Maastricht by night with a monopod

Some years ago I visited Maastricht with my family. It is the most southern city of the Netherlands. It is a wonderful city along the river the Maas (Meuse), which goes back all the way to the period that the Romans occupied the southern part of the Netherlands. In the basement of quite a few buildings you can see the remains of Roman buildings.
The houses along the river are very nicely lit when it is dark. The picture above was taken with a Shutter Speed of 5sec, Aperture of 9, and an ISO of 200. So, this is way too long for a handheld shot.
Although I am not a great fan of carrying a tripod with me, for this occasion I had put my monopod in my car. It is a Manfrotto Self Standing Monopod. It is small, however, not leight, and you have to keep in mind that it is not very stable if it is windy. Keeping this in mind it does a good job.
That evening I took of course several pictures, experimenting with the Aperture and the Shutter Speed. When the Shutter Speed is getting long you have to take moving objects into account. Although persons are far away on the other side of the river, I had to take into account boats passing by. Despite, it was late in the evening quite a few boats were passing by.
Here you will find my Dreamstime pictures of Maastricht. These are my first four pictures of Dreamstime, of which for the first two licenses have been sold.
Stock Images

How to save your pictures during a long trip?

IMG_0833Normally when I take pictures I return home after a day of shooting, so I can transfer my pictures from my CompactFlash card to my computer. With the 32 GB card I can take 400 pictures (RAW). In most cases this is more than enough, just in case I have a (smaller) spare card as well.
During regular holidays I take my MacBook to off load my pictures in the evening. However, this year I am going to Peru. This holiday will include some lightweight trips, so I won’t take my MacBook with me.
You can imagine that my 32 GB card won’t be enough for all these trips combined. Therefore, I bought a HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA2 of 1 TB. It is just a hard disk with a box around it. It allows me to off load a whole range of cards, to view my JPEG and RAW pictures in color, and to share them with my iPhone or iPad via WIFI.
I started using it during one of my recent trips. It just takes a few minutes to off load my pictures from my 32 GB CompactFlash card and at home I just connected it to my iMac to ingest the pictures using Photo Mechanics. Before leaving I charged the batteries, so no need to take a charger. It works perfectly.
Ready for my next lightweight trip.

A wide-angle view of Paris

Cathedral Notre-Dame in Paris
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This week I was in Paris with my family. We went to the obvious places. It was nice to see them after so many years. It is also good to see that France is maintaining its cultural heritage quite well. Some of the buildings looked much better than before.
The places we visited were: L’église de la Madeleine (near our hotel), Place de la Concorde with the Obélisque de Louxor, Av des Champs-Élysées, Jardin des Tuileries, area around the Louvre Museum, Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Panthéon, Jardin de Luxembourg, Tour Eiffel, Montmartre with the Sacré Cœur, and of course Château de Versailles and its gardens.
I decided to limit myself to my 16-35mm zoom lens. It has the “advantage” that everything fits which is nice with all these large buildings.  At the same that it is quite a challenge to keep the pictures interesting. Wide-angle lenses tend to put everything far away to make it fit, so:

    • try to get closer,
    • try to get an interesting object close-by,
    • try to include clouds (they get more dramatic with a wide-angle lens),
    • try to include a bit of the surroundings to get a storytelling picture, etc.

Please experiment a bit with it.
Here are some of my pictures of Paris, and here the ones that are accepted by Dreamstime.

My Workflow: trying to structure the process

Every photographer has his own way of handling pictures and using his own software tools to do so. Here I will describe my workflow.
Ingest  For managing the pictures I use Photomechanic 5. With its IPTC Stationary I fill in the Photographer’s field including copyright,  and I give a short description of the topic and the location. Furthermore,  I change the name of the picture into yyyymmdd_xxxx. The xxxx stand for a four digit counter. I expect not to make more than 9999 pictures per day. They are temporarily stored in the map Workspace with a submap with the date of the ingest.
Backup The next step is to make a copy of the NEF files to an external harddisk using Photomechanic 5. Sync Pro copies all of pictures (NEF and jpg) that are changed the last hour to my NAS.  Once a week a backup from my Synology NAS to Amazon Glacier in Ireland is made.   After the initial backup everything is automated.
GPS If the location of the pictures is important I use my own GPS. Before using it I check the time of the GPS and of the camera (especially in another time zone this is important and saves a lot of time). I then use View NX 2 to determine the location based on time matching between the exposure time and the times of the track. This is done in one command for a whole set of pictures.
5-star scan Depending on the number of pictures and the goal I use different strategies. For a photoshoot or a special trip abroad (a lot of pictures) I tried to identify as quickly as possible the 5-star pictures to submit to Dreamstime. For an album of myself of less important trips the storyline might me more important so I also include some pictures that did not make it to the 5-star category.
First processing scan The first processing is done with View NX 2. For the selected pictures I set  White Balance to the right WB, Sharpening to 3, Color Enhancement to a low value that is appropriate. Although I regularly use this tool, I am not overly enthusiastic because it sometimes freezes while processing a whole batch of pictures.
Second processing scan In the second scan I look at the individual pictures and adjust, for example, Exposure, Contrast etc. For more advanced processing I open Capture NX2, to remove dust spots, brightening/darkening specific parts of the picture, cropping etc. It has many more tools to finetune the picture. Although it does not have the most user-friendly interface, it is a very helpful tool.
Photoshop For very advanced processing, like for pictures of a photoshoot, I use Photoshop to do some magic with layers. It is a perfect tool that can do everything in often too many ways. Most of the time I search Youtube for finding the right tutorial, for example, for brightening the white of the eyes. In this case I use View NX 2 to produce TIFF files, which I then process with Photoshop and let it produce JPG.
Producing JPG With Photomechanic 5 I produce the final jpg files. For pictures that are submitted to Dreamstime I use its FTP-facility for immediately upload.
Galleries For galeries I use jAlbum. It is a very convenient tool for making simple or very advanced galeries. Many skins are available.
Final storage Most pictures are on the internal harddisk of my Apple iMac. Within the map Pictures I make submaps like Trips, Photoshoots, Happenings, Family etc. Within those maps I make submaps with a name and a date (in that order; I like pictures on the same topic to be grouped). Knowing from experience there is no best way to store files, therefore I very much rely on the search facility of Photomechanic 5. A very fast software tool.
Here is an update on this blog.

