Celebrity Millenium in Port
Celebrity Millennium in Port
Updated May 2013

Cruising places you in parts of the world where the spectacular scenery seems to go on forever and challenges the photographer to create an image that maintains some of the "depth" of the scene in two dimensions.  There are many ways to achieve this depth, one of which is to literally focus on the foreground to give a sense of proximity for the viewer.  Sometimes this is best achieved with a wide angle lens as outlined below.

Wide angle photographs can be quite dramatic with the perspective they offer but they can take in so much that there is no impact whatsoever.  Personally, I love how much of an image you can render sharply with a wide angle lens and a small aperture.

The image to the left is the classic shot of a cruise ship in port.  As these things are huge, you have to get back a ways if you ever hope to get a recognizable amount of the ship into a photo.  While on shore looking for a "beauty shot" of our ship, I was walking towards the bow where I could see that it was tied to massive yellow cleats that were mounted right on the pier.  Selecting 24mm on my zoom lens and f/13 on my camera, I was able to take a picture with considerable depth of field from the cleat to the bow off the ship.  The bold yellow adds interest to the foreground and the nylon lines draw the viewer's eye up to the ship.

Placing leading lines in an image helps balance things in the foreground and background.  They also help to guide the viewer from one portion of the photo to another.  Leading lines may move up into a picture or across it, but an image is often stronger when connections are made between various picture elements.

Cartagena Tug Boat
Cartagena Tug Boat
Here I was trying to capture the huge expanse of white skyscrapers in Cartagena, Colombia but I was struggling with the usual property of a wide angle lens as it turns mountains into bumps and skyscrapers into bungalows.  Cruise ships pass quite close to Bocagrande on their run into the port which provides up-close images of some of the city's buildings.  Unfortunately, by the time the full width of the Cartagena skyline is visible, you are so far away that you have to decide: wide angle for the entire cityscape or telephoto for a much narrower, but more detailed image.

I also had the option of trying a fast and dirty panorama shot with a telephoto lens, but the ship was moving and the speed of my Canon 5D Mk II in taking multiple images is best measured with a calendar.  So, as I stared at the scene deciding what do, a tug boat slipped around the stern of our ship and pulled up alongside to shepherd us to the pier just in case the captain had some kind of seizure in the last 1/4 mile of our journey.  While this made me significantly more at ease, it also placed a colorful picture element smack dab in the foreground.  Now with the tugboat to draw the viewer's attention, I thought I could use the wide angle to capture this image.

No sight lines in this image, but a bright picture element to balance and fill the foreground.

From May 23 until May 30, we will be holding a giveaway for one of David Duchemin's wonderful ebook "A Deeper Frame".  This is a very engaging look at how to bring depth and presence to your photos in simple and effective ways.  Live a comment here (you need to leave an email address for us to contact you if you win but is is hidden and we don't use or sell your email addresses) and hit the retweet button on this page and you are in.  Winner announced her on May 30.
Canal View of Church on Spilled Blood
One of the challenges for photographers who travel is finding the "new view" of a place that has been shot countless times by thousands of visiting photographers.  The wide view, the long view, the close up view of every tourist attraction have all been done by passing photographers and those who live close by.  The challenge for us is finding the time and knowledge to capture a different and fresh interpretation. 

The photo to the left is of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, taken from the Italian Bridge over the Griboedov Canal in St. Petersburg.  This is one of the regular tourist stops for photos of this magnificent church.  The church, built between 1883 and 1907, is officially known as The Resurrection of Christ Church and was constructed on the spot that Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  Many tourists photograph the church from this vantage point and if  you are travelling with a group tour, this may be the only "at a distance" view you will have the opportunity to get.

If you are travelling on your own, or with a knowledgeable guide, you would have the time to walk 400 meters north east of the church to the Field of Mars.  This former parade ground is now a national war memorial and, in the early morning, is devoid of people.

We were lucky enough to be exploring St. Petersburg with a guide and driver and on the way past the Field of Mars we saw this view of the Church on Spilled Blood.  Screeching to a halt on a busy road, Jan and I rolled out of the car and headed across the park.  The angle from there produced a far more pastoral view of the church with trees and grass rather than streets and buildings.  Jan and I spent some time moving around the park looking for the best vantage point. 

