You knew it was coming, didn’t you? The urban night-time scenes? Until now, almost all of my postings from the Netherlands were from the daytime, which is unusual for me. As you know, I like the night-time in the city.
Being a tourist in a foreign country, it’s inevitable that I shoot more during the day than usual. Compared to the regular tourist, however, when they wind down after dinner, I’m just getting started on my second half of my photography. Breda was easy because the town is small and the hotel was nearby.
I shot these throughout the week. During the weekdays, I still went out at night to shoot after work, even if I was tired. It wasn’t a big deal though. Photography is relaxing for me, even when I’m in a directed, “gotta get the shot” mode. I would go out and eat and strolled through the center of town, getting both my creative fix as well as getting much-needed exercise.
I walked like crazy and my Pedometer App registered 10,000 to a high of 20,000 steps in a day, which is anywhere from 4 1/2 to 9 miles. I’m glad I had a light camera with me — no bulky and heavy DSLR to slow me down. While my feet might have ached a bit, my shoulder and back held up well.
I also had the pleasure of exploring the city with Corrine who was on a business trip from Shanghai. I met her at the hotel as we both checked in at the same time. We did some touristy exploration of Breda, which doesn’t take long. We also had a few pleasant dinners together.
She was patient as I snapped my photos throughout our city exploration. Luckily by then, I was pretty fast at shooting the Fuji X100S. The camera worked well for taking her portrait in the very dark Cafe Corenmaet as well as shots of its moody interior.
Leave the pedestrian only center of town and you have cars and buses that loop the central core. Traffic was still light and I probably saw more bicycles than cars. This impressive building is the Breda Casino, which appears to be stylishly modernized. Notice that artistic windows inset into the brickwork. No gambling for me. I was too busy taking photos.
All of the shops closed early except on Thursdays. But the bars and restaurants are open late. The outdoor seating bustled with people into the night. My previous Breda post showed a quiet place with no people, but that was early in the morning. I like a place that doesn’t shutdown at night. I was actually surprised with the amount of activity, given that Breda is such a small city. Perhaps the Dutch are night owls like me.
The bars and clubs clustered around the big Grote Church in the center of the city. These places had bright color but were more subdued than 6th Street in Austin. Most of the places were really small but people were packed into the bars and I saw some lively dancing.
I was more of an observer and had just a couple of beers. I was definitely more interested in documenting the city instead of partying the night away. That’s the problem being somewhere for only a short time. I feel compelled to use my limited time for photography.
In Austin for example, I would more often pop into the bars and relax with a drink. I don’t have the time pressure there since I’ve been to 6th Street often and I really didn’t have to shoot any more photos.
While I think I got the feel of the place, I certainly could have stayed longer. That’s the great thing about photography on business trips. Instead of being all alone in some business hotel cooped up in the room, I get to explore new places. It certainly keeps me entertained during the non-work hours. It also helps when it’s a charming place like Breda filled with endless details to photograph.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
For people in Central Texas, you might be interested in going to the Texas Photo Festival this Sunday, October 13, 2013. It takes place in downtown Smithville, a small town about an hour east of Austin. Here is more information, if you are interested.
I’ve been there 3 times so far and it is pleasant way to spend an afternoon, especially if you like photography. It’s geared towards amateurs though there’s always the enthusiasts that bring out their big guns. There are many sets with staged Photo Ops and models to shoot. There are also seminars and tours of the town. Do you know two Hollywood movies were filmed in Smithville? “Hope Floats” and “Tree of Life”. It’s a bit like a small town carnival but with rides replaced by sets and photographers.
In addition to the official sets, there is the town itself. Smithville has some neat old buildings and I’ve enjoyed going there just to capture the small town architecture. Here are an assortment of images that I’ve taken over the years. People, buildings and details. A great way to train the eye and learn to see. I’ve shot with Canon DSLRs and Olympus Pens. I’ve done straight portraits with long lenses as well as HDRs on tripod.
I find it interesting to rediscover the cameras I used during each of my visits to the festival. My first one in 2009, I brought my Canon Rebel XT and Canon 20D. In 2010, I used my Canon 7D. I skipped a year and went back last year where I used my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. My ancient HDRs were shot on the modest 8MP Rebel XT with the 18-55mm kit zoom. As always, hover over the photographs with mouse to see what camera and lens I used.
