My adventurous and landmark packed photo travel week in Italy last September started in Rome. I then had a taster of the rugged Cinque Terre spiced up with powerful thunderstorms. The last leg of the journey culminated in Venice - the historic sea port built on the islands, the capital of the once mighty marine military power, the merchant empire and a major European cultural centre. Since the unification of Italy, Venice is now known as a prime tourist attraction. The city is very well preserved, authentic, unique and full of surprises.
It is no secret that there are no conventional roads apart from pedestrian walkways and bridges. The extensive canal network is at the heart of the infrastructure - all deliveries, taxi, ambulance and municipal services must still use the medieval waterways. Early in the morning all hotels, shops and restaurants receive their deliveries by cargo boats. Later on taxi boats and gondolas ferry people up and down the canals until late in the evening. While they can make and an interesting subject, this unfortunately means there are NO reflections to photograph at almost any part of the day. The flood-lighting both in the morning and the evening is very subtle and fairly minimal so that must be taken into account before planning the day and picking the locations. As a first time visitor I had to quickly learn the limitations, geographical constraints and adjust to the spirit of Venice. It was a challenging but very rewarding experience.
I stayed in small hotel on the main island which is the heart of Venice. I could reach any major landmark on the island in less than 30-40min on foot, which was very helpful in the mornings. Travellers coming to Venice by car should instead consider booking a hotel in Mestre and commuting in by a train; this could be also considered as a budget option, however it may add another half an hour or more to the sunrise journey time. I wouldn't advise staying on other islands mainly because the boat transport options are very limited early in the morning.
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal drew in and inspired master painters through the centuries hence it is no surprise the location offers plenty of exciting photography opportunities. It is still full of charm today: the architecture has changed little since the old days. The luxurious shops and restaurants blend to the scene very elegantly. There are sadly no sail boats to be seen on an ordinary day, while the water traffic is now dominated by the humble diesel boats. As already mentioned any hopes of the reflections were quickly dashed, so instead I had to compose the images like ordinary cityscapes with water feature.
The morning and evening blue hour is a great time for cityscapes and Venice is not an exception. The Grand Canal snakes through the island; there are just four bridges across that also provide some of the best vantage points.
The photograph below was made from the Ponte di Rialto during the morning blue hour. Getting up very early helped me miss all the crowds that could be easily one thousand men strong. The cool deep blue tones in the sky and water contrasted beautifully with the street lights and the pastel building hues. The sky was featureless, which I know isn't ideal but on the positive side it helps to focus all the attention to the architecture.
Ponte dell'Accademia reveals an instantly recognisable classic view towards Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. I picked the location for the evening golden hour and the sunset. The natural light was perfect and easy to work with. I was however again faced with heavy boat traffic, no reflections and mundane sky. Fortunately, the architecture redeems it all. My favourite images were made during the early blue hour while the glow in the sky still provided enough illumination and the street lights accented the waterway. Longer exposures also helped to smooth out the water and also transformed the boats into subtle light streaks leading the viewer through the image.
It was also very rewarding to work in the late evening golden hour. The dome of the basilica and the top of the building facades were lit by the fading golden and pink hues. It looked like a painting already and I could imagine the majestic sight of the regatta boats sailing past in the parade formation. Only if! In a real life these were just the ordinary people carrier power boats filled with inquisitive tourists. I tried to embrace it and managed to get a few interesting formations as seen below. The sky is clearly very plain and it wouldn't be unreasonable nor difficult to borrow some clouds from a similarly lit donor image. I am strongly considering this option and it might just replace the original one shortly.
Several interesting views open up across the Grand Canal from near Palazzo Ducale. One example is a church of San Giorgio Maggiore with a prominent bell tower on its own tiny island. Gondolas are synonymous with Venice and make a great subject and a perfect foreground interest. Early morning blue hour and sunrise is the ideal time for the photography here, but evening may work just as well. The end of the day was surprisingly windy and overcast. The heavy sky was a blessing for the late blue hour photography, but sadly there was no sunset to be had. The gondolas were rocking back and forth on the water resulting in a very dramatic blur effect. I felt it was a little bit too strong hence I made some exposures at higher ISO and faster shutter speed to reduce the motion until I was happy with the end result. Canon 5D mark III conveniently provides excellent image quality with little sacrifice even at these settings. The photograph below was made using the 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens at its long end. The church was prominently placed in the centre and wrapped around with the blue sheets of cloud and the water. Golden spot lights helped to bring it out even further; the forward facing gondolas reinforced the feeling without detracting from the architecture.
The following example was shot at a considerably wider setting; the angle was also changed to focus all the attention to the boats.
Finally, I would like to share a couple of slightly less well known Grand Canal locations. The view towards the Markets was particularly striking thanks to the rich colours in the architecture and the boats. Daytime sun helped to bring out the vibrance in the scene and there was even a hint of reflection of the gondolas for the foreground interest.
A view from the Rialto bridge to the North East reveals an interesting bend of the Grand Canal. A late afternoon sun lighting was well suited to the scene and there was finally a very agreeable amount of clouds in the sky. The picture really came together as a result of a speedboat cruising through; it splashed and carved out its track in the water and emphasised the curve of the bend. Even further there was momentarily a patch of broken reflection right in the middle. There were only gondolas and pedestrians left in the scene, yet the feeling of something far more dynamic, powerful and mysterious is certainly still present.
Piazza San Marco and Palazzo Ducale
The Duke's palace is undoubtedly very special and has a lot going for it in the eyes of travel photographer. In the afternoon and the evening the place is bustling with people making it very challenging to photograph the whole exterior. Detail shots is one way around it. I found the archways and richly decorated columns to be very photogenic and considerably quieter. The evening blue hour provided rich blue hue sin the sky as a backdrop against the golden coloured street illumination. The pavement is a very strong feature that helps framing the path and keeping the focus in line towards San Marco.
The same location was revisited next morning with the expectation of a few San Marco square images. The plan unfortunately failed spectacularly. There was only minimal lighting in the main square, making it impossible to record a well and uniformly lit image without excessive colour casts. Worse still the street lights were switched off before I could get anything worth keeping. This is always the risk with new locations.
The sky was clear overhead with a heavy cloud cover at the horizon level. In my books these are the worst conditions possible, except obviously the uniform grey skies and rain...Anyway, the sun however emerged through a gap in the clouds shortly and I was conveniently setup around the archway. It was a welcome opportunity for a different take at the same image this time facing the opposite way. I was also happy to explore further compositions and apply a black and white treatment to emphasise the geometric shapes, the perspective and intricate detail in the scene.
San Marco square receives the best light in the afternoon. I managed to get a reasonable daytime shot in the end and was rather surprised to see a wet pavement and a few larger puddles, however it didn't rain earlier that day. The secret is the flooding of the square that may occur during the high tide in conjunction with windy conditions. This not only clears out the square from the crowds but may also create a very welcome reflection. Sadly I have missed out on this occasion but will certainly keep such option open for my next visit.
