities mountains are used as an escape from the smog, pollution and hustle and bustle of the everyday life.  With Sofia being such a green city, Vitosha Mountain simply adds another incredible outdoor opportunity to an already wide range of natural escapes.

As we packed up our kit for our hike up Vitosha, I stared down at my bulging, purple, eighties looking backpack.  Slinging it around my shoulder I confirmed my fear.  I had packed way too much camera equipment.  After arriving at the base of the hike and scrambling up the first incline on my hands and knees I started to question my sanity and ... honestly ... my love for photography.  The steep incline was short lived and the trail finally settled out into a "normal" mountain hike.  As we continued our ascent, the view of Sofia and the Bulgarian landscape began to grow around us in every direction.  Our hiking group suspects that the natural rock flows featured in the landscape images are due to glacial retreat.  These rock flows continue down the face of the mountain as if a huge finger has reached from the sky and drawn on the mountain as a child would draw in sand.  Near the peak, we met one of our colleagues who frequents the mountain on a regular basis.  She informed us of a bike riding competition that was starting in the city where competitors climb up Vitosha Mountain to a peak called Cherni Vruh, and then descending down the opposite side.  We continued to the peak and spent some time admiring the view and photographing the riders.

The landscape images were taken looking back from our ascent up the mountain.  I used a 17-40mm L4.0 Canon lens (with a cropped sensor body) to capture the view.  The bicycle photos were taken at the end of our hike as the riders came over the peak for their descent into the valley.  A 60mm 2.8 prime lens coupled with a Pocket Wizard/430exii combination buried in the grass (camera right) helped my to capture them as they rolled over the top of the mountain.

This was another one of those days when I realized that keeping your camera with you can be a pain, but it can also lead to some exciting opportunities.  I am hoping that I can get in contact with some of the people participating in the event and/or the organizers to share the few photos that I captured.  You can find more photos on my Flickr photostream if you are interested.  Another great day in Bulgaria!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Knowing when to keep your camera in your pocket ...

The transition from dictatorship to democracy has always been a bumpy and unsettling road.  This has never been more true than in Myanmar.  The link below will take you to an AP article that explains the plight of one photographer jailed for images taken during a grenade attack in Yangon.  Under the charge of "damaging the tranquility" of the government, this photographer has received an initial 8 year sentence follwed by a recent renewal of an additional 10 years, bringing his total sentence to 18 years.  Although photography can be an inspiring media by which one can send dramatic and silent messages, I question whether I would trade an image for 18 years of my life.  I suspect this was not a conscious choice of the photographer in this article but it does remind us all that there are times that we probably should just keep our camera in our pocket ...

Click HERE for the full AP article

Monday, September 26, 2011

Off-Season Sozopol

Bulgaria has many hidden surprises up its sleeves.  The small coastal city of Sozopol is one of them.  Frequented by mainly Bulgarians and other eastern Europeans, Sozopol offers a beautiful beach and quaint old city surrounded by the enchanting Black Sea.  If you haven't been able to tell, we loved visiting this small little town.  It may have been the lack of tourists (due to off season), the amazingly reasonable accommodation (The Villa List) or the friendly company but whatever the reason, Sozopol is a place that we intent to revisit.

The picture above was taken off of a sunset "panorama" cruise that we took during a Saturday night excursion.  I metered on the water and waited for the small fishing boat to move into the glow of the sunset.  A nice memory to go along with a fantastic weekend.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Alpine Club Edelweiss

I had the unique opportunity to tag along with an adventure team building club this weekend.  We traveled from Sofia by car for about two hours and arrived at the Iskar River Valley.  There Elise and I followed two teams of people through activities such as rock climbing, rafting and a variety of problem solving activities.  As an outsider who doesn't speak the language I watched both teams enter the day with a bit of hesitation.  By the end of the day the volume and amount of laughter filled the caves and valleys through which we trekked.  This experience reminded me of our Matacanes canyoning experience back in Mexico.  It is simply amazing how challenge can glue us together.  If you are interested in finding out more information about this company and what they offer, click HERE.

This photo was more of a challenge than it seems.  Balancing the ambient light from the two overhead "eyes" in the the cave with the flash was the first of my concerns.  This coupled with the requirement of stopping the motion forced me to work at ISO 800 (my limit of acceptable grain on the Canon 40D.)  It was definitely a learning experience and if I were to do it again I would have pulled a "Full Monty" and brought the Pocket Wizards along for the trip to expand my lighting options.  As it stands, I find this photo barely acceptable and I now have a more complete understanding of the limitations of on camera flash.  I can only hope to do better next time.

Also, while sitting around waiting to go home, I shot some of these butterflies in the nearby bush.  You can find higher resolution pictures on my Flickr Photostream on the sidebar of this page.