Mar 152009
 

These are two images from a short trip to Italy. The Image of the Day, more or less a type of postcard shot, shows the view to the north, against the Austrian border.

This is a rural area north-west of the small town of Tolmezzo. I have added a map that shows the trip. There are two placemarkers, one for my home in Villach and one for the village of Sutrio.

The Image of the Day was shot just before I reached Sutrio, the other image, the church with the stairway, is the church of Sutrio.

Both images were shot with the Sigma 10-20. The church is an HDR merge of two bracketed exposures. The perspective was corrected in Photoshop, at least for the church itself. I have left some distortion on the stairway. Looks more interesting that way.

The Song of the Day is “Postcards From Italy” from the 2006 Beirut album “Gulag Orkestar”. A fabulous piece of music from a truly fabulous album. See the video on YouTube.

Mar 022009
 

This gets really painful now. My last real post was for Friday and today it’s already Tuesday evening. On the other hand, Ted Byrne just congratulated me for the delay. He says it makes me human. Oh well 🙂

It took me so long, because I am a tad short of time, that’s one thing, and the other is, that I wanted to tell a story.

Have you ever been bucked off by a mountain? Well, I have on Saturday, but let me tell the whole thing chronologically.

Just as I left the house, I saw two contrails crossing. I took some quick snaps and at a lesser day I would have been satisfied. Not on Saturday though. We had wonderful sunny weather in Carinthia, I wanted to make a longer trip, and we decided to go down to Slovenia.

When we arrived there, it turned out to be more hazy than at home, but the signs of Spring approaching were everywhere, and most of all it was warm with almost no snow. It must have had something about 15 centigrades, I guess. I even saw the first flowers of this year.

The contrail image was taken with the Nikon 24/2.8, but I soon turned to the zooms. It’s much more convenient and sometimes you really need more reach. An example is this image of a rural church standing in a field. I liked the juxtaposition with the power lines, and 300mm at f13 was just right.

The plan was to leave the highway at Kranj, head for Škofja Loka and then cross over to Italy at Nova Gorica. I have drawn a map in Google Maps of what became the final route. I hope you appreciate it, because it took me an insane amount of time to make it 🙂

Actually, drawing routes on maps in Google Maps is not hard at all if you know how to do it. First of all, you have to be logged in with your Google Account. I know that some people are very sensitive to Google’s omnipresence, so I’d like to mention that you may want to log out after the map is finished. If you don’t do so, all your subsequent Google searches will be done on behalf of your account.

On the other hand, if you don’t trust Google, you have to use some anonymizing proxy anyway, because your IP address is as good as an account for the purpose of tracking your activities. I am a GMail and Google Reader user, and although I don’t necessarily trust Google more than any other company, I am always logged in.

When you are logged in, you see a link “My Maps”, and there you can edit your own maps, add markers and draw lines, just as I did.

Now, the trick in drawing routes is, to always begin with a straight line between start and finish. Click once for the start, double-click for the finish. This line will have a handle at each end and one exactly in the middle. Next you drag the middle handle to a point on the map where you want to have it, preferably in the middle. Oops, two new handles have appeared, one in each half of the line, each of them in the middle of the straight segment. You can repeat that as often as you need: grab the middle handle and pull it to its proper place. Each time two new handles appear, one to each side of the point that you have just moved. It’s really easy, actually much easier to do than to describe. Just give it a try.

The image with the bridges and the image of the castle were made in Škofja Loka, a beautiful little town north-west of Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana. This is a wonderfully picturesque place and I am sure to return sometime this year for a more thorough visit.

Did I promise an adventure story? Ooops, yes, I did. Well, here’s the adventure. If you look at the map, you see a marker in the south, labeled “Here we gave up“. When you zoom in, you see that we tried to take a shortcut between Dolenja Trebuša and ?epovan, and that we gave up.

Well, what you don’t see is, that this small and winding road crosses a mountain ridge, that it is a narrow dirt road without guard rails, hardly wide enough that two cars can pass each other, and most importantly, you don’t see that for long stretches this road is literally hewn into a sheer cliff, steeply rising to the right and falling 50, 100 or 200 meters to the left.

