Other photographers forget an extra SD card or battery…

Me? I forget my camera. Sure, it was just a quick walk in the local area, so no big deal. Still, when I’d set up my tripod at the nice spot I’d just found, where a low sun was lighting up the landscape in amazing saturated colors, and looked into my bag that contained my lenses but no camera, I felt like the dumbest photographer on the planet. The camera must still be sitting at home on the dining table where I had put it down after checking the SD card and battery…

Well, there was nothing to do other than to fold up my tripod and zip my backpack. And to grab my trusty Samsung Galaxy Note 8 cell phone whose camera is more than adequate for situations like this. I decided to take the opportunity to test the pro-settings of the camera that allow you to shoot in RAW and control the camera manually, much like you would with a DSLR. I’ve never really bothered doing that since I usually have a much better RAW camera on me.

So here is the scene that lay before me. How pretty is that?! While the sharpness of the image is certainly nowhere near what I can achieve with my Sony A7II, at first glance you really can’t tell that this is a cell phone image.

One of the things that you can do with Note 8’s RAW camera – or Pro camera as it’s called – is to control the basic settings that you know so well from your DSLR camera, such as exposure, aperture, and ISO. That’s a huge advantage. Most daylight images – and even images such as these that were taken close to sunset – will have parts or all of the sky blown out if you rely on the phone’s automatic settings. In these pictures I was able to optimize the exposure to the sky and then brighten the bottom part of the image in post-processing, just like I do with my regular camera.

The few times I previously have used the Pro-mode of the phone camera, I have let all the settings be up to the phone. That’s not recommendable. Especially in low light surroundings. Then the phone will put the ISO to a ridiculous level that completely drowns your image in noise. For these images I set ISO to 400. I didn’t touch the aperture setting. Apparently that means the phone sets it to a whopping f/1.7, which resulted in shutter speed times at no less than 1/1000 seconds.

So while I’m generally very happy with the result, if you compared them with similar images taken with my Sony on a tripod, it would be an uneven fight. Even in post-processing, it seemed like the phone’s RAW format wasn’t quite as generous as that of my Sony when it came to revealing details in the shadows and letting itself be molded the way I wanted it.

But again, I simply can’t complain. The image quality along with the beautiful light that descended on the area on this particular evening, make these photos rank among my favorites of the season.

Below are a few more examples from an afternoon that started with me wanting to hit myself with my own tripod for forgetting my camera, but ended as a pleasant surprise and some really nice images.


It is the strangest things you come across on a Sunday afternoon off-road walk, but this industrial freezer… thing… or whatever it is, made for a perfect subject. I’m always a sucker for the clash between nature and abandoned, human-made atrocities like this.
It was the dead, white branches at the bottom that attracted my attention, but the rest of the trees offer a very pleasing composition.
The clouds were beautiful and the landscape exquisite. I actually didn’t think this would be a very interesting photo when I took it, but it turned out really well.
Perhaps my favorite image of the day. I love the downtrodden grass path.
We don’t have mountain backdrops or roaring rivers, but we have flat rural landscapes and open skies, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Revisiting the Oslo mini-cruise

Every time I upgrade my camera equipment or achieve some new insight into photography, I joke to my wife that now I have to go back to every interesting place we’ve ever been and re-shoot all my photos.

Well, last month I got the chance to go back to a place we have been to several times before, but which I never quite conquered photography-wise: Oslo, Norway. Each time we had been there in the past, we’d taken the Copenhagen-Oslo ferry, which is a 16-hour voyage advertised as a mini-cruise. This time was no exception. I love this form of traveling. You can walk around the ship, eat great food, watch the ocean, chill in your cabin, and just relax, knowing that you are completely off the grid out there in the middle of the ocean. When you arrive in Oslo, you have 6-7 hours to explore the city before going back on the ship for the return voyage.

Now, the purpose of this trip was relaxing, first and foremost – not taking pictures. But of course, there’s nothing wrong with bringing your camera just in case some good opportunities should arise. And they did… Of course they did. In fact, we hadn’t even left the harbor in Copenhagen before I started snapping away from the stern of the ship and captured some of the surrounding architecture.As the ship made its way out of Copenhagen, we passed a few points of interest. First, an old, wooden ship returns to a more modern world.

Then, with no time to change to a longer lens, the below image of a long string of wind turbines in the distance would have to do. But I kind of like the minimalism of it and the clouds. Sometimes you have to make the best of what you’ve got. Several hours later, after emptying the famous restaurant Seven Seas all-you-can-eat buffet, we went back on deck to get some air and look around.

