PhotoBlog

Eruption at Aldeyjarfoss

Aldeyjarfoss in the central highlands is one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland (or anywhere for that matter). It is fairly remote, located more than an hour’s drive from the main Ring Road and requires a 4x4 to access. 

There is no lodging nearby, so photographing the falls at sunrise requires camping or a very early wakeup call. I decided to camp (sort of) and rented an SUV with a tent on the top. Yes, on the top…it opened like a clam shell and you used a ladder to access it. Cool idea, right? I thought so.

The first night I arrived here, the weather was calm. I popped the tent and slept like a baby. Unfortunately, the calm, clear weather provided some of most boring skies I have seen in Iceland. They were colorless too, both at sunset and sunrise. While Aldeyjarfoss was impressive to witness firsthand, my photographs were rather blah. As a result, I decided to drive back to the Ring Road to visit some other locations and return again that night for a second attempt. 

On the second night, I arrived a couple hours before sunset. The clouds were coming in and my hopes for a good photograph were rising. Then, as it often does in Iceland, the weather dramatically changed. Rain started coming down sideways, the wind howled and everything turned gray (if you could see anything at all). I managed to open the tent, get in and attempt to sleep.

The wind shook the SUV so much that I was rolling around on top of it, and before long the rain started making its way inside. I decided to abandon tent… Opening the zipper, I caught a face full of rain and discovered that the wind had blown the ladder away! My tent exit/rooftop dismount was basically a wet slide/flop, but I landed on my feet! I found the ladder, closed the tent and climbed in the back of the SUV. Of course, I got completely soaked in this hilarious process.

The wind/rain continued for several hours, but I did mange to get some sleep in the SUV. When I awoke to my iPhone alarm shortly before sunrise, the conditions had improved. I quickly jumped out of the car and grabbed my gear to make the short hike to the edge of the falls. Still damp and a little cold, I watched the sun rise behind the waterfall. The end results of this adventure to Aldeyjarfoss include a stiff back, wet socks and this sunrise image. All worth it. :)

Red Rock Sunset

Sedona was just one of many places that amazed me during my trip to Arizona and Utah. The red rock formations here dominate the landscape in every direction. Some are more impressive than others, but all are beautiful.

Perhaps the most famous of these formations is Cathedral Rock (on the right side of the photo). It was my first stop after arriving in Sedona and I spent hours wandering around the trails and parks on its Western side. As sunset approached, I was in a position where Courthouse Butte was also visible, several miles in the distance and to the left of Cathedral Rock. Sedona is famous for its colorful sunsets, so I decided to wait here and hope for some great light. Needless to say, this sunset did not disappoint.  

I always enjoy the experience of seeing the sun disappear below the horizon. In Sedona, however, the main performance is in the opposite direction...watching the formations transform into vibrant towers. The red rocks come alive with color and even begin to glow as they reflect the warm sunlight.

Unfortunately, the show only lasts for 10-15 minutes and leaves you wanting for more. Fortunately, the rocks regularly reprise their role the following evening.

Ring of Fire

I finally got a chance to catch my breath on my trip through the Southwest U.S. and wanted to share a recent image with you. 

This is Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. It is probably one of the most photographed places in the Southwest United States…and for good reason. This bend in the Colorado River is truly a spectacle to see in person. If you have the nerve, you can walk right up to the edge and peer over the steep cliffs to view the river, 1,000 feet below. 

I came to this spot a few times during my trip. The first couple of times, the weather was poor…so I did not get the image I was hoping for. However, on the third attempt, I was rewarded with one of the most colorful sunsets I have ever experienced. As the sun disappeared, it lit up the clouds with an intense red glow that reflected down to everything below. 

There were probably a hundred or more people near me at this lookout point. Numerous audible “oohs” and “aahs” were heard as everyone watched this unfold. It seemed that every time I thought I had seen the best part of the sunset, it actually got better!

I took hundreds of photos…some before the color started, some with the signature “sun flare” as the sun descended below the land in the distance, and many more as the clouds caught fire. I hope to share some of those other images in future posts. 

Unfortunately, the show had to end, but wow, what a performance!

Prayer in Primary Colors

They say timing is everything. I am not sure who “they” are, but I tend to agree…especially in the case of this image.

After spending an hour photographing sunset at Wat Chedi Luang, my wife and I started making our way out of the complex, past this beautiful temple and toward the center of Chiang Mai. 