The road is closed in winter, but, hey, this is no winter any more, is it? In truly adventurous spirit we tried it. After all, what can happen? Now, when after some time the first snow and ice appeared, and when I had to zig-zag to avoid the fallen rocks on the road, I began to change my mind.

I finally gave up when I reached a place where I could turn the car. I happily admit that I was maybe not exactly in panic, but very far from feeling even remotely safe. The problem was, that I had no idea how far from the ridge we were. From what we saw, it could have been only another 50 meters up, but 200 or more were equally likely. Today, from the satellite map, I know that we had almost made it, but from where we stood, there was no chance to tell.

In a situation like this, all kinds of thoughts come up: What if there is snow across the road? What if there are so many and so big rocks on the road that I can’t drive through or around? What if I have to drive hundreds of meters backwards? Is it stupid to turn around or is it folly to not to, as long as you can?

It was a little ironic that just a minute or two after we had turned around, another car came up the road. It was someone from the region, thus the road was obviously safe. I felt a little stupid, but didn’t turn around again to follow him. Even if I had wanted to, I would not have been able to for at least a kilometer. Somehow grudgingly, but not really unhappy, I drove back down to Dolenja Trebuša. I will try the road one more time in summer, but this time I simply had enough.

Actually I am not really sure where I took this image. In any case it was before our little adventure. I suppose it must have been in the vicinity of Cerkno, one of Slovenia’s winter sports centers.

The final image was taken on our way back, north of Bovec. We had decided to skip Nova Gorica and to drive directly to the north, to cross the border to Italy slightly south of Tarvisio, and once there you are almost in Austria. Night had fallen, and in order to avoid the tripod, I used the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye wide open at f2.8. The image was taken at 1/4s at ISO 640. Well, this definitely is dark 🙂

The Image of the Day has been taken a little bit back down south, most likely not much north of Kobarid. I have used the Sigma 10-20mm. The contrast between the dark forest and the mountains reflecting the last rays of the sun was extreme. You can’t really see it in the image, but I was standing in front of an abyss that dropped down maybe about 100 meters. The river in the valley is called So?a, and for readers of Hemingway’s “A Farewell To Arms” it may be better known under its italian name Isonzo.

The novel plays further downriver, but this valley was the stage for some of the most fierce battles of WWI.

You may find the color of the water slightly exaggerated, but it’s actually quite correct. This river’s color is such an impossible cyan, it’s hard to believe even when you are there. I don’t know the exact reason for this extreme color, but it must be connected to some minerals in the water.

Hey, that’s it. The Song of the Day is again “River Deep, Mountain High“, but this time it’s the original by Tina Turner. Hmm … when last time I called the Deep Purple version the absolutely best version ever, I must admit that I had not heard Tina Turner in a long time. In fact, I did not have a single Tina Turner record in my collection. I have somewhat remedied that since, by at least putting her “Platinum Collection” into my Amazon shopping basket.

It’s hard to recommend a single version of this song, thus I may point you to an early version, most likely the classic Phil Spector production, to a recent version with orchestra from French television, and finally to a version that she performed with an all-star band recorded live in 1989 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You may spot Little Richard, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon. The image quality is so bad, I could not recognize anybody else, but the performance is top notch. Or maybe 1996 live in Amsterdam? There are countless fantastic performances on YouTube, you could really get lost. Fact is, I did, and that’s another reason why you had to wait so long 🙂

Jan 182009
 

Oh dear, it’s the middle of the night again. Once you have a rhythm, it’s hard to get off it 🙂

You know, I really try hard to provide you with fresh images, to shoot daily, to always find something new, and there are days when it’s easy. On other days everything in me writhes at the pure thought to go out. This was such a day. We had high fog and the light was so incredibly drab, it was disgusting.

I slept long, skipped breakfast as being pointless, did some shopping at the local super market, in other words, I did what I could to avoid going shooting, but finally, about an hour before the time of a theoretical sundown, I took my gear and drove up Mount Dobratsch. I knew that there would be sun at the summit, but I also knew that I would be too late for the 1.5 hours march up from the end of the street, thus it was a bit of a gamble.