With gray clouds having covered the sky most of the day, I didn’t have much hope for a sunset, but I got something that seemed at least as spectacular, and something you might only experience at  sea: a narrow orange strip of sunlight lined the horizon and served as the backdrop for a couple of far-off freighter vessels. Above the orange light, dramatic storm clouds loomed low. It was an incredible sight. Again, I might have benefited from a longer lens than my 24-70 mm, but the sense of scale may have suffered as a result. Showing how small the ship is in the hands of nature is one of the picture’s strengths, in my own opinion.The next morning it was time for one of the scenes that I had been looking forward to revisiting: the approach to Oslo through the narrow parts of Oslo Fjord. Here you pass by small idyllic islands and hills dotted with colorful Norwegian villages.

Unfortunately, while the clouds had scattered somewhat, the sun was already so high in the sky, the light had turned harsh and difficult. I was still using my 24-70 mm kit lens since my much sharper 16-24 mm requires more of a foreground than you will find shooting these landscapes from a ship. I took numerous pictures, of course, but very few of them turned out well. Here’s an exception, although it’s still not quite what I had hoped for.After arriving in Oslo we caught a hop-on-hop-off bus in order to get off at the Vigeland Sculpture Park a little ways out of downtown Oslo. Despite having been in the city several times, we’d always skipped it even though every guide book describes it as a must-see attraction in Oslo.

Well, it turned out the guide books were right. The Vigeland Sculpture Park is definitely worth seeing, even for someone like us who don’t get terribly excited when we hear the word “sculpture”. First of all, it’s huge! You can easily spend half a day there. Secondly, the sculptures are… different. You won’t see any statues of kings and generals on horses. Whoever this Vigeland was who created all the sculptures, he had a pretty unusual mind. Some would say pretty sick.

Anyway, from a photography standpoint there were lots of tempting motifs. Plenty of sculptures would have made for interesting subjects. However, to me, just taking a picture of someone else’s piece of art is not very appealing. As a photographer you need to add to the experience and create something new by including the surroundings and the atmosphere at that particular moment. And that’s exactly what I think I did with my personal favorite image from the park below. It’s also one of my rare vertical images.

The next image is of a waterfall/fountain in the middle of the park. I didn’t bring my tripod – only a monopod – so I couldn’t make a true long exposure, which seems to be the agreed-on standard for waterfall photography. Personally, I think a faster shutter speed can be quite impressive too.The last image from the park shows no sculptures (except for the tiny ones separating the benches), but there is plenty of beautiful landscaping going on too. This scene was just too beautiful and harmonic to ignore.Next stop on our Oslo journey was the viking ship museum, which, like the Vigeland Park, was a first for us. Photography is always difficult inside a dim museum, but I got a few fairly good shots of the ships, including this one.

When we returned to downtown Oslo, it had started to rain so there wasn’t going to be much photography happening. I did capture this image of the waterfront area as the rain moved on. By then it was time to go back to the ship, so except for a few more insignificant images from the walk back, that pretty much concluded the Oslo part of our journey.The ship, by the way, was this beauty. It looks impressive, but compared to real cruise ships, it’s a dinghy. Still, it was plenty big for us and constituted a fine floating home for us during our voyage.Exiting Oslo through the fjord presented a new opportunity for some great fjord photography, but again, it wasn’t really happening. The light was dull, and I was again struggling with the dilemma of whether to use my sharp Sony 16-24 mm lens, resulting in distant subjects, or my 24-70 mm kit lens that may bring the subjects more forward, but is just visibly inferior in image quality.

In the below image I obviously used the former, and it works okay with the clouds and the little ferry and all, but again… better light, like a sunset, would have done wonders. So, note to self: next time we go on this Oslo trip, make it coincide it with early sunsets and late sunrises. Not that photography should be the main purpose of these trips… Perish the thought!Later on, the restaurant where we were having dinner offered a great view of our trusty ship heading towards a storm. This is a picture taken with my cell phone as I didn’t have my real camera on hand. Still, the result was one of my favorite shots of the day.The above picture only marked the beginning of what was probably the photographic highlight of our two-day excursion. After dinner, like on the previous night, we went up on the deck to catch the sunset, and this time our faith was rewarded. I took numerous pictures as the sun disappeared below the horizon, but these two tell the story of a magical evening that put a perfect end to our trip. Actually, it wasn’t quite the end. We still had one sleep left before arriving back in Copenhagen, and the next morning we, again, had a little time to go outside. Our intention was to have a look at Kronborg Castle as we sailed past, which we did, but it was too far away for me to get any interesting shots of it. Instead I caught the below image of the Helsingborg-Elsinore ferry tasting our wake.About an hour later we arrived in Copenhagen and departed the ship for the last time. We’d had a great time relaxing and being tourists. Photography-wise I still didn’t quite get the ultimate pictures of the Oslo fjord, just as we didn’t spend enough time in downtown Oslo to improve on my existing pictures of the city. Still, I was happy with seeing and photographing new locations in Oslo and getting some really nice ocean shots.

