Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Panorama Tutorial

In the spirit of sharing, I've put together a short video on how I went about creating and editing the Budapest panorama in both Lightroom and Photoshop.  Hope you enjoy and please feel free to leave comments here or on my Vimeo channel.  Enjoy!

Panorama Tutorial from Mike on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Budapest - a beautiful city with a turbulent past

Purple Sunrise over Budapest


Budapest lies Northwest of Bulgaria, in Hungary.  Most easily (and economically) accessible by a combination of plan and train, Budapest offers the visitor much more than a weekend's entertainment.  Whether you are interested in the rich history of the region or the nightlife that exists on the tiny, quite streets that lie between and under tall, ornate buildings, Budapest draws travelers of all ages.

Budapest's turbulent history has given rise to a free thinking city littered with historical monuments, museums and cultural event locations.  That being said, it is the human element of the city that gives it it's charm.  The Hungarian people have a confident yet polite demeanor about them.  Their ability to be clearly confident in who they are combined with a open and accepting nature made them the highlight of our trip.

Budapest has not always been such an inviting city.  Buried deep in Budapest's past lies a turbulent history that is riddled with conflict.  The Hungarian struggle for democracy has taken them through the clutches of Adolf Hitler and past the iron curtain of communism.  Horrible atrocities and crimes were committed during Hungary's  struggle for a democratic government.  This is no more evident than when one tours the "House of Terror," a historical experience that takes the visitor on a gripping, realistic trip into the past to experience some of the events that lead to their current economic and political state.  After this experience, one can only marvel at the present state of the national resilience, optimism and friendliness.

Some of the more prevalent attractions included Castle Hill, Fisherman's Bastion, The Parliament, hot water bathing pools, The National Opera and the Danube river itself.  Open air markets are now exist where people once cringed in fear of the occupying regime.  Although many of the buildings and bridges have been destroyed and restored multiple times, Budapest retains its historical and old world charm.

This is a city I will return to.


I went a little panoramic crazy during this trip.  Who could blame me?  Everywhere I looked there were beautiful views stretching out as far as the eye could see.  Many of the shots were taken either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun was beyond the horizon.  This helped to create the crazy tints that you see in the sky.

The panoramic pictures of  the city were taken with the 70-200mm at f4.0 zoomed out to 70mm in the portrait or landscape orientation (depending on what I was attempting to capture).  Exposure times varied from 4.0 seconds to 1/8th of second and the camera was steadied by resting it on the nearest stable object (the bridge in many cases).  I then took each of the photos and stitched them together in Photoshop, reimported them into Lightroom for post corrections.

I am planning to produce a video on how I created the panoramas soon so stay tuned for that information if you are interested.  In any case, this is a fantastic trip for anyone, but especially a photographer.  I have to admit, it was  hard to get up at 6am to get purple panoramic of the Danube, but I continued to remember the advice "put yourself in front of more interesting subjects" and "get there in the good light."  I think it worked ... and really payed off.  Enjoy the photos!

Post Sunrise - Blood red Danube where many battled for their freedom


Stairs up to Fisherman's Bastion

Sunrise under Margit Bridge

Sunrise and lines

View from Fisherman's Bastion

HDR of the church on Fisherman's Bastion

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Feedback Needed 2 ...

So ... I'm torn.  I have to submit two photos from the photowalk today and I'm really not sure which one to put in.  I like the Nevski photo because it is a look that I've never seen or used before.  I think it tells a story, has good leading lines and color.  I don't like all the distractions in the photo but I'm willing to live with them. The photo of the child is just a classic little guy with some serious style.  I love it as it is a flashback to an earlier time.  He and his mother were sitting around the fountains having lunch together and just enjoying the day.  So, my question is ... which one do I submit?  Thoughts are greatly appreciated as I have to submit my choice tomorrow.  You can leave comments below or send me a message.  Thanks in advance!

Here are some others from the day that I thought were interesting ...



Sunday, October 7, 2012

HDR Black and White

I was watching an episode of The Grid on HDR and it inspired me to process the below photo.  I took this shot by bracketing the initial shot +/- 2.0 stops and then processed it in Photomatix and Silver Effex.  I darkened the sky by bringing down the brightness of the blues.  I'm not sure if I like the B/W image better or not but I provided the original color image so that you have an idea of the starting point before processing.

The church is one that we visited during our trip to Buzludzha.  It was build to help celebrate the cooperation between the Russians and the Bulgarians in order to liberate them from Ottoman rule.  There basement of the church is where various influential people are commemorated.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gravity Affects Sofia Live Club

Last night, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to shoot another band at Sofia Live Club.  Gravity Co. is a Bulgarian band that calls Sofia Live Club their local.  Their musical style was a unique combination of  a heavy Nine Inch Nails sound, Bono-esque vocals with a splash of 311.  The band put on an interesting show and did their best to get the crowd involved with the performance.  Many of the concert goers that I spoke to had been following the band for quite some time.  You can sample some of their music HERE if you are interested in finding out more.

