On the Run — The Bordeaux Protest

It’s happened to us all, right?  You just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you also happen to be blessed enough to be able to get away with in the nick of time.

I was doing my run-sploration of downtown Bordeaux when I whipped around the corner of one small street and heard yelling and loud chanting.  I’d stumbled upon a protest.

And then I saw the lady in the left foreground.  You can’t see it from this angle, but she had a tear gas grenade launcher slung over her shoulder in a relaxed but ready position.  But from the rest of her gear, you can tell that she’s a Gendarme (French police officer).

I had my iPhone SE with me as I always do and managed to snap this photo with the Lightroom app as the crowd began to move towards the officer.  I took that as my cue to leave the area.

I don’t know if they were part of the Yellow Vest protest or something else.  You can see a flag in the upper right.  It’s a white flag, but I’m not sure what it represents.  Either way, I didn’t want to stick around.

There was a huge police presence that day in Bordeaux, and the following day, I did notice a military presence at several of the historical sites.  I really feel for the French people, having had to deal with destructive protests and terror attacks.  But they still strive on, living from day to day.

I went with the black and white conversion for this shot because I felt that it needed a journalistic feel to it.

Florentine Memories

By the time this blog is published, I’ll be somewhere in the Lot Valley of France, at another Damien Lovegrove photography workshop. But I wanted to share some photos that I took during my brief stay in Florence, Italy. They were taken over a period of about 16 hours, from the evening I arrived to the late morning the following day before I headed out to the ancient medieval city of Volterra. All of the photos were taken with my Fuji X-H1 and my always handy 16-55mm f/2.8 lens. That lens is on my camera 90% of the time.

This first set of shots were taken in the vicinity of Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most popular bridge.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 38.8mm — f/2.8 — 1/500sec

Storm clouds were brewing to the east, but thankfully they didn't head our way. I wasn’t eager to test my X-H1’s weatherproofing in a thunderstorm.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 38.8mm — f/2.8 — 1/110sec

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/80sec

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/80sec

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 40.1mm — f/2.8 — 1/480sec

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 40.1mm — f/2.8 — 1/480sec

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 53.3mm — f/2.8 — 1/300sec

Next I worked my way over to where the Cathedral and Duomo were. I was actually looking for dinner at that point, but with so many options, I wasn’t sure what to eat. So while I was trying to figure that out, I decided to try some extended exposure shots.

I didn’t bring my tripod with me, so I mounted my camera on anything I could find, from the tops of trash receptacles to the backs of benches.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 16mm — f/11 — 5sec

The tripod / no tripod choice was a bit of a tactical choice on my part because I would be doing a lot of walking and would clearly look like a tourist on the streets. But then again, there were tons of tourists around me as well. I decided that the unencumbered way was best.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 18.7mm — f/9 — 7sec

Since I was unencumbered, my compositions were basically dictated by where I could firmly mount my camera. In the case of the Duomo below, I really did put the camera atop a trash receptacle.

ISO 800 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 16mm — f/2.8 — 1/8sec

The long exposures helped eliminate the moving people in the shots. I hadn’t done a long exposure of street scenes before, so this was an interesting experiment. I was worried that the X-H1’s in-body image stabilization might interfere with the shot, but thankfully it didn’t.

The following morning I headed out to find some souvenirs and brought the camera along with me again.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 18.2mm — f/7.1 — 1/1900sec

I love these morning shots because there were less people on the streets and in the water, and I was able to capture some wonderful reflections.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 37.6mm — f/6.4 — 1/1000sec

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/3800sec

Florence is a wonderful city. It’s smaller than what I’m normally accustomed to, which is why I think I may have found it to be quite comfortable and pleasant. There’s so much beautiful history and architecture in the area. It’s definitely worth exploring again.

Colonial Williamsburg - Women in Early Music

While at Colonial Williamsburg, the last event I attended was a presentation called, “Women in Early Music”. It was late March and the program was quite appropriate for Women’s History Month.

Photography was not allowed during the performance itself, mostly because the room was really dark and the camera would have been a huge distraction/disruption during the performance. But afterwards I asked two of the ladies if I could take their photos and they excitedly agreed!

To say that the shooting conditions were difficult is an understatement. I was having to push what I thought were the limits of my camera’s ISO!

This first shot is of the flautist. What I found so amazing about her performance was the distinctive very deep breath she would take at the beginning of each song (or movement). You can see from the size of the flute just how robust it is compared to modern day flutes. But the music she drew from that flute was strong and steady, which is a testament to her stamina and skill!

ISO 1600 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 26.6mm — f/2.8 — 1/30sec

This next shot was the most difficult one of my entire time at Colonial Williamsburg, and also of the two shots taken that night.

Our singer positioned herself in a very dark portion of the room, perhaps too dark in most circumstances.  However, I trust my Fuji, especially the X-H1 with it’s IBIS.  So I did my best at guessing the exposure and trusting the fact that the dynamic range of the Fuji sensor would allow me to bring this image up a whopping 5 stops!  And here’s the final image.

ISO 1600 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 37.6mm — f/2.8 — 1/30sec

At ISO 1600, the image was grainy, but not so much that i wasn’t able to use the noise reduction in Lightroom to do some decent correction. The sepia conversion was done to primarily help mask the remaining noise, and also to make the image look older. It seems that when we think of sepia, we think of older photos and we think of grains so hopefully worked!