The hidden Venice
The following images are unlikely to win any competitions, however, I believe they are great examples of the hidden treasures and unexpected subjects in Venice. Further away from the Grand Canal featured in hundreds and thousands of classical paintings, millions of photographs and known across the planet, there is a different city to be explored and admired. Admittedly, it may be less than picture perfect, less polished and often may have some rough edges, even graffiti or crumbling walls. But it is unique, and features a strong character and identity. There are lots of historic places, quirky bridges, rustic courtyards, and of course the people. The locals. I am not known for street photography, however, I absolutely couldn't resist photographing this character in the backdrop of colourful but quiet plaza.
I already mentioned the crumbling wall plaster and the narrow canal network running like the spider web all across Venice. This following image also features a Venice own leaning tower; the angle appears to be quite extreme. I could only conclude that Pisa tower is certainly not unique, only much better known.
Even the Grand Canal and its surroundings hide lots of intricate detail and decorations just like this one. It is well worth spending the time and looking both wide and focusing on the world of macro.
In conclusion, my short stay in Venice was a great introduction to this unique historic city. I am overall pleased with the selection of images made during this time considering the weather conditions. It will be undoubtedly great to come back and work the now familiar location further hoping for colourful sunsets and sunrises as well as venturing further off the beaten track and into the other islands.
Prior to coming to Cinque Terre I spent three highly rewarding days photographing Rome. The travel plans were set in stone some 5 days earlier - after all advance railway tickets are significantly cheaper and hotel choice is better. However, this also appears to be the cardinal sin of photography travel planning. Initially the weather forecast for Cinque Terre area was very promising. Unfortunately, on the last evening it became apparent that significant amount of rain was due. Even worse the storm was likely to follow me to Venice two days later. So on Saturday morning after the blue hour shoot and a filling breakfast I headed to Termini station fearing for the worst. After all the rain was also meant to hit Rome that evening so effectively I really wasn't losing out on anything, but instead I could have tried to escape southwards to perhaps Naples and scout the nearby volcano Vesuvius. That is the luxury of travel by car and last minute planning. Flexibility is the king. This story is really intended as a practical advice to fellow travellers and photographers.
So there I was 6 hours later in La Spezia checking in at the hotel. As planned there was still plenty of time for the evening shoot. La Spezia is a great gateway location to Cinque Terre and the surrounding mountains that are worth attention in their own right. There is a good range of accommodation and catering available in the port city. Cinque Terre is only accessible by train from La Spezia and a single ride costs a flat fare of 4 euros. Accommodation is also available in each of the villages. This offers the opportunity to enjoy the quietness, tranquility and hopefully beautiful sunsets from a family run B&Bs on the cliff tops. Some establishments may be located only a short distance away from the station while others will require strenuous effort to reach on foot with heavy luggage!
The sky was getting dull grey and very flat but pleasingly it still wasn't raining. I knew it was likely to be a "location scouting" trip that evening. Hopefully I would get to shoot in the blue hour - cloudy skies are typically not an issue provided there is artificial city lighting to work with. I could have picked any of the five villages - all full of photographic opportunities. I had seen quite a few late night images from Manarola which helped to make the decision. Some 30 minutes later as the train pulled in to the station I heard a distant rumble. A few raindrops fell shortly. Undeterred I headed out to the coast sensing an opportunity as a well as coming to terms with inevitably getting soaked that evening; at least it was pleasantly warm for a natural Alpine shower! The storm accelerated significantly at that point but I was very lucky to find a rock formation along the path to shelter from the rain. I had reasonable view of the village. In an ideal situation I would have composed slightly differently, however the main priority was not getting camera soaked and shooting wide to maximise the chance of catching lightning bolts.
The time of sunset came and went without a single ray of golden sunlight. The blue hour followed minutes later. The lightning intensified. Soon the exposure times were measured in tens of seconds while the sky had a little bit of blue tones left. It was the best opportunity to capture a dramatic thunderstorm-lit landscape. All I had to do was persevere and keep trying. The first hit came minutes later (please see image 1). A giant fork behind the village and the cliffs lit up the sky. I didn't have to wait long for another - double - strike. The first and very powerful bolt struck in the sea outside the image frame and illuminated the cliffs in electric purple light; the second distant one ripped across the sky on the very edge of the image. It was a very special experience.
Before leaving I packed up the camera gear and smartphone into the backpack and made sure to use the dedicated rain coat to prevent any potential water damage. I obviously got drenched even over a short distance but that didn't matter at the end of the day.
Day 2 started very wet. I didn't have any sunrise plans; Cinque Terre villages are really sunset-only locations. I could instead get some needed sleep, enjoy breakfast and go to Sunday mass. The rain seemed to have stopped in the afternoon when I headed out for location scouting adventure to Vernazza. The plan was to walk back to Riomaggiore for the blue hour. The six or so kilometre beach track turned out to be a major hillside hike with some breathtaking views bookmarked for the next trip. By the time I reached Corniglia a rainstorm started. I had to get the train; there was no reasonable walking path forward anyway. In Riomaggiore the storm only worsened. Half an hour later the downpour stopped. It was possible to head out of the tunnel and make the blue hour images. The classical view of the village and from the edge of a sea cliff worked reasonably well thanks to floodlighting. I could only imagine how impressive golden sunset last light would be.
Once I was happy with the wide-angle composition I explored tighter crops using a short telephoto end of 24-70mm lens. Evening sunlight would have revealed the depth colour so much better so I really wouldn't mind to go back and do it all over again. The images are obviously very reasonable, just not how I planned it.
The main street of Riomaggiore winds and follows up the steep cliff. The views there are just as breathtaking looking back towards the sea. It is very nice to be able to photograph tall buildings from point of reasonable elevation and pleasingly the village offers such opportunities from either side.
The last image of the day was an attempt to portray the spirit of working fishing harbour, that of a fishing village. It is the true DNA of Cinque Terre. The similarity with many Cornish villages also becomes apparent. After all both are remote locations that developed with a similar way of life dictated by the sea and terrain, similar challenges but also their distinct differences and identity.
In two days I was able to produce a body of work comprising of dramatic evening thunderstorm at Manarola and blue hour Riomaggiore. I would absolutely consider coming back to shoot the stunning villages in the golden evening hour and colourful sunsets and I am sure one day I will do it.
Notably, Pisa city famous for its leaning tower is only a short distance away from La Spezia and is well worth exploring. The angle of the tower truly appears extreme as seen in the photo below; I have made my very best efforts to correct the perspective and verticals as accurately as possible. The cathedral is unfortunately undergoing renovation at the time of writing with scaffolding all around the main dome. Otherwise it would have been a perfect contender for the morning blue hour shoot.
Finally, please consider purchasing prints - your support makes it all possible and most grateful for it. 1-to-1 workshops and tutorials are available throughout the year on request; please get in touch to enquire and book. Please stay tuned for the third and the final instalment of the series from Venice.