I’ll be back!

Blood, sweat, and forest photography

Considering how few people actually see my photography – most of my images are only ever seen by me – I take it very seriously. I am finding my niche more and more in Danish landscape, and forest areas in particular. I love the forest. I grew up a few hundred meters from a forest and moved to my current home partly due to its vicinity to forest land.

But forest can be a challenging subject. Not for lack of compositions. But in order to take good forest pictures, you need to literally get off the beaten path and find the spots that no one ever sees. That is not always easy.

The other night I went back to the Strødam nature enclosure. I have written about it in the past, before I really knew what it was. I just knew there was a fence around it and signs telling you to stay out. Since then I have learned that it’s an area owned by the government used for nature research. They are basically letting an area of forest, lakes, and meadows take care of itself without much human disturbance. There are tons of birds and deer, and a herd of more or less free-roaming cows. In other words, a paradise for nature and landscape photographers. Except, photographers are not allowed to go there.

Well, back in February part of the fence around the area was suddenly gone. I had a feeling they were just replacing it, because it was old and worn out, and it turned out I was right. But for a few weeks in February I could at least pretend I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to go in, so I did. I have in fact shown you a few pictures from those excursions without mentioning where they were taken or the circumstances. But anyway, as much as I love those gray, dreary images of the winter forest, I felt I had to return to see what it looked like in the spring.

So, I shouldered my camera bag, saddled my bicycle, and rode out to the area a couple of hours before sunset. I knew there was an entrance that did not have a gate. A discreet sign tells you to please stay out, but that’s all, and on this evening I happened to look the other way as I passed it. Or at least, that was going to be my story if anyone asked.

A few bigger paths traverse the area, so I was able to ride my bicycle as I started my penetration into the forbidden land. I had not gone far before I heard a loud rustling sound from the brush. I couldn’t see what caused the sound, but moments later two deer appeared in a meadow next to the path. One of them quickly dispersed into the woods, but the other one stood there and watched me long enough for me to raise my camera and grab a picture. Unfortunately, I had the 16-35 mm lens on, so I couldn’t really zoom in on it much, but I still like the result.

For the next hour or so I crisscrossed the area, setting up my tripod wherever a sunbeam flooded the forest floor, a branch reached out, a broken tree had been left to rot, or whatever else constituted a composition in my all too receptive brain. That is my strength and my weakness as a photographer. I see compositions everywhere, and that leads to too many pictures and sometimes rushed execution, because I have to go to the next spot and the next spot and the next. Still, I got away with this string of photos that have passed my own quality control. Along the way I had suddenly heard a dog bark not very far away. The barking came closer, and in an instant I went from being an amateur photographer enjoying nature to Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. I was sure some nature police squad had spotted me and was trying to hunt me down for trespassing. I hid behind a tree and cursed myself for having left my bicycle out in the open.

In the end, the dog moved further away, and it had probably just been out for an evening walk with its human. Still, I sighed a breath of relief and went on my way.

By now it was starting to grow dark, but just as I was considering packing up and heading back home, I saw movement through the trees ahead of me. I walked closer and approached the edge of the forest, and that’s when I realized what was going on. It was the resident cow herd that was frolicking in the cool evening air. In other words, picture opportunity!

I snuck closer to the herd, which of course, they immediately spotted, un-stealthy as I am. So instead of posing for me, the cows took off, not walking lazily away, but at a gallop, and positioned themselves on a nearby ridge. They were staring at me, and I was staring back, and lo and behold, the leader cow started to move back down the hill towards me. At this point it should be mentioned that there was a fence between me and the herd. Still, I started to get a little apprehensive, because it didn’t look like a very solid fence. Soon the entire herd was moving back towards me, and the leader cow did not look particularly friendly. Now,  I have not heard of killer cows in Denmark, but the whole situation was starting to seem a little dicey.

Still, I kept snapping away and kept my head cool enough to increase the ISO and keep the the exposure at a decent 1/50 seconds, and here’s the result of my efforts: possibly the best cow picture in my collection.Now, my wife always tells me to be careful whenever I head out on a photo mission, and I always say I will be, so I figured now was the time to live up to my word and begin my retreat in good order. So I shouldered my tripod and left the cows behind. Being cows, they probably never intended to attack me, but were merely curious and hoping for a bite to eat other than their usual grass. That wasn’t going to happen as it was now time to pack up my gear and head home…

Pack up my gear…. Where was my camera bag? Where was my camera bag?

WHERE WAS MY CAMERA BAG?????

As soon as the realization hit me that I did not have my camera bag with me, a panic started to spread through my body. Where did I last see it? I had no idea. Hopefully, I had just left it with my bicycle back on the path. I stumbled back through the underbrush, getting several nettle stings along the way. And no, there was no sign of my bag anywhere near my bicycle.

