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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
It started back in August at a birthday party for my brother and niece. Out of nowhere my brother hands me a piece of paper stating that he and his girlfriend won't be buying me any birthday or Christmas presents for the next several years. I'm like, "What's happening? It has to be some kind of joke, except, I don't get it."
Then, after a few minutes, he hands me a package, and again, I'm confused. My birthday was months ago. We are not here to celebrate me. Why are you giving me a present? Well, I proceed to open the package, and what is that? Out of the wrapping paper appears a box containing a Sony FE 16-35 mm Vario-Tessar lens with Zeiss optics. At this point, I'm utterly confused. First he doesn't want to buy me any presents, and then he hands me this... It takes several minutes for me to put two and two together. The lens I'm now holding in my hand is my birthday/Christmas present for the next several years. My brother and I usually don't buy each other huge gifts. This is exceptional. This is unheard of. This is awesome!
Once my brain manages to bring the emotional roller coaster ride to a halt, I start to realize what this means. The lens that is now in my possession is one that would have taken me years to save up for, and that's provided I could muster the self-discipline required to save up at all, which is not my strongest suit.
It also means I will no longer have a technical excuse for not taking pictures that can compare with the best. I have the camera, I have the lens. It is now up to me to learn how to utilize this combination and to raise my artistic level to match the technology.
Well, two months later I'm starting to see the results. I have not made a shot by shot comparison to see the difference between my old Tamron wide-angle lens and the new one, but in my mind there's no doubt that the new lens provides visibly better results in terms of sharpness. Look at this image I took in Copenhagen a few weeks back. I just haven't seen that kind of sharpness in my pictures in objects that far away before. Sure, it was a clear, sunny day, but I'm pretty sure that's not the whole explanation.The next image is a low-light shot also using the new lens. Here too I'm very happy with the sharpness. Any non-sharpness is due to it being a very windy evening. Low-light was my big problem with my old camera and old lenses. You couldn't see where a blade of grass started and ended. It was all just an indistinct mess. Much better here, in my own opinion.So while my new lens is the most important reason my photography has taken a turn for the better, there are other reasons, reasons that actually have more to do with post-processing than shooting.
About a month ago, I finally lost patience with my old laptop that I normally used for photo editing. It was slow, constantly died from BSOD, and it was running out of disk space. At the same time, the price dropped on a laptop I'd had my eye on that would be a gigantic step up for me. So, I convinced myself I'd just saved a lot of money by not having to buy a wide angle lens and hit the "buy" button.
And what a difference it has made. Never mind how fast it is and that it has made Lightroom a breeze to run, the screen has made me realize that for all these years, I've been doing my post-editing all wrong. Looking at my pictures that were edited on my old computer, I see how awful they look. Way too much contrast, too much black, too much clarity. So, no wonder I'm not a rich and famous photographer! My pictures were ugly! That changes now.
Last... and maybe least, but it still deserves a mention: a brand new piece of photo editing software has given certain pictures the last oomph that really make them stand out. It's called Luminar and still only exists in a beta version for Windows (I think a fully developed version exists for Mac). While I love Lightroom and have no plans to abandon it, it's mostly suited for - and this may be due to my lack of skills in using it - a nice and proper result. Nothing wrong with that. But it takes more than that to get attention. Especially when you don't live near waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, rivers, wild oceans, or whatever else will give you a natural advantage in photo contests such as the ones I frequent at ViewBug and GuruShots.
So here's a before and after example of a plain Lightroom edit and a Lighroom edit enhanced by Luminar. The first image is probably closer to "real life" than the second, but real life usually won't win you many "wow"'s and "oohh"'s. And just for the record, I don't post-process my images based on what I think will win contests (I won't win any contests, anyway), but mostly based on my own tastes. So, yeah, I prefer to look at the Luminar version, too, just like the majority of contest voters.
So, agree or not, in my own mind my photography is improving and that's really another reason I want to go out there and shoot - even if it's the same things I shoot over and over. It's invaluable practice for when I finally go to the really great locations.
