PhotoBlog

Iron Sights

If you have watched episodes of the television series Mr. Robot, there is a good chance you have seen this building. In the series, it is the corporate headquarters of E Corp (mostly referred to as Evil Corp by the characters).

In reality, it is a Post-Modern building in New York City on East 57th street. I took this image a few years ago before seeing it on TV. What I particularly liked about it was the tall, open ring supported by columns in front of the building. The ring ties in with the curved arc of the tower's facade and if you stand underneath, it allows dramatic, framed views through the opening.

The challenge is positioning yourself (and the camera) to capture the symmetry of the two structures. The combination of lines and curves will easily reveal imperfections in the composition, and I knew that just the slightest error in camera angle would be noticeable.

I did not have a tripod, so I shuffled back and forth while looking through the viewfinder trying to find the correct spot to stand and the proper angle for the camera. I have to admit, this was rather difficult and I made several failed attempts at capturing the symmetry I wanted. It felt a little bit like lining up the crosshairs of a large scope. Through trial and error, I was able to hone in on a position/angle combination that I was happy with and pulled the trigger.

Alstrom Point

Alstrom Point has, perhaps, the most beautiful view over Glen Canyon. It was one of my first stops when I visited the Southwest US in the spring of 2017. As it is difficult to travel to this spot, I joined up with 3 other photographers to hire a local guide to drive us out the rough trail (it is not a road). The trail requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle and takes about 75 minutes to travel the 24 miles to the end. The ride out was exciting, involving several difficult passages best left to an experienced local driver. It also included numerous stops to take in the incredible panoramas. 

When the terrain became so difficult that the 4x4 could travel no farther, we hiked a short way to the Alstrom point overlook. Before us was Glen Canyon and one of the most amazing views any of us had ever seen. The contrast of the deep blues against the yellows, oranges & reds was striking. Combine that with the majestic Gunsight Butte that seems to rise right out of the fingers of Lake Powell and you have a landscape photographer’s dream.

We arrived about an hour before sunset. The sky was mostly clear and remained blue as the sun descended behind us. Fortunately, the golden light did create a boost of color as it reflected off of the rock formations. I snapped this just moments before the direct light disappeared casting Gunsight Butte and the entire valley into shadow.

When I returned home, I found that the timing was fortunate in one other way I had not seen in the moment. As it turns out, there was a cloud that cast a shadow on the formations behind Gunsight Butte. The dark shadow provides additional depth and separation from Navajo mountain (some 35 miles in the distance).  Not necessary, but convenient nonetheless. 

I always love a colorful sunset…but I think I prefer blue skies at Alstrom Point…as it provides balance to a scene already filled with warm tones.

The Hub

I spent a few days in New York City last week and was able to visit the new World Trade Center for the first time. Seeing the tallest building in the Western hemisphere was obviously very striking, but I found the grounds, the 911 memorial and this, the Transportation Hub, to be equally impressive. 

This is the Oculus in the Hub…the main arched, elliptical opening approximately 350 feet long. It is a beautiful design with the numerous steel ribs extending upward almost 100 feet to the skylight above.

The main purpose of the structure is to serve 250,000 daily commuters on train and subway lines. As a result, it is usually filled with people coming and going. Actually, it was filled with people when I captured this image. However, by using a little photography magic, I was able to make the people disappear.

Okay, so it is not really magic…it is actually a fairly simple technique used by a lot of photographers. Since I had brought a mini-tripod with me, I was able to take multiple exposures over 10 minutes using the same composition. There were people in each exposure, but as they were moving, they were in different positions in each frame. Once I uploaded the images into Photoshop, I was able to blend the various exposures together and, essentially, make the people disappear. The result is an empty hub allowing the viewer to appreciate the lines and shapes of a beautiful piece of architecture.

Of course I would prefer not to have to use this technique and have the place all to myself. However, unless you somehow find yourself completely alone in NYC, it can prove useful. :)
 

Waterfall of the Gods

I consider Goðafoss to be one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland (or anywhere for that matter). It was the first large waterfall I visited on my initial trip to Iceland back in 2014 and I remember simply being awed in its presence. Watching/hearing/feeling the water flow into the 330-foot (100-meter) wide, horseshoe-shaped canyon from a height of 40-feet (12-meters) was breathtaking. I stayed there for hours, admiring it from both sides...it was my 2nd day in Iceland and I was already hooked.