There was no way around it. I had to backtrack to all the locations I had been at, which by this time amounted to half a dozen, several of which I wasn’t even sure if I could find again, having walked through semi-dense forest to get to them.

As I pedaled back to the previous spot, and the one before that, thoughts of losing a bag containing maybe $2000 worth of camera equipment was very present in my mind… or having to come back early the next morning to continue the search… or worse, having to contact the nature enclosure administration and confess my sin of having entered the area without permission, but “pretty please, would you return my camera bag if you find it, thank you…”

That’s when I suddenly remembered when I had last seen it. At one of my last stops, I had changed lenses. That’s where I must have left the bag on the ground. And sure enough, I managed to make it back to the spot and found the bag exactly where I left it.

My legs burning from nettle stings and bloody scratches up and down my calves from scrambling through the brush, but relieved as hell, I was finally ready to head for the exit.

But my trouble had only just started. I wanted to leave the area through the southern edge. I had done that without problem  during an earlier visit, because I had found a spot where two fences didn’t quite overlap and thereby left a hole big enough for a person to walk through. After finding the spot, which in itself was a challenge since no paths led to it, I realized that the missing overlap was no more.

I had to climb over the fence – with my bicycle.

The bicycle was the easy part. The fence was no taller than I was able to lift the it across. Getting my own 94 kilos to the other side was harder. There was nothing to really step on to get a good take-off, plus the fence was actually a little bit electric. I had visions of myself missing my leap and getting stuck straddling the fence and having my finer parts fried.

But it had to be done. I put my foot on the bottom string of the fence and leaped. The string broke and for a fraction of a second my worst fear was coming true. But through sheer adrenalin and will power I exerted my last strength and landed safely on the other side.

Almost overcome with exhaustion, I pulled my bicycle through the last shrubbery, tearing my shirt and adding a few more scratches to my legs. But I was out… I was finally out. I had been hunted by dogs, attacked by killer cows, had my legs shredded by thorns and nettles, almost lost most of my camera equipment, and been forced to cross an electric fence, but I was alive. And I had a memory card full of what I hoped was a bunch of outstanding images.

Back on the bicycle path, I found that the chain had fallen off my bike. I didn’t care. I put it back on and headed home.

Stumbling head first into spring

So, a couple of days ago I went out on a run in the local forest. And now you’re no doubt getting all kinds of images in your head of one of those uber-cool middle-aged men in Lycra clothes training for the next marathon or triathlons in some far-away metropolis. And sure, on my good days that’s kind of how I view myself, too, despite needing 17-18 minutes to cover my measly 3 kilometer route.

On this day I wasn’t feeling particularly gazelle-like, but I wasn’t feeling horrible either. After approaching the 1 kilometer mark, I still felt like this could indeed be the day when,  for the first time this season, I completed my 3 kilometers without having to walk for a bit in the middle.

However, I was never to find out. Suddenly my foot hit an obstacle, and for a terrifying second I found myself desperately trying to regain my balance but failing miserably and stumbling forwards, cell phone flying out of my hand, left knee hitting something hard on its way down, and my almost 49-year-old, overweight body hitting the forest path with all of its 94 kilos, probably registering as a pretty major event on local ant community seismographs, if such a thing exists.

With the adrenalin racing through my blood, I didn’t spend much time spread out on the ground, intending instead to continue running as if nothing had happened. But getting up and looking down on myself I had to face the fact that my cool Lycra running pants had been torn open around my left knee and blood was visible. So I figured I’d better take it easy for a little while as I assessed my injuries.

I picked up my trusty Samsung, stopped my Endomondo session, which had happily continued counting the seconds of my ill-fated exercise, and started walking.  And that’s when it happened. I looked up and found myself in the middle of one of nature’s miracles. All around me lush, light-green leaves were seemingly free-floating in the air, frail and tender, and so fresh they looked like they might not have been there five minutes ago.

I suddenly realized that if some invisible bump in the path hadn’t forcefully stopped me, I might have missed the full extent of this wonder. I raised my, fortunately unscathed cell phone, and started shooting, forgetting all about my aching knee and hurt pride. The sun was shining from a clear blue sky, emphasizing the incredible greenness of these leaves. I have never covered spring at a more perfect moment. In a week or two the forest will be completely green and absolutely mindblowingly beautiful, and I will no doubt be out there shooting it with my Sony, but to catch it at this exact time and in this light felt like a stroke of luck that more than compensated for my misery.

I half ran, half walked the rest of the way home. There I soon realized that my fall had been worse than first estimated. The wound in my knee was big and painful, and my body was aching in several places – and still does as I’m writing this. But looking at these images and reliving the awe I was feeling in the moment, I can only smile.