I’m glad I was able to catch this performance because it was actually the final performance, since Women’s History Month and the March of month was coming to a close. If I could go back next year and catch this performance again, the only thing I would change would be to bring a small flash and a flash sync chord!

Gettysburg - Scenes from the Battlefield

I hadn’t intended to discuss Gettysburg on Memorial Day, the day which we honor those who lost their lives defending their nation and their freedom, but this year it seemed appropriate.

I had the opportunity not too long ago to visit the Gettysburg Battlefield. Obviously, being a battlefield, the area is immense, encompassing more than just the city of Gettysburg, but a significant portion of the outskirts as well. As with many of the American Civil War Battlefields, the loss of life was at a tragically large scale. It’s also in this area that President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg address.

On the day I visited, it was a rainy day. The skies were dark, and there was a steady light rain falling all over the area. I had no worries because my Fuji X-H1 was weather resistant, as was the 16-55mm f/2.8 that was mounted on it. That lens has the equivalent field of view of a 24-70mm lens on a full frame camera. It was the only lens I brought with me during my visit to the battlefield.

I’ve come to learn through the wise advice of a good friend, who served as a combat photographer with the U.S. military, and also through experimentation, that for just touring around and doing photo walks, the 24-70mm zoom lens is really all you need.

The first shot gives a sense of isolation and solitude. It’s a lone branch and a single water droplet. Behind you see the dark storm clouds covering the land, and the drab colors of the landscape.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/480 sec

Next we have two shots: one a closer-in shot that has the tell-tale look of a part of a cannon, and then a shot from the front of the canon itself.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/180 sec

Standing near the front of one of these, you can just imagine the power of the blast emanating from the barrel, and cannon ball being expelled, destroying everything it touches.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 48.5mm — f/2.8 — 1/160 sec

Can you imagine having to run up against this barricade, with bullets coming right at you?  It may not look like much, but truly, if you had a rifle and a pistol and extra ammo, and some gear, trying to get over even part of this would be difficult while under fire.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/120 sec

Here’s a stone wall that was probably used as cover for soldiers shooting at their opponents.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm — f/5.6 — 1/90 sec

One must remember though, that while Gettysburg is a battlefield, but it’s also a memorial that’s littered with cemeteries. And all over its grounds, precious blood was spilled. Looking through the lens of history, we hopefully don’t see the same lines of division that they did.

ISO 100 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/400 sec

Hopefully, what one sees at Gettysburg is not only the dangers of a nation divided, but also the memorial that it truly is. Whatever side the American soldier fought on during this war, they were still Americans. And we can only their memories on this Memorial Day by remembering their sacrifice and also doing what we can to prevent an already divided present day nation from spiraling down the path that led our forefathers to war in the first place.

Colonial Williamsburg - Surveying His Domain

Sometimes you just get lucky when a shot presents itself. And sometimes if you don’t think fast enough, you’ll lose that shot.

I had just exited the Governor’s Palace and one of the interpreters bid me farewell. Since I was the only one around him — it was near closing time of the palace at 5pm — after he bid me farewell, he turned away from me, presumably to look at something. I didn’t think anything of it until I turned around and took one last look at the Governor’s Palace to try to catch the sun’s setting rays hitting the building. But what I saw instead was the below pose.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 37.6mm — f/2.8 — 1/3800sec

I quickly walked back to him and asked if I could take his picture with that same pose and he agreed.

I took the saturation down a bit because I felt that it aged the photo a little, plus I added a vignette. Colonial Williamsburg is full of wonderful colors, especially blues and reds and whites that can dazzle the eye. But in this instance I thought things needed to be a little softer and more mellow.

Colonial Williamsburg - Lost in Thought in the Wythe House

I actually started my day tour in Colonial Williamsburg at the home of George Wythe, who I learned was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson.  I was in this house the night before for the Haunted Williamsburg tour and decided to return because I wanted to explore the home more.

I found my way to the second floor where I was met by an interpreter who told me a little about the history of the house, and also talked about some of the architectural designs behind the home.  It was an eye opener for me.

Before I bid her farewell, I asked her if I could take her photo and she obliged.  But I was trying to figure out a good shot.

On a table were some items dealing with entomology.  I wasn’t interested so much in what the items were exactly, but they were interesting and had texture.  I positioned myself so that I could get a little backlight from the window and took the following shot.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 42.7mm — f/2.8 — 1/210sec

I didn’t want her entire body in front of the window, otherwise the backlight would have blown out all of her features.  I also increased the shadows in the room, processed it as sepia, and added a vignette to give it an older feel.

Colonial Williamsburg - Firing of the Noon Gun

The firing of the noon gun was a daily event that marked the end of the morning’s training and the start of the noon-time meal prep for the continental soldiers at Colonial Williamsburg.

I spent a few minutes wandering around the area of the Magazine in Colonial Williamsburg, wondering where this was going to take place.  I’d seen several cannons in the magazine yard, but those were pointed at the magazine itself, so that told me I was in the wrong spot.  It would be odd to fire a cannon — even with just powder — at a structure!

But a few minutes later, I saw this trio walking from around the side of the Magazine towards a cannon that was at the base of a small hill.  They walked in silence and with purpose, as you can see from the photo below.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/2500sec

Without a doubt, these three were going to fire the noon gun!