How about your background?

Vakantie Peru
Sometimes you see pictures where the background dominates the subject of the picture. The eyes are pulled away from the subject to the background. The subject does not get the attention we had in mind.
Often we focus too much on the subject and completely forget about the background. Later, when we look at the picture we are disappointed because it does not express the feeling we had when we took the picture. Somehow  it has become a mediocre pictures because the background was ignored. Here I will describe a couple of these cases.
Subject is too dark and the background too bright This happens quite often using matrix metering. Because of the bright background  the exposure in Automatic mode is reduced resulting in an under-exposed subject. Remedies are: get closer to the subject to reduce the size of the background or use a fill-in flash to better expose the subject.
Subject is small and in front of a busy background Due to the size of the subject it might be completely lost against a busy background. Remedy: look for a more quiet background.
The background is too strongly connected to the subject Keep in mind that a picture is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world, so it consists of shapes of similar color or similar texture. Imagine a person with a red shirt leaning against a red car. In this case, the shirt and the car may form one shape in the picture, distracting our eyes from the person. Another example is a lantern pole coming out of somebody’s head. Remedy: try to avoid unwanted connections between shapes in the background and the subject by using different colors, different compositions, or different positions.
So, the remedy is very simple. When you look through the view finder of the camera ALSO look at the background.
Vakantie Peru

My own shop @ Werk aan de Muur

Erasmus Bridge Rotterdam
Last week I openend my own shop at Werk aan de Muur to sell my pictures. They sell pictures from various photographers or artists, each having their own shop, and print them on different materials, such as canvas, aluminium, Xpozer, or even wood, in a number of sizes. Or just image prints to frame yourself.
It looks like an interesting concept because they bring photographers and artists closer to the public because they sell what the audience wants: art on the wall and freedom to choose.
The other interesting concept is that the photographer may decide himself how much he wants to earn for his image as a percentage of the material it is put on. A small percentage may increase the sales, a high percentage may show exclusivity. I will have to find out how it works.
They really strive for quality, for example, the pictures should have at least 9M pixels, to make sure that they can be blown up quite a bit. This means that I cannot submit some of nice pictures taken with my older cameras. Furthermore, they select some of the pictures to be part of their collection, which are presented first to potential buyers.
Until now I put 20 pictures in my shop to see how the traffic to My Shop @ Werk aan de Muur picks up. In a later blog I hope to inform you of my first sales.

Which lens to use?

IMG_0814Almost for every focal length or range of focal lengths there seems to be a lens available. Too many to buy or to walk around with.
General-purpose lens
My general-purpose lens is the Nikkor 28-300mm lens. I use it if I just want to take one lens and if I do not know what to expect. For most shoots it is the almost perfect solution, however, it is not very light sensitive. In case I really have to travel light weight I just take my Nikkor 50mm lens.
Wide-angle lens
For land- and cityscape I usually take the Nikkor 16-35mm lens, a wide-angle zoom lens, with which you can take very sharp pictures. Normally people buy a wide-angle lens to fit more into the picture (“I need a wide-angle lens otherwise it doesn’t fit!”). If you are not close to your subject, wide-angle lenses tend to but in a lot of irrelevant objects in your picture, which does not make it more interesting.
So, using a wide-angle lens means that you have to get closer. To fit more in a picture a wide-angle lens puts everything further away and you also get some distortion. I started to enjoy the lens when I realized I really had to get close, really close.
As telelens I use the Nikkor 70-200mm lens. Very sharp pictures. I use it for architectural details in cities and details in nature. I also enjoy taking close-up pictures of individuals being active in a group. This gives very natural poses. Furthermore, I use it for studio photography (a white background). By the way, it is quite a heavy lens.
For portrait photography outdoors I use the Nikkor 135mm DC. Its bokeh is perfect, it really gives the most perfect background you can imagine.
On the Web
On the website of Ken Rockwell you will find more about the Nikkor Dream Team of full frame lenses.

