Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Photokina 2012

Two years ago I was in a much different frame of mind when I went up to Cologne for the annual Photokina, one of the world's largest trade fairs for photography. Not being a business-minded photographer but more one who enjoys it as a means of artistic expression, I had had my share of gear addiction and had done a great deal of pixel peeping and ISO testing, something enthusiast amateurs do. So the last time I was fascinated by all that the vendors had to offer. I got to try out the new Sony 55 then, which ushered in a real revolution in consumer photography and was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the top new things in 2010.
So why was this time different? On September 12th Sony had officially announced the long awaited full-format camera, the Alpha 99. After reading the specs and seeing that it was aiming as much at the DSLR videographer market as that for still photographers, I surprised myself by quickly deciding I wasn't interested in it. It just wouldn't make sense for me to "upgrade" from the A77's 12fps to 6fps (and a reversed hot-shoe and no built-in flash and heavier) for €2800. Not that the number of frames per second is what is important to me. It's just that I've put my priorities elsewhere now and know that my gear is rarely what is going to make a difference in my ability to realize my visions.

Christian asks a Canon rep about a macro lens.

Canon and Nikon came out with their relatively cheap full-format cameras a week later, the Canon 6D and the Nikon D600. Those announcement were more interesting to me simply because all my photographer friends were talking about them. And at €2100 each, they certainly should have been!

We spent a lot of time looking at light formers and sources.

No, I went up to Cologne not with cameras in mind but with my friends in mind. I met Jim and Christian and enjoyed learning by watching them ask questions about lighting systems, lenses and the rest. Besides that, I was on a mission to find the best solution for a photo book that I'll be making for a nice couple's wedding next August. I learned enough there to come to a good decision.

Check out Jim's new website at www.jpalik.com

I noticed how much I had learned in the past two years or at least how much my priorities had changed recently. Again, away from gear and toward visions. You should almost always envision your shots before you make them. This also holds true for street photography, even though the time between the vision and the shot may be only a split second.

Part of the wild bird show at Photokina

With all this in mind, I felt like quite a snob there, inwardly criticizing the newbies who were hoping that 10 more megapixels, 100 more millimeters or 10,000 ISO more would make a difference to the overall quality of their photographs. Hanging out with my two pro friends - and considering my acquired knowledge over the past years - I was disappointed in most of the vendors' pitches. The few exceptions included the very knowledgeable and friendly Canadian gentlemen from Lenspen who cleaned my dusty sensor, taught me how it was done and sold me a kit so I could do it for my friends and myself.
Also the nice people at Sun Sniper were able to help us. I had gone to them to ask if the tattered edge of the sling was a known problem and they said it was just normal wear and tear.
However, they freely admitted that their older camera sling system had been improved upon to such a degree that they changed both Christian's and my swivel screw that attaches to the base of the camera.
The old patent not only wasn't well constructed, causing it to get stuck and not turn freely as it should but it also rubbed its metal carabiner on the bottom of the camera, causing scratches. I forgot to show them what a year's worth of use does to the bottom corner of the camera!

Now what would a photo-event be without the desire to make some pictures?

Shadows on the wall

Seemingly all alone

While I was at the Photokina, I realized how important the hostesses are who show the visitors around the stands. I want to dedicate this post to all those hard-working people!

Hosts and hostesses

And finally, the Deutzer Bridge, where love locks hang, having been put there by lovers as a sign that their love will never end - no matter how old they are: young...

...or old(er).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More fish-eye photos

Our family went to Eins und Alles again and this time I went equipped with my 8mm fish-eye. This place is nothing for telephoto lenses. It invites you to touch and experience everything there. So I got up close and captured some fun shots.

Julia bathes in a tub full of cherry and peach pits.

Oversize furniture lets adults know what it is like for children to use our chairs.

Little houses of color provide a special sensory experience.

A bridge provides Fynn with an opportunity to hang ten.

A jungle of colorful wooden poles gives new meaning to "watch your head!"
Transforming mirrors provide glimpses into the future.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lake Constance

Our summer vacation this year took us to Lake Constance, the largest body of water in Germany, which borders on Austria and Switzerland as well. Ferries shuttle guests from one shore to the next and bicycles are omnipresent on the many bike paths surrounding the sea.
Landlocked as we are in Stuttgart (aside from the barely noticeable Neckar River running through the city), it was refreshing to breath the fresh air down at the lake. The area is steeped in history - from Unteruhldingen's 6000-year-old archeological finds to Constance's wonderful cathedral and constant reminders of the role it played in Germanic history. The region is also well know for its agricultural products, especially its apples. Our holiday apartment bordered a pear plantation.
But the real thrill for the kids and adults alike was the allure of the water.

Whether we were on the fast Katamaran ferry or watching the bathers and boaters from the shoreline, the water fascinated us all.

 Every time of day had its charm and different quality of light.