I shot the above image with the Fuji Provia Standard Film Simulation, but in post-processing, I switched over to the Velvia Film Simulation because I wanted the colors of the uniform and a hint of the blue sky to pop out.  When I shoot sporting events, I’m normally using Velvia, and for portraiture I’m usually using ProNeg Standard.  But Velvia seemed to be appropriate in this instance because I wanted the uniform colors to pop as much as possible.  They’re just pretty cool to look at when the colors become more prominent.

For the actual firing of the noon gun, I opted against using video and then capturing still frames.  Instead, I decided to shoot it using the burst mode of the X-H1.  I set it to high speed burst, which was 8 frames per second.  Shutter speed was fixed at 1/4000 and the aperture at f/5.6 to keep enough of the action in focus.  The shot was handheld as I decided to leave the tripod at home on this trip so as to be as mobile and unencumbered as possible.  I’m not exactly sure why the ISO ended up being 1600, but since it was daytime, there’s no noise that I could detect.

If you click of the image below, it will open up a brief video clip showing the firing of the gun.  You’ll notice some camera shake at the end, and I think i was my reaction to the firing itself.

1/4000 sec was the perfect speed to capture the muzzle flash and burning of the powder!

If I could do things a little differently next time, I would definitely use a tripod and cable release.  I might also set the FPS for high speed burst to maybe 12 instead of 8.  I might also use a prime lens like the Fuji 90mm or even 80mm in order to get a sharper image.  Focusing itself was done manually.

Colonial Williamsburg - Ghosts Stories

As with many old cities, particularly on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., there are tales of hauntings and restless spirits.  Colonial Williamsburg is one place where such tales abound!

I decided to hear about such stories and went on the Haunted Williamsburg tour.  It’s held at night, though I made sure to sign up for the tour that was well past sunset, starting at 8pm.  We had two guides that night who took us inside some of the haunted homes in Williamsburg.  They led us by lantern-light to each house and told us stories of the ghosts who have haunted those homes.  It is a bit of a creepy tour because in the darkness of those homes, it seems like there’s something lurking in the shadows.  In fact, one of our guides was wary about going into one of the homes because of an incident that happened to her in broad daylight while she was alone there.

After the tour ended I asked our two guides if I could take their picture.  I improvised the shot below because I didn’t want to keep them too long in the cold.

ISO 1600 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 48.5mm — f/2.8 — 1/15sec

But is one of them a ghost?

ISO 1600 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 48.5mm — f/2.8 — 1/15sec

The above shot is only the third time in 2019 that I’ve actually used Photo Shop to alter an image.  I wanted to see if I could create a ghost.  Mind you, I only had a single image to work with.

Did we really have two guides that night?  Or was one of them a ghost?

Colonial Williamsburg - Aggy’s Sorrow

I’ve stated many times that there’s a certain power to black and white photography. I like how it takes an emotion and enhances it. As soon as I took this shot, I knew it had to be black and white.

Why is this called “Aggy’s Sorrow”? It’s because the interpreter, Mary, is presenting the real-life historical figure of Aggy, a slave. Not only was she a slave, but she was also an interracial slave. Aggy’s father was white while her mother was black. So she existed in both worlds, more-so in the world of the slave than in any other world. Aggy also had two children with her master.

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 55mm — f/2.8 — 1/4000sec

I suppose the use of black and white is also symbolic in that it also implies the internal struggle within Aggy.  You’ll notice that a majority of the color is a much darker shade, versus the lighter shade, showing which world she was forced to live in.

With her head down, and brim of her hat angling toward the Union Jack, which world does she really belong to?

This scene has been indelibly burned into my memory, probably my most prominent one during my visit.

I did make a few minor enhancements to this photo.  First, I used Photoshop to digitally remove Mary’s wireless microphone, which was located on the right side of her face.  It’s only the second time in 2019 that I’ve had to use Photoshop for anything since I always try to do my absolute best to nail the photo in-camera (exposure, DoF, etc).  I also burned the corners of the image with a heavy vignette to darken it even more, thus increasing the gloom.

The photo would have looked fine in color, but black and while tells Aggy’s story more than any color photograph ever could.

Colonial Williamsburg - Anticipation

If you’ve seen my Instagram, or have caught snippets of my blog, you’ll know that I really enjoy photographing live recreations, like Bethlehem AD in Redwood City which I photographed in 2016, 2017, and 2018.  I had heard about Colonial Williamsburg, but, having been to the Washington D.C. area numerous times, had never made the three hour trip south to visit.  This year I did.  And I’m glad I did.

Colonial Williamsburg is a living museum!  And it’s a museum that covers several city blocks, with restored colonial buildings and costumed volunteers (known as interpreters) in the buildings and walking the streets, eager to share their knowledge of a time just before the American Revolution.  Where Bethlehem AD is a seasonal event, Colonial Williamsburg is open year-round, and there are seasonal additions too, which are too numerous to mention.  So one could visit it annually at different times of the year and experience many new things!

What will follow over the next few weeks are photos — sometimes one and sometimes many — that each represent a different facet of my experience during one day at Colonial Williamsburg.

And it all starts with this specific shot. 

ISO 200 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 24.2mm — f/2.8 — 1/180sec

Whoever she’s waiting for, she’s excited.

Why this shot?  It’s the one that stuck in my mind after I took it, and it’s the one that I showed several of the interpreters when I asked them if I could take their photo.