We noticed the sidewalk and streets were much busier than when we entered the complex hours ago. Worshipers had filled the temple and the city had come alive with street vendors, locals and tourists. Several Tuk-tuk drivers were yelling nearby, trying to solicit fares, while the already-employed Tuk-tuks whizzed by loudly on the street. Reaching the sidewalk, I turned around for one last look at the temple and immediately asked my wife to “wait a sec”...she knows that “wait a sec” really means “Jim spotted something he needs to photograph”…

I quickly moved to a position in-between the crowds and the temple. Seemingly oblivious to the mild chaos behind her, this solitary figure kneeled in prayer. It was her beautiful red clothing that first caught my attention, then her pose and concentration. In front of her the golden Buddha was illuminated by the nearby lights and, fortunately timed, the blue hour had begun. What a beautiful scene!

From observation to capture, this image took no more than twenty seconds. A scramble into position, a quick change of camera settings and a silent prayer of my own as I released the shutter. 

Fortunate timing indeed.

Into the Void

It has been several months since I posted an image from one of my favorite places to photograph…the Munich underground. This is Oberwiesenfeld Station on the U3 line. It is not one of the stations that is frequently photographed. Perhaps this is because the plain solid color on one side of the platform is, well, not very photogenic. 

From the center of the platform, the lines and patterns do not draw your attention. As a result, I scouted several different perspectives trying to find a better composition. The patterned black and white wall is, by far, the most interesting feature…so I concentrated on it. Once I found this dizzying angle, I knew I had the shot I wanted. 

I love including leading lines in images…and having lines from every surface pulling you toward the black tunnel at the far end was too much to resist. 

Can your eyes resist being pulled in to the void?

Yin-Yang

This is an image I took several years ago in Hamburg, Germany. The swirling lines, multiple shapes, textures and tones all contribute to what I find very appealing in architectural photography. It has always been one of my favorites, but until entering it into the 2016 Monochrome Awards photo contest, I had not shared it with anyone or included it in my portfolio. With the opportunity to get some unbiased critique, I figured it was time to release this into the wild. 

Monochrome Awards announced the contest winners yesterday and I am super-excited that the judges selected this image, out of 8,000+ images, as Honorable Mention in the Architecture-Amateur category. All of the judges selections are very impressive and it is really an honor to be included with them. I encourage you to have a look at all of the winning images here.

In case you are wondering, this is a parking garage…seriously. While wandering around Hamburg, I found myself here, looking up from the center of the ground floor. The swirling lines represent the up & down ramps that take you to various floors, while the roof features numerous openings allowing sunlight to filter inside. Easily the most beautiful parking garage I have seen…

But wait, there’s more to share from the contest…

As it turns out, one of my other contest submissions (see below) was also awarded Honorable Mention in the Abstract category. This image is one of the first photos that I posted on my Photoblog back in 2015. Click here to see the original post.

Family Water Blessing

While in Cambodia, we had the pleasure of walking through several small villages and seeing some of the lesser visited areas around Angkor Wat. Most of our best experiences happened far away from the crowds of tourists that come to see the amazing temples. This experience, in particular, is one that I will always remember.

As luck would have it, we walked by this small temple just as a family was receiving a water blessing from a monk. We were surprised and excited to see this taking place right in front of us, so we stopped to watch the ceremony.

By this time in our trip, we were getting accustomed to how open and friendly the Cambodian people are. As a result, I walked closer to them and kneeled down, holding up my camera to get their reaction to me taking a photo. Not surprisingly, they smiled and gave me permission.

I could not help but smile back at them as I was taking this image. Seeing several generations lined up together to share in this event was amazing. I do not think I have ever experienced a better Norman Rockwell moment…and I suspect I may never again have the opportunity to capture it in a photograph.

I smile every time I look at this image. Seriously…every time. Most of the time I smile because of the happiness that radiates in the family’s faces. Other times I smile reflecting on the memory of being there at that moment. The family received a blessing that day, but in some ways, I feel I did also.

Best wishes to you, your family and your friends during this Holiday season and for a memorable and enjoyable New Year!

Jim

Enlightened

This is the Buddha Dordenma statue that sits above Thimphu, Bhutan. It is not your ordinary Buddha, as it stands nearly 170 feet (51.5 meters) tall, making it one of the largest Buddhas in the world. It is made of bronze, but completely gilded in gold and can be seen from miles away as you enter the capital of Bhutan. Our guide, Ugay, brought us here one afternoon after touring the city. We had already visited several amazing temples the previous three days, so seeing a Buddha statue was nothing new, but the size of this one was impressive.