As usual, I used a 24-105 lens while Jan used her favourite 70-300 zoom.  Her pictures are my favourites of that day.  She was able to frame the church with leaves around the image, giving it a more intimate view than my pictures that included more of the park and sky.  Buyers prefer her image as well as it sells many times more often on iStock than mine do.

View from Canal
Sometimes we can't leave a group or have the luxury of our own driver and guide to find shooting locations for us.  All is not lost though, in a search for a different view .  While this could have been shot laying on the road outside the church, given the driving habits of most Russians, I wouldn't recommend it.  This was taken from an even lower angle on a canal tour boat passing by the church.  I was able to accomplish two things with this shot:  isolate the church from a cluttered background by selecting only a part of it and, create an image taken from an unusual angle.

As I said in our posting about Photography On Sea Days, looking up often will produce a pleasing angle and photo.  Sometimes you also need to Get Up Close and Personal with your subject to eliminate the clutter that may surround it.  As you encounter locations in your travels that have been photographed a hundred times, take one of two options - move back and around to find a view that includes something new and different in the foreground, or get up close and personal and find the details.  If you have the time and flexibility, try both!

These are some of the techniques that we will be practicing during our upcoming photo seminars to bring interest and impact to your photos.  We would be happy to explore Alaska with you and your camera!

Dawn in St. Petersburg Harbor
Dawn in St. Petersburg Harbor
Landscape photographers tend to be a sad lot.  They are in bed once there is no longer any usable light so they can be up prowling around before dawn to catch the first light of day. One of the things I love about cruise ships is they often arrive in port early in the morning and, given the height of the decks, the ship makes an excellent shooting platform providing a perspective that is often not possible to catch from ground level.  I love how silently such a large vessel glides slowly into port as if it was floating on air rather than plying its way through water.  Every chance we get we are out on deck or our balcony to be part of the majestic arrival of our ship.  There is no other means of transportation that is as slow and silent as the arrival of a ship in port and this is one of the reasons we love the experience so much - there is a slow motion dignity to this means of transport that is missing in our usual frenetic transit from place to place.

Landscape photographers work hard to avoid shooting into the sun on a regular basis as it can, without filters and careful consideration, wash out colors and make the correct capture of highlights and shadows almost impossible.  If you are willing to shoot at dawn or dusk when the sky is often saturated with color, shooting into the sun can create dramatic images. 

The silhouetted industrial cranes to the left were shot about 5:30am as we arrived in the harbor at St. Petersburg, Russia.  The shot was directly into the sun and I knew that by exposing for the sky I would get the orange light of  morning and the shadows would block up giving only the outlines of the cranes.  This also served to hide most of the industrial detritus scattered around this working port. 

Silhouettes work for the same reason that black and white images do - they strip away most of the color and let the viewer focus on the shapes and forms in the image.  The cranes stand out against the orange sky as there is very little additional detail in the image.  If this had been shot in the cold light of day, the cranes would just be part of the industrial machinery on display in port.

Kids at the Aquarium
Kids at the Aquarium
While you can't see the sun directly in this image, the light blue behind the aquarium glass is the result of sunlight on the water's surface.  Once again, by exposing for the lightest part of the image, the darker parts become silhouetted and there is a distinct loss of details in the children.  This draws the viewer's attention to the Beluga Whale in the background and the children's arms pointed towards the whale.

This silhouette technique is relatively easy to achieve with most cameras as you simply let the camera go about its usual work when you point it at something bright - it will properly expose the brightest part of the image and throw the rest into shadow.  Sometimes you may have to brace you camera against something solid because the light, even in the brightest part of the image, can be quite dim.  Avoid the "shakes" by bumping up your ISO or finding something solid to steady the camera on.

Cruise Ship Superstructure
Photographers are rarely bored. While others go ashore looking to shop or tour a museum, hardcore photographers look instead for interesting architecture, beautiful natural formations or a juxtaposition of color, shape or texture.  This means we also tend to prowl the ship on sea days looking for ways to represent the look and feel of the ship.  A ship is very much like most tourist attractions - they have been photographed a hundred times in a hundred different ways.  The challenge is to capture something different that still represents the ship.