I may not be the greatest photographer in the world, but I’m a hell of a lot better at taking pictures than I am at running, and that’s all right with me.

Weekend getaway to the North Pole

They say that once every few thousand years, the magnetic poles flip, reversing north and south. What the scientists missed was that the flip took place last weekend, and for a brief period during the shift, positioned the North Pole  in Odsherred, Denmark.

As it happened, Odsherred was the part of Denmark where, that very weekend, my wife and I had decided to spend a couple of days away from the humdrum of our every day life and see something new. We ordered the trip a while back thinking the middle of March would be, if not full-blown spring, then at least noticeable more pleasant than the cold winter.

How wrong we were. Even on our way over there during a stop at a small marina, we got a preview of what was to come. The marina was protected from the wind by a tall ridge, but plenty of cold air coming straight out of Siberia reached us to make us shiver and start worrying a bit about what we’d gotten ourselves into.

Still, I managed to get off a few shots of the beach area, in pretty difficult middle-of-the-day-light, including this nice one showing cloud reflections in the reasonably calm water.That same evening after checking in to our hotel, we went for a walk in the area near the hotel. The sun was low in the sky and revealed some beautiful scenery with a peaceful lake surrounded by animal pastures. There were no animals, however, as they – or their owners – had realized what perhaps we should have realized ourselves: it was too damn cold to be outside. The photography suffered as a result. There wasn’t time for much location scouting, so I wasn’t quite happy with the images of what, at first glance, had looked like a slam dunk. This one is pretty nice though, but nothing spectacular.

The next day was our only full day in Odsherred. There were several locations I wanted to seek out, most importantly the long strip of land that protrudes from the north-west corner of Zealand and ends in the middle of the ocean. About halfway to the tip, we spotted a parking lot at a beach and decided to get out and take a look.

That’s when it happened. Stepping out of the car and down to the beach, the realization that today wasn’t just cold cold – today was excruciatingly cold, as in dangerously cold, as in physically painful cold – hit.

It was the wind. It came in from the north-east. 20-30 kilometers an hour, multiplying the -5 degrees Celsius by 4-5 times. It cut through my knitted hat like a knife and into my skull, instantly setting off a brutal headache. But still I persisted. The scenery was too spectacular to miss. Wave after wave came rolling in, crashing against rocks loosely spread along the beach, white clouds drifting across the blue sky. I ran back and forth, shooting one image after another, the freezing wind mutilating my face and hands like an ice-shooting blowtorch.

It paid off. The best image of the entire weekend was shot here on this North Pole beach. Several others were almost as good.

Moving on to the actual tip of the land tongue, we found ourselves on another beach every bit as brutal as the one we had just left. By this time I had somehow managed to zone in to my usual viking mode where cold doesn’t affect me much. I could still feel the pain of icy wind on my exposed skin, but this time it didn’t take away my focus or my ability to operate the camera. The result was another batch of images that I’m rather proud of, including these two… and the selfie that you see at the top of this post.

Our next stop was the small ferry town of Rørvig (don’t even try to pronounce it if you are not Danish). We were met by another freezing sledgehammer, but the light was spectacular. Out over the sea, snow showers lingered while the sun set fire to the water. I snapped away and caught these decent images along with several others I was happy with.

 Our last stop of the day was at the old castle ruin of Næsholm, “ruin” being the keyword. There is practically nothing left of whatever it once was, but it was still more than worth a visit. It’s located on a small island in the middle of a lake. A boardwalk bridge leads out to it, and once you are there, you are in your own tiny, little world, at peace with yourself and nature. At least, that’s how I felt. Birds were everywhere, the wind was rustling in the tall grass, and there was no discernible human activity within hearing distance.

As far as the ruin is concerned, the image below pretty much shows it all.The water surrounding the lake was halfway covered with ice, making for another interesting photographic subject.After spending way too much time at Næsholm, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed warmth. It had been a busy day with lots of stops, but there were still a few places left to see. So the next – and last – day we headed out to climb some of the famous peaks of the Danish landscape. Our first stop – Esterhøj – is a whopping 89 meters above sea level (almost 300 feet!), but that didn’t stop us. We donned our ropes and helmets and walked up the stairs to the top.

The view was actually quite awesome. It was a clear day, and you could see for miles in all directions. The problem, photography-wise, was the harsh middle-of-the-day light and the fact that big, rather featureless landscapes don’t make for great images. There are no majestic mountains to serve as a backdrop. On this day there weren’t even some dramatic clouds to spice things up.

So what I did was to listen to the miniature Thomas Heaton I’ve got sitting on my shoulder and look for the small, interesting details in the landscape. I put on my 18-270 mm Tamron lens, zoomed it all the way in and scanned the landscape for compositions. And came up with this:

I’m actually quite pleased with it. The lens is not the sharpest in my collection, but what the image doesn’t have in sharpness, it makes up for in zen-ness…. or something.

