The road less travelled

Photography can be a very expensive hobby, but only if you let it become one. When I started out as an amateur photographer, I remember spending what was then a considerable amount of money for my first DSLR camera body along with its kit lens. What then followed was nothing short of madness, as I kept researching and purchasing new lenses to fit every type of photography – macro, landscapes, portraits, astro-photography, you name it.  I am now the not-so proud owner of 6 lenses, half of which I rarely use. If I had the chance to think this through all over again, I would have definitely kept it down to 2-3 quality lenses max.

Getting caught in this madness seems inevitable. Friends of mine sought my advice numerous times in the past on what is the best gear for particular types of situations. It was not until recently that it occurred to me that the best gear always happens to be the camera you have in hand at that particular moment. Surely, if you could carry all your equipment in your backpack, then there is one lens and one camera body that may be the most suitable, but sometimes even your camera phone will suffice.

A testament to this is the picture below. On my recent US road trip, we drove from Denver through the flat lands of Wyoming on our way to Yellowstone park. This was by far the most uninteresting part of our entire road trip – no change in scenery, endless fields of wheat and barely any cars on the road. In an effort to entertain myself a bit as most of my fellow co-travelers were falling asleep in the back, I simply took out my Nexus 5, switched its setting to HDR mode  and quickly snapped this picture. Doubt you would have challenged me had I told you instead that this was shot with a pro camera!

Wyoming Road - 1920cShot with my LG Nexus 5. Yep, just that.

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Silhouette Trees

Any nature photographer will attest that the “golden hour” is the best time to go out and photograph. Also known as the “magic hour”, this is roughly the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. The reason for that is because during that time of day the sun is fairly low on the horizon, producing more diffuse and flattering light, as opposed to the hard shadows cast during midday.

Travelling however with company, gives you little flexibility to being in a particular spot during those times. That was the case when we visited the Arches National Park, home of 2000 or so sandstone arches in eastern Utah near the small town of Moab. A simple image search, will bring up hundreds of images, some depicting the sun casting a beautiful orange glow on the rock formations, others showing the sun rising or setting while being framed within the sandstone arches.

Unfortunately we arrived there just before lunch time, when the hot scorching sun was already high up in the sky. I felt disappointed because there was no way for me to take the particular picture that I had in mind. Just as I was about to give up, I noticed a bunch of dried up trees that had a very compelling shape. I veered away from my friends and started working the scene, trying to take a snapshot that would tie together the deep blue sky, the sun and the shape of the trees. After trying out multiple exposures from different angles and varying backgrounds, I ended up with the following picture, which surprisingly didn’t turn out that bad!

Tree Silluette - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F18, at 1/80th of a second.

Breathtaking Bend

Just south of the small town of Page, Arizona, a small inconspicuous sign on the US-89 freeway reads “Overlook – Horseshoe Bend”. What awaits is a spectacle like nothing I had ever witnessed in my life.

If I was to use one word to describe the theme of this road trip, that word would be “nature”. One would surely say however that nature is abundant when you decide to cross any part of the continental US. Our route however was carefully planned, to visit as many national parks as possible and other natural landscapes. That route took us through Sedona, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches National Park and of course the famous Yellowstone.

The Horseshoe Bend however, truly stole the show. It was hands down the highlight of the trip. Maybe it was my low expectations or the fact that prior to researching our trip route, I for one had never heard of this place. Once  you stand however at the overlook and stare 300m down towards this sight, this wonder of nature truly takes your breath away.

Horseshoe Bend - 1920c
 Shot on my tripod mounted Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F22, 1/15 sec and bracketed at -2/0/+2.

The Big Apple

Back from a long and much needed vacation, finally realizing one of my life-long dreams – driving 6.000 Km from the south border of the US, through deserts, mountains and canyons, national parks and grand lakes, all the way to Canada (map link). Not surprisingly, I am physically exhausted but that was very well anticipated. I am back though mentally rested, with some great memories, 3Kg of extra weight around my mid-section and nearly a thousand pictures evidencing this once in a lifetime journey!

No one can claim though that they have visited the US, unless they’ve been to New York City. The iconic Big Apple, is a city that many of us choose to either love or hate. A concrete jungle full of energy, great architecture and amazing restaurants, shadowed by its unending road construction, constant smell of garbage and sheer number of homeless people.

