Saturday, July 23, 2016

Getting your brass kick

Around 12 years ago I had the pleasure of welcoming Christof Schmidt to the Klett Verlag, where we worked side-by-side for several years until he left to pursue his passion of playing the trombone in various ensembles. He has now pretty much made it to the top, having recently taken over the helm of Stuttgart's Protestant Brass Choirs from Hans Holzwarth, who had the job from 1978 until July 9, 2016, 
Variate, a select group of brass musicians conducted by Hans Holzwarth, here in the Markus Kirche, Stuttgart
In addition, Christof leads a couple of ensembles, including the Hohenlohe Brass, the Hohenlohe Brass Quintet and Trombana, Aside from playing and touring with these ensembles, he regularly plays in regional orchestras when an extra trombone is needed: Mozart's Requiem, Strauß, Mahler, Bruckner. 

His newest project was formed at the request of the Landesmuseum Württemberg, which has opened an exhibition about the Swabians in the Altes Schloß in Stuttgart. In March 2017 Christof's ensemble Trombanda will play with the former Olympic gold medalist, Dieter Baumann, who has now focused his energy on cabaret. It will be an entertaining concert!

In need of publicity photos, he turned to me and I was more than happy to oblige. The day before the shoot I went into town to scout out locations. Then I made some sketches to remind me of the visions I had for the shots. This was the first one we got.

I had actually imagined him running through the picture, but while we were warming up and getting to know one another, we weren't quite loose enough for that yet. However, in our third (and next-to-last) location Dieter suggested that himself, so it was much easier to capture (see below).

After shooting in the courtyard of the Altes Schloß, we went to one of Stuttgart's art museums. I like the lines there and the view of Stuttgart that one has through its glass facades.

Out in front of the Neues Schloß we got some nice shots as tourists walked by, shooting our shoot as they enjoyed the sunny day.

As we were setting up an "Abbey Road"-style shot there, a group of tourists were standing in the way. Dieter, self-assured as he is, asked them to move and they did!

It was a very fun job because every one was relaxed, the weather was on our side and I had a very competent assistant - thank you, Robert!

The "Abbey Road" shot

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Upcoming exhibitions

"Playing in the James River", on display at the new town hall in Bad Cannstatt May 2 till June 3, 2016
I'm lucky. Many artists don't have the opportunity to show their work to the public on a regular basis. Over the past several years, however, I've been asked to exhibit my work at several wonderful venues, including Stuttgart's Künstlerbund Café, the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum, Freiburg's Carl Schurz Haus and the town hall in Bad Cannstatt, to name but a few.

Photographs from New York in a show at the Künstlerbund in Stuttgart
Each exhibition provides the opportunity to re-view my bodies of work. Painters such as my mother and sister often finish the last pictures for a show right before the opening. That would be too much stress for me. The exercise of choosing, processing and printing my pictures - and ultimately showing and talking about them to viewers - takes me one step farther along the path that I've chosen to take. With no clearly defined goal at the end of this path, I've been enjoying the trip so far.

Speaking with a visitor at my Stuttgart 21 show in Freiburg
The next few weeks will be busy ones. Not only is my son going to be confirmed on May 1, but I'll be participating in three exhibitions which will be opening on April 27, April 29 and May 2.
On Wednesday, April 27, 2016, the Transatlantic Art Connexion cordially invites you to  join us at 6 pm in the WestQuartier for a show of our 40x40cm paintings and photographs focusing on the topic "Encounters/Begegnungen". There is a Blüthner grand piano there like the one I have at home, so if the wine is good enough, I might even play a bit.

WestQuartier in Stuttgart
The following evening at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum in Stuttgart I'll participate in the opening of the German and American Artists Group exhibition at 7 pm. There is some really great work done by members of this group, so please make an effort to stop by and see it from April 29, 2016, through May 13.

On display at the DAZ from April 29, "Der Ruderer"

Then on Monday evening, May 2 - also at 7 pm - six American photographers in Stuttgart will be showing selections from their bodies of work in the new town hall in Bad Cannstatt. That show runs through June 3. I'm excited to be showing with Joel Micah Miller, James Palik, Charles Urban, Sandra Mora Thomas and Martin Greeson. There is also a grand piano there, but I'm not making any promises that I'll play!