I used the same procedure for the next image, which was taken from the top of another famous hilltop, Vejrhøj. Again, the sharpness leaves a lot to be desired, but there was something about the shape of the coastline that intrigued me. And look at those white waves. They were actually moving offshore in the strong eastern wind.

The last image was taken walking off down from Vejrhøj through a patch of woods.  As described in my last post, taking good pictures of a dreary, gray, snow-less winter landscape is a challenge, but it’s actually even harder to take pictures of a sunny, snow-less winter landscape. It’s sort of neither here nor there… It’s not dreary and it’s not uplifting, so it easily becomes just blah… But the below image was one of the few I took in that forest that I felt pretty good about.Apart from a solid lunch at a steakhouse in the town of Holbæk, thus ended our weekend adventures and, soon after, the magnetic North Pole’s passage of Odsherred. As much as I enjoy just walking around my own neighborhood taking pictures of well-known locations, there is nothing like new ground far away from home to boost your motivation and skills. You don’t have “tomorrow” or “tonight at sunset” to go out and improve the result. You need to get the best out of it here and now, bad light, freezing cold, and lack of time be damned.

For all those obstacles, I think I could have done worse.

 

X-rays of a snow-less winter landscape

If you think I’ve been laying low photography-wise during the winter, you couldn’t be more wrong. The months of December-February and into March have been very productive. In fact, I have taken some of the best images of my life during my numerous camera outings in recent weeks and months.

Of course, I always say that I just took the best images of my life, and I always mean it. Will the general public agree? Probably not. To the untrained and uncaring eye, my images will be the same old, same old landscapes, now with the added deterrent of desaturated colors, boring, gray skies, and downright dreariness.

But that’s the point. In a country where colorful sunsets are almost as rare as mountain ranges, if a landscape photographer can’t deal with the grayness of fall and snow-less winter (which lasts from June through April), he might as well sell his equipment. You’d better learn to turn gray and bare into art or you will find yourself stuck at home.

So that’s exactly what I have been working on. I have seen the overcast skies and naked trees as a challenge. If I can make those look good, I can do anything. And by “good” I don’t necessarily mean  beautiful or appealing. The goal is to prompt an emotion other than just “blah… this is boring”. Sometimes the best way to achieve that is by presenting the pure, unadulterated grayness, other times by drawing out whatever little bit of color is sometimes there if you look hard enough: those little patches of orange leaves hanging onto their branch for dear life, the green moss on a tree trunk, or an aqua colored tint in a layer of ice.

Most of the pictures in this series were taken in well-known local territory, within walking distance from my home. You would think I’d get tired of that, but it continues to amaze me how different the landscape can look in different seasons – heck, even from one day to the next. With spring and summer showing the forest in its finest green robes and extravagant prom gowns, the winter time is a piercing x-ray of what’s underneath the lavishness – and sometimes that ain’t pretty, but it’s always fascinating.

Karsten reviews photo sharing sites: GuruShots

When I found GuruShots, I thought I’d gone to heaven. This was 500px and ViewBug on speed and with the added bonus of me, for a long time, apparently enjoying lots of success.

Like ViewBug, GuruShots is all about contests, or “challenges” as they call it. You submit up to four images to challenges such as “Single Tree”, “Two Wheels”, or “Minimalism”. Then, in order for your images to receive exposure and thereby votes, GuruShots wisely requires that you participate in the voting process. In other words, your only way to success is to vote on everybody else’s images every day for the two weeks most contests last.

As your own images – hopefully – receive votes from other contestants, you move up in the hierarchy from “Popular” to “Skilled” to “Premier” to “Elite” and finally “All Star”. Along the way, you can swap your photos if they don’t perform as well as you hoped. When you sign up for GuruShots, and after every other contest you participate in, you receive free swaps, but if you need more than that, swaps can also be purchased.

There are several other twists to the challenges, but the gist of it is that, unlike ViewBug contests, GuruShots contests are fast and very immediate, and unlike 500px, you can truly influence how much your pictures are exposed. If you do quality work and you keep voting, you will most likely fare well. At least, that’s what it looks like at first glance, and to some degree, it’s probably true.

However, GuruShots is not without flaws. After participating in numerous contests, I’m starting to notice strange patterns that make me question the fairness of it all. First of all, GuruShots is free to use. You don’t have to spend a dime if you don’t want to. That’s all well and good, but… how, then, does GuruShots make money? As I mentioned earlier, they sell swaps. So, it is very much in GuruShots’ interest that you buy these swaps, and what I’m noticing is that swapping images almost always pays off. I have swapped images maybe 50 times, and I can only remember a couple of times when the new image I swapped to didn’t receive more votes than the one it replaced. So the pattern is unmistakable: for the user, swapping equals more votes – for GuruShots, swapping equals more money. Everybody wins. The question is, do GuruShots’ algorithms somehow favor swapping?

