Past and Present: 33 years apart

Chavín de Huantar
Chavín de Huantar 1982

Chavín de Huantar is an archeological site near Huaraz that goes back to 1200 BC. It has, among others, been used by the Chavín culture, a pre-Inca culture, until around 500 BC. During my first trip to Peru, 33 years ago, I made the above picture. It is a digital scan of a diapositive (slightly processed). In those days I used film, however, for this trip they advised me to use diapositive film because of the colorful projections by the light of a projector. Due to the scan the picture is not as good as the original.
Since then, a lot of things have changed:

  • Chavín de Huantar is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which means that it is kept in optimal condition and that continuously archeologists are working there.
  • The route to it has been improved quite a lot to make it more accessible for the tourists.
  • The original diapositive (slide) was taken with a very simple analog camera (I forgot the brand); currently I use a semi-professional camera Nikon D800.
  • The analog camera had a fixed lens; here I used a Nikkor 28-300mm zoom lens.
  • In those days I had my camera on Automatic; nowadays I mainly shoot in Aperture-priority and NEF (see my blog on this).
  • The diapositive film was developed in a darkroom and not by me; currently I turn NEF into JPG by using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
  • In those days GPS was used for military purposes; now everybody has at least one GPS (e.g. in your smartphone).
  • Sharing my slides meant setting up the projector and a screen in the living room; in digital form there are many ways to share your pictures with everybody all over the world.
  • In those days I had no idea there was an interest in my pictures; now I sell licenses to use them via Dreamstime and I can sell it to several customers (not just one).

The thing that has not changed is that in those days I was very proud of my pictures, and this still holds.
Below I substantially cropped a picture I have taken on my last trip to Peru to get a similar picture as the one from 1982.

Chavín de Huantar 2015
Chavín de Huantar 2015

For more pictures of Peru accepted by Dreamstime, click here. Enjoy! Update: licenses of all pictures of Chavin de Haunter have been sold.
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Post-processing: quite a difference

Before

Above you see  the original NEF and the processed JPG of a picture taken in Peru that is submitted to Dreamstime.
After coming home of a very inspiring trip to Peru I was really looking forward to seeing the results on my 27″ iMAC. Of course, I had a first glimp during the trip with the HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA2, however, this was just to make sure that the backup worked.
Seeing the NEFs, I was quite disappointed. They lacked vibrance, I missed all the nice colors I remembered. Apparently, the very strong, unfiltered sun makes the colors bleak. Luckily, Adobe LightRoom can help.
Here are the steps I used to post-process the picture in Adobe LightRoom 6.1.1 (apologies for the Dutch):
Schermafbeelding 2015-08-23 om 11.36.58

  • Set the White Balance to Daytime
  • Sharpen the picture a bit
  • Set the Lens Correction for the specific lens I used (Nikon 28-300mm); this removes the dark corners which are mainly visible in the blue sky.
  • Reduce Highlights to get more balance between the highlights and the shadows
  • Increase Shadows to open up the dark areas
  • Get more colors by increasing Vibrance and Saturation
  • Increase Contrast to make the picture more vivid
  • Highlight the snow on the mountains by increasing Whites
  • Increase or decrease the Lightning to finalize the picture

Of course, for most of them there is no specific order. You change the settings a bit to get the result you have in mind. Below you see the result.

After

For more pictures of Peru accepted by Dreamstime, click here. Enjoy!
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Ancient sites, act quickly

One day my family and I made a day-long trip through the Sacred Valley of the Incas starting from and ending in Cuzco. We visited many nice places: Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, and Pisac. All three have impressive archeological sites of the Inca culture. The last decades Peru has put a lot of effort in making these sites available for the broad public. Making Peru even more attractive to visit.
As amateur photographer traveling with a familiy and other tourists means that there is little time to extensively explore the locations we visit. This means that I had to act quickly and that I had little time to listen to the guides explaining interesting details about the various sites. Luckily there is Wikipedia nowadays.
The various scenes I had to deal with are (with some examples with the camera settings):