Flow in your picture

Have you ever observed what your eyes are doing while looking at a picture? Do you observe a difference between looking at interesting and boring pictures?
A picture is nothing more than a flat representation of the 3D world in which no objects exist. It is pure colors, textures, shapes, and lines. So, the question is “what is a good composition that makes a picture attractive?” There is of course no simple answer, otherwise everybody would shoot perfect pictures all the time.
Bruce Percy wrote a nice book about that: Simplifying Composition, in which he explains how the eyes flow over a picture. Most people when they look at a picture they start between the bottom and the middle left and  then explore the rest of the picture. It turns out that lines in the pictures may lead the eyes to different parts of the picture. Have a look at the picture below.
Museum road through rebuilt RoombeekWhat in reality is a road is in the picture a line which takes my eyes from bottom left along the diagonal line to the middle right of the pictures; after that my eyes come back via the repetitive vertical lines (the trees on the left of the road) to the contrasting colors. Finally, my eyes travel again along the repetition of the vertical lines (the trees on the right of the road). This may repeat itself a couple of time, every time discovering more details. This makes a picture interesting.
Lines can be as simple a road, a horizon, a cloud formation, however, they can also be imaginary lines between areas with similar shapes or similar color, or a repetition in texture or shape. Of course, most of the time the lines are not straight, they are curves in various shapes. S-curves cause a strong pull. Think of an S-curve of a river.
Next time before taking a picture have a look at how your eyes flow over  the scene to see how interesting it is. Maybe a different position or angle will improve it.

Settings: in which mode to shoot?

IMG_0810In this blog I will discuss the right mode to shoot: Aperture-Priority Mode, Shutter Speed-Priority Mode, or Manual Mode.
In Automatic Mode (A or P) it is the camera that decides what kind of picture is taken instead of you. So, the first step is to step away from Automatic Mode. The second step is to decide what is more important:

  • Large or small depth of field (Aperture Priority: Shutter Speed is computed automatically).
  • Frozen movements or not (Shutter Speed Priority: Aperture is computed automatically).

Aperture-Priority Mode (A)
Most of the time I use Aperture-Priority to have control over the depth of field. Wide open aperture to have a small depth of field to get the subject in focus and the background completely out of focus. This draws the eyes to the subject. Or, and almost closed aperture to get a large depth of field which is handy in for example landscape and cityscape. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions. While closing the aperture, the shutter speed goes up (longer time). If it is longer than 1/60th or 1/30th of a second, you should use a tripod. An alternative is to increase the ISO to keep a fast shutter speed.
Shutter Speed-Priority Mode (S)
When shooting activities with fast movements, it is best to use Shutter Speed-Priority so you can decide yourself if you want to freeze movements or not. Keep in mind that fast moving objects close by require a much faster shutter speed than when they are far away. Normally 1/60th of a second is enough, however, if you use a long telelens, for example mm, then you should us a faster Shutter Speed than 1/th of a second. This is to make sure that you do not need a tripod.
Manual Mode (M)
In Manual Mode you can set the Aperture and Shutter Speed yourself to get the lighting you want. I mainly use that in two cases:

  • when using flash, so I can decide the Aperture and Shutter Speed I want; longer Shutter Speeds give more ambient light and more saturated colors.
  • when there is not enough light I want to make sure that I have the right Shutter Speed; if there is not enough light the ISO is increased automatically.

In one of the next blogs I will discuss the use of lenses.

Update: I am a great fan of Sean Tucker. Here a YouTube video of him advocating manual mode.

Roombeek: rebuilt after fireworks explosion

Houses in rebuilt RoombeekOn Saturday May 13, 2000 we saw from our garden very dark smoke coming from the direction of Enschede. Later it turned out to be caused by an enormous fireworks explosion, turning the Roombeek district of Enschede in total chaos and ruins.
Recently my research group had a guided tour through Roombeek. It is now completely rebuilt. Many new houses mixed with some of the old buildings. Quite a variety of architectural designs giving a dynamic and modern character to the district. At the same time the map of the streets remained the same, giving the district the same structure, and a feeling of familiarity.
Roombeek is now the lively home of the creative industry with several museums and many smaller exposition spaces for architects and artists. It is a pleasure to be there. Below you see the restaurant bij Rozendaal and the museum TwentseWelle.

Museum and restaurant in rebuilt Roombeek
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Here are some more pictures I took of Roombeek.
Stock Images