I was doing a self-tour of the Governor’s Palace — I’d missed the guided tours earlier in the day — and I spotted one of the interpreters staring out the window.  This inspired me and I knew I had to get the above shot.

I only brought one lens for this visit: my trusty 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, which would have the field of view of a 24-70mm on a full frame camera.  For travel and events, this lens has never let me down.

How this shot was achieved:  I shot it at f/2.8, but at 24mm, which on a full frame would be more like 36mm.  Why not at 55mm?  Because I didn’t want a shallow depth of field.  I felt it important to pull out the details of not just her face, but also her dress and the details of the window and the swords mounted on the wall behind her.  ISO 200 is the base ISO for the Fuji X series cameras and I kept it at that.  1/180sec shutter speed gave me the look I wanted with darker shadows; there were no electric lights back then!

The light is all natural from the sun.  I didn’t bring a flash for this trip, instead relying on just the found light.  And the buildings seen outside the window, those are real.  I just used the dehaze tool in Lightroom to bring out the details just a bit.

As for the sepia tone, that was more of an artistic choice — one that I made on the spot —since photography didn’t exist in those days just before the War of Independence.  In fact, it wouldn’t be for another 50 or so years that the first known photograph would have been produced.  I could have left it in color, slightly desaturated, but I wanted the photo to not only evoke an emotion, but also a time and place.  Sepia seemed to suit this image because immediately the mind associates the contents of the image as not being in the 20th or 21st centuries.

Next week, I’ll blog about another Colonial Williamsburg photo that I think speaks volumes about the use of black and white and how that technique can take an emotion and deepen it.

The Hearts in David's Eyes

In the early morning hours, on our departure day from the villa, I found myself on the road back to Florence because I’d signed up for an early morning tour of the Academia Galleria to see Michelangelo’s David sculpture.  I arranged the tour through Viator, which offered a skip-the-line tour with a coupon for a free Italian breakfast.

So off I went, on the road at 5am and arriving back in Florence a little before 7am.  I was to meet the tour guide at 8am, so had a quick breakfast consisting of espresso and an Italian pastry (that’s the customary breakfast) and then met up my guide.  We were a group of just under 15 and our guide was not only well-versed in Italian art history, but she was also a native Forentine.

David is obviously the big draw and also the main reason I wanted to see this well-known work of art.  All of the photos were taken with my 16-55mm f/2.8 lens.  There’s no flash photography allowed at all in the museum, so I had to rely on the IBIS of the X-H1 to help keep things steady.

Here’s a shot of the statute itself.  I find it so amazing that Michelangelo was able to envision this statue in a large mound of rock.  Even more amazing is the depiction of the muscles.

Probably most interesting of all, and the blog’s title mentions it, is that David’s pupils are actually hearts.  I did a double-take when I heard our guide say that and had to try to verify it myself.  My 16-55mm f/2.8 lens is the equivalent of a 24-70mm lens if used on a full frame, so I didn’t have the reach, but would at least have the sharpness, so I snapped what photos I could before moving on in the museum.

What follows are a succession of cropped images, moving in closer and closer until…

Voila! There really are hearts carved into David’s eyes!

I couldn’t tell how big the hearts were, but it doesn’t matter.  The level of detail that Michelangelo instilled into this sculpture is amazing.  He was a true visionary, able to see it in his mind’s eye before creating it in the physical world.  That’s true talent.

I’ll leave you with one more shot.

Most people just focus on the statue itself, but there’s so many other elements surrounding it, such as the skylight above.  The lines complement the statue.  A piece of art from the olden days set amongst the architecture of the modern.

Tuscany 2018 - Day Three

After a whirlwind two days at the workshop, day three proved to be even more fruitful! I’d been learning a lot, perhaps too much for my brain to process, at least at the time. Days One and Two kicked off at 9am and ended close to 7pm, so lots of shooting.

For Day Three, we spent the first part of the morning taking pics on the grounds of the villa. This first shot is all-natural morning sunlight. No artificial lighting, but just a slight bump in temperature.

ISO 200 * 56mm f/1.2 lens * f/1.2 * 1/8000 sec

Damien’s version of the above photo had significantly less of a temperature bump, which made it look more like just before sunrise. I like his version, but also mine. I think though that it would have been better if the photo was somewhere in-between temperature-wise.

Next we walked over to the olive trees and to photograph Terez in a bathing suit and a hat.

ISO 200 * 90mm f2 lens * f/2 * 1/2000 sec

There was a nice line in trees in the distance behind Terez, so I did my best to line it up. Again, all natural light for this photo. You’ll notice from the shutter speed that it was fairly high, but it could have been higher, had it not been for the shading of the trees. I’ve been noticing that the Fuji 90mm f/2 lens is very sharp wide open! The other lenses like the 56mm f/1.2, those don’t start getting incredibly sharp until around f/2.8.

After shooting amongst the trees, we all hopped into our cars and hit the road towards Volterra. On the way, we stopped at a spot that overlooked the valley and took the following shot.

ISO 200 * 35mm f/1.4 lens * f/13 * 1/1000 sec

We used a Godox AD600 at full power to light this shot. It was already super-bright out, but shooting at f/13 without a light would have made Terez a little darker, so the AD600 gave Terez that extra pop. The Fujifilm Velvia film simulation brought out the red dress even more. Using f/13 ensured that you could see the finer details of the landscape behind her.

