Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sziklatemplom - Cave Church in Budapest

18mm  f/6.3  1/125sec  ISO200
I spent the recent weekend in Hungary's capital, Budapest. It is a beautiful city which I visited several times already. Budapest is divided into two parts by river Danube. At one side of the river is Buda, the mountainous part with a castle and several outlooks. At the opposite river bank is Pest, the plain part with the city center. At one of the Buda mountains they have built a little church into some caves. This is what I was visiting this time. After entering the main entrance you have to go down some stairs to reach the church. Being in there was an amazing feeling. It was dark, but enough light to see everything. I had expected a large cave but in fact there were several smaller ones, each designed like a small chapel. At some locations they have cut holes into the rock and installed beautiful and colorful windows. They spent some soft daylight. Sometimes the ceiling was so low that you could not stand straight. The main hall instead was really high. I'm absolutely not religious, but I love to go into churches to feel the silent atmosphere in there. This cave church had a really special mood that I enjoyed a lot.

27mm  f/4  1/4sec  ISO1600

35mm  f/4.5  1/10sec  ISO1600

18mm  f/3.5  1/13sec  ISO1600
The cave church visit was also a test for my newly acquired EOS 70D camera with my new EF-S 18-135mm lens. I wanted to test the image quality in low light situations with really high ISO values. The camera was set into P mode and calculated shutter speed and aperture automatically. Because I had no tripod with me I had to increase ISO a lot to get fast enough shutter speeds for shooting free-hand without using a flash light. My other camera, an EOS 600D, produces really noisy images at ISO values of 800 and above. This time, with my new camera I boosted ISO up to 1600. This gaves me usable shutter speeds, but I was expecting noisy images as well. With the small camera screen you cannot really check image quality. At home I reviewed the taken photos and I was surprised. Although it was quite dark and ISO was really high there was nearly no noise at all visible in the image. Now I know that with this camera I can easily shoot in low light environment with higher ISO values. I'm amazed about that.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Afternoon in a Zoo

Last year in mid October I was visiting my family and together we spent an afternoon in a local zoo. It was an interesting and enjoyable walk through the park watching all those various species. Unfortunately I had my camera with me that was equipped with the 18-55mm kit lens only. No the perfect gear for taking shots of animals. But, I took this as a chance to get to know, what is possible with this limited equipment. Taking photos of animals in a zoo is quite challenging, because of all the fences and buildings that can disturb a scene heavily. Animal shots should look naturally, even when taken in a zoo. This is not always possible, as my results below show.

55mm  f/5.6  1/50sec  ISO400
My first photo shows a Yellow-spotted Hyrax while eating. These animals are so cute and adorable. The compound was designed in way that visitors are able to get within the fenced area. This is really nice because you're quite close to the animals. And from the photographer's view there is nothing between the camera and the target. There were lots of scenes where you could hide the fence and buildings, but this guy at the food pot was too sweet. It was so funny to watch him eating carrot strips with half of the meal hanging out of his mouth.

55mm  f/5.6  1/50sec  ISO800
Next animal I took photos of was an Emperor Tamarin. These apes are sweet as well, with their long white beards. At this location I had to shoot through the fence. It was not easy to catch one on photo because they were running and jumping fast through the compound. Most of the time they climbing up and down the fences, which is absolutely not a nice scene. At some point of time this guy was resting at branch in the center of the compound. The fences around him are blurred and not that visible anymore. Fall foliage hides them even more. Unfortunately these Tamarins have such long tails, that I had to cut it off, to get a nicely framed scene.

55mm  f/6.3  1/100sec  ISO800
The Leopard is such a majestic cat. I had two locations from where I could watch it. Both were through a glass window. The first location would be ideal because no buildings and fences were in the frame. But the panther was busy with eating some meat and did not look at me. When he lifted his head from time to time, he looked the opposite direction. So I moved to the second window. Here I used the short moment when he lifted his head again to take this photo. Unfortunately the fence in the background is too clearly visible. But the Leo looks awesome.

55mm  f/5.6  1/50sec  ISO800
Taking this photo of a Snowy Owl was quite easy. I could get close to the fence and the holes were large enough to shoot through it. The bird was sitting at a branch at about the height of my shoulder. The funny thing here was the owl itself. While the body does not move at all, the head turns around at nearly 360 degrees. This is so crazy and looks so unnatural. Like a motor is turning the head around. I waited til the owl looked at my direction and pressed the release button. Did you notice the huge claws at his feet?

18mm  f/7.1  1/125sec  ISO800
With this goat I tried some funny wide angle shot. Unlike other animals the goat was quite curious or it was just begging for some. It came close to me. The fence was built of thick metal bars with some good distance between them. So I could reduce focal length to minimum without getting any bar framed in the scene. I had to go down on my knees to get at face height but this even reduced the timidity and the goat came even closer. Wide angle shots of heads and faces are funny because they produce cartoon like results. Heads and faces turn out over-proportionally big compared to the rest of the body.