I have since visited Iceland in 2015 & 2017 and each time I have returned to Goðafoss. Unfortunately, the weather was not the best during my first 2 visits to Goðafoss…not enough to hinder the experience, but enough to preclude me from capturing a good photo. My 3rd visit, however, was a charm and the sunset in June lasted well into the morning hours. 

There is also a legend attached to this waterfall (as with most waterfalls in Iceland). When Iceland officially adopted Christianity in the year 1000, rumor has it that Thorgeir, a pagan chieftain & priest, denounced his beliefs by throwing wooden carvings of pagan gods into the falls. From that point forward, it was known as the waterfall of the gods…Goðafoss. 
 

The Hidden Galaxy

Before arriving in Naples, I had researched a building that I wanted to photograph…specifically, its large, grand staircase. The building location is not well known and even though I had found the address online, I walked past it twice before I found the (somewhat) hidden entrance. Tucked in between two retail shops is a small walkway that opens into the interior courtyard of the building. I did not see a way to get inside though and I was a bit puzzled as to how to find this staircase.

Walking back towards the street, I noticed a security guard’s office. I approached him with my camera in hand to ask about the staircase. He instructed me that I could not go up the stairs as it is a private residence. He did, however, agree to allow me take a photo from the lobby floor and pointed to another (somewhat) hidden hallway located behind me. 

At the end of that hallway, I entered the lobby and finally saw the staircase with this slender, oval design! It was beautiful, but not large at all. My assumptions were wrong. In reality, the lobby was rather small and narrow…this presented a challenge.

I expected my widest lens would be fine for this shot, but it was not wide enough! The only possibility to fit the staircase in the frame was to get on the floor…so that is what I did. Lying on my back with my legs under the stairs, I slid left & right and back & forth get in this position. With my head near the center of the lobby floor (and with the camera pressed against my face), I was just barely able to squeeze the entire staircase into the frame. 

I suspect it would have looked comical to anyone watching this, but in the end, I got the image I wanted. Thanks in part to a kind security guard and the fact that I have a small head. :) Hope you agree that the results were worth getting a little dirty.

Pietrapertosa

First settled in the 8th century BC, Pietrapertosa is a beautiful hill town in Basilicata, Italy. 

It sits nestled against the mountains with many homes featuring the bare rock as part of their structure. If you look closely, you can see the natural arch that is at the top of the mountain. There is also a small castle at the top of the mountain, but it is hidden from this viewpoint. From the castle you have amazing views over the valley and the nearby town of Castelmezzano. 

When I visited in April, I think I was the only tourist there. I wandered all over the town and even hiked the old Roman path over to Castelmezzano and back. The towns were both quiet, sleepy places, but it was fun to explore them and enjoy the surrounding views. 

The first morning I arrived, I started the day here…perched on a wall overlooking the town. As the sun rose behind the mountain, the clouds started to glow and Pietrapertosa greeted me with an amazing sunrise.

The Big Bang

I frequently experiment with various perspectives when trying to be creative with my photography.  There are many well-known techniques to use, like “get low,” “get close,” “get closer,” “look behind you,” etc… I enjoy the challenge of seeing things in different ways and find it very gratifying when I capture an image I like. 

This was taken one day while we were being tourists in Helsinki. Walking through a park, we approached this sculpture. It is a monument honoring the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and is made up of stylized organ pipes cascading up & down like a wave. I found it interesting, but not necessarily photogenic.

Then I noticed some small children playing underneath the pipes. They were running around and having fun, but occasionally one would stop and look up from underneath the monument…and it seemed to hold their attention. I thought to myself, there must be an good view from that position if the kids are stopping to take a look! The children left shortly thereafter and I walked under the monument. I had to crouch in spots, but I could see what the children saw. 

