Visiting Elx and discovering palm trees

 

During our stay in Alicante we visited some surrounding cities, one of them was Elx or Elche. Via Santa Pola we took the bus to Elx.

Municipal Park Elx

Without a specific plan we walked to a major park close by. It turned out to be the Municipal Park, where I found the amphitheater, and in the rear a pigeon tower.

Amphitheater and Pigeon Tower in Elx
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

After that we took a tour through the city by tourism miniature train. During this tour we found out what Elx is famous for: palm trees. During the Arabic reign of Spain these palm trees were imported. It is estimated that currently there are 200,000 to 300,000 palm trees in the area of Elx. It is really unique in Europe to have so many palm trees together. In November 2000, Elx was elected the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.

Botanic garden Huerto del Cura in Elx
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Then we decided to continue our discovery of Elx by going to the botanic garden called Huerto del Cura (garden of the priest), located in the older parts of Elx. It is a relative small orchard, however, packed with many exclusive palm trees, cactus, and other plants. I took quite a few pictures there, which you can find below and here. Some of these pictures were taken in Manual mode, like the one below, because there was not enough light to work with Aperture mode, resulting in a slightly higher ISO.

Cactus in Huerto del Cura

During a break I also managed to take a picture of the Basilica of Elx. Although it was not the right time of the day because of the very bright sun coming from the right. I wanted to take a picture standing more on the left of the church, however, this was impossible because  of the overwhelming sun behind the tower. So, I had to settle for this one.

Basilica Saint Mary in Elx
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Late in the afternoon we had an excellent lunch in an Italian restaurant called Ristorante Gourmet. Looking back, Elx gave us a lot more than we expected. It is definitely worthwhile to visit.

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Photoshoot for Crocheting Webshop

Last week my daughter asked me to take some pictures of crocheting she makes and sells via her Etsy webshop, DC crochet Design. She was facing some shortcomings of smartphones to do product photography. So, yesterday I grabbed my equipment and turned one of our bedrooms into a small photo studio. I have done something similar before so the first steps were easy.

  • To put all the focus on the crocheting I used white paper as a background. I used the same equipment as for model shooting, only I used a more narrow roll of paper.
  • To avoid sharp shadows I used two compact flashes flashing from two different sides through white umbrellas (TTL-mode). 
  • To avoid incoming daylight I set the Exposure Time to 1/160th of a second.

This is the way it looked like.

Studio for product photography

As a camera I used my Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 28-300mm as a lens. I set the Commander Mode such that the two compact flashes on the side flashed and that the built-in flash did not.
During the shoot my daughter and I checked the pictures to make sure that things were working out the way we wanted it. Here are some of the challenges I was facing:

  • The white background is not white at all Compact flashes are of course not as powerful as studio flashes. I have only one studio flash, so I decided to use two almost identical compact flashes. In Lightroom it is very simple with the adjustment brush to increase the exposure to make sure that the white background is really white.
    White background puts focus on crocheting
  • Not the whole embroidery is sharp In most of the pictures the whole crocheting had the same distance from the camera. In this case f/8 suffices. However, I did not realise that the Depth of Field was pretty small. Afterwards, I calculated that at 115 mm and with f/8 or f/10 the DoF is only a few centimeters. Too small as you can see here. The bottom of the iPhone is not sharp.
    Too small DoF to get the whole crocheting sharp

    From this I learned that I have to shoot a bit further away, with a wider angle than 115mm (for example, 50mm, and crop later), and at least f/16 or f/22 (all increase DoF).
  • Colours are not identical to original I fiddled around a bit with the  temperature to match the colours of the original.
    Slightly lower temperature to get the right colour

So, next time I am better prepared.

Tripod or not? Learnt my lessons!

Basically I am not very fond of tripods. On rare occasions you need one and still you have to carry them around all the time. Another reason for not liking them is the lack of flexibility in positioning the camera (for example, horizontal or vertical, or the position I want to take). So, I never take a tripod with me.
Coming back from Xi’an in China I noticed that in the hall of the Terracotta Army quite a few pictures had an ISO value of 6400 or close to it. And that the Shutter Speed I choose was not fast enough to compensate for the zoom of the lens to avoid shaken pictures. For that reason, a couple of pictures were rightfully not accepted by Dreamstime.  When you blow up the picture (100%) you can see the errors.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

Let us have a closer look at the contradicting circumstances and requirements in the hall of the Terracotta Army:

  • In the hall there is not enough light, maybe this has something to do with the preservation of the terracotta sculptures.
  • I wanted a large DoF (Depth of Field) to have several ranks of soldiers in focus.
  • The sculptures are a bit away from where I could stand, so to get enough detail I had to zoom in. Otherwise I would get only overview pictures with no detail.