Moving on towards the city of Volterra itself, Damien found this wonderful spot near the central plaza of the city. We used the Godox AD600 again in this spot, and again a smaller aperture in order to capture the details of the wall and the cobblestone.

ISO 200 * 35mm f/1.4 lens * f/11 * 1/250 sec

The above photo definitely lended itself to black and white because of the corresponding black and white stone on the wall. Terez blends in with the photo better, vs the color version where she would stand out too much with her blue shorts.

This next shot though works well in color. It almost has a painted quality to it.

ISO 200 * 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 28.3mm * f/8 * 1/160 sec

We left the plaza / town square and moved on to do some more street photography. Damien ran across this nice wooden door and set up the AD600. The above image looks nice in color because of Terez’s skin tone and matching tone of the stone wall. And the dark wooden door provides a nice backdrop.

Moving along about 50 yards we found another door and set up the AD600, this time with a softbox.

ISO 200 * 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 40.1mm * f/11 * 1/250 sec

It’s amazing what one can do with a simple old doorway that most people would ignore.

Next, as we were about to leave the walled city of Volterra, we can across this next scene.

ISO 200 * 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 37.6mm * f/9 * 1/30 sec

No AD600 this time, just natural light. The streaming water on the right side of the frame is coming out of the wall and pouring into a trough, and then goes into the small pool behind Terez. I shot this at 1/30 sec, handheld in order to make the water look as milky as possible. Thankfully, the X-H1 does have IBIS, so I wasn’t worried about shooting at that low of a shutter speed.

After leaving Volterra, we returned to the villa and Damien told us that we could either take a break for an hour or join him in the dining room to see how he works with Lightroom. I chose the latter and was amazed at how quickly he worked. Well, perhaps quick is the wrong word … because Damien has such a good eye for things, he barely had to do anything in Lightroom; his composition and lighting were spot-on when he took the shot, thus lessening his time post-processing.

After that quick Lightroom session, Damien had us gather by the pool for one more shoot. For the pool shoot, there was a AD600 to the right as the key light and a AD200 to the left as a hair light.

ISO 200 * 56mm f/1.2 lens * f/16 * 1/250 sec

In order to achieve the above shot and the following shot, I actually had to lean out over the pool! My left elbow was probably a mere two or three inches from the surface of the water.

I loved the above shot, but then remembered seeing Terez practicing yoga earlier, so I asked her if she could strike a yoga pose.

ISO 200 * 56mm f/1.2 lens * f/16 * 1/250 sec

What a wonderful way for our photo workshop to come to an end! Afterwards, we stowed away most of our gear and met on the patio for dinner and enjoyed each other’s company as the stars came out.

I did take some time to do astrophotography, but it’s the memories of the past few days and the friends that I made, those will stick with me more than anything else.

My thanks to the amazing Damien Lovegrove for not only inspiring me over the past few years, but also for how he generously gave of his knowledge during the workshop. And many thanks to the very talented Terez Kocova, who helped us all get amazing shots!

Of Things to Come - Tuscany

I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Tuscany recently to work with one of the photographers who has been a major inspiration to me: Damien Lovegrove.  How often can someone say they had the chance to learn from someone who’s inspired a major portion of their work?  I’d never been to Italy, and since I had the time and the funds set aside, I went for it!

Our base of operations was a villa just outside of Volterra, Italy.  Most of us had gathered on the patio of the villa after having checked in.  And as the sun was going down, Damien encouraged us to take some photos at sunset.  I saw these two glasses set up on a barrel, and with the sun going down, I took the shot.

ISO 200 50-140mm f/2.8 lens @ 50mm f/11 1/240sec

ISO 200 50-140mm f/2.8 lens @ 50mm f/11 1/240sec

I liked the above shot a lot! But Damien came over to me and saw what I was doing. He asked one of my fellow photographers to pick up a wine glass, and Damien took the other one, then he told me to take this next shot.

ISO 200 50-140mm f/2.8 lens @ 110.6mm f/4.5 1/240sec

Voila!  Damien looked at the shot on my camera’s screen and said, “There! You just took a wonderful editorial shot!”

That was all Damien.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Or at least I wasn’t cognizant of it at the time.  During the following three days, I learned a lot from Damien about photography and light, some of which I’ll be blogging about over the next few weeks.  It was a wonderful three day workshop and a dream come true for me.  Damien is a generous person, freely giving his knowledge away.  Our model, Terez, was one of the best models I’ve ever worked with.  And my fellow photographers were such a joy and pleasure to get to know.

More to come on the workshop, and — of course — there will also be an “On The Run” blog entry as well, because … hey, it’s what I enjoy!

Trains in Japan

I took a trip to Japan recently, and while there were so so many things that stood out, the first thing I was struck with was just how many train stations, train lines, train tracks ... everywhere!  I mean, the trains are all over the place!  At least in the greater Tokyo metro area.  And being someone who used to be fascinated the model electric trains -- especially around Christmastime -- just being around them got me thinking about electric trains ... again!

This first shot was taken in one of the stations with my Fuji X-T2.  I made sure to get a little close to the moving train so that I could get it in motion.  I thought that the black and white conversion helped with the feel of the image.