  • Distant landscape, everything at more or less the same distant (sufficient light).
    This means Wide angle; Aperture-priority, with moderate Aperture, gives sufficient depth-of-field.
    Laguna Querococha
    © Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos
    40mm, Aperture-priority, Aperture f/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/160sec, ISO 100
  • Distant landscapes with interesting stuff in the foreground (sufficient light).
    This means Wide angle; Aperture-priority, with a higher f-number to get sufficient depth-of-field to get the foreground in focus as well; you have to keep the Shutter Speed in mind because it might become too slow in which you need a tripod.
    Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
    © Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos
    32mm, A-priority, Aperture f/13, Shutter Speed 1/60sec, ISO 100
  • Distant specific topic (sufficient light)
    This means Telephoto; Aperture-priority with a lower f-number highlights the specific topic. As an exception, in the picture below I took a higher f-number to get more depth-of-field because of the houses behind the main building.
    La Compania and Cathedral at Plaza de Armas in Cuzco
    © Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos
    170mm, A-priority, Aperture f/9.0, Shutter Speed 1/200sec, ISO 125
  • Slightly insufficient light
    Change to Manual, and set Aperture and Shutter speed manually. Keep in mind that the Shutter Speed should be faster than 1/focal length to get sharp pictures. As long as the ISO is above 100 there is no problem of overexposure.
    La Compania at Plaza de Armas, Cuzco
    © Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos
    44mm, Manual, Aperture f/6.3, Shutter Speed 1/60sec, ISO 125

These type of scenes appeared at all locations we visited in a very short time span. So, although I was at ancient sites, which will be there forever, I had to act quickly to fit in the time schedule of the driver or the guide.
Here are the ones that are already accepted by Dreamstime. Enjoy!
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Sacsayhuamán puzzles me

Sacsayhuaman, archeological Inca site
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Despite the advice to take a rest when arriving at Cuzco by airplane because of the altitude (3400 meter), we immediatly went to Sacsayhuamán. It is an impressive archeological Inca site, a little bit above Cuzco. Although I have been there several times, the big carved stone walls remain a puzzle. How were these stones transported, how were they carved (they have many dimensions and there is no space to stick something between them), and how did they survive earthquakes?
While being puzzled I was thinking about taking pictures of a site that has been photographed so often. Here are some of the challenges. At this altitude the sun is really burning also in winter. Wearing a hat to keep your head cool is essential. Also take a lot of water. Walking around on these sites with heavy equipment in a burning sun takes a lot of energy. Furthermore, taking pictures during a tour with family and friends surrounded by other tourists limits the opportunities to extensively explore the sites. And, finally, at 18:00 hours the light goes out rather abruptly. At the same time, all these limitations stimulate creativity.
I was happy I had taken my 28-300mm zoomlens. Without changing lenses (I do not like to change lenses because of the dust in Peru), I could easily change from wide-angle to telezoom. During most of the time there was more than enough light to have a large depth of field without sacrificing the ISO.
Back home, while processing the pictures, I realized that the burning sun made the pictures look a bit bleak. With Lightroom I had to bring the colors I remembered back by adding some contrast,  vibrance, and saturation. Here are the results.

Looking back at trip to Peru

imageThe trip was a combination of visiting important places in Peru and visiting family. For both aspects it has been a great success. For several reasons I did not visit Peru for over 15 years. Many things have changed. Tourism has been given high priority resulting in a very good logistics infrastructure. Also, almost everything can be arranged via internet, flights, hotels, trains, busses, tours etc. Economically the country is doing pretty well, although the difference in income is still substantial.
Looking back at the choices I made I am pretty satisfied:

