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!