Yellowstone Park

Growing up as a kid, one of my favorite cartoon characters was Yogi Bear and his picnic basket stealing escapades at Jellystone Park. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Jellystone is an actual take-off on Yellowstone National Park, a park that spans almost 9,000 sq Km in the state of Wyoming. After researching what this place was all about, I was quickly convinced that it had to be added to my bucket list. It was therefore no coincidence that when we started planning for our road trip, no matter how we planned to cross the continental US, all routes led us through Yellowstone.

One cannot fathom how large this park is until you start driving through it. It took us about 2 hours to cross it the first day we got there, and subsequently 2 full days of driving just to visit some of the major sights. What you bear witness to however is truly remarkable, as the park has a plethora of lakes, canyons and rivers, home to hundreds of species of mammals, fish and reptiles, some of which are considered endangered. The park also sits on an active volcano, so there is an abundance of hot springs and geysers. I’ve managed to take a few pictures of the landscape, animals and other sights and will dedicate the next few blog posts to share these with everyone.

Starting off though, this is the picture of the Lower Yellowstone Falls, one of the highlight features of the park, standing at 94m tall – nearly twice the height of the Niagara Falls.

Yellowstone Falls2 - 1920c

Taken with my tripod-mounted Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens, at ISO 100, F8.0 and 15 sec exposure (using my B+W ND 3.0 solid filter).

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.

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.

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.

Arabian Nights

On my way back from Burma in February, I planned a 2-day layover in Dubai for a chance to witness firsthand what this renowned emirate/city is truly all about. Can’t say I was impressed to be honest. True, they now have the world’s tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), they’ve managed to build a ski resort inside a shopping mall in the middle of the desert and a 7-star hotel on an artificial island. All these are great accomplishments and marvels of engineering, but for me it all seems a bit too artificial. The city itself lacks character – a blend of a westernized modern city with an Islamic middle eastern undertone, done in a fairly distasteful manner. In my view the phrase “building castles in the sand” is true in this case both literally and metaphorically.

I spent more than half of my time wondering around the malls, but the highlight of my short stay was the afternoon I spent on a safari in the desert. It was quite the experience – being in the back of a 4×4 driving over the sand dunes, witnessing the sunset over the sand hills and having an amazing dinner in a camp in the middle of the desert. To add a bit more authenticity to the whole experience, we also got this beautiful belly dancer to entertain us over dinner.

Belly Dancer - 1920c

 

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Canon 50mm F1.8 prime lens at ISO 3200, F1.8, 1/200sec.

Strade di Firenze

In an attempt to get back to reading books over the holidays, I decided to start reading Inferno – the latest novel by Dan Brown (author of the Da Vinci Code). Now before you pass judgement on my choice of author/novel, I was simply looking for a fictional page turner to help me build the momentum I personally need, when I’ve been away from books for a considerable period of time. True, the writing style might be a bit too cheesy and the plot all too familiar, but one thing I like about this author is the amount of research that goes into writing his books and the vivid descriptions of the surrounding environment that manage to engage the reader throughout the story.

The latest adventure of Robert Langdon takes place in Florence, the capital of the region of Tuscany and the birthplace of Renaissance. As I was reading about Langdon’s street chase from the Italian authorities in the narrow streets of Florence, this picture came to mind from my recent trip to Florence. The city can get overly crowded in mid-summer, but in my attempt to avoid the crowds and find some shade, I veered away from the tourist areas only to find myself alone in these picturesque side-streets.

Florence Bike - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 400, F4.5 @ 1/160sec and bracketed at -2/0/+2.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

Happy New Year everyone! Wish you a healthy and prosperous 2014!

Got back last week from a short 5-day holiday in Thessaloniki, where I have to admit I didn’t get much of a chance to go out and photograph. My sole attempt was on the eve of my departure, when the family decided to go on a day-trip to the Edessa waterfalls – approximately a one hour drive west of Thessaloniki. From a weather perspective and by contrast to the rest of my stay in Greece, I have to admit that we chose to do so on perhaps the worst possible day.

For anyone who’s been there, the best vantage point for a photograph of the falls is from all the way down looking up, which meant that we had to drive off a long beaten path to get there. When we arrived, the only accessible place where I could actually set up my tripod and camera, was very near the falls which meant that both myself and the equipment were being hammered by a ridiculous amount of mist – so much in fact, that after every shot I took, I had to wipe down my camera lens and filters. Not the best conditions to take this shot, but this was the best I could do given the weather that day and the fact that I had to drag a hungry bunch with me (aka my entire family) while overdue for lunch by a couple of hours. Special thanks to my cousin and gear caddy Simos, who was patient enough to help me set up!

As for the picture, not my best work to be honest. Shooting with a very small aperture (to slow down the shutter speed and capture the movement of the water), also meant that even the slightest drop from the mist would show up on the image, which meant significant loss of sharpness and more work for me in post-production.

Edessa Waterfalls - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F25, 0.5secs, with a 2-stop ND grad filter.

Year in Review (2013)

Don’t know that many people (at least in Cyprus anyway), who will remember 2013 as a stellar year. From my point of view it was pretty horrible all around. As I glimpse back over the last 12 months, my only escape from the depressing events that occurred (not just economy-wise, but also at a personal level), was my love for photography.

For this last blog post of 2013, I won’t bother you with the details of how well I did against my New Year resolutions. Suffice to say that I succeeded to a great extent, somewhat failing at my goal of further exploring Cyprus. Ironically, the image below attests to just that – the ease with which one can find great photo opportunities when travelling abroad (in this case Venice) vs. within their own home country. Something that definitely needs to be addressed next year!

I want to wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2014, with happiness and health to you and your loved ones. See you in January!

Venice Boat  - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70mm F2.8L lens at ISO 400, F8.0 and 1/80sec.