My suggestion is to look for details and for patterns.  That sometimes means looking up, rather than out.  Most cruise guests stand at the railing of the ship and photograph the scenery (or water) that is off to the side of the ship.  Less often do we stop and look up to see if there are any interesting shapes.  The shot to the left was taken on Celebrity Millennium from the Sunrise Deck looking up at the cover over the AquaSpa.  I like the play between the white superstructure and the blue sky in the background.  I wanted to isolate the curve of the roof so that the viewer would be drawn to the shape itself.  The image reminds me of our last cruise and is an interesting study in shape and color for people who don't know that it is part of a cruise ship.

Sail Away Flags
A more obvious shot of a cruise ship but still one that requires looking up and isolating a part of the vessel.  The sail away flags give the clue that this is a ship and not some industrial structure somewhere.  Having the sail away flags in the image helps to establish this as a shot at the beginning of a cruise and could serve nicely as an opening image in a slide show done in Photo Story 3 or iPhoto.

When you have some time on board your ship, see if there are shapes, colors and textures that you can isolate in your photos.  The end results can be engaging both for you and others who see your photos later.  Remember, less is sometimes more when it comes to photography.

Russian Cameras
Someone once said that having two of something is a happy accident, three of the same thing is a collection and four or more is some form of obsession.  I suspect that makes me obsessive is some way as I not only use cameras on a daily basis, I also collect them.  Not just any "them" though, but cameras that were manufactured in the former Soviet Union and dependents such as East Germany.

Many of these cameras are not functional and have never been.  The managed economy of the Soviet Union required factories to fulfil monthly production quotas of things that looked like cameras - whether they worked or not was immaterial.  This is particularly true of my Zenit 16 produced between 1973 and 1977 by the KMZ factory owned by the Soviet Ministry of Defence.  While rare today, it was produced in sufficient number and without any quality control for many original owners to return them for replacement or, as some stories go, to just throw them against the side of the store that sold them in Moscow.

The Soviet-era camera makers played fast and loose with the designs of other western manufacturers.  The production of a Salyut-C, looking suspiciously like a Hasselblad 1600F,  has earned this camera the nickname "Hasselbladski" but not the reputation for reliability of the Swedish camera..

Early FED cameras were more reliable and almost exact copies of German Leica cameras.  These cameras were produced between WWI and WWII in what amounted to an orphanage, run by the Soviet secret police, that had previously produced furniture and electric drills. 

Cameras are fascinating as examples of industrial engineering that are often, like fine watches, at the pinnacle of design principles and craftsmanship.  Today almost all film cameras are next to worthless as no one is interested in old analogue equipment.  Nikon F5's, which used to command $3200 back in 1996 when they were first introduced, now can be had in excellent condition for $400!  A Nikon F90s with MB10 booster had an original cost north of $1000 and is now available for less than $200 if you look around.  What is fascinating is that old Soviet cameras that used to only cost $200 -$250 are still selling in the same range.  Who knew that Russian cameras would maintain their value so well!

If you have an old family film camera, hang on to it.  Put a few rolls of film though it and enjoy the analogue feel of some of the best made mechanical wonders of the 20th Century!

If you want to read more about old cameras, check out "My First Camera" and some of the postings about where folks started their photographic journey.

I am regularly asked if someone can attend our photo seminars and bring their film camera along.   The answer is always the same - if you think there is more you can learn about your film camera, bring it along!

Do you collect cameras?  Do you have a favourite film camera?  Share your obsession here!

Canon DSLRs
Updated August 2013: Many people approach the purchase of a new camera the same way they would a game of Three Card Monte – thinking that any decision is going to be the wrong one and cost them dearly.   With the evolution of digital cameras over the past decade there is less chance of making a wrong decision as cameras are now usually quite reliable and capable of taking excellent pictures.  What is more important today is finding a camera that meets your photographic needs, has controls that make sense and is within your budget. 

Cameras, to my mind, fall into a number of categories:

