Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Architecture

A tale of two churches with two cameras, the Olympus E-PM2 and Fuji X100S

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Basilica of St. Nicholas – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I visited two magnificent churches in Amsterdam. Both beautiful in their own way and both very different. So different, in fact, that I shot them in distinct ways with my two cameras.

What’s a trip to Europe without shooting some of these wonderfully ornate structures. I had my Olympus E-PM2 with a wide-angle lens for this purpose and luckily both places seemed fine with me using a tripod. I also shot my Fujifilm X100S but in a different way. I knew the 35mm equivalent lens on the X100S would not capture the entirely of the place. Rather, my purpose with that camera was to concentrate on details.

Basilica of St. Nicholas

First up is the Basilica of St. Nicholas, the major Catholic church in the middle of the old historic core. It’s an easy walk from the Amsterdam Centraal train station. I’ve shot a fair number of interiors over the years and this place was one of the most challenging. The inside is dim with its dark-colored stonework and stained glass windows. How do you capture the beauty of the dark walls while still maintaining the color and delicate translucency of the windows? With HDR of course, but with a lot more exposures than normal.

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

In almost every case, my HDRs are created from just 3 exposures, usually 0ev, -2ev and +2ev. Here I shot 12 exposures ranging from -4.7ev to +1.7 ev. I cherry picked 4 exposures that gave me a decent range, -2.7ev, -1.7ev, -0.3ev and +1.7ev. I needed this to get the effect you see — the glorious detail in both the windows and walls. Our eyes and brain seamlessly merge these details but cameras struggle with dynamic range. Advanced HDR techniques are required to simulate what human beings do so well.

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

I knew taking a single photo with the Fuji was not going to do this place justice. After all, it takes a tripod and multiple exposures on the Olympus to do a half way decent job. Rather, I decided to strategically shoot images that had less dynamic range. Whether you have a smartphone or the fanciest DSLR, here, you might be disappointed with the results. Selectively shooting details might work well photographically but it hardly gives a feel of the entire church. St. Nicholas is a tough place to take great photos.

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oude Kerk

My second stop, Oude Kerk (Old Church) couldn’t be more different. Originally a Catholic church when founded 700 years ago, by 1578 it became Calvinist. Photographically, Oude Kerk is much easier. With light colored walls and with little stained glass, the dynamic range was manageable. While I started taking HDRs like I usually do, I soon realized that the Fuji X100S could also do an adequate job if I properly nailed the exposure.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Shooting the details here was more enjoyable than St. Nicholas, primarily because I could do a better job. HDR wasn’t required and I could concentrate on framing handheld rather than futzing with a tripod. While I’ve become quite adept at using the 3 legged appendage, I still find it cumbersome. Shooting free form with the Fuji, for me, is a purer photographic experience.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oude Kerk charged 5 Euros for entry but I felt it was worth it. The place was less crowded than St. Nicholas and I felt less rushed. At St. Nicholas, I was unsure if I was allowed to use a tripod and the steady stream of visitors forced me to work quicker. The peaceful white walls of the Old Church put me in a Zen state of mind. I took my time to frame my photos, both on and off the tripod. Ironically, this church is located right in the middle of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. The contrast between the external environment and the internal sanctuary couldn’t be more different.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Old Church was larger and more open. I used the Fuji to capture the sense of scale by including people. The airiness of the place is its main attraction. For sheer detail and color, St. Nicholas impresses but capturing it photographically is a challenge. Using HDR might be the only way to approximate its grandeur.

As usual, knowing your gear and its limits are essential. Learning advanced techniques helps too in tough situations. Even though I only had two cameras and two fixed lenses, I felt satisfied that I captured the essence of both places.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

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I took the majority of photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3. I took the HDR photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.



Light, Reflections and Architecture: Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore

Light and reflections at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

Light and reflections at The Fullerton Bay Hotel – Singapore

I posted my first urban architecture photos from Singapore a week and half ago. I promised to dedicate a post to the Fullerton Bay Hotel, a set of buildings I found especially compelling. I didn’t stay there, but it seems like an upscale oasis. Trip Advisor ranked it #3 out all the hotels in Singapore.

Unlike the famous Marina Bay Sands and the Ritz Carlton, which are really big hotels, the Fullerton Bay seems more humanly scaled and accessible. A cluster of modern buildings makes for some wonderful architectural images — the kind, certainly, that I’m drawn to. Angles, reflections, light and the Singapore skyline as backdrop drew me in. I’m like a kid in a candy store in places like this.

The Fullerton Bay Hotel and Skyline - Singapore
The Fullerton Bay Hotel and Skyline - Singapore
Boat Quay and Sklyline - Singapore

As nice as the hotel is, its location within the city adds that extra dimension. I borrowed shapes from other non-hotel structures to add more interest. The round flying saucer like building, for example, is not part of the Fullerton.

Varying Textures at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore
Varying Textures at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

Often, modern buildings are boring. They looks like cheap, simple, glass boxes — they have no soul. The Fullerton uses a mix of contemporary materials which adds texture. There is both a sense of intimacy and grandness. You get this sense of variety as you walk through their spaces.

Interior, The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore
Interior, The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

The interiors are equally stunning. The lounge and restaurant have a view out to the bay. In the shot above, you can see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino out the window, which is located on the other side of the bay. It’s one of Singapore’s newest and most recognizable landmarks.

