Flower Photography

Given that we are already 4 weeks into 2015, my guess is that the tradition of exchanging new year pleasantries is now well over. Nonetheless, since this is my first blog post for the year, let me apologize for my tardiness and wish you all a belated happy and prosperous new year!

Last October, I found myself in Singapore on a week-long business trip. One afternoon when I had some free time, I decided to take a stroll with my camera around the Bayfront area, home of the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Just behind the hotel, are the Gardens by the Bay – a park spanning about 1 million sqm, that houses two large flower conservatories showcasing plants from all over the world. This was an excellent opportunity for me to give flower photography a try, in a perfectly controlled environment where the weather element was not going to be a factor that I had to worry about.

Flower photography is probably the most explored area of amateur photography and an area where the results are almost never in touch with what the photographer actually tries to capture. This was definitely not my first attempt at taking flower pictures, but simply the first time I managed to get a decent result that was worth sharing on my blog.

Singapore Flowers2 - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 200, F4.0 @ 1/60sec.

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Chrysomilou Inn

For this blog post, I’ve decided to take a break from my US road trip picture series and talk about a little side project that I’ve started back in October.

If you know me personally or you’ve read some of my older posts, you’ll know that my family’s origins are from the village of Kalopanagiotis, in the heart of the Marathasa Valley. On the off-chance that you have visited this village in recent years, you would have witnessed its transformation into a hotspot for agrotourism. While still maintaining its traditional architecture with its cobbled streets and footpaths, the village is now home to a number of hostels, trendy coffee shops and restaurants and an island-famous spa hotel.

My family claims to have years of experience in the hospitality business. My great-grandfather specifically, was the proud owner of an Inn back in the early 1900s, providing food and shelter to travellers riding through the village on their mules and camels, on their on their way to the northern regions of Cyprus. Now, almost a century later and as a tribute to my family’s origins, my parents have decided to restore this Inn (which later on became my grandparents’ home) into a trendy agrotourism apartment.

The restoration has taken almost a year and we are now at the stage of putting the final touches. Admittedly, my contribution to this project has been minimal. As the family’s designated photographer however, I have been tasked to take a few pictures, so I can decorate the walls and post on our soon-to-be-published website. As a result, in late October I found myself in Kalopanagiotis, camera in hand, on a 3-hour shooting excursion. This picture is one of 5-6 picture frames that will soon be printed on canvas and hanged in the apartment. These traditional door handles are found on almost every door around the village and are truly representative of the village’s traditional character.

Door Handle Spider 1920

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 800, F2.8 @ 1/25sec.

Animals of Yellowstone

Nature photography has always intrigued me. There is something liberating about being alone with your camera outdoors, capturing birds and animals in their natural habitat. When capturing wild animals however, it is best to keep your distance – both for your safety and theirs. It is therefore not surprising that pro photographers specializing in this type of photography, choose to carry long telephoto lenses that look nothing short of giant bazookas.

Purchasing a 500mm+ lens is fairly low on my Amazon wish list, as a fast F2.8 one usually retails upwards of €3000. Renting one for my road trip was also not a convenient option, so I decided to take along my workhorse lens – the Sigma 18-200 F3.5-6.3 OS. Paired with the crop sensor on my Canon 60D, I effectively had a 320mm lens in my hands. Not the fastest of all lenses but with luck on my side, my aim was to capture a decent picture of a wild animal while touring Yellowstone Park.

Luck was indeed on my side, as while we were driving around the park on our second day there, a wild Bull Elk decided to cross the road. Swarms of tourists decided to abandon their cars for a chance to take a snapshot of this beautiful animal. The only one crazy enough however to chase it deep into the forest was yours truly! Yep, I completely defied the little voice in me that kept screaming “You Are Crazy” and decided to follow the Elk into the bushes, keeping a safe distance so as not to scare it away. At some point the Elk must have noticed me and looked back to see who was following him. Luckily I was there, finger on the trigger and quickly managed to capture the shot below. An exhilarating experience, one that I definitely will not forget!

Bull Elk - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 800, F7.1 at 1/500 sec.

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.