Sunday, 29 May 2011

Night Moves

2011_Amsterdam_Pano_97Thanks to some really good drugs, I was able to sleep on the overnight flight from Halifax to Heathrow for the first time, ever. Usually I pass out the first night on the eastern side of the pond and am then awake on the second night. Seeing as how I was finally able to sleep on the flight over, I was curious to see how this would affect my jet lag. The answer came quickly, as I was awake at 1:00 a.m. on the first night. It was like I skipped the usual first night's hibernatory sleep and went straight to the second night. As I usually do when suffering from jet lag, I got up, grabbed my camera and I went out to shoot. Since the Leidseplein, which is a nightclub quarter, is right next to the hotel, that's where I headed.

I use my tripod for most of my night shots because my exposures are very long, typically between 2 seconds and 30 seconds. This means I get an odd combination of sharpness and blurriness in my compositions. Fixed objects like buildings are tack sharp, but moving objects like people are blurred. This can make for some interesting shots.

First up was a panorama of the square itself.

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To create a panorama, I carefully set up my tripod to ensure it is perfectly level and then take multiple, overlapping exposures that I then stitch together in Photoshop to create a huge photo. You cannot see how large these photos are here, because I have scaled them down a lot to fit on this blog page. But if printed, they are typically over a metre wide. In one of the shots below, I have a link to Picasa where you can see a lot more detail in one of my panorama shots.

In the image above, you can see how sharp the buildings and how blurry the people are. Many people are hardly visible at all and you can spot only pieces of them, like hands and feet. This creates a misconception that this square is almost empty, when in fact it is teeming with people out partying.

I drifted up a bit from the square back to the intersection by the hotel.


I have shot many times in this location and I always have people coming up to me wanting to have their photo taken. Invariably, these people are hammered out of their skulls. I usually make some remark about how my camera ran out of film (hah!) and they walk on. This time, I decided to shoot a few of them as an experiment. Here are a few of the results.

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An exception to the “I’m drunk, so take my picture!” rule was Ayush Bhandari and his friend.

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They are from India but living in Switzerland. Ayush was out shooting as well and stopped by for a chat about technique and gear. He has some pretty awesome shots and you may want to check them out on his Flickr site. Of course they were not stumbling around all over the place, and in taking their photo, I wanted to make sure they were nice and sharp. So I hit them with a manually fired shot from my SB800 (which I carry to nuke any drunk in the eyes, should they decide they want to take their own photo with my gear). You can see this difference in the white balance, with Ayush and his friend looking normal, but the background is very yellow. It also means that they were crisp, along with the background, and the people moving in the square are all blurry, which is kind of appropriate!

I packed up my gear and went back to my room to crash. I was able to sleep about an hour and then I went back out again at 3:00 a.m. The crowds had dropped off dramatically by then.


There were only a few people hanging around on the benches. Some were holding their heads, some just looking around. While the number of people was down, the amount of garbage was way up.

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The view to the other side of the square was more dramatically empty.


I wandered further down the street to take some more panorama shots.


One of my favourite shots is a street level composition I took while in Helsinki a few years ago. Since then, I keep an eye out for a dramatic, street level black and white shot.

I’ve done something a bit different with the above shot. I have uploaded it to Picasa instead of Flickr so that you can see the detail in the scene. Click on the photo to go to Picasa. Then click on the + sign / magnifier that is above the photo and it will take you to a full-sized file. You can zoom in and pan around the shot to see some of the detail that you would see in a full-sized print.

By this time the sky was beginning to lighten and it was time to head back to the hotel, although I had enough time to take one final “canal” shot before the sun came up.


A slide show of these photos is here.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Postcards: Jet Lag Walk-About

Amsterdam AmericanI'm fresh back from an extended business trip to Europe and I have a few Postcards to share from the many photographs I took in my off time. I've sorted the photos into a series of small posts, starting with some shots I took walking around the Amsterdam American hotel. Jet lag, especially when flying east, can be a real bitch and I find that a photo walk is great for dealing with the time-warp of international travel.

Starting out a photo walk before the crack of dawn means you can catch the first rays as they bounce off the clouds.

There is something about watching the sun rise in the Netherlands that makes me think of Rembrandt and the other Dutch Masters. They seemed to be able to capture the glorious reds and pinks so well. I didn't have a wide expanse of sky to work with and using a camera instead of a paint brush meant that I ended up with blurry water and trees. Still, I loved the result.