Although the road trip officially started in Phoenix, we all decided to start our journey together by spending 3 nights in NYC, visiting various sights and museums and obviously getting “some” shopping done. I’ve been to NYC many times before, but apart from a bunch of touristy photos, I’ve never managed to take a decent picture that captures the essence of this great city. This time around, I was lucky and grateful to convince everyone to walk with me across the Brooklyn Bridge, with the aim of taking a shot of the skyline at sunset. Big thanks to Vasiliki, Christos and Yianna for being so very patient with me. This picture is dedicated to you!

Brooklyn Bridge - 1920c

Taken  with my Canon 60D and Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F8, 1sec,and bracketed at -2/0/2.

Travel Photography

I love traveling. I love visiting new places, learning from other cultures, meeting new people. If I could pick any job I wanted, I would hands down choose to be a professional travel photographer. Seeing though that there are no job openings at National Geographic at the moment (at least for amateurs such as myself), I guess I have to settle in pursuing this as a hobby on my own dime or perhaps on the occasional business trip.

So far in my life I’ve traveled quite extensively, but one of my dreams for the longest time has been to go on a road trip across the US. I live by a saying that we should never regret the things we’ve done in life, only the things we haven’t. Not realizing this dream is perhaps one of my biggest regrets, ever since I returned from my 11-year stay in North America. Luckily this summer though I am about to make my dream a reality.

Starting in early August, myself and a bunch of friends will pick up a car in Phoenix, Arizona and drive all the way to Vancouver, Canada. The road will take us through a number of landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, the Wave at Coyote Buttes, Antelope Canyon up through Utah and Arches National Park, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone Park. I am pretty psyched to be honest as there will be great photo opportunities along the way. That said, I’ll be off the grid for the next month or so, hopefully coming back in September with some great pictures that I can share on my blog.

On the topic of travel photography, I am sharing a picture I took in Russia a few years ago. This picture was taken from a tiny run-down apartment in the suburbs of Moscow, overlooking this picturesque orthodox church.

Moscow window - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon Rebel XTi and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 200, F18 at 1/80 sec.

Panning the shot

Switching your camera to full manual or semi-manual mode, allows you to experiment in many creative ways. A prerequisite however is to have a basic understanding of the exposure triangle (ISO, Speed, Aperture) and how these 3 components can be used together to manipulate light.

Panning is a technique I’ve been itching to experiment with for a while now. Predominantly used in sports photography (and particularly car racing), this technique allows you to freeze a subject in motion while blurring the background. To achieve this effect, the subject should be moving laterally to your position, as was the case of this boy riding his bike on the beach in Ngapali Myanmar.

To shoot this photo, I switched my camera to speed priority (Tv on Canon cameras) – a setting which allows the photographer to manually adjust the shutter speed while letting the camera determine the appropriate aperture. Given how fast the boy was riding his bike, I dialled in an initial shutter speed of 1/25sec. I also switched the focus mode on my camera to AI Focus, which allows the camera to continually change focus as the subject is moving. I then tacked in my elbows holding the camera as closely as possible to my torso and followed the subject from right to left, taking a series of shots in burst mode.

Given that this was my first attempt at this technique, I can’t say I am disappointed. My dream however is to try this again perhaps in a Formula 1 or Nascar race!

Bicycle panning - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 400, F6.3 at 1/25 sec.

Burmese Fisherman

It’s been almost a month since I wrote on my blog. That may not seem that long, but for me it feels like ages. I have a personal target of 2-3 posts a month just to keep my momentum going. Photography for me is a way of getting away from the rigors of every day life – a way to escape. Unless I impose targets on myself, it is easy to get caught in my daily routine and neglect the things that matter the most.

April has been a quite challenging month work-wise and that has caused me not only to put my hobby aside, but to also neglect people that matter in my life. It is inexcusable I know. The only saving grace is the thought that this is in a way an anomaly – a one time event soon to be over that won’t become a frequent occurrence.

This is a picture of a poor Burmese fisherman, who’s gone out at sunset to catch some fish to feed his family. He lives in a make-shift shelter near the village of Thandwe in Myanmar. It is a picture that helps me put a lot of what I mentioned in perspective.

Ngapali Fisherman - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 800, F6.3 at 1/320 sec.