Another questionable premise about GuruShots is that as you move up in the hierarchy, you get more voting power. When a “Newbie” votes for your photo, you get 1 point, a “Rookie” vote is worth 2 points, a “Challenger” 3 points, etc. But nowhere in GuruShot’s rules and FAQ’s does it say whether image exposure is evenly distributed among the various ranks. This can make a huge difference in how many points your images receive.

Altogether, there are just too many things – and I could come up with several more examples – that leave you wondering whether GuruShots really is as fair as it seems at first glance. Even though I have used and loved GuruShots every day for more than six months, I’m at a point now where I don’t feel it’s worth my time anymore. Another major factor in that decision is that I have hit a wall when it comes to my own climb up the hierarchy ladder. I’m currently at the “Expert” level. It didn’t take me all that long to reach that, but in order to advance to the next level – “Champion” – I need to finish in the top 10% in at least one contest and have an image picked by the person who launched the contest (the “Guru”). Both of those requirements have turned out to be seemingly impossible. It doesn’t matter how much my pictures have improved – and I believe I have made tons of progress since I signed up for GuruShots – I do absolutely no better in contests than I did when I started. On the contrary, algorithms have changed and made it quite a bit harder to fare well. That, and I no longer wish to spend money on buying swaps, which, as stated above, is important in order to achieve success.

So, although I imagine I might return now and then to test if my odds have improved, in the foreseeable future I will probably turn my focus back to ViewBug for contests. Sure, GuruShots is a wonderful playground at first. There is a lot more instant gratification than on any other site I have tried, and sure, it can be a reasonably good test for your images. In the end, however, once you get used to the pace and the shower of votes you sometimes receive, the nagging questions about what’s really going on under the hood become too hard to ignore. That is, of course, unless you are so undeniably great that you manage to break through to the highest levels without any fuss.

Apparently, I’m not that.

Below are two of my more successful images on GuruShots. It’s impossible to say exactly what images have fared the best. All they tell you is if an image ended up in the top 10%, 20% or whatever, and how many points they scored across all of the contests they were submitted to.

Visit my GuruShots page.

So I changed the identity of the site

As of today KSA Gallery will be known as Plain Exposure. I was never too happy with KSA Gallery. Not sure why.  I wanted something a little “cooler” and perhaps more ambiguous.

The site also got a new sub-title: “The Life and Struggles of an Amateur Photographer”. Of course, it’s somewhat ironic. Mostly life as an amateur photographer is quite rewarding, but much of what I write about – and will be writing about in the future – is the struggling with everything from lack of self-confidence to unfair algorithms on social media.

But most of all, now as in the past, this site is just a way for me to put my images out there for everyone to see. In other words… plain exposure.

Getting better all the time… or not

Bruce Springsteen once said that as a young, unknown rock band you need to both think you are the greatest thing in music since the Beatles… and that you suck. The former gives you the confidence and attitude to maybe make others believe it too, and the latter makes you work harder at actually getting better.

This is not unlike how I feel as a photographer. In my own mind I am among the world’s most underrated photo artists, but most external evidence tells me that I’m just another mediocre face in the ever growing mass of mediocre middle aged men with expensive cameras resting on their pot bellies.

When I look at my pictures from maybe just a year ago, I can see that the evidence was accurate: most of the pictures I thought back then were masterpieces, I now realize were nothing special and that the world’s indifference to them was quite reasonable. On the other hand, the pictures I took today are mind blowing and will finally give me the recognition I deserve.

But then fear strikes me. What if in a year from now I can see that the pictures I now think are mind blowing are just as unremarkable as my old pictures? What if my pictures are not improving at all? What if the only thing that’s improving is my state of denial?

As an amateur photographer, you don’t have very many solid indicators to tell you if you’re getting better. You can’t measure it by sales since you’re not selling. Friends and family may just tell you what you want to hear. And your own gut feeling and tastes prove worthless as images you wouldn’t be caught dead having taken receive more votes/likes/awards than yours on GuruShots/Instagram/ViewBug.

Whatever the case, as of right now, in the confines of my own deluded, self-absorbed brain, I believe that the last couple of  months have produced some of my best images ever. I have not written about it due to being busy tired, but November and December have been very productive in both quantity and quality with several photo outings, each of which brought forth sure additions to my portfolio should I one day get around to updating it.