The photos in this post were taken with a two light setup.  One 430ex II was setup stage right and set to 1/8th power in manual mode in combination with a Flex TT5.  The second 430ex II was setup stage left and set to ETTL -1.0 stop.  This created a small amount of fill to help illuminate shadows and reduce noise.  The camera was set to manual mode at f4.0 at 1/200th of a second at ISO 1000.  All shots were taken with the 70-200mm f4.0L.  Reducing highlights, adjusting contrast and adding a touch of clarity were actions all done in Lightroom during post.

Trouble shooting was the name of the game last night.  I wanted to try and run both lights on ETTL to see how they would deal with illuminating the subject in different positions on the stage.  For some reason, the ETTL settings on my Pocket Wizards weren't working correctly and I had to change my key light to manual (1/8th power) in order to get proper exposure.  I waited until the subjects were within an acceptable range of the light to expose them correctly (or as close to correctly as I could muster).  I'll be spending today testing out those darn pesky Pocket Wizards to see where I went wrong this afternoon.  Enjoy the photos!


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Higher Quality Time Lapse of Buzludzha

Here is a higher quality time lapse of the stars at night in Buzludzha.  I'm still playing around with the best ways to create these types of video files.  If you have any advise please feel free to send it my way.  It would be greatly appreciated!  Enjoy the video and watch it in HD, it makes a difference ...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Everything Returns to Dust

Please note:  All images in this post are low resolution in order to protect my intellectual property.  If you would like any of these images in higher resolution, please contact me.  Also, please click on the image to see a more accurate preview as the images do not appear properly on this page.

I've been bothering Elise to get in a car with me and drive out to Shipka to see Buzludzha for quite some time.  To be honest, my lack of organizational desire has led to me postponing this trip ... until now.  Last weekend we decided to rent a car, throw the bikes in the back, drive out to Buzludzha and investigate the monument.

I'd heard a lot about the concrete flying saucer but not much about the surrounding area.  After arriving at the Shipka IT Hotel in Shipka (which is an incredible place to stay) we realized that the Buzludzha monument wasn't the only attraction in the area.  Shipka boasts three main tourist sites.  There are a few different Thracian tombs, a beautiful church to commemorate the Bulgarian/Russian joint effort to overthrow the Ottomans and then, of course, Buzludzha itself.

Conversations with the owner of Shipka IT Hotel gave me a basic understanding of the history of the monument.  Initially constructed in homage of communism, the flying saucer shaped design was intended to celebrate the communist party's presence in Bulgaria.  It was initially constructed in exquisite splendor with an intricate metal roof, adorning tower and detailed fresco-like tile designs inside the building.  Initially, an illuminated gem like ornament was intended to adorn the peak of the tower so that the monument would be visible in other countries.

In its glory days, the monument was beautiful.  Since the fall of communism though, the monument has descended into disrepair.  The welds attaching the metal roof were cut one night by thieves who waited until for an intense storm to blow the roof off of the building.  They then used a massive amount of man and mechanical power to remove the valuable components of the monument.  Over the years, the monument has been slowly pillaged of all of its contents.  Now, only the the inner guts of the building survive.  The monument is officially closed off to visitors but a few access points allow entry to the interior.

Venturing into the innards of the building rewards the visitors with a first hand view of the beautiful tile work and an amazing panoramic of the surrounding mountain ranges.  It is no wonder that the architects chose this as the location for their crowning communist achievement.

Since then, the Buzludzha monument has turned from the most impressive jewel in the Bulgarian crown to a local watering hole for Bulgarian teenagers.  During our visit visitors drove up to the mountain to appreciate the view and enjoy all the natural beauty that Bulgaria has to offer.  We were passed more than once during our visit by mountain hikers, tipsy teenagers and solemn senior citizens, all having different reasons for ascending the mountain that day.

Currently, Buzludzha is the gathering place for a communist party reunion to celebrate the founding of the Bulgarian  Social Democratic Party.  The event takes place every year on July 30th.

The photography in this post falls into 3 categories which I will discuss below.

Interior HDR

The photos of the interior of the building were taken with the 17-40mm at f8.0, ISO 800 on a tripod.  For the panoramic photos, the tripod and camera were panned across the building to create 3 bracketed exposures at each of the 4 panning positions.  Multiple exposures were combined using Photoshop HDR.  The HDR photos were then merged into a panoramic photo.

Sunset Photos

These photos were taken with the 17-40mm at f16.0 with intention of creating a sunset time-lapse   A few technical difficulties resulted in me creating sunset images.  They were taken in a bracketed exposure sequence (+/- 2.0 stops).  I used the properly exposed photo in combination with Lightroom to create the images you see below.  I attempted to create an HDR sunset but after experimenting with some different settings, I preferred the original image over the HDR image.The aperture of f16.0 caused the star sparkle of the sun to become more pronounced over the land.


The star trail video and photo were created by visiting the monument at 2:00am and taking one photo every 30 seconds with long exposure noise compensation turned on in the menu.  The camera was mounted on the tripod and allowed to fire for just over an  hour by using a remote trigger (while I slept in the car).  The photos were then combined using Starstax and LRTimelapse (freeware available online).  The non circular star trails are planes that flew overhead during an exposure.