The answer to this question depends on what kind of photographer you are. If you prefer capturing the details of your surroundings, a telephoto zoom or even a macro lens may be a good choice for you. If you are a “big picture” photographer who prefers to capture sweeping vistas encompassing all you see then a very wide angle lens may be best for you. For me, if I could only take one lens on a Baltic cruise, it would be a Canon 24mm - 105 f/4 IS on my 5D or, on a small sensor crop camera like a T4i, a Canon 15mm - 85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.
A Baltic cruise is largely urban exploration via cruise ship. Most itineraries are very port intensive with many ports along the way. Rarely will you get the chance to escape the city you are visiting to find wide open spaces and thus rarely will you need a telephoto lens longer than 135mm. In a city setting you will probably find a moderate wide angle to moderate telephoto zoom will serve you well. These lenses aren't particularly heavy so you can schlep one around on even the longest shore excursion. They are also small enough that taking it in and out of your day pack or wrestling on and off mass transport should be easy. Finally, a small camera/ lens combination means that you should be carrying a smaller camera bag. This means should should hear, as I did upon entering a museum in Zurich, the dreaded words “zu groß“, which meant I had to leave my huge camera bag with the nice matron at the front desk rather than be allowed to knock around the museum with it.
The modern Canon image stabilized lenses promise to increase stability by three stops. That means that an f/4 lens could give you sharp images as if your were using an f/1.8 or f/2 lens. An f/3.5 - 5.6 lens could behave as if it were an f/1.8 - 4 lens. This means you should be able to get decent shots even in dimly lit churches and museums if they allow you to take photographs.
Gourdon Harbour Detail with f/2.8 Lens
Please remember this “three stop advantage” assumes you are a steady shooter. Never trust this rule of thumb - check it out for yourself. Long before you leave on that cruise, make certain you have the lens you are going to travel with in hand and visit your own local churches and museums that allow you to take photos inside. Experiment with various shutter settings to determine just “how low you can go”. You may find that, depending on lighting conditions and whether you are using the wide or telephoto setting or bracing yourself against something solid, your results vary. Knowing this ahead of time will save you experimenting while on tour somewhere and prevent disappointment later.
I also pack a second, single focal length (prime) lens like a 50mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2 or the new Canon 40mm f/2.8. While not really much faster than either of the lenses I have recommended (once the image stabilization is taken into account), a fast lens like this is very small and easy to bring along. It also does a much better job of delivering a very narrow depth of field that will throw the background out of focus and let your main subject "pop". This effect comes from a wide aperture, not from image stabilization, so an f/2.8 lens will be able to provide a narrower depth of field than an f/4 lens used at a similar distance and focal length.
To sum up then, take a moderate to wide angle zoom lens, augment it with a fast prime and test your ability to handhold your camera and lens combination before you go.
Baltic Sea from Monplaisir Palace
Peter the Great built Monplaisir Palace, northeast of the main Peterfhof palace and beside the Baltic Sea, in 1723. He entertained his closest friends in this small summer palace which offers views across the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg and Kronshtad. The palace is protected from the north winter winds by a wall with a number of archways. These openings nicely frame the view of the Baltic that Peter the Great would have enjoyed almost three hundred years ago.
If you are in St. Petersburg and make your way onto the Peterhof territory, save some time to visit the outlying palaces like Monplaisir; you will not be disappointed by the intimate feeling of these smaller buildings.
Canon 5D with 24-105 IS Lens, ISO 100, F/10, 1/40sec.
This very early morning shot was taken as our cruise ship slipped into the old passenger/cargo port in St. Petersburg. The land to the left is Ostrov Kanonerskiy Island that, while littered with derelict lots and ruins of Soviet era buildings, has a number of apartment blocks as well. The air was still and cool and the water had hardly a ripple.
I feel that the early morning photos I have of St. Petersburg hide most of the industrial detritus and let the view concentrate more on the mood of the day. Passenger ships now dock at a modern cruise port that we have yet to visit, but I will miss the hustle of being in the heart of this commercial port.
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
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
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.
On a beautiful July day, Jan and I explored Langelinie Pier
in Copenhagen where Celebrity Constellation had been tied up overnight. We had spent the previous day walking the city centre and in the evening we explored Tivoli Gardens
. Tivoli is a jewel of an amusement park that opened to the public in 1843 and if you are there at dusk, you will think you have stepped back into the mid 19th Century. The rides are wonderful, if not as breathtaking as some might like, the restaurants are top-notch and many, and the live entertainment in the park will have you lingering well into the night. In spite of the temptation to stay late at Tivoli Gardens, we had gone home early. A good night's rest meant we were now ready for a tour outside of Copenhagen and into the picture perfect countryside.