Landscape and architectural photography project work in 2017 was mainly focused around Britain until this month. Initially, I had planned to go to the Pyrenees and the Italian Alps in September by car, however the life literally threw a spanned into my wheels. I couldn't drive with a broken wheel bearing, but luckily I managed to book easyJet flights to Italy on a very short notice. I had first visited Rome twelve ago, long before I started my photography business. I was very impressed with the richness of history, culture, the variety of the architecture - all in perfect harmony. I only brought back a few snapshots from a compact camera; I knew I really didn't do the justice the most iconic city in the world back then. I since travelled to most European capitals and major cities and very few if any, perhaps with the exception of Paris, can even remotely match the beauty, the vastness and the vibrance of the historic Rome centre. I had to go back and professionally focus on the cityscape photography. Rome is a very long driving distance away and one doesn't require a car for the work solely based in the city centre, therefore it made perfect sense to fly. EasyJet is reasonably photographer-friendly airline; I could take all the gear with me and overall I had a very positive experience. The hotel was strategically booked in the city centre, very close to Vatican. I was within a walking distance to all landmarks and locations I planned to photograph. Most importantly it made the all-important early morning shooting a breeze. I found Google Maps app the smartphone incredibly useful. I was able to immediately pick the shortest routes, save valuable time and find alternative locations. On a less positive note, the streets in the centre can be very noisy throughout the whole night thanks to moped and bus traffic.
The weather forecasts from the well-known UK and Norwegian sources were less than encouraging, however they all luckily proved to be entirely false. In reality the weather was mostly sunny and warm, but not unpleasantly humid. Mornings felt the most pleasant. As expected the mediterranean afternoon sun was very bright and hot; that is however the perfect time for visiting museums and dining - and there are plenty of great options!
The three days in Rome were jam-packed with shooting from early morning to the sunset. I covered tens of kilometres on foot, some of it running to get from one location to another while the light was still at its best. The shoot list was very extensive and it was truly hectic at times, therefore I will concentrate here on the individual locations instead of following the chronological order.
Vatican and St. Angelo bridge - the classic view of Rome
Some of the best known views in Rome opens from the Umberto I bridge. River Tiber flows towards the Sant Angelo bridge leading the eye towards Vatican and the Papal throne. The sun sets just behind St. Peter's basilica; while colourful sunsets can look stunning in their own right, the city lights remain very dim until much later and the buildings are left in deep shadows. In contrast, mornings in general tends to be more favourable to this location: the pre-dawn glow creates a very pleasing tonal range in the whole scene subtly complemented by the flood flighting; in addition the winds tend to die down over the night making the reflection more likely. Despite making a few very reasonable late evening blue hour photographs at this location I much prefer the morning shot for the reasons laid out above. A short telephoto Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens had the perfect focal range to capture both the all-inclusive image (above) while a relatively long exposure helped to smooth out most of the river movement.
Another iconic view of the Vatican is seen across Via della Conciliazione. The locations are just 5min walk apart and were conveniently taken one after the other. Once again early morning proved to be the best time using a telephoto lens. I emphasised the symmetry using the compressed perspective of the street lamps leading to the front entrance of the Basilica. Shooting from the distance also helps reveal the true scale of St. Peter's and keep the obelisk and the street buildings in check.
The iconic Sant Angelo castle nearby may be photographed across the Sant Angelo bridge. Light is adequate both in the morning evening but obviously only very early in the day the tourists are still in bed. A variety of different angles may be explored. I settled at the other side of the bridge using Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens. As in the examples above no filters were necessary since the light and dynamic range were fairly evenly balanced across the scene.
The morning golden hour provides countless further photography opportunities at this iconic location. In the interest of simplicity I have chosen just a single shot to illustrate. Further examples are available in the Italy gallery. I would have loved to see some clouds, but it wasn't meant to be...
Finally, no journey to the Vatican is complete without a visit to the mighty St. Peter's Basilica. At 136m the dome towers high above the city and offers unrivalled views. The light is best in the late afternoon to photograph St. Peter's square.
Piazza di Spagna
The Piazza di Spagna is one of the best known and picturesque squares in Rome. At the bottom of the Spanish steps a beautiful boat shaped fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia was sculpted by Bernini. The streets were largely empty first thing in the morning. I started the session using 24-70mm lens at longer focal lengths. I tried various different compositions and the results were personally all very pleasing to the eye.
Eventually, I swapped the lens for a wide-angle 16-35mm f/4L IS and moved in closer to the fountain. A more dramatic perspective was helpful to bring the attention to the fountain and offered a different viewpoint. I was pleased with images so far; considering the sun going to rise shortly just behind the church resulting in poor lighting conditions for the major part of the day, I decided to move to the next location at that point.
The evening golden hour lights the Trinità dei Monti church with the perfect precision. It is impossible not to notice how busy the Spanish Steps are in daytime and the evening. As a result, the attempts to reproduce the shots executed in the early morning would be extremely challenging.
Fontana di Trevi
The world-famous fountain was designed by the architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci in 1762. It is a true masterpiece like no other and attracts millions of visitors every year. It can get so busy that it practically makes evening photography nearly impossible. Luckily there were far fewer visitors before dawn and standing a tripod in a spot of choice was not an issue. Conveniently, the floodlighting remains constant from the evening to the morning and mainly highlights just the fountain. The rest of the building is subtly basked in the glow of the street lamps and the fountain lights. While I would secretly love to see some additional lighting of the house, the current setup is far preferable to the overkill multi-colour lighting of the kitsch copy of the fountain in Las Vegas.
After a blue hour shoot at the Piazza di Spagna I ran to Trevi fountain. Those five minutes felt like a whole infinity as I watched the sky getting brighter and brighter. I was still happy with the quality of light but I had to get it right at the first attempt. It was absolutely critical to place the tripod and align the camera perfectly square to the fountain. I had to use a wide-angle Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS lens at the widest setting; some tilting of the camera was inevitable, however it was fairly trivial to correct the perspective in post-production. This afforded me a very clean architectural image of Fontana di Trevi in the blue hour. I am actually very pleased with the tonal and colour range in the photograph even if I originally planned for a slightly darker blue sky. Warm sunrise colours in the clouds would have been very welcome, however it remained fairly grey until much later in the morning. As the city lights faded against the glowing sunrise sky, the magic was lost. I was headed to my next morning location to take the advantage of the golden hour light.
A different set of qualities of the fountain are revealed in the daylight. I revisited the location the next day after the early morning shoot. The surrounding buildings cast shadows until much later in the day therefore it is unfortunately impossible to photograph Trevi fountain in golden hour. After around 10-11AM it looks a lot more reasonable. I was however surprised to find a major council clean-up operation underway to recover all the coins from the fountain. Using a specialist equipment a van was loaded full with bags of the treasures. I bet it didn't take long for the "piggy-bank" to fill up again since most tourists throw in coins... Once the money laundering operation was over the fountain water flow was restarted and I was able to make handheld photograph from roughly the same spot. Some perspective and geometric correction was necessary to get the verticals perfectly lined up.
The Roman Forum and Capitol Hill
The Capitol hill and the surrounding area in contrast is better suited for evening photography. Even despite an unfortunate rubbish truck and some people in the Piazza del Campidoglio the result was more pleasing due to far better ambient light. The light was even better just before the sunset, but unfortunately I had a large group of people standing in front of the statue and chatting away. That is just one of the challenges of city photography. On the other hand, in the morning the street lighting is minimal and only resulted in the strong yellow cast on the City Hall buildings in the corresponding morning image. The overall feel, subject matter, quality of light and colour balance are far more important over a few minor distractions. After all, I could probably attempt to clone it out if desired. It may be part of the scene as photographed, but obviously it doesn't need to be.