These next two shots were taken while I was out on a run in the greater Tokyo area, and were shot with my iPhone using the Lightroom Mobile App.  It really really took a steady hand to get that motion blur while still keeping the other elements from blurring.  

From my archery days and learning to shoot a rifle, I remembered to hold my breath before pushing the shutter button on the iPhone and it seems to have worked!

Stanley Park Seawall in the Early Morning

I've cycled around Stanley Park many times with family, but I'd never run it before.  Doubly interesting was that I decided to run it in the wee hours of the morning while it was still dark.  I don't know what got into me, but I decided to do it.  So with my X-T1 in hand and 35mm f/2 attached, off I went.

You can see the route below.  I ended up running further than I anticipated because I kinda got lost.  My intent was to take the north end of Lost Lagoon back to where I parked, but I ended up detouring south instead.  Not that I was complaining, because I was greeted by the lovely sunrise three quarters of the way through my run.

I decided to run clockwise around Stanley Park.  At that early in the morning, I probably ran into less that five runners and maybe two cyclists.  The runners had itty bitty LED lights, just enough so that we could see each other, but not strong enough to illuminate much of the path.  And other than the runners, there was a maintenance worker riding along the seawall with the lights on his maintenance vehicle flashing.

As I ran in the dark, I could hear critters scurrying in the surrounding brush and small waterfalls cascading down the rock faces just to the side of the trail, but I couldn't see them.  When it's dark, your mind starts to play tricks on you, turning every little sound into some monstrous werewolf or undead bloodsucker...

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

Above and below is Siwash Rock, the only known sea stack in the Vancouver area.  It looked quite imposing in the dark.  Both shots were taken hand-held.  I took a deep breath, held it, and snapped the photo.  I did just a slight bit of noise reduction and exposure increase to clean up the images.

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

Working my way around to the north side of Stanley Park, the lights grew much brighter and before me appeared the Lions Gate Bridge, resplendent in all of its glory.  The reflection off the water especially caught my eye.  The below image is actually for sale on Fine Art America.

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

As I got closer to the Lions Gate Bridge, the green color really started to stand out, so I stood next to one of the lighthouses at the base and snapped the below shot.  I'm continually amazed by the ability of the X-T1 to take spectacular shots at high ISOs and for those images to look pretty good cleaned up with just a little noise reduction.  And the image quality also attests to the sharpness of the 35mm prime lens that I was using.

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

Cruising along the seawall now to the north eastern side of Stanley Park, I began to see hints of downtown Vancouver and the sun trying to peek its way through the low-lying clouds.  

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

No, it's not a mermaid in the below photos, but a bronze sculpture titled "Girl in a Wetsuit".  As I approached this sight, I really wasn't sure what to think.  I knew it couldn't be a person, because while it might have been crazy to run in the dark like I was doing, to swim out to that rock in the dark, in the cold water ... that person might have been nuts!  Then again, what was I doing out there that early in the morning...?

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/30sec

And finally, as I reached the eastern side of Stanley Park, all of downtown Vancouver's skyline came into view.  The morning might have been overcast, but he sun poking out from underneath the clouds was enough to make me realize that this run was definitely worth!

ISO 6400  35mm lens   f/2.0   1/1400sec

It was my first run around Stanley Park and its seawall, but definitely not my last.  There are so many trails to explore that run through the interior of the park.  While I don't think I'll tackle those trails in the darkness with which I did the seawall, I reckon my X-T1 and I are not done exploring this famous part of Vancouver.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T1 and 35mm f/2.0 prime lens.

Lynn Canyon and Rice Lake

There are few places where I can run that I can go back to time and time again, where it feels like I'm experiencing it for the very first time.  Lynn Canyon and neighboring Rice Lake definitely qualify as one of those places.  I can run these trails in the heat of summer, the rains and mud of spring and fall, and even during the fresh snow and ice in winter.

I first discovered Lynn Canyon many many years ago because of the free suspension bridge that's there.  Sure, it's not as long or as high up as the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, but you don't have to pay to cross the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.

Below is the route I took, starting at the Visitor's Center for the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, then running along the Baden Power Trail until I reached Rice Lake.  The return trip took me south of the suspension bridge to the twin falls bridge, before returning to the visitor's center.

This tiny sign points the way to the Baden Powell Trail.  Is it really 15 minutes to Dempsey Road?  It's only a hair over a half mile away.  But it does take about 15 minutes to get there because there's a lot of climbing involved.

Here we start descending downward.  It's a bit wet on some spots so I don't rush down these stairs.  Seeing that my run here was only two days before a race, I was being careful.

At this point, the trail runs alongside the Lynn Headwaters.  The rush of the waters might be loud, but it's also soothing, at least to me.  It's nature: pure and unrestrained.

After this point, the climb up starts again, and it keeps going up and up until you reach Dempsey Road.  These stairs remind me of the Double Dipsea stairs, though much more tame.

As I climbed these stairs, flashbacks of the Dipsea Stairs at Muir Woods came back to me.  The Double Dipsea is just pure pain, but I tackled the stairs here as best I could, knowing that it would be good preparation for the Double Dipsea itself.

The trail reaches Dempsey Road, which is large homes on one side and the forest on the other.  But you're only on Dempsey Road for less than a quarter mile before the trail turns into the forest once again.  Once across Pipeline Bridge, which is a wooden bridge that crosses over the Lynn Headwaters, you're presented with the following sign.