After our morning exploration of the pier we boarded our bus. We headed towards North Zealand along Highway 152 and through an area known as the "Danish Riviera." Denmark is a country of eye-watering beauty. The Danes have decided that aesthetics trump mercantile interests and the countryside is devoid of any billboards or commercial signs - including those of estate agents. We turned off on Gammel Strandvej, never having our eyes assaulted by greedy commercialism, and made a photo stop along the Baltic Sea near what once were small fishing cottages. These thatch-roofed buildings used to be the homes of humble fisherman but are now the expensive residences of the well-heeled.
We continued north to Kronborg Castle,
located near the town of Helsingor (Elsinore). The fortress here has guarded the narrow strait where only 4km of water separate Denmark from Sweden. While it was meant to guard the Danish frontier, the Swedes walked over in the winter of 1658 and commandeered the castle. When control returned to the Danes, they thought it would be best to increase the strength of the fortifications so that no one else walking by might decide to stop and occupy the castle. As the castle is also known as Elsinore, it has had a close association with Shakespeare's play Hamlet and a number of performances of the play have taken place in the castle. Fredensborg Palace
, the summer home of the Danish royal family, was our next stop. The building, also known as the "peace castle" is where the Swedes and Danes signed a treaty promising to stop swapping castles with each other. A long, descending gravel avenue call the Slotlet
serves as the approach to this magnificent castle and seems to be a wonderful place to park a great many tour buses during the summer.
This stop was relatively short and filled with tension as our tour guide herded us around the grounds so that we could arrive at our lunch stop before any of the other tour buses beat us to the buffet. With the perfect timing that usually comes from any tour the Dougall's are on, our tour bus arrived dead last at the watering hole. Regardless, as impressive as the morning's castles were, this restaurant was able to feed six tour bus loads of guests AND had sufficient cold beer (and washrooms) to accommodate every one in short order.
Our afternoon was taken up with a single stop at Frederiksborg Castle
, which is also the Danish Museum of National History and the largest Renaissance castle in all of Scandinavia. This castle looks and feels like the home of royalty. From the huge fountain at the entrance to the massive chapel that survived a devastating fire in 1859, we could have spent the entire day there - and having walked most of the building, it seemed like we were there a long time.
By this point, we had done almost all the walking we needed to do on this particular tour and took a well deserved break on the bus trip back to the ship. For anyone interested in Danish history and the wonderful countryside, I would highly recommend this particular tour of North Zealand.
Warnemunde Lighthouse and Teepot Restaurant
is a quiet, little port
in the north eastern coastal region of Germany. Its attractions are an incredibly long beach, hand arbeit lace and the train that will take cruise passengers to Berlin. Most cruise guests see about 500 feet of Warnemünde as they walk from the pier to the train waiting at the neighbouring station that whisks them into Berlin for the day. The train ride is 3+ hours each way, making for a long day. Jan and I chose instead to stay in the local area and we took a tour of Rostock, the larger city close to Warnemünde.
looks like many other Hanseatic League cities - in other words, quite Dutch. In spite of the fact that the city was bombed to oblivion in 1942 and 1945, buildings have been rebuilt and reproduced with astonishing detail to the original look. Walking through the historic main shopping district and past several open air markets is a great way to spend some time.
There are a number of interesting churches you can visit as well. St. Peter's Church
, built in the middle of the 14th Century, has a tall polygonal spire with a viewing platform partway up giving excellent views of Rostock and the Baltic Sea. The residential district surrounding the church is wonderful and quiet to walk through.
In Warnemünde itself the town lends itself to exploratory walks and the discovery of small shops and little restaurants to pass the time in. Running parallel to the train tracks but on the other side from the pier, the Alter Strom (Old Canal) is lined with restaurants and picture perfect houses. Jan and I simply walked the streets, peering into shop windows and admiring several interesting churches. Our explorations eventually brought us to the very long (3 km) beach which stretches along the Baltic Sea. At one end is a working lighthouse built in 1897 and the Teepot Restaurant
in a building that looks quite pretty for East German architecture.
We put in a full day exploring in and around Warnemünde and would recommend this pretty town to anyone who wants to get up and personal with the sights, sounds and people in this part of Germany. A wonderful thing happened during sail away just at sunset. As the ship manoeuvred away from the pier, the loudspeakers began playing "Time to Say Goodbye" by Andrea Bocelli - a nice touch. The ship slowly made its way down the channel between Warnemünde and the Baltic, and a flotilla of local tour boats lined up on both sides of the ship and moved with us. They were filled with German tourists out for sunset cruises. As we made our way along, the small boats accompanied us, blowing their horns with passengers waving, singing and toasting us as we left a surprisingly wonderful port.