Originally, Colosseo situated a short distance away featured high on the shoot list. I was rather disappointed to find out the low level scaffolding was still in place some 12 years later and I couldn't work out any clean and dynamic composition. Instead I refocused all my attention to the Roman Forum and decided to incorporate Colosseo as a fragment of the scene. The ruins of the ancient forum are well exposed and visible from around the site. In the evening there is floodlighting used to highlight some of the more prominent buildings and arches. In the morning the site only receives the glow of street level lighting which severely limits the options. As a result, most of the images were made in the evening session.
The final image I would like to share from Rome depicts Pantheon. It was made very early in the morning at the beginning of the blue hour to avoid the thousand-strong crowds, green laser and blue-LED boomerang people as well as to take the full advantage of the street lighting. Pantheon doesn't have any dedicated illumination so the street lamp glow is all there is. The north facing facade hardly receives any sunlight during the day so that was effectively the only opportunity. I shot the scene all the way back at the cafe tables to take advantage of the longer end of my 24-70mm lens (this helps to control verticals and perspective) and cropped the scene to 8x10 ratio to remove the some street scaffolding and hot lights. It was necessary to decrease the saturation of the yellows and oranges in Lightroom to achieve a natural-looking colour balance.
Overall, I am very pleased with the results made in just three days in the city. I've only included a few highlights in this post; lots more examples are available from the the Italy photo gallery. I could have easily spent the rest of the week building the portfolio and focusing on the lesser-known locations in and outside of Rome. I am sure I will do just that another time... Ostia Antica and the hills around Rome are on my to-do list.
The next leg of the journey took me to the picturesque Cinque Terre - the location of golden sunsets and quirky fishing villages built on the Alpine cliffs. A real surprise was awaiting me there. I will share the story in the next few days - stay tuned!
Finally, please consider purchasing prints - your support makes it all possible and most grateful for it. 1-to-1 workshops and tutorials are available throughout the year on request; please get in touch to enquire and book.
We have just said 'goodbye' to the historic 2016 and it is already the first week of January, 2017. It is a great time for me to once again reflect on the achievements of the last year. My photographic journey in 2016 was arguably just as interesting as the highly productive 2015, when I really struggled to narrow down the shortlist of my best 10 images.
In the search of the perfect shot I travelled both locally and internationally chasing the light, the weather, the seasonal, natural elements and man-made wonders. In May I was privileged to visit the arctic Iceland wonderland for the first time to photograph it's landscape and wildlife. In September I embarked on a 7 week road trip through the Central and Eastern Europe. It was a very special experience to see the different cultures, personally witness ongoing geopolitical issues and observe the contrasting landscapes and breathtaking architecture at the change of seasons. It is really hard to condense it all to just 10 images, however to compensate for this I am planning to expand on the subject in more detail in the successive blog posts. In this review, I instead solely focus on showcasing my very best work while at the same time highlighting the range of photographic subjects and locations.
All images below were made using the excellent Canon EOS 5D mark III camera with my trusty 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lenses and Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with the architectural 410 head and processed using Adobe software. 2016 was the year when I almost completely gave up using the resin graduated filters, instead where necessary opting for a more laborious manual exposure blending. I found the filters didn't provide as good level of control, particularly for landscapes with complex horizon features or the sources of bright light causing flare issues. Blending allows much finer level of control and significantly increases processing latitude. On the final note, I used to be strongly opposed to tone-mapped HDR images, however I must commend the new Lightroom CC HDR feature that creates very neutral unprocessed files, perfectly adequate for simple static scenes with no movement and captured from tripod. The function may still have a long way to evolve and in many cases manual blending remains the most powerful and the cleanest tool.
Sometimes the most colourful sunset of the year takes place close to your doorstep. The stormy evening sky turned intensely purple and orange as the sun was edging close to the horizon. Luckily, I knew a blooming lavender field in a farm nearby - the flower hedge rows provided the perfect foreground leading the viewer's eye towards the distance and painting the scene in a matching colour palette.
Iceland could be lately described as the landscape photographer's playground. My first and only trip to date of writing took place in the beginning of May. I stayed just minutes away from the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall waterfall for the first couple of nights, hence I was offered several convenient opportunities to bag the perfect shot. I struck gold on the second morning. The fiery sunrise sky created a beautiful backdrop to the roaring gigantic waterfall. I tested several compositions and finally settled for the vertigo inducing angle looking down the sheer cliffs. Multiple exposure blending was instrumental to creating a detailed, colourful and at the same time carefully balanced image.
Bedruthan steps is one of the finest examples of the rugged North Cornwall coastline. The giant sea rocks on the beach below are subject to numerous legends and look incredibly dramatic from the cliff edges, decorated with a carpet of late spring flowers. The evening golden light was perfectly suited for the location and illuminated the scene in a warm symphony of colours. The play of the light and deep shadows painted a dramatic picture, full of character, contrast and texture.
Early in October I was staying in Vilnius. In a matter of just a couple of days the golden autumn arrived and there was a short spell of dry weather. It was a race against time to bag the ultimate autumnal image. I remembered I had previously visited an interesting woodland location with the panoramic view of a sharp river bend. Pleasingly, my expectations of a colourful forest scenery were confirmed later on that afternoon. However, the light was unfavourable as it left the whole valley in a deep shade. Next morning the dawn brought great conditions: the sky was still relatively colourful as the morning sun flooded the river bank with light; there was even some rising mist in the distance. Overall, it was a great start of the morning, and I was still able to shoot a few cityscapes before the sunlight became too harsh. The weather deteriorated the next day and never improved until the end of my stay...
I spent undoubtedly the most time during my Euro trip researching the King of Bavaria Ludwig II castles in South Germany close to the Austrian border. The most dramatic shot of the iconic Neuschwanstein castle was realised on the second day against all expectations. The sky developed interesting colours late in the evening and the castle and the surrounding cliffs were side-lit by the setting sun. I knew the image could only look better in the autumn with fiery colours in the tree line. Unfortunately on the return leg of the journey the weather was particularly uncooperative.
Isle of Anglesey is home to a number of spectacular Welsh landmarks. LLanddwyn Bay Lighthouse is one of them. Despite a relatively short distance from the North Wales expressway it may take around an hour reach the location. However, it is definitely worth the time and effort.
The image above was made during my first visit. I immediately noticed the great views of Snowdownia mountain range across the bay. The iconic lighthouse was still going to be focus of the photograph. I made the decision to combine the best landscape features into one image using a longer focal length lens. Pleasingly the sky started to pick up fiery colours just before the sunset. The last rays of sunlight gently highlighted the lighthouse, the rocks and the mountains in the background. I found this combination preferable to the even more colourful, but considerably darker and less contrasty images after the sundown.