When we walked over to Lindau Island, we usually had to wait for the trains to come and go before we could cross the tracks and continue on our journey. The man in the Bahnwärter house near the tracks didn't seem to be distracted by the 100 or so bike riders waiting to cross. We guessed that he was in cahoots with the man selling coffee at the crossing! I took the following picture through a drainage pipe there that emptied out into the lake.

Another major attraction at the lake is the city of Meersburg. Because the part of Germany near the lake is so close to Switzerland, the Allies did not dare bomb it during WWII for fear of missing their target. Thus, there is a lot of well-preserved history to be seen, such as the old and new castles in Meersburg.
The new palace in Meersburg with a flock of starlings swarming about 
There is also the unfriendliest ice cream parlor employee I've ever met. I stopped to take a picture of  their marzipan offerings and the woman yelled at me to not take pictures and delete the one I'd taken or she'd have me arrested. The gentleman who had just ordered three scoops of ice cream from her told her that he didn't want it any more because she was so rude. She just dumped the ice cream back and went about her witchy ways. Nearly ruined my day.

We also had some nice encounters with animals while we were on vacation. At the lake we enjoyed watching the hungry seagulls dive for whatever crumbs were offered them.

 And we visited the farm owned by our neighbor's parents in Friedrichshafen. I got the full tour with quite an interesting history lesson about how the city had tried to take their land away in the 1970s. They fought the city in court for 22 years, finally proving that they were serious about keeping what was rightfully theirs. We saw their very happy cows - all descendants from their own herd. We helped with the onion harvest. The store was open, so we bought fresh salami, cheese, milk and fruits and vegetables. They invited us for a wonderful supper, which we ate out in their garden. It was the first time I had had really fresh milk in over 40 years!

During our second day trip to Bregenz (Austria), we took the cable car up the Pfänder Mountain and saw animals in their natural Alpen habitats. We also saw the stage set up on the lake for the opera André Chénier. I had seen Fidelio there back in 1995, which was a fascinating experience.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A few flowers

Today is the day for flower shots. These were all found in the Wilhelma Botanical Gardens in Stuttgart.

Backgrounds in photographs have become nearly as important for me as the foregrounds. They are, after all, in the picture and can either distract from the overall impact of the picture or add to it.

Sometimes you can fill the frame and not worry about there being any background at all (to speak of).

Calla lilies are such beautiful flowers when they are fresh and the main blossom reflects the sunlight onto the powdered stamen. I can understand now why my mother liked to have the around the house and why they often served as subjects for her paintings.

I sold a print of this gorgeous orchid to a friend who just opened a Rolfing practice in Stuttgart. It looks great blown up to 50 x 70 cm.

The light falling on these two camelia blossoms couldn't have been nicer as it filtered through the roof of the green house. The high-quality of the Tamron 90mm macro lens helped preserve the precious details of these shots.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Just another Sony Alpha blog?

The readership of this blog skyrocketed when I started writing about my experiences with the Sony A77 back in October 2011. Instead of 100 readers per day, I started getting 8,000! There are obviously more Sony Alpha fans out there than one might realize.

Most of my friends use Canons and some shoot with Nikons. I used both back in the analog days, having taken whatever I was given. But when I went out to buy my first DSLR, the Sony Alpha 300 seemed to suit my purposes best. I was perhaps short-sighted then, not having the faintest idea that I would be teaching digital photography seminars and leading photowalks a couple of years later. I had actually wanted to go with the Canon 450D because that's what my friend had, but it just didn't feel right. A year later I won that camera for my second place picture in a competition, but I sold it right away. After having owned six Alphas since 2008, I am known - for better or worse - as the Sony shooter.

My collection back in March 2010: A bit of everything

I still read about all the new developments on all photographic fronts, mostly at DPReview. I contributed to the SonyUserForum, for years, but the know-it-all attitude and negativity of most of the users has turned me  off. The other good German forum for Sony users, Club Sonus, seems to have fewer wet blankets in it. The always entertaining SonyAlphaRumors website linked to my blog back in October, and since then I've been following their daily posts about developments in the Sony Alpha line. 