When I finally got out of the fog, it was at a height of about 1200 meters and suddenly I felt like a million miles away from home. The sun was already setting, but there was blue sky and glittering sunlight on bright snow.

The first time I stopped, the sun was still out and lighting the trees on the rim. I put on my moon boots that I always have in the car and probed my way through the snow. Thankfully it has not snowed much in the last weeks, thus the snow has already compacted. After the big snowfalls I would have sunk in in a second. I know, it happened to me, and it’s a funny feeling to stand in deep snow up to your chest, not knowing if and how you’ll get out without help 🙂

Anyway. I took some pictures and then drove on to my final destination, a lookout platform reaching out from the cliffs where the mountain broke apart in 1348, at a height of 1400 meters. You better don’t suffer from vertigo when you stand on the platform, nothing but a metal grate between you and the rocks some hundreds of meters below.

There I watched the sundown, together with some other people, but of course everybody had left when I shot these last images.

I set the camera to high-speed continuous shooting (not that that’s really fast on a D300 when shooting 14 bit RAW), bracketing of five frames with 1 exposure value distance, and made some exposure series. I had my tripod with me, but did not bother to use it. Current HDR programs have quite nifty algorithms to automatically align images. These two samples were made with Essential HDR. I really like their Detail Enhancer tone mapping algorithm, but I could as well have used Photomatix Pro. They are both top notch, and I take the result always to Photoshop anyway.

The Song of the Day is “A Million Miles Away” from David Byrne’s 1992 album “Uh-Oh”. Hear it on YouTube.

Jan 082009
 

Me catching up today?? Forget it! I’ve slept all through the night. Now it’s 6:50, I’ve just processed Tuesday’s few images, this one is what stuck.

Most of Tuesday was processing the Monday images, those of the trip to Krk. I did not even bother to go out. My reckoning was, that I would just take a few images at the train station, maybe on the train, or after my arrival in Vienna. After all, when you’ve been away from a city for two week, then come back and don’t find anything interesting to photograph, you’re probably not much of a photographer at all.

Well, I just made it, sort of 🙂

This is the elevator up from the underground, arriving at street level, the doors just opening. At night, when I’m out with the Sigma 10-20, I like to keep ISO low by using very slow shutter speeds. This is ISO 720 at f4 and 1/8s, handheld.

The Song of the Day is “Starting All Over Again” from the 2006 collaboration of Randy Crawford and Joe Sample called “No Regrets”. This is one of the CDs that arrived from Amazon on last week and that I’ve collected from the post office early Monday morning. I’ve found a sound sample, but the link is to a Belgian hitparade site, thus you’ll probably better hear it now, it may become unavailable any time. Sorry, no lyrics, no video.

Jan 072009
 

Well, these two weeks in Carinthia were quite a roller coaster ride. Up the mountains, down to the sea, deep snow, no snow at all, and this time it’s the sea again.

These are images of Monday. For various reasons it took me a while to get them processed, but now it’s done. It’s almost 3:30am though, tomorrow (well, technically today, but I’d still like to get a cap of sleep) I’ll have to work again, thus we’ll keep this short and sweet 🙂

Lots of new highways have been built in the last years. I remember, when I was a child, it took us 8 hours to get down to the Croatian isles, while Monday it were no more than 2:40 hours from Villach to the island of Krk.

Of all the Croatian islands, Krk is the most accessible, because it can be reached via a bridge from near Rijeka, and it is the most northern island in the Kvarner archipelago.

Incidentally this was my first “real” visit to Krk, though I had crossed it in July 2007 on my way home from Mali Losinj. The island is rather flat. I can’t find any exact information right now, but I honestly doubt that the highest point, the village Vrh (which means summit) is even 100 meters above sea level.

The first two images were taken in Punat, one of the biggest yacht harbors in the Adriatic, but otherwise not overly exciting. Opposite of Punat, in the middle of an almost circular bay, lies the small island of Košljun with its Franciscan monastery. As far as I know, it can be visited, but for lack of time I have not even tried.