It was in many respects, the wrong time to take a photo…the sun was high and light was harsh, there was hardly any color in the sky, no clouds, no texture. But still, I wanted to try to capture this amazing statue…and that is when inspiration hit me to shoot for the end result, not what the camera can capture. 

Knowing that I could do some magic in Photoshop, I set up my tripod directly in front of the buddha. Even though the light was harsh, I loved the way it was glowing off the face and side of the Buddha. I also could see that my lens was picking up lens flares, so I took a series of images with the flares and another series with my hand blocking the sun, so that the camera could focus sharply on the statue.

In Photoshop, I blended the images together and added color to the sky using the the gold in the statue as a source. The sun flares added an interesting element and I added some texture using a sun burst pattern in the background. 

I often take photographs imagining what I want the final result to look like. That said, I rarely take the liberty of heavy handed post processing to make the image work. This ended up being much more of an interpretation of what I saw as opposed to a realistic image, but it was fun to create and I like the end result.

Hopefully the Buddha also approves…

Ground Under Ben

I have to admit, the first time I visited London I was a little starstruck walking around most of the famous tourist attractions. I suppose I felt this way because I was actually standing next to all of these places that previously I had only been able to experience in movies or pictures. They were suddenly real!

Seeing Big Ben checked off one of my many bucket list items. I remember walking down the sidewalk, turning the corner, looking up to see this and just feeling happy. Finally, Ben right in front of me…awesome!

As I walked by this sign, I knew I wanted to get an image of it and Ben. However, when I stood by the sign, I discovered that I had to crouch down close to the ground to get an angle where Ben was visible. I had a problem…the sidewalk was flooded with tourists entering and exiting the Underground station nearby.  Getting on the ground would almost surely result in getting stepped on…or perhaps causing someone to trip over me as they walked by.

Fortunately my wife was with me and noticed my predicament. She offered to perform crowd control as I got low, doing an incredible job of shielding me from the passers by (and them from me!)

Problem solved. Memory captured. Photo assistant found!

To all of you in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you have a great holiday!

Falling Star

This is the Star Atrium inside the Dubai Mall. Standing near the center and looking up, you immediately see the reason for its name. There were only a handful of people looking down over the railing, but the floor where I was standing was bustling with people. Being the only person standing still, it was understandable that a few people bumped into me as I looked upward and captured a few photos. 

I like using symmetry in images. It often provides a unique perspective of an area or building. Think about it, how often do you find yourself perfectly centered in a particular space? 

But here, you can see that I am not standing directly in the center and I angled my lens slightly toward the longest point of the star. This gives you a slightly longer bottom part of the image, when compared to the top. I thought this composition complimented the slight asymmetry of the star and provided more depth. I also found the different colors found on each of the floors to be too distracting. As a result, I turned this into a simple black and white to give the lines, curves and shapes more attention. Anyway, just wanted to share what I was thinking in composing and processing this image. The color image is at the bottom of this post if you want to compare and contrast.

About 6 months ago, I posted an image from the Waterfall Atrium of this same mall (found here). I took over a hundred images while walking around the mall that day as the architecture and interior design is very interesting. Unlike everyone else, I was not there to shop…in fact, I don’t think I even went into a store...but I did not leave empty-handed. :) 


Here is the image in full color...

Falling Star - Color

Escape from Hell

I suspect there are few people whose main interest when visiting Stockholm is to wander through its subway stations. I am one of those people.

The Tunnelbana consists of 100 stations and several of them feel more like art exhibitions than mass transit locations. I was only able to visit a handful during my short stay in Stockholm, but this one was on the top of my list and it is absolutely striking…it is the Solna Central station.

Some of the older stations are dug into the bedrock and have bare, exposed rock walls instead of finished interiors. In this station, the exposed rock has been painted to create a panoramic image. Scenes with forests, waterfalls, people and animals adorn the walls as you walk from one end to the other. However, at this set of escalators, all you see is red and black.

Having just descended the long, deep escalator, finding this was a little surreal…maybe even a little unsettling. :) But I also found it fantastic and had to capture some images. Strangely, there were very few people in the station with me, so it was rather easy to get an image without people going up or down the escalators. 

I have to think that if Hell wanted a grand entrance (or exit), this would do quite nicely. 

The Watcher

In the spirit of Halloween I decided to do something a bit different this week and post an image I find to be a bit creepy.