One of my co-workers once paid me a compliment by saying I could "take a picture of garbage and make it look nice". Ever since then I try to not overlook debris as a possible subject.

On the opposite side of the bridge from where I took the sunrise photo was a scene of abandonment: a coffee cup, a banana, and a pair of shoes. In my mind I could see the person to whom they belonged as they stumbled to the stone bench and sat down. Munching on a banana, and sipping their coffee, they tried to recover from the alcohol that they had drunk in the nearby bars of the Leidseplein. It was a futile attempt. Slipping off their shoes they lay down on the cold stone, oblivious to the discomfort and hoping a few minutes of rest would help. Hours later, they awoke with a start. Late for work, they grabbed a bicycle from the nearby rack to hurry home, forgetting their shoes in the process.

Further down the street was more evidence of an alcohol-fueled evening that is common at the Leidseplein square.

These sorts of scenes call out to me and I'm starting to piece together a few of them into a series I'm going to call "The Lonely Soldiers". There is something about a single bottle, or in this case a red cup, that makes me wonder if the person who put it there was a social or a solitary drinker. Strictly speaking, this cup is not a lonely soldier, but the two cans blend in so well to the background I decided I would make an exception.

As the day builds, people come out to prepare for the work ahead.

Like a fisherman who returns to a productive spot on a lake, I had walked down to a place where years ago I had made a photo of some guild houses. It was on a wide canal, which afforded me a good view of the buildings opposite.

Mokum is full of such canals while the streets are crowded and narrow. Many companies operate tour boats on the canals for tourists to easily see the city. There are more such tour boat companies now, and the spot I had gone to was full of tour boats tied up to docks, blocking the view of the guild houses.

Cursing my luck I turned to go, almost missing this shot of a crewman prepping his boat for the morning's first excursion. I had just enough time to raise my camera to my eye, compose, and fire the shutter before the moment was gone.

It's not only the inhabitants of your host city that you can see early in the morning.

If you pay attention you can see all kinds of people getting ready for their day ahead. Walking past the hotel around the corner from my own, I saw these two gentlemen in the window of their room. I imagined they were businessmen preparing for an important meeting that was to take place later that morning. The position of their window in the frame of the hotel was a happy chance I was glad to take advantage of: I shot this with the intention of cropping it closer to put the focus on the readers. However, I chose not to crop in the end, as I quite like the asymmetry the raw shot has.

Whenever I am in Amsterdam, I try to take a stereotypical "canal" shot.

This one is my submission to the classic canal category from this trip. I had found a short canal with a church at the end and trees in bloom to frame the lines leading to the church. A red car blends in nicely with the whites and the blues. As nice as this is in colour, I prefer the black and white version. Without the colours to distract me, I can see the structure of the photograph better.

Back in my hotel room I had one more shot to take. Rather, I had one more to take from my room's balcony.

The hotel's "Café Americain" was directly below me. It was a very warm spring this year in the Netherlands and they had put up their umbrellas to protect their customers from the sun. When I peered out over my railing, which was no small feat for someone with acrophobia, the red sweater jumped out at me right away. I found the hint of the red sweater and the whites of the shirts to be beautifully balanced by the black of the umbrellas .

A slide show of these photos is here, where you can see a bit more detail in the photographs (such as the two men reading in the hotel window) than what you can see in the photos posted here in this blog post.


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hot Rodding and Models

Wendy and the Jack Daniel's TruckThe theme for the 3rd annual HPS car and model shoot was custom hot rods. Mike McCarthy set up the shoot with Curtis MacLean of Radical Garage. Curtis has some pretty cool cars in his garage and Mike arranged for some pretty hot models to go with those cool cars.

We had four cars, four models, and nine photographers, which adds up to a lot of photographic opportunity, but not much time to capitalize on them. Making things even tougher was the "noisy" visual environment of the garage (which is where we shot). Since I knew we wouldn't have much time, I opted to shoot with my SB900 on Nikon iTTL using a hacked ethernet cable. It was the master for an SB800 and an SB600 on slave via Nikon CLS.

I had two shots that were decent. This one of Pauline is the first,

and this one of Wendy is the second. This is my favourite from the shoot.