Getting a photograph required an even lower position, so with the area clear around me, I lay flat on my back, used my widest lens and shot this from underneath the pipes. I suppose the “get low” technique is somewhat appropriate, but as the children inspired me to get into this position, I prefer thinking of it as “a child’s perspective.”
 

The Tongueless Guardians of the Chain Bridge

Completed in 1849, the Chain Bridge was the first bridge that connected Buda & Pest and was considered a wonder of the world. It was almost completely destroyed by the retreating German army near the end of World War II, but Hungary decided to rebuild the landmark. Exactly 100 years after its original completion, the bridge re-opened in 1949.  

There is a myth involving the lions guarding each side of the bridge. Shortly after their placement in 1852, word spread that the sculptor, János Marschalkó, forgot to provide tongues to the open-mouthed lions. Embarrassed and ashamed of his mistake, Marschalkó supposedly then took his own life by being the first person to jump off of the bridge.

His suicide, however, is only a legend as Marschalkó died from old age many years later. Apparently though, he was very frustrated by the the critical rumors of his mistake. To prove that his sculptures were correct, he took several people from Budapest to a circus. It is reported that upon seeing a real lion, he was finally able to prove to his doubters that you not see a lion's tongue when it opens its mouth.

What I found interesting about this story, is that I could not find proof that the sculptures actually do have tongues! It is reported on several websites that the lions, in fact, do have tongues. However, you cannot see the tongues unless you climb up on the sculptures...which I did not do. 

Rather than climb the sculptures, I chose to position myself on a small, raised triangular section of concrete in the middle of the road and take a photograph. I wouldn't call it a sidewalk, but it did separate the two lanes of the road and, while it sounds dangerous, it provided a safe place to stand as cars passed on both sides. 

My intention was to get an image featuring the light trails of the cars passing by. After I arrived home and reviewed my images, I found I preferred the cleaner image above of just the bridge itself. That said, I decided to also share the other version (and my original intention) below. Clicking on either one will give you a larger image from my website. I would love to know which one you prefer!

On my next visit, I will climb the lions and prove/dispel the myth once and for all... :)

Silhouetted Skyline

Most tourists in Bagan spend their days visiting the largest temples…walking around the impressive structures and exploring the insides of those open to the public. As amazing as it is to experience these temples up close, it pales in comparison to finding a spot where you can look out over the entire valley and appreciate the sheer number of them. If you happen to get a colorful sky at sunset or sunrise, the experience can be magical. 

It was hazy and cloudless on our first day in Bagan. Given the conditions, I did not expect a colorful sunset. I was completely wrong…

We were facing the sun, and the light was harsh. Surprisingly, we started to see a glow developing in the haze in the distance...not high in the sky, but below the sun and just above the ground. I planned on a wide angle photo of the valley, but I quickly grabbed my longest telephoto lens to zoom in on the silhouetted skyline. The light was intense, but dropping the exposure setting to -2 protected the highlights and still left some of the detail in the foreground. The glow lasted for about 10 minutes until the sun fell behind the mountain in the distance. 

This is the first photo I took in Bagan and I ended up taking several hundred more as the light softened. I encourage you to also check out a previous post, Peaceful Paya, to see how the warm golden glow was replaced with cooler pink hues high in the sky on the same evening.

Even without clouds, I found this sunset to be spectacular. Perhaps we were just lucky, but since watching the sunset is heavily promoted as a must-do when visiting, I suspect sunsets frequently surprise in Bagan.

In an Octopus's Garden

One of the first things I did upon arriving in Naples was walk down the bustling Via Toledo and descend into the Toledo metro station. Numerous websites and publications proclaim this station as one of the most beautiful in Europe, so I had to see it for myself. 

It was 8pm on a Saturday night and it was filled with locals & tourists going to/from the nearby bars, shops and restaurants. People were everywhere as I wandered down escalators, stairways and passageways looking for possible places to photograph. The architecture was interesting, but the scene was chaotic. I decided to wait and return when the station would be less crowded.  

The next morning I returned at 6:00 am and was one of the first people through the doors. It felt completely different without the crowds. I could more easily appreciate all of the details in the architecture that were often masked by all of the moving bodies the previous day.