The main town on Krk is called Krk as well. It has been a bishop’s see from at least the 6th century, it’s still partially walled, and the bishop’s palace is one of the biggest buildings. The image to the right is part of the town wall.

The town of Krk is really cat territory. Just sit down anywhere, and slowly but steadily one cat after the other will come and inspect you, beg for food or simply some affection. I can’t remember having seen so many of them in one place.

This image is particularly dear to me, because it needed a lot of affection as well, and after a good dose of post-processing, I guess it is quite OK. It was my first candidate for the Image of the Day, but finally the scooter won for its warm colors that so perfectly capture the feeling that I had, when I escaped from Carinthian frost to a sunny land by the sea, where it’s winter as well, but where the winter is 15 centigrades warmer 🙂

Of course warmth is relative. When the sun went down, I took some last images and then left. I could have stayed longer, but due to its orientation, Krk is not a very good place for a sundown. In fact, not even the “summit” Vrh is, because even there the sun vanishes in the mountains of the western island of Cres. The sky did some pretty things though.

When I crossed the border between Croatia and Slovenia, the temperature had fallen below freezing, and there was again snow.

The Song of the Day is “Southbound Again” from the 1978 self-titled Dire Straits album. Hear it on YouTube.

That’s it for today. Did I say something of “short and sweet”? Oh well! As for the images of today, I’ll try to catch up tomorrow. Have a good night.

Jan 042009
 

This morning we had high fog, according to the weather report reaching up to 2000 meters, thus I planned to avoid Dobratsch (which is 2166 meters) and really go for the Sella Nevea trip. Of course I was late as usual, and as I was just about to drive out of Villach, the clouds broke up and I saw the summit of Mount Dobratsch in glorious sunlight.

I gave in, changed my plan and drove all the way up to 1732m, only to be greeted by dense fog. I put on my moon boots, gloves and the headband, marched on, and really, the fog went away in minutes, never to come back for the whole day. Sometimes it pays to be obstinate 🙂

On the way up I met a young man, photographing with his two weeks old Canon 450D (that’s the Rebel XSi for you Americans), answered some basic questions about white balance, and so we went and shot together. He had to turn back early though, because he had wife and daughter (as far as I remember) waiting down at the inn. (Hey, I gave you my card, but I didn’t even ask for your name! Sorry.)

It’s really a pity, because from last year’s excursion “491 – Just In Time” I knew that the sundown at the top can be breathtaking. This was the last image that I took before we parted, then I began the long walk up to the summit, all the while people coming down, I being the only one going up. They don’t know what they miss, or they don’t care about the same things that I do, but I’m fine with that. It’s pretty overwhelming having a whole mountain for yourself.

The problem with the way up is, that in the afternoon you walk in the shade for a long time. Even worse, you don’t really see what’s ahead of you. It’s one long slope that the way crosses, and I remember when I first went up last year, I always asked myself when it would finally end.

The first time you really see the summit, it comes as a shock. It just has looked as if it were over, as if you had already made it, and then you reach the plateau and see the antenna tower and one of the two churches (yes, there are two churches on this mountain) in quite a distance. In reality it’s not as dramatic as in this image, this is really wide angle at 10mm.

The first four images are JPEGs straight out of the camera, shot at automatic white balance, the last two and the Image of the Day were edited. The image with the avalanche barriers and the antenna tower had a flare that I’ve taken out and this one needed some more local contrast in the snow.

All images were taken with the Sigma 10-20. There would have been some opportunities for longer lenses, I carried them with me, but I did not bother to change. In reality I knew what to expect at the summit and did not much care for any of the other pictures. I really went up for that one image, the Image of the Day, an HDR made of bracketed exposures shot from the tripod, and of course very wide. For this image I stood behind the church seen in “491 – Just In Time“, three steps from a cliff falling more than a thousand meters.

I could have stayed a little longer, it’s such a majestic and magical place and time, but it was really cold up there, thus I left after I had taken this image and made sure that it was technically OK. The night was extremely clear, half a moon lit my way down and I enjoyed it greatly.