I strayed deep into Switzerland in the middle of October in a hope of climbing Mount Pilatus and shooting the sunset across lake Lucerne. The weather was fairly poor for landscape photography with slightly more positive forecast. Unfortunately, the afternoon and the evening turned truly miserable as the rain started and gradually intensified. The hiking plans were off and I stuck around the city of Lucerne. Even before the sunset time it was dark and the street lamps were switched on. Luckily, the day was saved as I found the reflections of the medieval city buildings across the footbridge that would be ironically fairly non-photogenic on a dry day. Blue hour cityscapes can be just colourful, vibrant and lively even on a demoralising, wet day like this. A moderately low perspective helped to frame the image with the railings and their reflections on each side of the photograph while retaining the straight verticals in the buildings. A little bit of patience was needed until there were no people crossing over the bridge. Obviously, it was necessary to shield my lens from the intense rain with my coat as the raindrops may easily ruin the image.
Bluebells is one of my favourite subjects. Every year the English woodlands are decorated with the nature's own purple-blue scented carpets and it makes the perfect excuse to get up before dawn and take in all this beauty. I wrote a blog post earlier this year on the bluebells photography discussing the progress of working the shot and also included several other images.
Salzburg is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque small cities in Europe. Secluded deep in an Alpine valley, the historic Austrian crown jewel boasts marvellous baroque architecture and cultural heritage. The birthplace of Mozart is guarded by the giant medieval castle perched on the dominant clifftop. A stunning view of the city and the castle opens up from the cliffs near the Museum of the modern art. After carefully scouting the location at night I planned to shoot there during a morning blue hour, but unfortunately the I found the city asleep in the darkness. This was actually a major roadblock in many other European cities including Bruges, Heidelberg, Wroclaw, Prague and others... The sun eventually rose above the hills over an hour after the dawn painting an interesting panorama. The travel arrangements took me deeper into Austria later that day, however I was set to come back a few weeks later on the return leg of the journey. In my experience, the panoramas of such special cities always look epic from an elevated vantage point at dusk. Eventually I came back to Salzburg late in October for the evening blue hour photography, and just as expected I was rewarded with a wonderful sight and great cityscapes.
Krakow was the capital of the Polish kingdom until the 16th century and remains one of the largest and the most important cities in the country to this day. Unlike Warsaw, it escaped the total destruction during the WWII. Luckily, the medieval old town is very well preserved and boasts a variety of stunning architecture. The Main Market Square or Rynek Główny is jam packed with market stalls and restaurants; unsurprisingly it is one of the most popular destinations both between the locals and the crowds of tourists. During my short visit to the city I similarly decided to focus on the architecture of the market square. The location was incredibly busy during the evening, however the streets were still completely empty early in the morning until the dawn, which created a perfect photography opportunity. I decided to frame the Krakow cathedral in one of the arches of the arches of the Market Hall building using a wide angle lens. The city lights helped to balance the exposure with the pre-dawn sky and created an ambient atmosphere. Rynek also provided countless other compositions that I am planning to discuss in the near future.
These 10 images are just a small selection of my travel photography during 2016; if you loved it please also check out the top 100 compilation for a broader overview of the year. The race is already on to capture the most dramatic shot of 2017. I am planning to focus on Wales, Bristol, Cornwall, Scotland and the mainland Europe. At the same time, I will be working on the blog to write up the highlights of the 2016 Euro trip, and also focus on showcasing my Scottish Highlands collection.
Please support me and my projects by purchasing the artwork for your home or your business from the web gallery. There will be also plenty of opportunities for landscape and architectural photography workshops and 1-to-1 sessions throughout the year so please feel free to get in touch to discuss your needs.
The focus of my work is currently firmly set on landscape and architectural photography genres. I also have some "fun" side projects and on this occasion I would like to share a few examples of my recent wildlife photography work over the last year. Admittedly, I still have a long way to go to match the quality of the images from the award-winning wildlife photographers as seen for example in the BWPA 2016 competition. However, I made a huge progress over a year, discovered lots of new locations and improved my knowledge of the local and international animal and bird species.
The Great Blue Heron
Herons are fascinating, beautiful birds, common to most wetland in Britain. Despite being some of the largest avians they may be incredibly shy and wary of humans, which makes it challenging to approach them within a close enough range for an artistic, frame-filling image. Even with a 600mm super telephoto lens the task can be all but easy in many nature reserves. This is in stark contrast with bird spotters who only desire to get recognisable "ID shots" from any distance.
I had the greatest success last spring in the Warwickshire wildlife reserve near Warwick University. At the location the water reservoirs are relatively small with clear banks on one side, which made it easier to spot and approach a few fishing individuals without scaring them away. The super heavy Canon 600mm f/4L IS was instrumental for capturing the heron in the fading late afternoon light.
I had another close encounter with the herons in the Ham Wall reserve near Glastonbury. The birds were nesting in the reeds - I behaviour previously unknown to me. They typically raise their young high up in the trees - usually in large colonies.
Birds of Prey (captive)
Birds in flight can be particularly challenging to photograph. It is not easy to come across a low-flying eagle or an owl in the wild, just in the right spot. Over the years I had several unexpected close encounters with ospreys and other species. It can be a truly breathtaking moment, however the photography requires in depth knowledge of locations, behaviour and lots of patience. It is possible to "cheat" a little and take a quick shortcut to the local birds of prey centre or reserve, which is what I have done try my hand. It is well-worth a visit for anyone who loves nature, enjoys photography or wants a great but relaxed family day out.
It was a very steep learning curve tracking the lightning fast birds with a super heavy, but very sharp and optically perfect 600mm f/4 lens. A monopod support alleviated some of the pain, however made it far more challenging not to lose the sight of the accelerating subject. The demonstrations are also a show of speed and agility which may make the photography exercise a lot harder. After a few hit and miss attempts, I managed to bag several keepers mainly handholding a 7kg+ camera-lens combo. The weather was a little too cloudy, however I still came back very pleased with the results.
Most visitors to Exmoor National Park will spot a herd of wild ponies on the scenic Porlock hill. The horses are a relatively easy to close to and photograph even with a moderate lens. Despite this I chose to work with a lightweight Canon 400mm f/5.6L super telephoto prime to achieve a good subject to background separation and give myself a comfortable working distance. I worked the equine portrait to make the best use of the afternoon sunlight, and to capture a nice elegant pose against a bright and colourful backdrop of blooming gorse.
The Scottish Highlands Red Deer
Glen Etive in the Scottish highlands is home to a large herd of red deer. During my visit in February last year, a stag with impressive set of antlers was happily posing near the roadside. I decided to tightly frame the deer against the backdrop of a snow covered mountain with a Canon 400mm lens. I then proceeded to explore different compositions with a wider Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS zoom lens mounted on the second body. It allowed me to frame the deer in their natural habitat emphasising the frozen mountainous terrain.
Birds of Iceland
I came across a colony of puffins near Dyrhólaey Arch in South Iceland. The cliffs were bathed in a beautiful evening golden light. Since I only had a Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens due to airline weight and size restrictions, I had to climb a few meters down a cliff side and position myself low on the grass and then wait till puffins land nearby. Moments later I had several chances. However, the best image was made once one individual started exercising his wings in the preparation to take off again.
I spotted a beautiful, white rock ptarmigan on snow in Thingvellir national park, Iceland in May, 2016. He appeared completely ignorant to the people. I discreetly followed the bird round to the nearest rocks before taking the shot. The darker background and a low eye level perspective allowed the bird to really stand out from the environment.
