Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Postcards from Amsterdam - Part 4

Keukenhof Flower Explosion 4I think most people think of flowers when they think of the Netherlands and I'm no different. I made a short trip to Kuekenhof Gardens (The Kitchen's Garden) which is reported (by the operators of the site) to be the most photographed place in the world. I couldn't resist adding my own.

Flowers are, of course, the main subject matter at Keukenhof.

They are arranged in many beds, with a variety of themes. Sometimes its just an arrangement of patterns and lines.

Sometimes it is mainly lines, with infrastructure such as water playing a role.

Water is essential to growing flowers and I was impressed at the variety of ways that the gardeners worked it into different themes.

The tulip fields, which I had missed being in bloom by only a couple of weeks, had canals for irrigation. I wasn't quite sure what purpose the small boat served.

Water was also a part of themed arrangements like this Japanese garden.

I thought the wooden water lilly pads were for the birds.

I then realized that the display wasn't for the birds, but for the tourists to take photos of the birds to send back to their friends. Presumably this is because there are no birds where they come from. Not even ducks.

But flowers are certainly the central theme at Keukenhof. For a photographer, experimenting with light and composition can lead to very different results from the same subject matter. These two shots were taken in the same exhibit and only a few feet from each other. It was fun playing with different lighting trying to achieve different moods.

Some of the exhibits were sponsored, and the sponsors had displays.

I think in this case, the link was that tulips were mixed into the vegetables used make the vodka, but I wasn't sure why. In the end for this exhibit, I was Absolut(ly) more interested in the glass arrangement than the flower arrangement.

Other sponsors included a Swedish furniture store, whose link was decorating.

Guess Who?

Ah, it's so nice to see commerce and art going hand-in-hand!

For more of my flower shots from Keukenhof, go to my Amsterdam set on Flickr here.


Postcard from Amsterdam - Part 5

With the Cabot Trail Relay coming up (I'm to do Leg 4, "Smokey") I had to decide between a long run or a morning photo shoot. You can guess from the photos in this post which idea won out in the end!

I decided to go for a final dawn stroll through the streets of Amsterdam. Of course it was pouring again, but I caught sight of a guy on his way to work just outside of Amsterdam Centraal, which made for an interesting, kind of "moody" composition.

That is, until someone I can only call "The Flash" came roaring through my frame on a bicycle dressed in Hi-Vis Orange. This completely changed the mood of the shot, don't you think? I prefer the original shot, probably because it was what I was shooting for. However, everyone I talk to likes the shot with Flashman in it. Perhaps I was lucky enough to capture something of real interest to people. Leave a comment below and let me know which you prefer and why.

I remain fascinated with the bike rack outside of Amsterdam Centraal. I don't understand how anyone can find their bike amongst all of the others there.

Where's My Bike??

Then I happened across Hi-Vis bike, which I'm sure the owner had no problem finding in any collection of cycles.

Bike Mug Shot

Winding my way back through the maze of alleyways, I happened across a drab, grey scene that was softly lit from the top. The bike was almost camouflaged by the wall, much the opposite of the "hi-vis" bike in the photo above! I stopped to shoot it and ended up in a discussion with a construction worker who was working on a nearby reno-project about the shot, the wall and the bike. It seems that a number of photographers had stopped by recently, some with large 4x5 cameras as well. I'm not sure what those photographers saw or captured, but I was going for a soft look.

Up Against the Wall

They are building a subway in Amsterdam, which is no small challenge considering the city is built on a swamp. One station will tie into Amsterdam Centraal, so there was a lot of work being done on the main canal and guild houses directly in front of the station.

Guild Houses and Canal Boat

In the end, it was out to the hotel at Schiphol airport for a last night before a very early morning departure. Sitting in the airport watching people go by, I was struck by how much of a hurry everyone was in.

I wondered who they were and where were they going in such a hurry? Unfortunately, airport security kicked me out before I could find the answer to these questions!

I haven't posted all of the photos I took on this trip. If you want to see the complete slide show, click here. During the slide show, you can turn comments on or off by clicking on the "i" that appears when you mouse over the photos.


Postcards from Amsterdam - Part 3

Fishy BusinessAfter a hard day's work, there is nothing like a nice dinner and some good conversation to help you wind down. We searched out a number of restaurants before settling on Kobe and Sushi where Angie, Oliver, Jason, and myself enjoyed a nice meal.

There was a group of Americans seated at the same table / fry stove, talking loudly about work. It wasn't until Oliver and I started debating about how many worms there are in sushi and if they were harmful or not, that they shut up. I wonder why?

After dinner, we went for yet another walk around town to see the lights before settling in back at the hotel for the night.

Glass. Water, and Metal - set upThis may seem off topic, but jet lag can be a real PITA. In this case, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. I've been reading this book "Light: Science and Magic", which has a lot of really good information about lighting and how do deal with lighting issues. Since I was wide awake, and even though I had an early morning meeting with RAVU (our customer), I decided to try the ulitmate lighting exercise I could think of: shoot the glass and metal sink that was in my hotel room, and some water to the mix!

I didn't notice until later that there were a lot of nicks and scratches, which made for a lot of reflections and refractions with the strobe lights, but it kind of brought the abstraction back down to earth.

I called this one "Keeping Your Head Above Water" because it reminded me of a man in water up to his neck.

Running water made for bubbles, which makes for a very interesting lighting challenge. Here I chose to blow out the background and keep my reflection in the drain stop.

Playing with the two strobes and varying the lighting made for all sorts of abstract compositions.

I took a couple of hundred shots that night (which did tire me out in the end) and boiled them down to a series of shots that I have uploaded to a Flickr slideshow called "Glass, Metal, and Water". The Flickr set for the series is here. For those who are interested, you can look at the comments on the Flickr site to see the lighting set-up and exposure details.