Photography.Alltop.Com is also a good place to start browsing for news on photography. After a while, you get to know certain bloggers' styles, causing you to return every day or avoid their site. Many people enjoy the Luminous Landscape and Silber Studios, but I have found their style is not to my liking. The former has an awful layout which is difficult to navigate, and the latter seems to be for professionals only.
Beyond Megapixels, co-authored by one of my professional writers at Klett Publishers, is a great place for beginning enthusiasts, as is Improve Photography.
Never having been one to run with the mainstream, I am happy listening to Genesis and Mahler while others adore The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and Mozart. The majority of photographers ("Canikon" users) like debating the advantages of their camera system, while I have little to say. "In the market for cameras with interchangeable lens, or single lens reflex cameras, Canon controlled 44.5 percent of the market, followed by Nikon with 29.8 percent and Sony with 11.9 percent," according to figures from a relatively recent Bloomberg article, though on overall sales of digital cameras (including Sony's successful Cypershot line), Sony is #2. However, when a friend of mine got his Canon 5D Mark II and told me about all the neat things it could do, I realized that my old Sony A700 could do a lot of that, too. As this article explains - and as I heard from a Sony sales rep last month - Sony wants its customers to have a fool-proof product in their hands. They want to sell a lot of their product in order to spread the R&D costs, allowing them to add lots of bells and whistles to their products. And that's what attracted me to them in the first place. Now I've got the Sony A77 which boasts a list of some of the most attractive features of any camera on the planet.
At my blogging and post-processing station
And as for my blog, I know I could get more involved with Twitter, LinkedIn, 500px, etc. and increase my readership, but I'm just happy right now knowing I'm writing these words for YOU alone. I write about things that move me. Putting stories together based on pictures is something I've been doing for 35 years and seems to be my Purpose in life. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

June light

With this title I don't mean that June is like a soft drink without sugar. I mean it in photographic terms. It seems that every season - every month even - has its share of unique lighting that begs to be chased.
In addition, different times of day require different ways of looking for motifs.
One evening I stuck my head out the door after dinner as I usually do - to check out the light - and saw some awesome clouds forming in the North. I dropped the dishtowel and grabbed my camera. I knew I didn't have much time because colors as beautiful as these change quickly. Some neighbors were standing out on their balcony having a smoke and enjoying the scene, so I asked them if I could take a picture of them.
By the way, I learned that bit of wisdom from Jim Palik, who told me, "When you have a sky like that, put something in front of it and make some good pictures!"
By the time I had walked up to the street behind our house to get a panoramic shot of East Stuttgart, the magic was gone for that evening. Sometimes there's just nothing as depressing as boring light!

A few days later, I headed out of the house in the evening, not having had time to do much photography the previous week and just itching to make some pictures. I figured I'd make the best of  the last rays of evening light.
Walking down to the footbridge over the Neckar River, I started doing double exposures by simply shifting my camera mid-shutter from one scene to the next. Then I realized that with my white balance set to a cool temperature, the street lights and the dark blue of the evening sky formed perfect contrasting colors.

Tilting the camera to a 90° angle resulted in swooping lines and alien-looking landscapes. Some DSLRs can create multiple exposures in-camera, as you could back in the analog days. With the Sony Alpha line, you have to get creative.

Swirling the camera around also created some very interesting pictures.

As I was heading back home, I tried my hand at a minimalistic shot. Minimalism in photography is not so easy when living in a large city. If you travel to the Arctic or live near the sea, it is probably easier. This time I moved the camera back and forth but the light source was the monochrome reflection of a streetlight on a huge heating pipe.

As June came to an end, the thunderstorms hit. One evening I watched - and photographed - the spectacle from my front porch for 45 minutes. At first, my eight-second exposures just missed the flashes of lightning. Then I got in the groove and captured some nice shots.

It really doesn't get much better than this for June light!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Antique automobiles

When I was growing up in Norfolk, VA, we had a Model "T" Ford in the garage and either a Maxwell or a Model "A" in the driveway. I played basketball every day in the space between them.

The soon familiar sight and oily smell of them belong as much to my childhood memories as our trampoline,

Little League baseball,

and our dachshund Snoopy (right).

When my father when wasn't working as the chaplain at O.D.U., coaching my Little League baseball team, or singing in an operetta (here  as Ko-Ko with Carlotta Bell as Katisha in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado),

he went into the garage and worked on restoring his precious 1926 "T". Several times we journeyed up to Hershey, PA, to go to the annual car show together, where we saw Dusenbergs, Stutz Bearcats and straight-eight Jaguars, all of which I collected or built as small models. Antique cars were a big part of my life.

So when I had the opportunity to go to an antique automobile show right up the road in Ludwigsburg this past weekend, I jumped at the chance. This year the show featured the Rolls Royce, which is a car I only came to appreciate as an adult (as most of the 99% do!).

I spoke with some of the owners, smelled the oil and grease of the cars and felt transported back to my childhood!

What I ended up really enjoying were the details of the nicely restored cars. The nice interior of the Ford reminded me of the horse-drawn coaches one sees on castle grounds here in Germany.

Remember the days when ashtrays were also found in the back of the car?

This is what my father's old "T" looked like from the front...

...and from the inside.

And had he had time to restore his Model "A" before we moved to Indiana, it might have looked like this.

This man also had a Model "A" and was quite a fan of the U.S. See his stars-and-stripes suspenders? Do you recognize what he is drinking?

After I changed photographing with the 8mm fish-eye and changed to the 70-200mm lens, I began looking at the automobiles with different eyes.

They became bodies with beautiful shapes and lines.

The parts of the cars are sometimes recognizable and sometimes ar(en')t.