I planned to shoot seabirds whilst waiting for the sunset during the late evening visit to the Land's End in Cornwall. However, I instead spotted a few large hares around the cliffs. I managed to position myself to take the full advantage of the golden evening light. I even had a great opportunity to photograph a fox looking for a quick snack, but unfortunately both us weren't successful at our game that evening.
The cormorant was indulging in the morning sunlight in Bruges, Belgium as I was walking to the car ready to depart. The shoot was completely unplanned, however I had a 400mm lens with me in the backpack and I was quickly set for photography. Luckily the bird was perched close to a bridge and was completely ignorant to the passers-by.
Great White Egret
At the close of the day I spotted a great white egret wading through the spring reed pool in Ham Wall reserve. Even with a 600mm lens I couldn't get anywhere near close enough for a frame filling image, therefore I had to use the surroundings to my advantage. A strong backlight made photography challenging, however, thanks to a great dynamic range and low light capability of modern cameras such as Canon 5D mark III, I was able to frame the bird and after moderate cropping, highlight recovery and noise reduction I was left with a very pleasing image.
Geese are some of the most common and most accessible birds even in urban settings. Nevertheless, they can still make a great if a little comic subject and are well worth photographing at the right circumstances. During the spring nesting season the RSPB - Sandwell Valley site on the outskirts of Birmingham proved to be an excellent location to observe these oversized birds taking off and landing. I found the excellent and lightweight Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens much preferable for the job to due to significantly lower weight, faster focusing speed and perfectly acceptable magnification.
Fine art or 'Giclee' prints offer superior colour reproduction and archival qualities compared with the "regular" photographic (C-type) prints. We are now pleased to offer the new default print options for our customers:
Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308gsm, 100% Cotton white (Matt)
Smooth Art Silk 300gsm (Semi-gloss)
These papers are a direct replacement of the 'conventional' matt and glossy C-type papers. The benefits include significantly thicker paper, better archival qualities, higher moisture resistance, better colour reproduction, and more pleasing texture. In other terms, the prints will look better than ever on these new papers. It will particularly suit landscape images with vibrant red and orange hues.
Other paper types such as Bamboo, Baryta or German Etching will be available on request. In addition we still offer Metallic C-type papers for special applications.
Our framed prints will still continue to be produced using C-type prints in the near future.
The bluebells season is nearly over this year. I devoted several days before travelling to Iceland for bluebells photography. I explored the Micheldever woods and Malvern hills. Both displays were absolutely fantastic while very unique and different in many ways.
The first morning at Micheldever was a little hectic. After 3:30AM start, I was struggling to find any bluebells at all for the sunrise. Eventually I found a few isolated patches but it was really far cry from the desirable scenery. Eventually I discovered a much richer area on the other side of the woods and decided to come back and do it all again a couple days later.
Next morning I was positioned significantly better for the dawn. It was still somewhat a hide and seek game to get the perfect sunrise image with the long shadows of the trees due to thick tree canopy and some undesirable vegetation on the ground. Undoubtedly it was a very successful morning with series of great images saved on the memory card. However, I thought I could still do even better. I spent perhaps the next couple hours walking the woods with the ephemeris app planning the sunset. I picked three spots which I would cover in turn as the sun dips down.
I've spent the daytime in the New Forest exploring the area and came back to a pre-planned location in the woods around a couple of hours before the sunset. From that moment it was really a race against the clock to get the best images moving on through the forest. Eventually the sun was very low casting long shadows and illuminating the flowers in warm golden and orange. It was the opportunity I sought for so hard and I did everything to make sure I had the shot.
The trees in the forest in the shade and patches of the bright sky and the sun in the frame are clearly a difficult task for any camera equipment. A graduated ND filter would solve some of these problems while creating others - notably creating more flare from the sun and causing the tree canopy to darken beyond any reasonable expectation. Therefore the only viable solution was to bracket the exposure and manually blend it later. I personally prefer to edit all three images equally, the match the exposure then blend it in photoshop using layer masks. The results are very seamless and natural looking if done carefully.
The Malvern bluebells grow on the open slopes of the hills and are facing north west, therefore are ideally positioned for the sunset. The location required a totally different composition and presented different challenges. I decided to shoot a wide-angle sunset view from higher elevation with the bluebells in the foreground. It was a little foggy in the horizon therefore the light was somewhat diffuse on the flowers. Overall, I am pleased with the image, however next year I might try to get a slightly more colourful and contrasty variation.
It has been a while since I wrote the last blog post. I have been very busy with architectural work and an occasional landscape shoot. I have also gained an interest in wildlife, and namely - bird photography. I hope to write about the latest work shortly, however I must give the priority to my recent photo trip to Iceland earlier this May.
Gullfoss falls at sunrise, Iceland
I went for the very first time and didn't fully know what to expect apart from reading other internet blogs and sites. The landscape can appear very different in practice in real life; also the weather, the arctic late spring days were all the unknowns to me. So let's start with the basics. It was relatively mild, maybe around 8-14 °C during the daytime and freezing cold at night. The weather was fairly changeable, and overall resembled the north of Scotland in late March or early April. There was hardly any snow left except a few isolated patches high on the mountains. I've seen plenty of clear sunny skies as well as some rain and even a short blizzard up in the north. There was no green vegetation at the time and in light of this I would have preferred to visit later on in the summer, perhaps July or August, or earlier in March to catch the aurora in the snow covered landscape. Nevertheless the journey was still very rich and in addition to lots of amazing new work I also discovered tens and hundreds of picture-perfect locations for the next visit.
The journey was booked for just 4 nights to get a taster of island. Initially I planned to discover one area in more detail and the south west appeared to be the most reasonable pick. I stayed very close Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysers. This allowed me to really make the most of it at that location. The waterfall proved to be a bit challenging initially. The sun was setting too far in the north in the evening, while there was no cloud cover. Next morning the sunrise didn't work out either - it was far too cloudy. However, I quickly changed the plans and still managed to get a few keepers at the Geysers just several kilometers away. It is a very impressive and busy location. The main geyser pool erupts every few minutes spraying boiling water jet 50-100m in to the air.
I made a few "safe" long exposure shots at Gullfoss later on that morning however the light was already relatively harsh. It all finally came together at the next dawn. There was a vivid fiery sky and perfect conditions for landscape photography. The location is certainly worth exploring from each angle allowing to create a number of different stunning and unique photographs.
Gullfoss falls at sunrise, Iceland
The next locations on the "to-do list" included the waterfalls around the south-west coast and the beaches near Vik. Seljalandsfoss waterfall is perhaps the most impressive one. The light is certainly best in the evening. I arrived in the late afternoon / early evening and started exploring. There are really no bad angles and the compositional freedom is inspiring. My best image was made from higher elevation on on the cliff looking sideways to the fall. It is breathtaking experience even if the water spray can be a bit overwhelming.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Iceland
I was actually very keen to shoot the fall during the sunset, but decided to explore the area further down south and hopefully come back on time. Skógafoss fall further down the road was sadly a big disappointment. It was very crowded with tourists and the light was totally wrong as the sun was behind a large hill in the west. It is really the location to shoot earlier or much later in a year when the sun is setting further back. Next up I attempted to get to the Dyrhólaeyjarviti beach and shoot cliffs and the sea arch in the golden hour then hopefully go back to Seljalandsfoss in the nick of time. The first major hurdle was actually parking the car. As I later discovered the only way is to park on the verge and walk a kilometer through a swamp and volcanic sands. The road continued steeply up a cliff. The SUV just about coped with a steeply winding gravel path towards the lighthouse. I was now going the "wrong" way and the time was ticking. Up on the cliff I luckily discovered a sea puffin colony and even more delightfully my excellent Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM telephoto Lens was packed ready in the backpack. I have spent about an hour getting close to the birds and picking the best angles and compositions. It was a totally unplanned development of the day, however - a very positive one.