Several years prior, I went for a run to find Rice Lake.  I started where I always start, at the suspension bridge, but because it was winter and there was a lot of snow on the ground, I didn't see this sign and ended up going towards the Lynn Headwaters Connector.  It was about two miles before I realized that I'd taken a wrong turn.  Not that I was worried as there are people running that morning, despite the snow.  I never did reach Rice Lake on that trip.  It would be another two years or more before I would return to the area to once again attempt to find my way to Rice Lake.

The trail runs around the perimeter of Rice Lake.  But there are nice spots like the one below that give you a glimpse of the lake.

It almost looks like a portal that once you step through will take you to a magical place.  Magical, I guess, if you want to get wet!  I don't know if the waters are warm or cold.  I have yet to dip my hand into it.  Perhaps next time.

When I first beheld the sight below, I did a double-take.

It was such a trippy sight!  My eyes knew there was a lake there, but my brain was spinning because it looked like that bench was on the edge of a precipice.  I'm not used to seeing lake waters so still that you get a picture perfect reflection.  The lakes in the San Francisco area are not as calm.

Here's a photo of the lake.  The waters are smooth as glass.

Perhaps it's because in such an isolated area, free of city traffic and tall trees to block the winds.

Below is a photo of a fisherman I had the chance to chat with.  He'd caught two rainbow trout just before I showed up.

After chatting for a short bit with the fisherman, I moved on and completed my loop of Rice Lake and headed back towards the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.  My trip took me down a different path until I reached the 30 Foot Pool.

The green colors in the pool were stunning!  It was too green to be a reflection of the trees in the waters, but I'd also never seen algae that green before.

Moving along the trail, I worked my way past the suspension bridge and towardsTwin Falls which has a wooden bridge spanning the waters.

The trail is slightly different on this side of the waters.  The below wooden footpaths were built in order to preserve some of the flora and fauna of the area.  Too many feet trampling the vegetation in the area.

And finally we reach Twin Falls.  It took me a bit to get the below shot just right.  I didn't have an ND filter so I really had to close the aperture and lightly drag the shutter.

Below is the bridge where I took the shot from.  I intentionally spent some time there because I knew I had a steep climb coming.

Once back up to the parking lot by the visitor's center, I had to, of course, take a photo at my favorite suspension bridge.

Even though I've now taken photos of this trail, I'll never get tired of it.  There's so many little things along the way to see and take pictures of.  Along the way, there was a memorial and also a relic from earlier in the 20th century.  I'll revisit those spots and blog about them on a future visit.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T1 and 35mm f/2 prime lens.

The Race at Golden Ears

Golden Ears Provincial Park.  It's about one hour east of downtown Vancouver and -- at least on a map -- part of the city of Maple Ridge.  The park is huge, also encompassing a large lake.  I ran this course two years ago and it was cold that day, probably in the low 60s.  Though this race day was expected to be hot, and it probably climbed into the mid-80s.

You can see course map below, and yes, the orange and red definitely show where I was struggling with the hills, pushing my heart rate to its max.  In fact, the hill between miles 3.5 and 4.75 might have been almost 1000ft straight up!

This is basically the start and finish of the Golden Ears race.  The first and last quarter mile are run along the lake shore, up the path in the foreground, and the start and finish is the parking lot at the end of the path.  In the photo is Alouette Lake.  I don't know the names of all of the mountains in the distance, but one of them in Mt. Clark.  In that mountainous part of B.C. that you see way in the distance, there are no roads, just mountains.  Just knowing that beyond there is the beauty of nature that has been untouched by freeways and modern conveniences is so soothing to the soul.  Perhaps John Muir said it best:

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.  
Our National Parks, (1901), chapter 1, page 1.

Most racing organizations have a mascot and 5 Peaks, which manages the Golden Ears race, has their own: Buffy.  I think Buffy was probably named in honor of the clothing company Buff Headwear because it's one of the 5 Peaks sponsors.  The picture below shows the start of the Kids 1 km Race.  What I love most about this photo is the reflection of the trees in Alouette Lake.

As usual, I brought my camera out on the course.  This was the first of several stream crossings, though the water levels were low, so I was able to whip across the rocks with ease.  In fact, I tore across the stream so fast that I didn't even see the photographer in the stream bed taking pictures of the runners.  Once across the stream and up the stream bank, I turned around and snapped this photo.

The course is full of rolling hills and sweet single track.  Since I knew I was going to be one of the last finishers, I didn't really worry when people passed me.  In fact, when I knew they were getting close, I'd step off to the side of the trail and snap photos of them as they passed.

This is that one monster of a hill.  It went on for quite a while.  Not the most painful hill I've ever encountered -- this race will never be as painful as the Double Dipsea or Brazen Racing's Rocky Ridge Half Marathon -- but it was still a struggle to climb up it.  I definitely walked this portion until the very top.

One of the more amazing sights on this course is the waterfall.  Two years ago, it was really gushing and the resulting stream that we had to pass through went halfway up my calf, but this time around it was a steady trickle.  Hopefully, this doesn't portend drought-like conditions for British Columbia.  I'd hate to see a lot of brown in the Pacific Northwest; I see enough of it here in California.

And the finish line!