Come by and see how artists have fun when they aren't making art!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Carnival in the Rhineland

After shooting over a dozen Carnival (Mardi Gras) parades in and around Cologne, Germany, in the past six years, I still enjoy the excitement that exudes from the participants and onlookers. In groups or as individuals, the costumed revelers line the streets and sing along with the handful of songs that are played again and again throughout the day.

Some costumes aim to be cool, others to be gross and still others - mostly female participants - want to look cute.

I'm always impressed by small cliques of similarly costumed people. I think about what they went through to decide on and then purchase or make the costumes. When I think about the persuasion needed to make me buy a costume this year, I wonder what the others went through. Were they also as shy about dressing up?

In any case, the full-body suits boded well this year in the windy, wet weather.

Others found even better ways to deal with the rain this year.

Others did not let the weather determine their look.

After the incidents on New Year's Eve around the Cologne Cathedral, with young women being attacked and robbed by groups of "foreign looking" men, the police were omnipresent during this year's Carnival season. Small groups of plain-clothed, dark-haired men were lined up and questioned by the hard-working police force.

As a special precaution or to give women a sense of safety, a security point was set up for women near the cathedral where they could go if they felt they were in need of help.

Normally this tunnel leading into the center of the city is empty except for a few people peeing or puking.

This year they had to go a few steps farther to do that. This young man nearly made it into the portable toilet to rid himself of the light Kölsch beer.

For some inexplicable reason, the kids collected more goodies this year than ever before. They'll never be able to eat it all. Not even my hungry colleagues will be up to the task this year.

So until next year, Köln, I wish you and yours well!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The fish-eye experience, Part 4

Landscapes through the fish's eye

Using a fish-eye lens for shooting landscapes requires a bit of practice. If you-re like me, though, you'll enjoy practicing because the results are usually prove to be quite interesting.

For this trip, I was walking along the bank of the Neckar River in Remseck, just north of Stuttgart. It was a clear, sunny September day. I was with great friends and we were all have a terrific time enjoying the warm weather.

I was shooting with my Sony A7, the LA-EA4 adapter and the Samyang 8mm fish-eye lens. The full-frame camera sensor crops down to the center when this APS-C lens is screwed onto it, making it effectively a 12mm lens.
You will notice with the photo below that light creeps into the lens from all around - 180°, so you need to be conscious of that fact and, if you can, use it to your advantage. Stopped down to f11 or f14, intense light sources become star-shaped. Lens flare, as can be seen in the form of a hexagon in the bottom right third of the photo, is difficult to avoid, yet easy to see while framing the picture, so you can usually position it where you want it.

If you want to keep the horizon straight (and thus looking fairly natural), it is important to keep the camera level. This is easy to do with Sony cameras, which have the option of showing a level in the display. The top picture above was taken shooting slightly down to capture the rocks; one can see that the horizon is frowning as a result. Lightroom cannot correct this aberration, but Photoshop can.

 Sometimes it is possible to take a landscape picture and not have an easily defined horizon in it. Here one can see the star-shaped sun and lens flares balancing the sunlight and reflection on the other side of the photo.

 As so often happens when I'm out shooting for fun, something comes along and provides fodder for my frame. The river, the sun, the rocks, the tree-lined banks - all great. But now a barge chugs through the landscape and we all position ourselves to get the best angle. I love shooting into the sun. After three hours of it, my eyes need a rest, but the results are definitely worth it.

A square crop of a mid-horizon shot with some circle flare has a tighter composition on account of the rays of light.

My friend Jim Palik was with us, testing his Canon 5D, Mark II, against his new Samsung Galaxy S6, his new passion (the phone and the tests!). I wonder if he knows there is a fish-eye app on his phone!
Is there one on yours? What have your experiences with fish-eye lenses been?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wasenfest 2015

It is that time of year again. Time to test your immune system and digestive track. Year in, year out the Wasen in Bad Cannstatt has been guest to Oktoberfest survivors, deniers and objectors for the past 170 years. Over the past decade, visitors have gradually chosen to arrive dressed in Bavarian costumes: Lederhosen, dirndls and as much plaid as the Chinese can produce over the hot summers.

After arriving on the fair grounds, many of the 4 million visitors get an incredible urge to drink massive amounts of beer. No problem for the four Stuttgart beer breweries who deliver to the 10 huge beer houses that are built twice a year for this and the spring festival.

Small bands play all day and all evening until 11 pm (midnight on the weekends), interspersing their sets with "Oins, zwoi, gesuffa" so that the people don't forget to drink and to order another liter. Those who make it out of the tents still standing, often stumble onto one of the rides which will propel them - and whatever they have drunk - with up to 5Gs through the air. Watch out below!