Puffin in golden evening light, Iceland
At this point I still had a couple of days left and could either come back to Vik and Skógafoss next day or explore other parts of the country. Faced with a difficult dilemma I chose the latter but in the hindsight perhaps it was better to do the former and then travel around the country in the anticlockwise direction. It is even better to have a few more extra days and leave hotel reservations literally to the very last minute and only book one day at the time.
So the last 2 days were spent travelling to the west and the north of Iceland. The landscape changes very dramatically north of Reykjavík. While the south is considerably flatter with several outstanding volcanoes, the north is extremely mountainous, very rugged and as a result overall very photogenic. I think I could spend months or years exploring the region going deeper and deeper and still discover new amazing compositions. One problem is relative lack of lay-bys on the road and lots of barbwire fence everywhere. In that regard, Scotland is by far the better and friendlier country to a landscape photographer. It almost seems that the traveller is only intended to look at the "big" famous falls and other attraction. There are a lot of great non-signposted landscapes and wildlife spots just waiting to be explored even if it takes an extra effort to do so.
Rock ptarmigan, Þingvellir national park, Iceland
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall sadly didn't work out. It is obviously a sunrise location, and sadly an arctic storm disrupted my plans. The next morning would have been perfect had I not had to catch such and early flight back. Nevertheless I discovered several great locations including Kolgrafarfjordur bay, the falls at the intersection of highways 54 and 56 and the wonderful coastline overlooking Grundarfjörður.
Grundarfjörður coastal nightscape, Iceland
The final day was spent far in the north in the cold and blistery arctic storm weather. Goðafoss falls are incredibly impressive even in such a poor weather. I clearly would have liked some summer flowers in the foreground and a rich sunset sky. I believe the sunset must have been very special that evening however I had to turn back to catch the flight.
Goðafoss falls, Iceland
I also spotted a long list of beautiful areas around lake Myvatn and along the route 1 back to Reykjavík. I am looking forward to going back and shooting there.
Roadside sunset landscapes, North of Iceland
The final morning had dawned at the site of volcanoes called Grabrok. There was time to make a few sunrise photographs at the to of the crater. While these images won't win any major photographic competition, it was an incredible and surreal experience to walk around the crater rim in such and impressive light.
Grabrok volcano sunrise, West of Iceland
Finally, a few practical notes from my journey. The SUV is probably not necessary to drive around route 1 in good weather, but it makes a lot of difference on icy patches, in strong wind or worse - going on gravel roads. It is not unlikely to encounter one. An SUV is also much easier to park on the verge opening lots of photography opportunities. I had an automatic Mitsubishi Outlander from Lagoon for a very reasonable price and it was excellent. I will probably consider owning one. Fuel prices are similar like at the UK pumps, while most European and US travellers will find it pricey. Food is slightly more expensive to UK; fish lovers will appreciate the variety of fresh fish. There are supermarkets in bigger towns; the opening hours tend to be around 10AM-7PM. Credit cards are accepted literally everywhere and I got by just fine with no hard currency.
I am certainly planning to come back again in a different time of year. I now know lots of great locations and will be able to offer a 1-to-1 and workshops.
My photographic journey through 2015 has been a huge success. The image library has once again seen a rapid expansion. In the first half of the year I have worked on the Scottish landscapes project and later in the autumn I travelled across France, Spain and Switzerland. It was very difficult to pick the very best work (in no particular order) from a fairly lengthy shortlist. So here is the créme de la créme:
10. Torren lochan, Glencoe, Scotland, UK
Glencoe is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the Scottish highlands. The beautiful landscape offers countless photography opportunities. One of my favourites from 2015 is the view of the An t-Sron / Bidean Nam Bian mountains reflected in the Torren lochan. The contrasty evening light and a light cloud cover provided playful illumination of the hills. The landscape scene was completed by blooming camomiles in the foreground.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and KOOD graduated filter
9. Blue hour at Trakai castle, Lithuania
The finely restored medieval castle is situated on a small island on the Galve lake and is certainly the gemstone architectural monument of the country. The castle is accessible via a wooden footbridge from the historic Trakai town, around 27 km away from the capital Vilnius. I decided to photograph the location at the blue hour. I waited until the brightness of the sky matched the floodlighting and positioned my camera low on the bridge. The image is dominated by its strong symmetry as well as the dominant and complimentary blue and amber hues; the fortress is deservedly the centrepiece of the photograph.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
Bordeaux is a major French city on the West coast. The centre is packed with grandiose historic buildings. Place de la Bourse is the most famous landmark and was built in the 18th century for the King Louis XV. I only had a single day in Bordeaux before continuing my journey to the Pyrenees. The building complex receives the best natural light early in the morning; however the blue hour can be even more dramatic. The royal square provides a great vantage point, but I opted to set up further back in the modern fountain le Miroir d'eau. The palace buildings are very symmetrical; furthermore the still surface of the fountain basin allowed me to get the detailed reflections in the bottom half of the image. As a result there are 2 perpendicular axes of symmetry. The tonal gradation of the sky and the foreground help to frame the golden-lit buildings in the photograph. The atmosphere is very tranquil elevating the feeling of beauty and luxury.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
7. Mont Saint Michel, France
Mont Saint Michel is a world-famous Christian pilgrimage site in the Normandy, France. It is also one of the most beautiful historic landmarks in the country. I dedicated a whole day to photographing the site with pleasing results. My favourite photograph was the very last one I made late in the evening. I set up my tripod in the muddy river banks underneath the causeway. I found a water pool to frame the flood-lit monastery together with its reflections and I used the bridge as lead in lines. The weather was very changeable that day and thankfully the incoming band of clouds helped to fill the sky with nice texture.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
6. Frozen Glencoe at sunset, Scotland, UK
The winter of 2015 was cold and brought a thick layer of snow to the highlands making it the perfect playground to the climbers and photographers. I witnessed one of the most colourful sunsets in Scotland last February. In daytime the sky was relatively cloudy and the sunlight was subdued; however there were tell tale signs something spectacular was about to unfold. After considering the options I climbed Stob Beinn a' Chrulaiste to get a higher vantage point towards Stob Dearg with the backdrop of the sunset sky. After a tricky ascent via the steep and icy slope I wasn't left disappointed with the view. The snow-covered mountains retained plenty of detail even in a deep shadow; and the clouds were dyed the cloudsthe deep red, pink and purples hues. Filling the foreground was somewhat tricky at first but luckily I came across elaborate wind-sculpted ice and snow structures on the ground. It was really something special to behold.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
5. Autumnal Llebreta lake, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, Spain
Personally, this was one of the highlights of my euro trip 2015. Llebreta is a small mountain lake in the Spanish Pyrenees. The location undoubtedly offers pretty views all year round, but it becomes a true autumnal wonderland in late October. The vista decorated with fiery coloured trees really lights up in the golden evening sunlight. The reflections of the lake, the calmness, quietness and the fresh mountain air made it a very special moment.