This area was my favorite. As you descend on the escalator, you become surrounded by colorful tiles and waves reaching out of the walls…it feels like you are submerging into an underwater cave. 

Since there was no one there, I was able to take some time to capture images at the bottom. I definitely find it to be a unique and beautiful subway station.

Enter the Orange

The tubular, bright orange passageways are a unique feature of the Marienplatz U-Bahn station. Hundreds of thousands of people pass through this station every day, completely enveloped in orange as they board their trains. 

Almost everyone, including me, uses the main entrance/exit escalators on the other end of the platform. One day, however, I decided to explore more of the station and discovered this less frequented entrance. It is tucked away in a corner and only accessed by a small elevator from the main square. 

I find the shapes, lines and curves to be fantastic here, as well as the slight bend in the passageway. Perhaps most importantly, there is a color other than orange! The dark green tiles provide great contrast, allowing the bright tunnel to draw your eyes right into it.

It has become, by far, my favorite place to enter the orange.

Holy Water

This is Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona…one of of the many photogenic rock formations that populate the desert landscape here. Due to the numerous trails that go up and around Cathedral Rock, you can appreciate it from almost every angle. The most popular trail is on the East side of the formation, as it allows you to hike up and look through the middle gap. 

I found this spot while exploring less frequented trails on the Western side, looking for a place to photograph sunset. If you are not familiar with Sedona, you may be surprised to learn that the best sunset views are actually facing East, not West! The rocks have a tendency to glow red and orange from the soft light just before the sun disappears.

I was surprised to find this pool of water on an area of exposed rock. It hadn’t rained in over a week, but somehow, perhaps from a natural spring, a shallow pool existed in this arid climate. It provided a great reflection of the peaks as the sun went down behind me.

Eye Spy

In my opinion, the architecture around Messeplatz is some of the best in Basel. The facade of the main building features a repeating ribbon-like metal pattern on many of its surfaces. This covered passage between convention halls is a great example.

I suspect this is one of the most photographed places in the city, as I always see several people taking pictures when I am here. The challenge, I find, is to try and eliminate all of the distractions. The square is often filled with people, trams, street vendors, neon lights and/or seasonal festivals, rides and exhibitions. All this activity can create a challenge to capture the type of clean image that I prefer. My solution (which I have used many times) was to focus on what was above. This perspective eliminates all the distractions and buzzing activity at eye level, leaving only simple shapes & patterns.

I took this in the evening when the sides of the opening were illuminated from lights below. The deep blues of the sky and clouds above provided great tonal and color contrast to the monochrome building. I particularly liked this point of view…it felt like an enormous, futuristic eye was spying on me from above…eye spy.

Lower Kuang Si

These are part of the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang. It is only a short hike from the entrance of the falls to get to this point. Here, several layers cascade gently downward in vibrant turquoise pools creating a striking scene. I spent several minutes here photographing the falls and just watching the water flow past...the color was captivating.

Amazingly, this spot is not even the main attraction. Further upstream are the larger falls with a 200 ft drop that draw many more tourists. I will share an image of those large falls in another post, but these smaller ones were my favorite...so I gave them priority :)

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

In my opinion, Stockholm's Tunnelbana stations are some of the most beautiful in the world. The entire network is promoted as the world's longest art gallery. The stations are all unique and most feature paintings, sculptures or murals. I recently visited Stockholm for a long weekend and spent most of my time underground…visiting and photographing my favorite stations.

This is Stadion near the Olympic Stadium. It was one of the city’s first cave-like stations that features the exposed bedrock. The artists, Åke Pallarp and Enno Hallek wanted to remind the people that there is a sky not too far above, so the entire ceiling is painted bright blue. In addition, the rainbow represents the colors of the Olympic rings and serves as a tribute to the Olympic games hosted by Sweden in 1912.

The person on the platform happened to stand perfectly still as I took this 3 second exposure of the train pulling in to the station. 
 