All of these photos are HDRs, three images blended together to get the maximum dynamic range and added sparkle. I used my trusty Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm Panasonic lens plus wide-angle adapter. It gives a 22mm equivalent view. My frequent visitors will know that this is my preferred and standard setup for these kind of photos. The small camera allows me to travel lightly and quickly, but creates high quality images. I’ve gotten really fast and efficient creating these kind of photos.

Interior, The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

You may think it strange to talk about efficiency in photography but let me explain. Often times, I visit these cities on business trips and don’t have a lot of time, but I want to make as many photos as possible. I know photography is not a race but there is a time component here — I don’t have hours to set up a shot. Familiarity with the gear and doing this for a while has allowed me to see compositions and execute them quickly. I took these photos (three per image) plus more that I didn’t post, in 23 minutes. That gave me time to shoot more of the city.

Light and reflections at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore
The Fullerton Bay Hotel and Skyline - Singapore

Efficiency can only go so far, however. I wish I had more time to shoot in Singapore. It’s the kind of place that will keep me blissfully occupied for a long time. I have some more urban landscapes to share as well as day time street photography. I’ll intersperse them throughout the coming weeks.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.



Happy New Year from Times Square

Times Square #1 - New York, New York

Times Square #1 – New York, New York


I can’t think of a better place to ring in the New Year. I’m talking about Times Square of course. This is where they drop the famous crystal ball in New York City. I took these photos a year ago when, you might recall, I went to the east coast on a winter vacation.

This may be the ultimate spot for a night-time urban photographer like me, at least in the United States. Practically every surface is glowing, animated or blaring an announcement.

Take a look at the first photo. See the Toshiba sign at the top of the center building? Do you see the small glowing 2013? You can click on the photo to see a larger version. In less that 10 hours, 100s of thousands of people will be staring at an animated ball that magically increments this number to 2014.

Times Square #2 - New York, New York

I started my tour around 47th Street, looking north.

Times Square #3 - New York, New York
Times Square #4 - New York, New York

I walked south and snapped different angles of the famous Time Square landmark on 43rd Street. I used the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm lens plus wide-angle adapter. It gave me a 22mm equivalent view.

Finally, a big thank you to you, the viewers from around the world. Like Times Square, nicknamed “The Crossroads of the world”, I’m happy that I’m sort of a virtual crossroad that hopefully has entertained and even helped you in some way. I hope you have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.



The Urban Night Landscape, Animated


Tom, a regular follower of this blog, emailed me this link. It’s to a video by Max Wilson. Any one frame is something I’ll be proud of, imagine combining 100s of thousands of them. Max used a technique called time-lapse photography. He didn’t use a video camera. Every single frame was shot with a still camera and then combined.

This video about the urban night landscape, something that I find most interesting. It’s also about my favorite city for architecture. Back about 25 years ago I lived in Chicago for about a half a year, for work. Everyday brought new discoveries as I walked through downtown.

Did you know this city is the birthplace of the skyscraper?

Someday, I would like to go back and shoot Chicago and capture its wonderful details. Until then, I’ll enjoy this wonderful work from Max Wilson.

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Grand spaces at the Gaylord National Harbor

Faux Colonial House, Gaylord National Resort - National Harbor, Maryland

Faux Colonial House, Gaylord National – National Harbor, Maryland

I stayed in this massive, self enclosed bubble several weeks ago. The convention that I went to in Washington DC was held here at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. It is the centerpiece of National Harbor, a mixed use development located just south of DC in Maryland. At 2,000 rooms, it apparently is the largest non-gaming hotel on the East Coast.

Last winter vacation, my family and I just happened to stay a few blocks from here. While curious, I didn’t have time to look inside. With the conference set for the Gaylord, I brought my HDR gear, eager to capture some interesting architecture. My equipment of choice, the compact Olympus E-PM2, the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens plus the Panasonic wide-angle adapter. Throw in a lightweight tripod and I was good to go.

Most interesting were the faux colonial buildings nestled within this giant atrium. It reminded me of some futuristic space station, with the little bits of history attempting to offset the cold and efficient design, prevalent in modern society. It’s goofy architecturally but fun in an amusement park kind of way. Certainly different enough to warrant some photographs.

An Enclosed City, Gaylord National Resort - National Harbor, Maryland

An Enclosed City, Gaylord National Resort – National Harbor, Maryland

Back up front, near the registration desks, the decor turns a little marble-y. Not quite as gaudy as Las Vegas faire but a bit opulent for my tastes. The scale works nicely though. The larger the hotel, the more out of proportion the rooms seem to get. The Gaylord works well and manages to carve out “cozy” spaces. Photographically, I captured repeating elements and leading lines, so you gotta like that.

Sitting Area, Gaylord National Resort - National Harbor, Maryland

Sitting Area, Gaylord National Resort – National Harbor, Maryland

Finally, you can see the full size of the atrium. The convention center is in an adjoining building, by the way. This is just a small portion of this gigantic hotel. I’m happy to report that I did escape this futuristic city during the night. No space suits necessary. I was able to capture some authentic history, on the other side of the Potomac , which I will post soon enough.

The Atrium, Gaylord National Resort - National Harbor, Maryland

The Atrium, Gaylord National Resort – National Harbor, Maryland

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Photograph taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.