This ghost-like, golem-like creature towered over me one day in Barcelona. I have to say, I felt a little eerie looking up and seeing this thing staring down at me. It was easily three times my size and the dark void of its eyes watched me very intently the entire time I was in its presence. Fortunately, it never moved…it only watched…and I was able to escape unharmed down a nearby staircase.

In case you are curious what this really is, it is one of the statuesque chimneys atop the roof of Casa Milà (La Pedrera) in Barcelona, another fantastic building by architect Antoni Gaudí. This chimney/statue/creature greets you when you climb the stairs and reach the rooftop. It is one of a dozen or more functional statues on the roof and was easily my favorite. 

Boo!

Happy Halloween! :)

Prepare the Engines for Warp Drive

When I am out wandering in a city, I often go inside buildings to scout for photo opportunities. Many times there is nothing I find interesting, but occasionally I am amazed at what is hidden from the outside. This was one of those lucky finds.

This was taken in the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin. Inside the main door, there was a reception area with a security guard and a small atrium just ahead. The security guard was on the phone, so I walked into the atrium to take a quick look. Honestly, there was not much look at, but I did happen to glance upward…and found this. 

I was not sure if photos were allowed inside. I have found that each place has its own policies and usually ask permission. So I figured I would ask this security guard…when he got of the phone…and I waited for about 5 minutes. He did not seem to be concerned that I was carrying a camera. Nor was he paying me much attention. Getting restless, I pondered whether to ask permission or just beg for forgiveness. I decided to go ahead an take the shot. 

As soon as I pressed the shutter, he hung up the phone and started yelling at me that “No photos are allowed!”  So…I begged for forgiveness and it worked! He quickly calmed down and then opened the door, indicating I should leave. I took the hint and walked outside, happy for forgiving security guards and for getting this image. :)

The Caretaker

This image is from our past trip to Bhutan…another portrait of one of the people that I found so inspiring. We found the people of Bhutan to be welcoming and warm everywhere that we went. It seems to just be their nature, part of their culture.

We met this gentle soul while hiking up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal, an important and beautiful temple that overlooks the Punakha Valley. Looking ahead as we walked through the rice fields, we could see him spinning a prayer wheel that marks the start of the ascent up to the temple. When we arrived he greeted us with a smile and welcomed us to this sacred place…his sacred place. We discovered, with the help of our guide, that he is the head monk and the caretaker of the temple. 

After offering us a blessing, he encouraged us to continue our hike up to the main temple. He seemed genuinely happy that we were there to visit and we, in turn, felt fortunate that our timing allowed us this chance encounter.

I don’t often take portraits of people, but this was an experience I wanted to capture. Before leaving, I mustered up the courage to ask the monk if I could take his photograph and he happily agreed. With the light now above the mountains to the east and illuminating one side of him, I took this one image.

When I look at the image, I since the serenity and kindness that he possesses. Perhaps this is simply because of our personal encounter, but I hope that you can also see this in his eyes and expression. I also hope that if you visit Bhutan, you get a chance to meet him as well. 

Fang of the Underground

I love using wide-angle lenses for architecture. However, as wide angle lenses can cause distortion, especially at the edges of an image, shooting very wide can result in challenges both in composition and in post processing. In most situations, photographers (including myself) want to eliminate any distortion in their image. However, I find there are times when this distortion can be used creatively and with interesting effects.

This is Hasenbergl Station in Munich…flipped upside down. That long fang-shaped thing coming at you is actually the ceiling that forms a canopy over the platform below. 

By positioning myself at the end of the canopy and angling my lens upward at its widest setting, I was able to make the tip of the canopy appear much longer and narrower than it actually is. Additionally, the rest of the station is pushed further away from the viewer, making the space look larger than reality. Of course with this amount of intentional distortion, keeping straight lines straight becomes challenging. Through a bit of trial and error and careful positioning, I was able to minimize distortion on the straight lines on the ceiling and platform to my satisfaction. 

In the end, this was a difficult image to compose and capture, but also an incredibly fun challenge at the same time. I suspect the people who walked passed me in the station that afternoon were wondering what the heck I was trying to do…adjusting and re-adjusting my camera position pointed at the ceiling. Fortunately, this station is near the end of a line, so it is never very busy. As a result, getting the final shot without people was the easiest part.

If you are curious what the station really looks like right side up, the picture below shows the station from the stairs leading down to the platform.