However, making the desired image was anything but easy. The lake is connected to the main highway via a narrow paved road, as seen on the Google maps. Sadly, the road is private and only accessible on foot which takes well over an hour or longer. Despite great effort I couldn't reach the lake on time before the sunset. Beaten but not defeated I spent the next day travelling in the national park and came back to the same spot much earlier in the afternoon. The weather had started to fail: the wind roughened the surface of the water and a think band of clouds moved in. My perseverance however paid off in the end. There was a break in the weather front just before the sunset which allowed photographing the location in near perfect conditions. There was little time to cover all angles as the sun was rapidly inching towards the horizon. After a very busy quarter of an hour my memory cards were filled lots of RAW files. While I personally think this photograph is one of the best of that day, there are several more I am going to share shortly in my future blog posts.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, KOOD graduated filter, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
4. Dawn at Kilchurn castle, Loch Awe, Scotland, UK
The sunrise at Kilchurn castle proved to be very challenging to photograph. After numerous failed attempts I finally got lucky with the weather last summer travelling back to Glasgow after climbing Ben Nevis. Initially the conditions looked familiarly unfavourable: there were heavy, thick clouds rolling over the hills. Pleasingly, shortly after the sunrise there was a break in the sky and the water stayed still, which created perfect conditions for photographing the stormy scene in the warm morning's light.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
3. A82 light trails at dusk, Glencoe, Scotland, UK
This was another photograph made on the same spectacular February evening in Glencoe. The afterglow lasted for almost an hour giving plenty of opportunities to try out many different compositions and explore various vantage points. As the sky light faded, the cars travelling on A82 highway painted a snaking headlight trail across the valley. Long exposure was instrumental for recording enough traffic flow and making a well exposed and detailed image.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, KOOD graduated filter, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
2. The Old Man of Storr at dawn, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
The weather patterns in the far north of the UK, including the Isle of Skye present unique challenges as well as unpredictable opportunities. The stormy sunrise at the Old Man of Storr illustrates this particularly well. I have already discussed the several previous failed attempts as well as the development of the weather in my previous blog post; however when it all finally came together the view was simply breathtaking. This image with a double rainbow against the backdrop of heavy rain clouds and golden sun light illuminating the rock formation is unsurprisingly my favourite from that day.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, KOOD graduated filter, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
1. Flégère lake, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France
Finally, I would like to finish the TOP 10 with this image from the Chamonix region of the French Alps. Initially, I planned to hike all the way to Lac Blanc for the sunset. However, I first came across this mountain lake near Flegere cable car station in the late afternoon. I was immediately drawn there by the view of the snow-capped, jagged mountain ridges and their crystal clear reflection in the water. The autumnal trees at the edge of the lake were back-illuminated by the sun and completed the contrasty colour palette of the vista. In my view, it was the best I could hope for. I had to spend hours cleaning up the image from 'foreign' objects including a fence, but it was certainly worth the time.
There was still some time left before the sunset to explore the upper lakes. Lac de la Flegere offered exciting views framed by the surrounding rock formations, however the lack of vegetation left me craving for more. I decided to come back to the lower lake for the sunset and the blue hour. I intend to share further photographs and discuss the challenges in the new blog post. Lac Blanc will be the focus of my attention next time, probably next summer when the cable car is in service.
Image info: Canon EOS 5D mark III with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II lens, CPL, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod
Happy 2016 and stay tuned!
In this first part of the France photo tour blog series I have shared my work from Mont Saint-Michel. After a successful and motivating photo session in Normandy I headed South. Admittedly, my geographic knowledge of France wasn't very extensive nor I haven't done the homework well. A few minutes on Google maps suggested Nantes as the destination for the morning blue hour shoot. To my great disappointment neither the Château des ducs de Bretagne nor the cathedral didn't have any floodlighting and both turned out to be distinct afternoon or evening locations. I similarly struggled to find any reasonable subjects lit by the morning Sun. After a very frustrating start of the day I set off driving east along the infamous Loire valley. The first stop was
Angers is major French city just 15km to the east. It is also a home to a great medieval castle which was my next destination. Initially I had planned to travel further for the evening blue hour, however I was soon convinced that the city had plenty to offer for the whole day. After a good lunch and a visit to the castle I spent the afternoon photographing the external defensive walls of the castle. I was particularly impressed with the upkeep and beauty of the gardens - they provided a great foreground. Initially it was a waiting game for the light to come out from behind a think layer of stormy clouds. The patience paid off and the castle was lit by beautiful mid-afternoon sunlight.
I was pleased with the images. I then realised the location was also well-suited for the blue hour photography. Sure enough I wasn't disappointed despite considerably cloudier weather. I had already pre-selected the best composition earlier in the day; so I simply waited for the flood lighting to match the brightness of the sky with the camera ready at the very same spot. The results matched my expectations for the evening and I was ready to plan the day 4.
After some deliberation I headed to Bordeaux for the next day shoot. It took several hours of intense driving to reach the city. My budget didn't allow for any toll roads so I quickly realised that regular French highways are not of very high standards of safety and repair. I arrived just before 2AM and I definitely needed some good night's sleep before continuing my photographic journey. Regrettably, this meant missing the sunrise; I had little knowledge of the city so most likely this made very little difference. The daytime was spent getting familiar with the surroundings. It was blindingly obvious that Bordeaux Musee National des Douanes was the location to go for if you have just a single evening. With the evening planned I still had some time to visit the wine making region. Saint-Émilion village was an easy choice to make.
I came back just on time for the evening shoot in central Bordeaux. Practical advice: whatever you do always park the car on the west side of the river and walk or get the tram. City centre remains extremely busy even late at night so finding a parking space can be a major issue. I started the shoot at the Opera theatre waiting for the ambient light levels to drop. The square was extremely busy so it must be more suitable for very early mornings. Monument aux Girondins was the second target. I didn't have much time so I had to work extremely quickly. I opted for the close up shot of the fountain that was planned during the daytime scouting.
Without taking any more time I ran off the to Le Miroir d'eau. The light was already perfect. The tripod was swiftly set up and levelled in the fountain. I made several exposures at different focal lengths using the excellent Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS lens and I also experimented working with and then without the grad filters. I wanted to make sure that I didn't leave without getting The shot. Sometimes it is far easier and better to make the final decisions at the comfort of my desk. Just a few minutes later the sky was gradually becoming solid black. The window of opportunity for blue hour photography is very short indeed at most southern location. The evening session was over.
Ideally I would have liked to stay for the sunrise at this same location. However, I really had to keep travelling and reach the Pyrenees by the morning. I am sure one day I will return to Bordeaux and work on the remaining images I missed out on this time.
Please stay tuned for the Part 3 discussing the autumnal French and Spanish Pyrenees photography.
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© Daugirdas Tomas Racys
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