I haven’t decided if I’m going this year. I’ve covered the event from different perspectives, with different cameras and different techniques. I’ll have to find something that will entice me to get out there again for the 4th time. I always seem to have new cameras which does change, somewhat, what and how I shoot. But, the equipment is ultimately a secondary consideration. The most important thing, of course, is the ideas and creativity behind the image.
Forcing myself to see new things in the same place has both challenged and improved my photography, I believe. Perhaps then, I should go again for some mental (photography) exercise.
iPad Mini in coach – At 30,000 feet
On the ongoing quest to lighten my technology load, I’ve experimented with different technologies. Camera wise, you know I’ve embraced mirrorless cameras. My main travel cameras are the Olympus Pens which together with the smaller lenses, make it much lighter than DSLRs. But my post processing and blogging platform weights a lot too.
On my Cancun trip, I experimented with the iPad Mini as my post processing machine. I also did some rudimentary blogging too. While it’s possible, I found some deficiencies that I’m working to reduce.
The Maxell Airstash works great but I wanted to speed up the download process. I got the iPad lightning SD Card reader which improved speeds about 65%. It takes about 3 seconds instead of 8 seconds to download to the iPad.
I also got a bluetooth keyboard that improved the typing experience tremendously. The built-in touch keyboard works great for little bits of text but for longer blog posts, a physical keyboard is the way to go. And even if this keyboard is small (it doubles as a screen cover) it works better than expected.
The Logitech keyboard also makes selecting and copy and pasting text a whole lot easier — which was one of the more frustrating parts of linking to my photographs.
So I sit here in the now familiar cramped coach class, writing blog entries. You can see how small the setup is. The passenger in front can fully recline and I can type unimpeded. I’ve also used this setup in the car (as a passenger) and at restaurants. It’s becoming a really useful writing platform.
I now use Evernote to write my posts. This free cloud based system automatically syncs my documents across all my devices, my Mac, the iPhone and iPad. I can start writing on one and continue on another.
A great window view – at 30,000 feet
I’m marveling at technology as I enjoy a great window view at 30,000 feet. I guess with a WiFi enabled plane, I can even post directly from here. The creative blogging has made the time pass quickly. The 3 hour flight is nearly over as I fly into Washington DC. I’m out-of-town for several days. I brought my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 + wide-angle and Canon G15 on this trip. I’m travelling really light.
Beach Tools, On the Beach – Cancun, Mexico
I’m running an experiment on my vacation in Cancun. As I mentioned last week, I decided to forgo bringing my 15″ MacBook Pro and use an iPad Mini instead to backup my photos. I’m also using my iPad to post process photos and create this blog post.
I’m using an Airstash to both write photos to the iPad from SD cards and to copy photos from the iPad to SD cards. You can see the black and green drive in the photograph.
The Airstash, made by Maxell, allows me to insert a SD card on one end and it has a USB connector on the other, which charges it. There is a file server and WiFi built into this thing which allows iOS devices to read and write to SD cards, via a free App.
I alternate SD card downloads from my 3 cameras into the 64 GB iPad Mini. It had about 41GB free. I religiously make 3 copies of photos both at home and in the field. The iPad down load creates the 2nd copy since I’m not erasing the originally taken photos. I make the 3rd copy by using the Airstash to write photos from the iPad into a different set of SD cards dedicated for backup.
The system works fine but there are downsides. The two limitations are time and space. First, since the Airstash uses WiFi, it’s much slower than direct USB connections. A 15MB file takes about 10 seconds to download to the iPad and 15 seconds to upload to a SD card.
Storage space is also a factor — the iPad’s available space is key. The way I’m using this system, I’m limited to 41GB of photos. I delete any obvious non-keepers to save space. After a bit of management, it looks like I’m going to have enough space to backup my week of vacation photos.
The experiment has been fun in a low stress environment. For anyone with an adequately big iPad, this is probably a decent solution. If you only need to make one extra backup instead do two, it gets a lot easier. I would consider using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit. It should work a lot faster since it connects directly into the lightning connector instead of WiFi. You can not use it to write photos to SD cards however. That is the main advantage of the Airstash.