Hasenbergl - Normal View

Skógafoss

This is another image of the incredible Skógafoss in southern Iceland. Standing at the base of this 200 foot waterfall was an amazing experience. As you can see, the spray from the fall is extensive, so there is no avoiding getting wet. 

After I took this image, I hiked up to a lookout point on the right side of the falls. You may remember that earlier this year I posted an image of the Troll at Skógafoss. If you look closely, you can see some people standing about two-thirds of the way to the top…that is where you can see the Troll. You can also use the size of the people to get some perspective on the enormity this waterfall. 

One of the many things I like about Iceland is how easy it is to access some of the attractions. Skógafoss is right next to the main road and an easy walk from the carpark. As a result, this is one of the most visited waterfalls on the island. There is a campsite just behind where I took this image and I was able to spend the night here…letting the roar of the water put me to sleep.

The Road to Enlightenment

One of my favorite buildings in Munich is the Pinakothek der Moderne, the Modern Art Museum. I recently spent a couple of afternoons walking around and capturing some photos of the interior architecture. Similar to many modern art museums, the building itself is a work of art. Clean lines, interesting shapes and ever-changing shadows created by the open atrium present a lot of opportunity for photographers.

This image was taken on a staircase that winds around the circular atrium walls. While most of the atrium is open to all levels of the museum, this particular staircase is separated by a partial, curved wall. Looking straight up, you see the natural light bounce off of the ceiling creating a great glow effect. As you get closer to the top, the area becomes brighter and brighter. 

I particularly liked these vertical lines that are spaced evenly as you ascend the stairs. Some of the lines are filled with light, while others are a dark gray. I positioned myself here because the alternating light and dark line reminded me of a center line of a roadway leading into the light.

If only enlightenment could be reached by climbing a short flight of stairs…

Siegestor

It was a sad day leaving Munich last Tuesday…a place where we thoroughly enjoyed living over the past 4 years. It is a beautiful place, rich in culture and filled with historical landmarks. I would often walk around the city just to photograph the interesting buildings, churches and public squares in the old city center. This image is one that I captured just down the street from where we used to live.

This is the Siegestor, a Victory Gate that was originally dedicated to the Bavarian army. It was nearly destroyed in WWII, but was later reconstructed. After reconstruction, a plaque was placed on the landmark reading "Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging peace" It also marks the beginning of Leopoldstrasse, one of the most travelled streets in Munich.

In front of the gate, there is a raised island in the middle of the street where you are safe from the surrounding traffic. Setting up a tripod here allows you to take long exposures of the head/tail lights of the cars passing by…an effect I like to produce in cityscapes.

Blue Descent

Blue Descent

A rather short post today, as life events this week are restricting my free time. I did, however, want to keep my weekly streak alive and publish an image for those of you following this thread.

This is a staircase in Hamburg. It is in the Laeiszhof building, one of the many historical buildings in the city. It was the color that first caught my attention. I find something soothing about blue in photographs. This may be the reason I like capturing landscapes and cityscapes in the “blue hour”. I don’t think that I have ever seen a blue staircase before. I suspect others exist, but this was a first for me. Without the blue, I am not sure I would have even taken a photo of this staircase. I have seen many others staircases that are more interesting, but the border of blue made it unique in my eyes. I hope you agree. 

Until next week, when I hope to have a bit more time to share an image and a story…

Wanaka Willow

In my opinion, New Zealand may be the most amazing place on the planet. The landscapes you see in every direction are unsurpassed. The mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys are captivating and the views seem to go on forever.

Driving from Mt. Cook to Queenstown, we made a stop at Wanaka to get something to eat and enjoy an afternoon at the lake. While here, I had to have a go at the famous tree that grows near the shore…the Wanaka Willow…and by near the shore, I mean IN the lake.

On this afternoon the wind was strong, creating choppy waves in the shallow water. Most images of this tree are long exposures that flatten out the waves/water, causing a glassy/sandy effect. I have seen numerous beautiful images using this technique, primarily at sunrise or sunset. I had planned on doing something similar, but when I saw how surreal the tree looked surrounded by waves, I decided to keep the texture of the water.

This may very well be one of the most photogenic trees in the world. It has become the symbol of Wanaka and even has it’s own hashtag – #ThatWanakaTree. What is also amazing is that this tree started life as a fence post at least 77 years ago. A local historian remembers the fence back in 1939 and has watched it evolve from a "hacked off branch from nearby willows" to a symbol of determination…it has been growing slowly ever since.