55mm  f/7.1  1/125sec  ISO800
The last photo I want to show today is also a funny one. It shows a cute Meerkat. These animals are so much fun to watch. They look sweet and their behavior is funny. While many of them are running around or eating at least one is standing up on a higher place observing the surroundings. Sometimes they were standing on small hills, which is a scene I would have preferred. But this guy did choose a trunk. First he was looking to the opposite direction of me, but with some whistle I could get his attention. What a cute guy.

All these photos were taken with an EOS 600D and an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 standard zoom kit lens. The camera was set into P mode and calculated aperture and shutter speed automatically. ISO was at fixed value of 800, to get reasonable high shutter speeds at overcast sky light conditions. I did not have a tripod with me and shot hand-held.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Fireworks

I always spent the New Year's night at home, because my flat is located on a higher floor and my balcony is facing our river banks. Every year thousands of people meet here to celebrate New Year with an amazingly huge fireworks. It is loud as hell and smells smokey but it is so much fun and beautiful to watch. Thousands of rockets and other fireworks are fired at nearly the same time. This was again my chance to capture some beautiful photos of this unique event. Last year I already shared some pictures of that New Year's fireworks.

This night I prepared my two cameras and mounted them to tripods at my balcony. One was my EOS 600D with an EF-S 18-55mm lens. It was facing into left direction. I positioned the tripod at a location were at full 18mm nothing of my balcony was visible in the frame. Camera settings are quite difficult with this scene. Explosions happen either far away or directly in front. That's why I switched into semi-automatic mode with shutter priority (Tv mode). Aperture will be calculated automatically depending on the current light situation. In automatic mode the camera tends to overexpose photos in dark environment. That's why I changed exposure correction to -2 to get a darker image. Depending on how long you open the shutter the more or less explosions will be captured on the photo. I decided to use 10 seconds. ISO setting was at lowest value of 100 to get as less noise in the image as possible. With autofocus I adjusted focus once and switched the lens into manual focus without touching it anymore. Autofocus was not a problem because of many bright street lights. I connected a remote release controller to the camera, pressed and locked the release button. The camera now was shooting continuously one photo after the other, each with an exposure time of 10 seconds. Out of all the many shot images the following one was the best one, with a balanced composition of explosions and colors.

18mm  f/14  10sec  ISO100  -2EV

The other camera I set up was my EOS 70D with an EF-S 18-135mm lens. I positioned the tripod at the opposite end of my balcony and let the camera face to the right. Since the street lights at the ground were too bright I had to adjust focal length to remove them out of frame. I switched this camera to semi-automatic mode as well, but this time with aperture priority (Av mode) and a fixed value of f/8. The camera will calculate shutter speed automatically, depending on the current light situation. As with the first camera I also adjusted exposure correction to -2 to get no so overexposed photos. I again used autofocus once to set the focus and switched the lens to manual focus. ISO was at a fixed value of 100 as well. I mounted a second remote release controller to this camera and locked the release button in pressed state as I did with the other camera. So, this camera was also shooting photos continuously, each with an aperture of f/8 and various shutter speeds. Both cameras were operating automatically and I could enjoy the scene and celebrate New Year.

While the first camera captured a lot of explosions because of long shutter speed, the second one did not so well. Additionally, fog came up and a lot of smoke was produced by the fireworks. That's why the photos of the second camera were not that exciting. In a mood of disappointment I remembered a technique of overlaying or stacking photos in post processing to get a composed version of the scene. This firework was ideal for doing that. The camera did not move and all the photos contained exactly the same frame. The dark background with bright explosions made stacking easy. So I played around with this technique and got this photo as result of stacking 4 photos into one.

35mm  f/8  5sec  ISO100  -2EV

Stacking photos was so much fun that I did another one, composed of 3 photos.

35mm  f/8  3.2sec  ISO100  -2EV

In the end I must admit that the setting with a fixed longer shutter speed produced better results in a single frame. I will try to remember this fact and use this setting for future fireworks shootings. Clear weather would have been definitely better here. Another point I need to remember is to disable image stabilization at the lens when mounted to a tripod. This is what I most often forget. One further setting which is used to prevent shakes in long exposure environments is to activate mirror lock. I intentionally decided against that feature because with activated mirror lock you cannot shoot continuously.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Frozen Continent - 11 landscape photos of Antarctica

In November 2014 I joined an expedition cruise to Antarctic Peninsula. This was an amazing journey. We had some beautiful days with lots of sunshine and nearly no wind. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous. As we were cruising there in late Spring a lot of snow and ice was covering land and sea. Sometimes the water was even like a mirror and everything was reflecting perfectly. At other locations huge glaciers were forming the coast line. Icebergs of various sizes and colors between bright white and glowing blue were floating around us. Antarctica is a beautiful and unique continent.