Yesterday I wrote about James, and funnily enough, searching for a song to title this image I tried “top” and stumbled upon “Top of the World” from James’ 1990 album “Gold Mother”. See them perform live in Manchester. There is something magic with people performing on home turf, and this is no exception.

Dec 302008
 

Have you ever driven 100km in one direction, just for a sundown? Well, yesterday I did 🙂

More and more often I rely on Google Maps for scouting photo locations. Sure, it does not give you the full picture, height information is missing, but if you are aproximately familiar with the environment, it’s a fantastic way to find out how to get somewhere, because it will show you small roads that might even be missing from your maps.

In case of yesterday’s trip, from sight I knew that east of where the highway A23 crosses the river Tagliamento for the second time (counted from the North), there is another bridge over the river, and that was the place where I wanted to go. I intended to leave Villach at 2:15pm, but for various reasons I couldn’t leave before 2:45.

Thanks to Google Maps I knew exactly where to go, and from the moment I left the highway at the exit Gemona/Osoppo at 3:30, it took me no more than ten minutes to get to the bridge, just in time for the sundown.

Basically I was there for an image looking east, over the river and to the gourgeous peaks of the Julian Alps. I had not expected to be able to get down to the river bed, and when I found out that there is indeed a way down, it was already too late. Anyway, that’s for next time.

The bridge was narrow with two lanes and not much space for a photographer to stand, making changing lenses a rather awkward experience. I did it anyway, one more time using my Lowepro Slingshot (this time the 200) like a tray, dangling in front of me. It’s a funny feeling juggling lenses over an abyss, but you get used to it 🙂

The images were shot with two lenses: the Nikon 18-200 VR, my travel lens, and the Sigma 10-20.

I often read that those super zooms like my 18-200 (or Paul Lester’s new Tamron 18-270 VC) are derided by prime snobs, and although I like to use primes a lot, while traveling I mostly stick to the 18-200, just because you never know what you need, and when you don’t travel alone, permanently changing lenses makes your company even more nervous than the permanent stops do anyway.

Apart from that, both lenses, the Nikon 18-200 VR and the Sigma 10-20, are supported by DxO Optics Pro in combination with the D200 and D300, thus I get lens correction as well, not only of distortion, but also of CA and vignetting. Pretty nice, if you ask me. OK, in post-processing I put the vignette in again, normally much more so than there was in the first place, but there’s nothing better than a clean start.

I concluded with some images into the sundown, and only half an hour after having arrived, I made my way back to Villach. A tad crazy the whole story, but absolutely satisfying 🙂

The Song of the Day, “Look Down Off A Bridge”, is from Jay Leonhart’s 1983 album “Salamander Pie”, a CD that has become famous because a German HiFi magazine used it as reference CD in their tests of high-end audio equipment during the early 1990s.

Indeed the CD is not only exceedingly well recorded, it is also a fine example of very relaxed bar jazz. Wonderful music to listen to, sipping on a glass of whiskey, but even without the whiskey it’s very nice 🙂

CD Baby has not only sound samples, they even let you hear the whole song, and at the moment they have the CD in stock.

Dec 252008
 

It’s the afternoon of December 25 by now. These are the images of yesterday. Quite a difference from my trip to the sea 🙂

I wanted a Christmas image, more or less cliché with snow and mountains and all that, thus I knew that I would drive up Mount Dobratsch again. Of course I didn’t know how it would turn out, if a sudden cloud would shroud me once there, thus when I saw this scene, a way into the sunny, slightly foggy winter landscape, I took a series of these as safety shots. This is one taken with the Sigma 50/1.4, some other used the Nikon 70-300 VR, but only in this shot did I have the person in such a perfect position. Only later I discovered a second person, lost in the fog.

Of course the image was awkwardly composed, thus I decided for a cinemascape crop. This was nothing planned like Aaron Hobson‘s fantastic works, more an accident, but I didn’t want to throw the image away, less for its quality, but because it reminds me of a magic moment, even if it is not image enough to carry that over to you.