Peaceful Paya

Visting Bagan, Myanmar in December 2017 was an incredible experience. The plains near the ancient city are filled with over 2,200 Buddhist monuments (pagodas, stupas, monasteries, etc) of varying shapes and sizes.

Between the 9th & 13th centuries, Bagan was the flourishing capital of the Pagan Kingdom and over 10,000 monuments were built here. Sadly, after repeated Mongol invasions and numerous earthquakes, only a fraction of the monuments survived. Still, with over 2,000 remaining, a view across the plains is a mesmerizing sight.

This was taken on our first night in Bagan. We arrived only an hour before sunset and did not have time to venture out into the plains. Fortunately, there was this beautiful small pagoda (Paya, in Burmese) very close to our hotel. From this spot, you could see numerous temples in the background and it turned out to be a great place to watch the sunset. As the sun disappeared behind the mountain in the distance, the sky softened and the lights around the pagoda illuminated. A perfect, peaceful first night in Bagan.

Medieval Manhattan

San Gimignano is one of my favorite hill towns in Italy. It’s skyline of towers built in the 1200’s is both unique and impressive. San Gimignano prospered as a key trading town in the early thirteenth century and well off families would build a tower as a show of their wealth. At one point, over 70 towers dominated the town. Today, 13 towers remain and San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, commonly referred to as “Medieval Manhattan"

I highly recommend anyone visiting nearby Florence to take a day-trip here. Get here early in the day though, as tourist buses start arriving mid-morning and the town can be overrun with people in the summer. In the off-season, the town is quiet and peaceful. I took this image a couple of weeks ago in early October and there were only a handful of other tourists. As the sun went down and the lights illuminated the towers, it was a magical scene.

In the Belly of a Snake

This is another modern metro station that I found interesting (maybe even a bit dizzying) in Budapest. The combination of colors, swirls and curves kept my eyes going around in circles as I walked from the escalators over to this spot at the far end of the platform. I sat here on a bench for several minutes appreciating the detail of the ceiling tiles. I suspect the workers who had to place all of these tiles in this specific pattern were very patient people…and probably very good at jigsaw puzzles. 

Fortunately, the metro was not very busy at this time of night, so I did not have to wait long for the station to clear out. Since the security guards will not let you set up a tripod, I was forced to take this hand-held. I have to admit, it took me several attempts to align the camera to get the symmetry as perfect as possible. Looking through the viewfinder, the swirls kept playing tricks with my perception. Persistence eventually paid off though and I was happy to capture this image with the Tripod Police hidden behind one of the far columns.

Picturesque Parliament

The Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest is spectacular. I spent a lot of time walking around it and admiring it from every angle. Up close you can get lost in the fine details, while farther away the towers, dome and symmetry dominate. This is my favorite view of Parliament, standing in Buda and looking at it from across the Danube river. When the lights come on in the evening, they give the building even more character…adding depth and shadows that bring out even more details. The river traffic was congested and I was surprised at how long I had to wait for an opening where no boats were in view. Eventually, an opening appeared though and I was able to take some 3-5 second exposures to soften the ripples in the water so that the only sharp details were of the building.

The following evening I decided to watch the building light up from the Pest side of the river. I thought some of you may be interested to see what the other side of the building looks like, so I included an image below. Being much closer to the building, the dome and towers visible in the other image are mostly obscured from view. Even with my wide angle lens it was difficult to fit the entire building in a single shot…the building is massive. I did find this spot interesting though, as they have installed a small reflecting pool that provided a nice foreground.

Parliament Plaza

A very impressive architectural feat from every angle and definitely a highlight of any trip to Budapest.

Chutes and Ladders

Since it was 98 degrees outside, I decided to spend some time exploring the underground in Budapest. The city recently added a new metro line to its network and some of the modern stations are fantastic. This station, Kálvin tér, is one of my favorites.

I particularly liked this point of view, looking up from the platform. It is a deep station and requires taking three different sets of escalators to reach the bottom. These escalators criss-cross and their lines along with the other curves and patterns create an interesting perspective. 

Perhaps the only thing missing from this station is color. It is mostly concrete and varying shades of gray. Well suited for a monochromatic image.