  • I only used one lens (28-300mm). Because of the desert climate along the coast the air in this part of the country is dusty. I am happy that I did not change lenses to reduce the possibility of dust on the sensor.
  • It turns out that I hardly used my compact camera. In the cases that I did not take my D800 with me, I used my iPhone. The advantage is that I could immediatly share the pictures with my family.
  • The choice for the Lowepro Transit Backpack was also perfect. We did quite a bit of climbing in the regions of Cuzco and Huaraz, and I prefer to carry the load of the camera and the lens on my back. Also having a waterbottle in a pouch attached to the bag works perfectly.
  • Every evening, before going to bed, I made a backup of all the pictures taken that day to my HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA2. So, every day I had the opportunity to take 400 pictures. It turns out I never did, however, I never had to worry about being limited by the memory card.
  • About taking a flash I doubted a long time. It is kind of heavy and I figured I would never use it for nature pictures. I decide to take it any way, and for several reasons I am happy about that: the sun sets at 6 pm and during our summer it is winter in Peru. So, almost all pictures of the family were taken indoors. Furthermore, one of my nieces asked me to do an indoor photoshoot.
  • I decided not to take a tripod. Also a good idea. Participating in tourist tours means that there is hardly any time to take pictures, let alone setting up a tripod. In cases I needed the extra depth of field, I just increased the ISO a bit.

In the upcoming blogs I will discuss the various places I visited.

Preparing trip to Peru (2)

IMG_0886The next step in the preparation is to get acquainted with the places we will visit. Let us take Cuzco as an example. First, get a good travel guide. For Peru I use Peru Travel Guide of Lonely Planet. The city itself, which is the Inca capital, has two faces: Inca and Spanish, and is situated in the Sacred Valley. Within its city limits it has already a lot of interesting places to visit: Plaza de Armas with La Catedral, Qorikancha, and Saksaywaman. Other nice places to visit in the Sacred Valley are of course Machu Picchu, the market in Pisac, and the salt mines in Maras.  I use Evernote to make lists of places I want to visit.
As far as equipment is concerned, although tele lenses are very good in isolating a subject, quite often a wide-angle lens gives the viewer a better feeling of being part of the scene. However, to achieve that, you have to get closer! I already decided to take my 28-300mm lens, it gives me the flexibility I expect to need. The main reason for not taking separate tele and wide-angle lenses is that I am afraid of getting dust in my camera if I change lenses.
For the places we are going to visit I look on the internet for pictures to get inspired. I use the same Evernote to make lists of the kind of pictures I want to take, like a colorful Inca indian with a llama. I notice myself that I should not get overwhelmed by the many high quality pictures I see on the internet. I try to keep in mind that on location I find the right kind of combination of subject, perspective, lines, colors, and light to capture the essence of the atmosphere there. The latter makes the difference. My creativity and intuition will help me.

Preparing trip to Peru (1)

800px-LocationPeru.svgGNU Free Documentation License
Inspired by the ebook of David duChemin about traveling (See The World) I want to share with you my preparations for my trip to Peru. Partly we will be visiting family in Lima, and, from a photographic point of view, we will visit some world-class places like Lima, Cuzco (historical capital of Inca Empire), Machu Picchu, and get close to the high mountains near Huaraz.
From previous times I remember that I really have to get in shape because of the altitude. Most people don’t realize that Lima is at sea level and that most places we will visit are well above 3500 meters. Getting in good shape is just a start. Taking coca tea (mate de coca) is essential to avoid altitude illness.
Currently, I am still at sea level and I have to decide what to take. After my heavy climbs in the Alps I have decided to travel light. It also reminds me of my trip to Yellow Mountain, where I was told to leave my large travel bag at a local restaurant (we just had lunch there), and that I could only take my pyjamas, toothbrush, and my camera. There was no time to debate this. This makes life very easy.
I am preparing myself to take this decision at home: just a DSLR camera and two lenses: 28-300mm for flexibility and 50mm (f/1.4) for darker places. Although I have better lenses for particular shoots, I am afraid it is too heavy and it is not a good idea to find out in the end that I did not use them. Of course, I will also take a small compact camera, just in case.