Once having something to fall back, I felt confident to take the risk and drive all the way up to the end of the street at 1732m, even though there would have been some nice and sunny lookouts on the way up.


I changed to my moon boots, took the tripod, less as camera support than as walking stick, and walked up the next hill from the car park, just in time to get some last sun.

More than usual I switched between lenses, mostly the Nikon 70-300 VR, that I used for these images of the far mountains, and the Sigma 10-20, my workhorse for winter landscapes on the mountain, yes I even switched to the Sigma 50/1.4 once for a few images of the eastern sunset.

These are the times when I am thankful for one of the major advances in camera technology in the last years, namely sensor cleaning. The more it seems absurd that the latest and greatest Nikon, the D3X, still has no sensor cleaning system. Pretty stupid, because Canon and Sony can do it with 100% viewfinders on full-frame sensors as well, why shouldn’t Nikon be able to do it. Seems like a lame excuse to me. On the other hand, that’s not my problem, it’s that of those people who shell out $8000 for a camera 🙂

I really stayed up there until the show was over. I could have gone on using the tripod for what is really its job, but at 5pm it was enough. I had to return for some major cooking, involving red cabbage, dumplings, cider, apples, thyme and a duck. Besides, Michael had announced to join for dinner 🙂

Without either risk or hesitation I drove down, and only 25 minutes after entering the car, I was back, ready for culinary action.

Post-processing yesterday’s images took me most of this day, light is already gone, I have no idea what I will shoot for today’s entry. We’ll see.

The Song of the Day is “Till The End Of The Day” by The Kinks. I have it on their current best-of collection “Kinks (The Ultimate Collection)”. Hear it on YouTube. Happy holidays to you all. I may or may not get back to you tonight 🙂

802 – The Lure Of The Sea

 Sigma 10-20, Sigma 50/1.4  Comments Off on 802 – The Lure Of The Sea
Dec 242008
 

It’s 17 months now since the last time that I’ve been to Savudrija, a fabulously picturesque fishing harbor in Croatia. Honestly, I have no idea why I keep my visits so sparse.

From Villach, it takes about 2.5 hours to get there. It would even make sense to enter the car in the morning, spend most of the day swimming, and return in the evening. After dinner, of course, and probably at another time of the year 🙂

Yesterday, with all holiday business past, the lure of the sea was strong, and it was a good feeling to get out of the snow, into a mediterranean landscape that even in winter keeps its southern charm. This time it was not nearly as warm as last time (see “142 – A Trip to the Sea” and “164 – I Remember Croatia“), but that did not take away from the experience.

The Image of the Day was shot with the Sigma 10-20 and put through quite some Photoshop treatment, the other image is from the Sigma 50/1.4 at f2.8 and straight from the camera. I came back with 170 images and should probably process some more, but I really want something posted now, and those two may well give you a feeling.

The Song of the Day, “The Lure Of The Sea“, is once again by The Beautiful South, a band that commentary on Amazon.com describes as

“… a band whose obstinate Englishness earned them enormous popularity in the U.K. and a decade’s worth of total obscurity in the U.S.”

The song is from their 1999 album “Quench”. Unfortunately I have found no video, but at least Amazon has a sound sample.

801 – Mountain Sunset

 Sigma 10-20  Comments Off on 801 – Mountain Sunset
Dec 232008
 

I’m very short of time. It’s past 8am and I want to make a trip to Italy today, thus we’ll keep it short.

This image was shot yesterday at sundown. I had hoped for something more spectacular in the south-western sky, and it may have happened indeed, at least from what I saw later, down in the valley, but that was completely unpredictable at the time. Shortly after I had taken this image, the clouds closed. It was a mistake to leave so early, but I am not entirely unsatisfied.

The lake down in the valley is Millstädter See, one of Carinthia’s bigger lakes.

It is nothing new that Jon Lord has symphonic ambitions, and the Song of the Day, “The Mountain-Sunset”, is not really a song, rather a symphonic piece from his 1999 album “Pictured Within”. Sorry, I’ve got no sound samples today.