Children are, of course, also welcome at the Wasen. All sorts of sugary treats and fun rides await them: cotton candy, roasted nuts and popcorn, fruits dipped in chocolate, etc. Haunted houses, Ferris wheels and roller coasters for the whole family are just waiting to have you check them out.

And if you are lucky enough to be visiting with your grandparents, they may spring (€7) for a balloon to keep you from sulking at least until you can be returned to your rightful guardians.

Wednesdays are "Family Day" when you get to ride for half the price on most of the carousels. And on the last day of the festival, there are spectacular fireworks for all to see!

Do come and join me and 4 million other revelers on the Wasen. It's a blast!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Water, water everywhere!

Eighteen months ago when I was looking for a place in Europe to visit with my family, a very wise old neighbor said, "If you have children, you have to have water." How right she was. Thank you, Doris!
So last summer we went to the coast of Holland for a wonderful vacation. This past August we were back in Richmond, VA, where my mother, step-mother, sisters, their families and good friends live. If they were not a good enough reason to visit, there are also the enticing watering holes there - and I'm not talking about how the city has become well known recently for its plethora of craft beers!

We went to two nice, refreshing pools, which were perfect for cooling off and - literally - getting our feet wet. Rougher waters were yet to come!

Our next aqua-venture was on Lake Chesdin, the dammed up part of the Appomattox River south of Richmond. My sister and her friend, Jimmy, were boating on the lake that day and invited us to join them. He pulled our two big kids on a raft made for that purpose. I was scared to death that they'd get bounced out on their heads. Well, they did but both came up laughing and wanted to do it again!


As we flew by the shores of the lake, the waves rippled out from under us and created beautiful patterns of light and shadow.

When we got home, I went down to the James River and was greeted by a wonderful sunset behind the Huguenot Bridge.

More photos from the James will follow in my next post. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Last Night of the Frühlingsfest

On the last evening of the Frühlingsfest in Bad Cannstatt there are always fireworks to mark the end of three weeks of revelry. After the smoke has cleared, there are 45 minutes left for a last drink, a last ride, a last kiss. Hoping to capture all this, I first took my gear to the river and waited. 

My idea was to capture the fireworks in the reflection of the river, which was nice and calm that evening. I had both my Sony A7 and RX100 with me. I set up everything and made sure I knew where everything was in case I had to leave my hiding place in the dark. It was already 9:45 p.m. and there was not much light left when the show started. At 1/6 sec. this shot reveals much of the surroundings.

Turning a similar shot on its head creates a somewhat surreal image, but this is exactly what I was hoping to capture: the dissipating flames waving in the ripples of water.

Later in the show the gathering smoke and increased darkness resulted in images that Carl Sagan may have liked for his show Cosmos.

Others resembled something more like the flowery delights that would thrill a botanist.

In 2012 I shot the Fest-ending fireworks show from the fairgrounds with an old 100-300mm lens. I ended up focusing on the iPad that the guy in front of me was filming the show with. The results looked something like this. (By the way, the pictures immediately preceding and following this bit of text were the only ones from the expensive A7 that I have chosen to show here. More on that later.)

 The smoke blew across the fairgrounds as I packed up and headed over the bridge - where all the other photographers had been standing!

A 5 sec. exposure of the bungee capsule revealed how it twists as it yo-yos up and down on its lifelines.

Time for a last ride and then what? Wait till the Wasenfest in October.

Soon the last Bratwürste were being sold off at half price to the hungry throngs. Many owners shut down early to avoid the last drunken hour.

It all has to be packed up and put away until the next fair - perhaps next week in Strasbourg.

Literally minutes after the last Wilde Maus rollercoaster coasted to a halt, these men were up on the tracks unbolting things bit by bit.

P.S.  As I mentioned earlier, this evening's better camera - and my personal favorite - was the RX100. The little Sony is inconspicuous, silent and helps you make excellent photographs. While playing around a bit with exposures during the fireworks show, I noticed a repeated frame pattern at the top and bottom of the underexposed images taken (at 200 ISO) with the A7. Perhaps you don't want to worry about any photographs you underexpose by 4-5 stops, but when shooting something like fireworks, you never know what exposure may end up to be the most interesting. In any case, I would be very interested to know if anyone else out there has noticed this issue. And if so, what do you think is the cause of this pattern?