Since I may still write more extensively about those outings, I will only post a few of the best shots here. The first two images are from the same day in November, a day that was split in two with the first half spent at the beautiful Bøllemose area with a low sun creating magical light between the trees, and the second half on the coast, including a blue hour to die for at a nearby marina.  The next image is from my local area where, one Sunday afternoon, I spent the hours around the early Scandinavian sunset on a rugged, muddy field, almost ruining my boots, but capturing some pictures that I was really happy with., including this one.Also from my local area is the below picture of the weirdly curved tree on the edge of the forest. I absolutely love the colors and composition in this one. Last but not least, from a trip into Copenhagen and beyond, this image was taken at a part of the city called Ørestad, which has only existed in the past 10 years or so. The picture of a train leaving the station was very nicely captured, in my own opinion, with the exposure length at a perfect 0.6 seconds, which added juuust the right amount of blur… again, in my own opinion.I took several more top-notch pictures on all of those trips, but they will have to wait. These are just examples of what I’ve been up to in the last few months and hopefully a little bit of evidence that both my mastering of my camera and my ability to capture the beauty I encounter have indeed improved.

I guess we’ll see in a year from now.

Fall photography at Dyrehaven

Back in July I wrote about the time of year when the beautiful, bright leaves of the beech trees light up the forest and make your shutter finger itch. If there is a time of the year that is as important for photographers here in Denmark as those weeks in May, it would be October and November when those same trees explode in orange and yellow colors.

Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to visit the ultimate location in the area for fall photography, the stunning nature resort Dyrehaven just 30 minutes from downtown Copenhagen. Dyrehaven is a combination of forest and open plain. It is not a huge area. You can walk through it in an hour or so (unless you stop every two minutes to take pictures, in which case it takes three), but due to some kind of government or city decree, no one is allowed to build houses that stick up above the tree line when you stand on the big hill in the center. In other words, it feels like an isolated natural reserve, and it’s easy to forget how close you are to the city.

The only problem on this day was the light. The sky was gray and dreary, but the clouds were still well-defined and therefore things could have been much worse. I certainly preferred this to a clear blue sky.

First we have the entrance gate to the area. It is in itself a beautiful structure, and with the fall leaves framing it, it just lends itself to photography. The next image is the only one in the bunch taken with my cell phone. I always snap a few images with my cell phone when I’m on a photo shoot. just to have some for my Instagram and just because cell phone images have a different flavor that sometimes make a nice addition to my collection, as was the case with this one. None of my shots taken with my real camera captured the way the leaves formed a low ceiling over the leaf-covered forest floor quite as well.Moving on, the forest was replaced by more open landscape interspersed with awesome old orange-leafed trees that begged to be photographed. I especially liked this old oak tree – or whatever it is. And no, this would not have worked with a clear blue sky as the background. Old, crooked trees require gloomy, gray clouds.As I continued up the hill in the center of Dyrehaven, I came across the pond shown below with a swan couple floating around. At this point the sun was setting and the sky had started to break up a little bit, showing some blue and purple colors. I spent quite some time there, shooting the pond from all kinds of angles. And waiting for the swans to not be grooming their feathers and not sticking their heads into the water looking for food. They do that a lot, and it’s not how you want to see swans in photos. You want them with those beautiful, curved necks held high or, as in this case, with their wings spread in an angel pose.At the very top of the hill, there is a tiny castle called the Hermitage Hunting Lodge or, in Danish, Eremitageslottet. Dyrehaven is also referred to as the Hermitage and used to be a royal hunting ground. Every year a horse race with riders in traditional red hunting coats  takes place. They don’t hunt anything other than a victory in the race, although more modern hunting (thankfully without horses or dog packs) does happen in order to control the number of game.That brings me to one of the absolute coolest features of Dyrehaven: deer. The place is full of them, in all shapes and sizes. You cannot avoid seeing them if you tried. I had taken a few pictures of a herd of deer earlier in the day, but it wasn’t until I was headed for the park exit that I got close enough for something like the image shown below. Unfortunately, it was getting dark at this point, forcing me to use an extremely high ISO of 6000+ in order to get any sharpness at all. Still, several images, including this one, turned out quite well, which speaks for my Sony camera’s noise-reduction capabilities… as well as Lightroom’s.Darkness had now fallen and it was time to head out. I’d enjoyed several hours of the most exquisite nature and landscape you will find that close to a big city. Given that it was a week day and late in the year, I felt like it had been just me and the deer there. I relished in the peace and quiet and closeness to nature, which really is what it’s all about.

On the way back to the train station, 30 drunken teenagers boarded the bus and tore me out of my zen. Although I was never a drunken teenager myself, I can’t say at that age I had a whole lot more appreciation for the original, natural world than these partying youngsters seemed to have. I don’t know exactly when it changed for me, but I’m glad it did and that I have photography to help me suck it in and bring it home for further absorption.

More images from my day at Dyrehaven: