C.P. #5: Something Different

In focus, glowing brightly!

In any creative endeavor, we can find ourselves in a proverbial rut sometimes. This has happened a number of times during all the years that I have dabbled in the photographic arts; across nearly 50 years of photography, one looks to learn and improve. When I struggle to see improvement in my work, I tend to question the why behind my photography, which might lead down a couple of rabbit holes!

Luckily, photography is not a one-dimensional means of expression, as there are lots of choices to make to get that image you might be after. Aperture, shutter speed and composition are starting points. Of course, the equipment we use for a particular shot matters, as it did in this image from 2009…

Zone Plate Yellow no. 1

At first glance, you might ask what is so unusual about an image that is out of focus? The catch is that this image is not out of focus. It was captured with a Lensbaby Composer using a zone plate lens. You may ask what all this means, unless you too have dabbled with this kind of lens.

A zone plate lens is effectively a series of rings surrounding a center hole with each of the clear zones of these rings equalling the area of the center hole; thus each zone gets thinner as you move away from the center of the zone plate. You may still be scratching your head, and I could tell you that the zone plate uses diffraction for focusing rather than refraction, the way a standard lens works. Based on analysis by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, the lens was constructed with the spacing of zones to create constructive interference of the diffracted light, thus producing the image.

This might still sound a bit odd, so let me share that one of the effects is that the detail of the image is given a surrounding glow, as you can see in the above shot. This might be an effect that one tries to achieve in post-processing; for me, it is enjoyable to capture this intent right in camera. The post-processing that I applied consisted mostly of raising contrast and bumping up saturation to create a more vibrant image. There also was a bit of retouching of dust spots on the sensor, as the zone plate has an effective aperture of f/22.

I’m curious to hear what type of photography equipment options you use to boost your creative juices. Let me know.

Sunday Snapshot

Simple objects made into art!

For this Sunday, I thought I’d share another snap from our visit to New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Jellyfish Afloat

The artful displays for the Night Lights event were everywhere and one of the indoor areas had us walking through an ocean of beauty, including this gorgeous creation.

What caught my eye is that most of the displays were made from everyday objects, including this one. Many recyclables were used to show how our simplest items can be turned into an imaginative display.

The Early Bird…

Sometimes, the early bird gets the shot!

Sunrise and sunsets are always fun to photograph, and for the reason of not having to get up early, I prefer sunsets or winter sunrises. I’m sure that many of you agree that the end of a good night’s sleep includes waking up when you can see the Sun’s warming rays.

On the East coast of the United States, there is one place where capturing the sunrise is almost a ritual, as it boasts being the first point of the continental states to see the sun rise. Cadillac Mountain in Maine sits on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. As it rises to 1,530 feet (466 meters), the sunrise view from the top is pretty early…

Watching the Sun rise

This shot was captured about 30 minutes past sunrise, as I caught these sun worshippers admiring the copper orb. The sun rose around 4:46 a.m. on that day, and provided some magic…

First Glimpse

We were the early birds on that June day, as we found a spot around 4 a.m., and it was worth experiencing this bit of magic!

A Stop by Kinderdijk – pt. 2

A closer look at these behemoths of power! Don’t tilt at them!

In yesterday’s Kinderdijk post I shared the variety of weather conditions that we experienced at Kinderdijk; during the 90 or so minutes that we were there, the only season we missed was Winter!

The classic Dutch windmill is an engineering marvel that can withstand centuries of whatever Mother Nature throws at it…

Rearview of the Cap

Starting at the top, we have the cap of the windmill; its head, so to speak. This section can be rotated around its vertical axis, as it sits on wheels inside the cap. This enables the miller to turn the windmill into the wind, so that it can generate its power.

Capstan Wheel

This rotation is achieved using the capstan wheel, which is on the tail of the windmill. Chains are attached to anchor points in the ground, and then the wheel is turned to rotate the cap in the direction of the anchor point. Note the gentleman in the wood shoes; he’s the miller responsible for this windmill, the Nederwaard No. 2, which houses the Windmill Museum.

Brake Handle

Of course, you need a braking mechanism to slow down rotation of the sails; the brake handle sticks out from the cap; this on his painted in the colors of the Dutch flag, red, white and blue.

Canvas and the Sail

When the miller wants to operate the windmill, one of the interesting jobs is to unroll the canvas to cover the sail; this involves climbing up the lattice and tying the canvas to the sail. Not that it can be reefed, just like a sailboat, to adjust for the strength of the wind. Imagine climbing up in wooden shoes when the breeze is picking up; I think this could be a harrowing bit of work.

A View through the Capstan Wheel

As we’re getting ready to wrap up, I took one more look back through capstan wheel to soak in this majestic view!

I felt lucky to get this turnaround in the weather, because with this sun and clear air, the scenery of Kinderdijk is simply glorious!

A Stop by Kinderdijk – pt. 1

Does it get any more Dutch than this?

A big part of our Rhine river cruise was the opportunity to visit a lot of wonderful places, including some in the country that I was born and raised in: the Netherlands. As the windmills of Kinderdijk were one of the options, my wife and I decided to do that tour…

Rain and Sunshine

As we arrived at Kinderdijk, the sky looked threatening, so luckily I had put the rain gear on my camera, as it started pouring while the sun was bright across parts of this scene. It made for a great dramatic shot that captures 5 of the 19 windmills.

Nederwaard Windmill Nr. 1

Within minutes was dry again and some of the sky started clearing. This is windmill number 1 on the Nederwaard side; this windmill is of the type ‘Grondzeiler’, which translates literally to ‘Groundsailor’. The name makes sense, as the blades or sails come close to the ground when they turn.

When there is rain and sun…

Of course, one of the benefits of these weather conditions is that rainbows will appear and they were stunning!

And then the sun came out!

And then the sun came out in its fullest glory! Even though the light was strong, I couldn’t resist capturing this shot. Let me know how many windmills you count in this shot!

Our guide for this tour was really knowledgeable and made the whole presentation very interesting; it helps that she was born and raised in Kinderdijk! During a break, we chatted in Dutch and she wasn’t surprised to find out that growing up in the Netherlands, I had never visited Kinderdijk; it’s not uncommon, as there are 1,200 historic windmills in the entire country, so you’re never very far from one. As matter of fact, in the house where we lived when I was just finishing elementary school and going to high school, I had British friends who lived in a windmill.

Tomorrow’s Kinderdijk post, I’ll chat about some of the details of these iconic symbols of Dutch culture, and we’ll talk about their operation.

Morning’s Warm Promise

Warmer days are in our future!

The cold of Winter and its short days and long nights might cause our spirits to flag a bit from time to time. At those times, we can count on Mother Nature to cause these spirits to rise up again…

Morning’s Warm Promise

On this particular morning, the cold grip of Winter was trying to hold on a bit longer; looking across the snow-covered fields and seeing the rose-fingered dawn extend her reach across the sky, my heart knew that warmer days lay ahead.

There’s still more of Winter coming in the Northern Hemisphere, which also brings us ever-closer to the first hopeful days of Spring!

Before we board ship…

A quick canal tour around Amsterdam

Last September, Kris, my wife, and I took a river cruise from Amsterdam to Basel on the amazing Viking Mani; this was our first ever cruise experience, and I can tell you that Viking will raise the bar for any future vacation plans that you might have.

After arriving a day prior to our boarding date, we checked in early into our hotel, the Victoria, which is just across from the Centraal Station; after our flight from Boston, we were both happy to hop into a shower and get a short nap before exploring the city. First stop was to get some food, which for me means that I wanted to get a Dutch specialty: a beef croquette sandwich (Dutch: kroket).

Next up we decided to take a canal tour, which is the best way to see Amsterdam. I’ll highlight a couple of views from our hour-long boat trip.

The Stopera Building

In the image above, the Stopera is where the Dutch National Opera & Ballet companies have performance space, and where Amsterdam’s city hall is located. The name came from a shortening of the protest slogan against the building’s construction: “Stop the Opera”. The design approval for the building literally took decades, as the original commission started in 1955 and took until 1964 years to finally reject all proposals; a new competition was held in 1967 for a new design, which was won by the Viennese architect Wilhelm Holzbauer.

Unfortunately, budget constraints delayed the project once more. In 1979, a new approach was proposed, which would combine the opera space and city hall into a single complex; a design by Wilhelm Holzbauer and Cees Dam was approved. Under much controversy and protest, construction started in 1982 and was completed in 1986.

Jewish Resistance Monument

At the intersection of the Zwanenburgwal and the Amstel river, stands a powerful reminder of the people who once lived in the neighborhood where the Stopera stands today; Vlooienburg was an island that was built in Amsterdam to add space around 1593. This island was part of Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter, which was established during the Dutch republic, as many Sephardic Jews moved from Portugal and Spain to the more accepting environment in Amsterdam. The black monument commemorates the efforts by the Jewish population in their resistance against the Nazi occupiers during World War II; on the side of the monument is a text of the prophet Jeremiah, which laments:

“Were my eyes fountains of tears then would I weep day and night for the fallen fighters of my beloved people.”

Het IJ

Another key river of Amsterdam is the IJ, which likely is a remnant of the northern arm of the Rhine delta. Nowadays, the IJ has a seafaring shipping connection through the North Sea Canal, which stretches from Amsterdam to Ijmuiden.

From here our canal tour turned back to its mooring point, close to the main train station, and a bit later we’d go here…

The Viking Mani

There she is, our Viking longship, the Mani; named after the Norse Moon God, Mani, who flies through the night sky in his horse-drawn chariot, chased by an evil wolf looking to devour the moon. Our cabin is in view, albeit barely; it is the last visible window near the end on the upper deck. As the restaurant is at the front of the ship, we had a more than 100 m walk each way, getting our exercise, even on board!

C.P. #4: Seeing and Framing

The walking photographer

First things first: I’ll be using the abbreviation C.P. to shorten ‘Creative Process’; titles of posts were just getting a bit long!

In today’s post, I want to share a bit about how I shoot when I’m just walking around and some of the thoughts that I put into my snapshots. Even though my photography brain isn’t constantly scanning for the next ‘amazing’ shot, there is a level of awareness of how the world around me might look through the view of a lens. Here’s an example of this…

Prins Hendrikkade

As my wife and I were walking around during our afternoon of free time before our ship’s departure, I became aware of the view ahead of us. The combination of architecture, modes of transport, sidewalk, signage, traffic light and bicycles outnumbering car, it all screams something that is very Dutch in our minds.

After that initial assessment, the creative process part of the brain kicks in, as I looked on how to capture this scene and produce the right guidance for our eyes to allow our mind to process parts of this image step by step.

The first decision was to ask my wife to stop walking for a moment, so that I could have the less-lighted space create a set of leading lines into the main parts of the image. You’ll notice that by default our eyes will start in the lower right hand part of the image and then quickly move more toward the center of the image (for an experiment, try starting your eyes in a different part of the image and notice what they do).

As I composed this shot with my iPhone, I moved to the left and right to see how the lines would lead toward the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the background. You’ll notice that I settled more toward the left side of the sidewalk, as that enabled me to use the shadows of the building to my left to frame the image and not have the eye go all the way left in the image. Similarly, but less pronounced, the tree on the right helps frame that side.

Taking the couple of seconds to make these decisions, allowed the bicyclist coming towards me to be in the shade, and not be the subject of the shot; it helped that the traffic lights for bicyclists and pedestrians had just turned green!

Of course, I did shoot this image with a bit of safety, as you can see from the original…

iPhone original for above image

You’ll notice that there is quite a bit of extra margin, so that the crop can create a suitable image. I chose to use the iPhone’s 4:3 aspect ratio for the final image, as it felt pretty natural for this scene.

I hope that this quick overview of some of what goes on in my photography brain when I walk around. Please feel free to comment, share your process or ask questions.

Starting Anew!

A view of what is to come!

As we start of the new year, many of us make resolutions and grand plans of what we would like to achieve. And yes, I do the same, as there are always a couple of things that I’d like to do better.

One of these is to spend more time catching up with my photography; as there are literally thousands of photos that I have taken and not done a single review or edit on, the goal is to put a significant dent into that backlog. I still have to figure out how I will measure this, as it will be hard to recognize progress without a decent metric.

So here’s a taste from the project that I’m cleaning up right now (and over the next week or two)…

Brouwerijgracht in Amsterdam

Yes, this is one of those typical Amsterdam shots from a canal tour boat, as we just came out of the Keizersgracht (Emperors Canal) and got a view down the Brouwerijgracht (Brewery Canal). As Kris, my wife, and I arrived in Amsterdam a day ahead of time before our Rhine cruise (great way to get over jet lag), we spent part of our afternoon touring the center of Amsterdam; there’s no better way to do that than on a canal tour.

A simple shot with my iPhone 13 Pro Max with a little touch up, as it was indeed a gorgeous day in Amsterdam.

Lots more coming from the Rhine cruise in the coming weeks!

Goodbye to 2022

Happy New Year!

As we started this year, 364 days ago now, we knew that it couldn’t be as bad as the year(s) we lost to COVID; we held out hope and a conviction that things were looking up!

Guess what? 2022 turned out pretty good, and I, for one, am even more optimistic about 2023, as we turn over the next leaf…

B&W Leaf under Red Light

Like this leaf, life started looking a lot better over the past year, as we started traveling again (Iceland and river cruise from Amsterdam to Basel for personal travel). Inspiration started coming back with a more positive outlook, which turned to creating more images. Work, albeit insanely busy, allowed me to take an entirely new look on how to organize a modern software development organization (looking forward to the rollout of this in 2023).

I feel that the momentum is there once again, and I plan to keep moving things forward!

Oh yes, the image… I photographed this leaf during the Night Lights event at the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill; the lighting on this leaf was red, which led me to take the black&white direction.

Happy New Year to one and all and I look forward to sharing our future explorations!

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