If there is not enough light, there are four options: use a flash, slower Shutter Speed, wider Aperture, or increase the ISO. Remember, the last three determine the Photographic Triangle. See my post on this to understand the relationship between them: if you change one it at least affects one of the others to get a correct exposure. 
Let us have a look at these four options:

  • Use a flash This was no serious option because the sculptures were a bit too far away to evenly light the two or three ranks of soldiers I wanted to capture. And maybe I was not even allowed to flash.
  • Slower Shutter Speed Because of the low light conditions, the Shutter Speed was already pretty low, even further lowering would produce shaken pictures. Furthermore, there is this rule that if you zoom to for example 200mm, the Shutter Speed should be no higher than 1/200th of a second.
  • Wider Aperture Because I wanted several ranks of the soldiers in focus this was no option.
  • Increase ISO Given the above three, ISO was already in the 5000+ range. Going beyond 6400 (the limit of my Nikon D800) produces only darker pictures with a high noise ratio.

To handle this conflicting situation, I took a slightly slower Shutter Speed. As to be expected, this resulted in slightly shaken pictures. As long as the pictures are small, like in this post, you can hardly see it. However, to sell the picture commercially, the picture has to be perfect, even at 100%.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

So, what is the solution? Use a tripod. Because the sculptures don’t move using a slower Shutter Speed is no problem. You can take an arbitray long exposure time to get the right DoF and, at the same time, a low ISO to avoid noise.
So, I have learnt my lessons. Next time I take a small tripod (Traveller Mini Pro) that can be attached to the outside of my photography backpack (Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW).
Lowepro backpack with small tripod

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Sunset at Domburg

Domburg is a tiny village along the coast in the province Zeeland in the Netherlands. I had been there when I was young. My family decided to pay this touristic village a visit again. It was very nice weather. So, we had ample opportunity to have long hikes on the beach. 
To make sure that the sand of the beach does not disappear they have built breakers.  These are two rows of wooden poles from the coast into the sea, covering the area between high and low tide. These are fascinating objects to take pictures of, because of the water curling around the poles and the seagulls taking a rest.

Breakers at Domburg
Breakers at Domburg
Breakers at Domburg
Breakers at Domburg

Around 7 pm it was high tide; around the same time we also enjoyed a beautiful sunset. The interaction between the remaining light of the sun, its reflection on the water,  and the incoming waves of the upcoming tide were really magnificent.

Sunset at Domburg
Sunset at Domburg

 I had taken my regular lens: Nikkor 28 – 300mm lens. To make sure that I had full control over the exposure I shot in manual mode: shutter speed 1/320th of a second (to avoid a tripod and fix the waves) and aperture f/9. The under-exposure was compensated by an automatic increase of the ISO. Looking back now an aperture of f/11 would have been better (larger depth of field).
Here are some more pictures of the beautiful sunset in Domburg. Enjoy!
 

Doorwerth Castle

Doorwerth Castle
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Last week my family and I had a hike in the Estate Duno nearby the Doorwerth Castle. So, we decided to pay a visit to the castle. The origin of the castle goes back to 1260. The last restoration —to restore the 18th century state—lasted until 1983.
As most of the time I was carrying my general-purpose lens Nikkor 28-300mm. It was a partly cloudy day with the sun going down. There was already some warmth in the light as you can see in the two pictures. To make sure that most of the relevant parts of the castle were sharp I decided to us an aperture of f/11 and a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second. To get sufficient light my D800 decided to use an ISO of 110 for the picture at the bottom and 160 for the one at the top. Resulting in excellent pictures.
Both pictures were accepted by Dreamstime. Here you can see some more pictures I took on the real estate of the castle.
Doorwerth Castle
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Pro approach to autofocus

AF-ON
AF-ON

Most of us completely rely on the autofocus of our camera. On my Nikon D800 there are two options: AF-S and AF-C. The first one is used for still life objects and the latter for moving objects. The S stands for Single Servo and the C for Continuous Servo. If you know in advance which situation applies it is easy to set the relevant option.
However, in practice when I shoot a group activity, I like to combine sport photography of activities and journalistic portrait photography of individuals. I have to act fast, so, there is no way I will continuously change from AF-S to AF-C and back again. For me this is not going to work.
After reading the extensive guides of the Nikon D800 by Thom Hogan (he writes excellent guides) I found out about the Pro Approach to Autofocus. The idea is to separate focus and release.
Standard they are combined in the Shutter Release. Pressing it halfway is to focus and pressing it completely is releasing the shutter. In the Pro Approach the focus is assigned to the AF-ON button. The only function of Shutter Release button is release. Furthermore, set the focus mode to AF-C.
This enables us to do the following:

  • Portrait Focus on, for example, the eye by pressing the AF-ON button, then let go the button. Reframe and then press the Shutter Release.
  • Sports  Press and hold the AF-ON on the subject to focus on. While holding the AF-ON press the Shutter Release. In this case the AF-C mode makes sure the subject is followed even though it moves through the screen.

In the beginning it takes some time to get use to. Now it has become second nature. The only disadvantage is that it is not easy to give the camera to somebody else to take a picture. However, for me it makes life a lot easier.
 

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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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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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

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.