  1. Fashion/jewellery:  this category is all about size.  They will fit in your pocket or hang around your neck like a piece of fine jewellery.  Because of their size, they usually don’t have all the features of larger cameras and often come with a limited zoom that goes from sort of wide to kind of long.  These cameras are best used to capture people and landscapes.  Moose on the distant horizon will look like dots in your pictures and not the majestic animals that they are.  
  2. Compact:  these are still small cameras but this is not their sole reason to exist.  Often these come with more semi-automatic and manual controls then their smaller cousins.  They can be equipped with larger zoom ranges and sometimes with the ability to record JPG and RAW images.  The lenses can be more sensitive in low light and able to magnify distant objects more than a fashion/jewellery camera. There is a new sub-class of cameras here that sport a large APS-C sensor in a small body - The Fuji X-100S is just one example.  Equipped with a fixed lens that  performs well in low light, this is a camera for the person who likes analogue controls and great image quality.
  3. Superzoom:  often larger than the previous two categories, these cameras have a  zoom range sometimes able to magnify an object 12X, and capable of drawing in distant wildlife.  While the previous two classes of cameras often do not come with any viewfinder other than the rear LCD screen, most super zooms have an electronic  viewfinder like a camcorder.
  4. Small DSLR:  a digital single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses and a host of accessories that can be purchased.  These are the smaller versions of their full-sized brethren; they produce very good images at the cost of having to carry everything around in some kind of bag. Canon's new SL-1 is one of the smallest DSLR's on the market - so small that for me, I don't find it particularly easy to operate with my fat fingers - try it out for yourself to see how it feels.
  5. EVIL camera: no, not the spawn of Beelzebub, but Electronic  Viewfinder with Interchangeable Lens camera. now sometimes called Mirrorless System Cameras. These cameras are a new class that are smallish units with, as the name implies, viewfinders like compact superzooms (some with external viewfinders that need to be attached)  and interchangeable lenses like a DSLR.  You can build a system of lenses to meet your particular needs but they can cost as much as some DSLRs.   As I become older and don't want to carry heavy equipment very far, I am finding this category of camera more and more appealing.  I am currently using a Fuji X-Pro 1 and love the fact that a complete system fits in a small messenger bag.
  6. Full size DSLR: for those photographers who want the (arguably) ultimate in image quality, flexibility, as well as the costliest, largest and heaviest cameras to schlep around.  These “system” cameras have every accessory you could imagine, a range of manual adjustments and the accompanying learning curve.  These are for the photographer who is serious about their hobby and doesn’t mind taking the time to learn how to get the most out of their camera.
So now you need to ask yourself a few questions to determine which class of camera you might want to look at:

  1. Do you want  a camera you can drop into your pocket?  Look at Fashion, Compact or small Superzoom cameras.
  2. Do you just want to take snapshots ?  All cameras can take quick snapshots, but you will probably be happiest with a Fashion, Compact or Superzoom.
  3. Are the majority of your photos family/people shots? Fashion and Compact cameras are for you.
  4. Are many of your photos wildlife shots? Superzooms, MIrrorless or DSLRs would be good choices.  If your wildlife moves quickly, stick to a DSLR.
  5. Are you interested in using the manual controls on your camera to control the final image?  DSLRs and EVIL cameras will usually give you the easiest access to manual controls.
  6. Will you print out your photos?  All cameras will easily produce 8 X 10 images and larger.  
  7. Is your computer relatively new?  Old computers and new cameras can equal trouble if the file size of your pictures jumps up a great deal when compared to your old camera.  Upgrade your computer, stick to shooting JPGs or keep the pixel count down on your new camera.
  8. Do you want to shoot RAW or JPG?  RAW images can stand up to more manipulation in a computer.  If squeezing the last ounce of quality out of your image is important to you, look at a DSRL or possibly an EVIL camera.  That said, the compact Canon S-110 shoots in RAW and still fits in your pocket.
Once you have thought about your photo/camera needs, go to a well stocked camera store and handle some cameras in a category that makes sense to you.  See if it feels right in your hands – are the controls in the right place?  Do you accidentally hit the on/off switch when you are looking for the shutter release?  Is the menu easy to understand and work through?  If you are buying a camera without a viewfinder, see if the salesman will walk you outside and let you try to use the screen in bright light – it may not be as easy to see an image in daylight as it is in the store.

Every camera is a compromise.  It may be in the feature set, the configuration of the buttons, the zoom range of the lens or the price itself that you will have to bend on.  The question always is, which features do you need and which ones can you live without?  Buying most brand name cameras means that you are buying a degree of quality.  The question is whether that quality matches what you are looking for in a given feature set.

Regardless of which camera you select, we will work with you during our photo seminars so that you can get the best out of it.  All cameras are capable of creating great images under the proper circumstances.  We will find those circumstances and make you proud of the images you create!

Have I missed a category or camera?  Let me know what other considerations go into a successful camera purchase!

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