Saturday, 19 May 2007

Postcards from Amsterdam - Part 2

World Press Photo Awards 2007 Photographs from the The World Press Photo Awards 2007 were on display in the Oude Kerk. I wandered over and enjoyed a double treat: firstly, the shots that made up the awards display were humbling; secondly, so was the kerk (church). The first thing I saw as I entered the church, was of course, a blond! They certainly have a way of standing out in a crowd!

The kerk was built in 1306 and it is big: 3,300 sq. m. I don't think it gets much use as a church now days, as people were saying mostly exhibits are held there now. It certainly has an old, old church feel. There are no pews to speak of, just stone tombstones that cover some 2,500 people buried there.

I said earlier that the windows in the Nieuwe Kerk were more colourful, but I think I got that wrong. These were just as colourful and have as many blues as the new kerk.

As in many of these old churches, there is a lot of intricate detail

What really struck me was that afterwards when I was editing the photo, I noticed that the histogram was almost perfectly Gaussian! Now that's spooky!!

The ceiling was wooden, and I understand fires, destruction, and rebuilding have been major part of the history of this church.

There were lots of nooks and crannies. I didn't figure out what this one was (lighted with an off camera strobe)

I could imagine the night watchman sitting in this chair, whiling away the hours:

All-in-all, it was a great double header: great photos to look at and great architecture to take photos of:

Leaving the kerk to walk back to the hotel, I saw many flower stands and this lovely bunch of tulips.

Another dreary day, the only thing to make of the red light district (which is where the Oude Kerk is located) are reflections in the canals. If you look closely, or click on the photo to go to Flickr and then look at it in a larger size, you can see the raindrops on the water.

The girls in the red light district really do not want their photos taken. Many have "no camera" signs posted outside their windows. While I never did figure out why this is, I did find a little pussy who was willing to pose for me. You can see the "red lights" on the side of the window and also reflecting in the glass as well.

Almost back at the hotel, I noticed the rain had finally stopped, if only for a few minutes, which allowed me to capture another "reflection" shot. This time, it was the buildings across the street from the hotel.

Earlier, when I started out, then sun was coming up and the moon was going down. I think this is the steeple of the Oude Kerk.


Postcards from Amsterdam - Part 1

Watered Down Vodak I just came back from a business trip to The Netherlands. I love Amsterdam. It has great character and history. A'dam is also known as Mokum, which as I understand it, translates into 'town'. I find that hilarious, as St. John's, NL is usually referred to as 'town' and the inhabitants are called 'townies'. Who knew?!

The photos I took are organized in an Amsterdam Set over on my Flick site. You can pop over there and look at them in a slide show. The neat thing about Flickr, is you can also see on a map where I took these shots. As you read this and want to see any of the photos in a larger size, click on it and you will be taken to the Flickr site.

Only my room was ready when we checked in, so we tossed the bags there and walked up the street to a shopping mall, Magna Plaza. It has wonderful lines and lighting inside. plus it's a great place to get in out of the rain.

The Nieuwe Kerk (new church) across the street was built in 1408, 100 years after the Oude Kerke, which makes both of them pretty old in my books. I like the stained glass window of the new church more than the old church for some reason. It must be because of the blues. I didn't see many blues in the glass at the old church.

We walked around for a bit, and remarked that despite how tall the Dutch typically are, their houses are remarkable small, with incredibly steep, narrow stairs. How could you possible navigate stairs like this carrying anything??

Amsterdam is known for its canals, guild houses, red light district, and its bike loving in citizens. Every where we looked, there we lots and lots of bicycles!

A small city, Amsterdam has a lot of little sidewalk shops in the old town, selling everything from fruit to wooden tulips.

Wooden Tulips

Fruit Stand 2

Fruit stand

One merchant had a rack of polarized sunglasses on display, which just begged for a 'solarized' photo treatment -- a bit of photography humor that no doubt only other photographers will get!

Polarized Glass

Back at the hotel, all of our rooms were ready, so we retired for the night. Wide awake from jet lag, I decided to shoot out my hotel window.

I find the latitude of digital shots quite narrow, so I decided to try the "High Dynamic Range" (HDR) technique I've heard about. As you can see, there is a lot more "pop" to the image.

I'm a morning person. I'm usually up at 5:00 to go for a morning run. I also love to wander around a new city, take photos, and chat with whomever is up and on the go at that time. Unlike the hustle and bustle of noon, early morning people seem to appreciate stopping for a chat. Without the crowds, its also a lot easier to take photos of buildings and such. Unfortunately for me, it rained almost our whole trip. Not to be put off, I used the 'ziplock' bag trick to protect my camera and hit the streets. Truth be told, that week I skipped more than a few runs to take photos instead. Like many old European cities, Mokum has lots of cobblestone. Cobblestone really gives a town character, though I can't imagine walking on it in high heels. Of course, I can't imagine walking in high heels anyway. In the rain, it takes on this wonderful texture.

Near the "new church" I came across a locked up bike. Two things caught my eye about this bike. First was the size of the chain used to secure the bike, as compared to what should be a relatively low value of the bike. The second was the black rims. I mean, who has time to paint their bike's rims BLACK???

Across from the bikes was a lovely little deli getting ready to open. Chairs were placed outside, neatly arranged and patiently waiting for their guests to arrive later that day.

Around the corner was a night club and more chairs waiting patiently in the rain, ready to be deployed.

It was getting time to go back to the hotel and get ready for work. We had to go to Bilthoven, which was an hour away by train. I wasn't worried, as I had kept my morning's walk to less than a kilometer radius from the hotel, but on my way back, this empty bottle screamed at me from across the street. It was on top of a wet, metallic table and it begged me to come take its photo. I didn't know bottles could be such drama queens.