It was pretty festive at the finish.  Sports massages were being offered, and various vendors from Altra running shoes to De Dutch Panenkoek were on site.  De Dutch, which is a chain of restaurants, served up a postrace breakfast for everyone.

Of all the trail races I've done, this has to be the one with the most scenic and awe-inspiring view at the start and finish.  If I were to run Golden Ears again though, I'd do it outside of the racing venue, only because it would give me more freedom to explore the area.  There are trails galore all throughout the park and it would be nice to just spend an entire day there trail running.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T1, 16-55mm f/2.8 lens for the start and finish line photos, and the 35mm f/2 prime lens while out on the course.

Buskers at Granville Island

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary...

busker noun  busk·er  \ˈbəs-kər\

chiefly British

  1. :  a person who entertains in a public place for donations

When I first heard the word "busker", I had no idea that it encompassed more than just musicians.  And I came to find out that most public markets and farmer's markets have organized groups of buskers.

Granville Island is actually considered a small peninsula which sits under the south anchorage of the Granville Street Bridge.  It used to be an industrial area, but is now home to the Public Market and other businesses.

And there's food galore there!  Not just sweets, but different ethnic foods, plus lots of produce and fresh meat to buy.  Naturally the sweets are always the big draw, and why wouldn't they be!  Of course, it's a tourist area, so for the food you might pay a wee bit more, but really, could anyone really say "no" to this type of dessert?

As I was enjoying a little lunch indoors with family, I noticed a gentleman off to my left.  He set down a bag, took off his hat, and started to talk out loud that he was going to perform a dangerous mind reading trick.  It wasn't long before he drew a small group around him.  Meet Dave Moses!

Here he is, performing a mind-reading trick on the young girl in red.  She choose a card, then the card was shuffled into the rest of the deck, and then the deck of cards would be placed in the tiny "bear trap-like" contraption on the floor.

Dave would daringly whip the cards out, cards flying everywhere, and magically pull out the card she chose!  There were smiles all around!

Here's a shot of Dave after his magic trick.

Dave moved on and I was full from my lunch so I wandered outdoors to explore some more -- I've been to Granville Island too many times to count, but never with my trusty camera -- and I heard some singing and was delighted to run across Ralph Shaw, the King of Ukulele!

Ralph is originally from England, and now entertains audiences and teaches ukulele in Vancouver, B.C.  A very talented musician, he had quite a few of us stomping our feet as he sang different songs, including some from his home country.

Here he is going all-out in a song's finale, which was followed by a thunderous applause from the crowd.  There was a lot of energy in his music and it made for a nice combination with the nice, sunny weather, and the swirling smells of deep fried seafood at the public market.

There's something about buskers that I like photographing.  Unlike musicians or performers you might see on stage, who are higher up than you so you can see them, buskers are down at your level, so to speak.  They're just like you and me.  You can see them eye to eye.  And because you can get close to them and they can get close to you, it's more of a personal experience when you see them perform a magic trick or listen to them sing.

The next time you see a busker, stop for a minute or two and have a listen.  Then make sure to leave them a tip!

All images shot with the Fuji X-T1 and 16-55mm f/2.8 lens.  No ND filter.  For the shots of Dave Moses, I cranked the ISO way up because I was indoors and didn't have my flash with me.  I needed my shutter speed to be high enough to freeze the action, which necessitated the need for the high ISO.

Whistler and Shannon Falls

Whistler, B.C.  Home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Nestled in the mountains about 1.5 hours north of Vancouver, B.C., it looks like a Swiss alpine village.  In fact, one of my uncles once said that Whistler looked more like Switzerland than the actual Switzerland that he visited.

The Olympic rings aren't to be found in the heart of the Olympic village itself, but in a spot where most of the visitors will encounter them as they emerge from the various parking lots in the area.  Obviously one of the most photographed things here in Whistler, I managed to snap these photos about 10am in the morning.

More like Switzerland than Switzerland itself?  I've never been to Switzerland, so I couldn't say.  And yet gazing upon the sight below, I can't help but feel transported to what my mind's eye can picture as Switzerland, based on things I've read and pictures I've seen.

Although, I have to admit that I was most impressed by the McDonald's in Whistler.  Where else in the world can you find a McDonald's with a view like this?

And this is what it looks like when you stare out their front windows.

I gotta hand it to the staff at this particular McDonald's.  They were still baking the muffins, but took our order and hand-delivered the muffins to our table about 20 minutes later.  This particular McD's is open 24/7.  It's a bit of a tradition for my Canadian relatives to have a nice causal breakfast at McDonald's, and while we'll rarely travel this far for coffee and muffins, this was worth the trip.

Heading back south to Vancouver, we're treated to such stunning scenery!  Below is a shot taken in Squamish, B.C., at a point just south of the little city.  The mountains present a powerful backdrop over the waters.

And just south of the above point is Shannon Falls, the third highest waterfall in B.C.  The waters are really cold since the source is fresh snow melt.  In fact, the water is fresh and people drink from it often.  I did, and it tasted better than anything that would have come out of a bottle.

Since I'm a sucker for silky smooth water photos, I decided to snag a couple of pics.  I didn't have my tripod so for the above photo I braced my camera in the crook of a tree.  For the below photo, I set the camera on a rock and hoped for the best.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T1 and 16-55mm f/2.8 lens.  I didn't have my ND filters with me, so for the waterfall shots, the ISO was set to 200 and aperture at f/22.