Unlike good landscape photographers who know what they are doing, my photography has always been characterized by randomness, confusion, disorganization, and sometimes downright stupidty. Sure, sometimes the result can be excellent despite all this. I think I have a pretty decent eye for compositions, and I know my way around Lightroom, and that helps me.
But things like planning ahead, making sure there's a memory card in the camera, making sure I brought the quick release along with my tripod, charging the camera batteries; those things have often proven challenging to me and have caused me a good deal of frustration with myself.
So I've been practicing getting more organized and better at planning things. This reached the culmination so far the other day when I executed a plan that I had devised all the way back in July. During a little photo excursion to the other end of town, I came across the below scene and loved it.
Still, I wasn't all that happy with the shots I brought home. They were ok, but I thought they could be better... during a sunset.
So I used my PlanIt For Photographers app, which can show on a Google Map where and when the sun sets and rises, and saw that the sun would set right in that area come mid-September. I entered it in my calendar and started waiting.
Well, fast forward two months. Around September 10 I put myself on high alert to move out within an hour's notice if it looked like there would be a colorful sunset. I warned my wife of what may happen right around dinner time on any given night. My photo bag was packed, extra batteries charged - I was ready!
About a week into the target period, it happened. The skies seemed to align just right, with a good mix of clear sky and clouds. So I grabbed my camera bag and my tripod, got in the car, and drove to my destination.
I set up the equipment, the camera loaded with my brand new Sony 16-35 mm landscape lens, and started shooting. The sun was still above the horizon but hidden behind the clouds, which were turning an awesome yellow.
Just as the sun was disappearing behind the tree line I managed to capture the below picture, my favorite of the evening. I turned the aperture all the way down to f22 as I had read somewhere that a low aperture would generate the kind of beams that I, in my own opinion, so perfectly captured here.After the sun descended below the horizon, the colors in the sky remained for a brief period of time. It never became the color explosion that I had hoped for, but I was pleased. During my 40 minutes there, I captured a little over 30 images, experimenting with three different lenses, regular exposures, and long exposures. The long exposures didn't really add anything as the clouds were moving so slowly even a two-minute exposure didn't really capture any movement.In the end, the evening was as much about proving to myself that I can plan ahead, pick a time and a location, and execute the plan successfully as it was about getting great shots. I think I did just that...
Oh, and the shots weren't too bad either.
I may not spend every other weekend going to a new location to take pictures. I would like to do much more of that, but so far that's just not happening, with real life and laziness being much too time-consuming.
Fortunately, for someone who doesn't get out as much as he should, I can only appreciate the opportunities that my immediate surroundings offer in terms of photogeneity. And when I say "immediate surroundings" I mean stepping out the door to the patio and walking 30 meters across the little child-friendly street on which we live. From there I have a westward view of our neighborhood, which in that direction consists of a green area, a bike path, trees, a housing development that is actually quite beautiful in my opinion... and, last but not least, sunsets. Lots of sunsets. From April to September or October, we are blessed with some pretty spectacular sunsets on evenings when the cloud cover allows it, which during those months happens on a fairly regular basis.
This is what happens on those evenings: orange, yellow, purple, pink, and red colors fill up the sky above the aforementioned housing development. I get up from the couch, grab my camera, and run out to capture it before it goes away, much to the confusion of my cats who will join me out there wondering what the hell I'm doing.
Back inside on the couch, I will glance out the window again and realize that, whoa, it's now twice as beautiful as it was five minutes ago. So once again I get up and go out there while frantically adjusting the ISO of the camera to the now slightly darker conditions.
This repeats two or three times a few times every month, so it's no wonder I end up with a few pictures that may be somewhat.... how can I put it? ...overlapping. But then again, look at the below selection of images, all from 2017. To my own eyes, there are worlds of difference in how those sunsets manifest themselves, and I truly feel all pictures are worthwhile additions to my collection.
I guess the moral of the story is that if stepping out your patio door is all it takes to create something unique and beautiful on a regular basis (and of course, that part is my own opinion... you may think I'm taking the same picture over and over), you don't have to feel bad about not being able to go to a new location every other week in order to be a great photographer. A little change in the cloud cover or lighting conditions in your own little neighborhood and you are well on your way to something fresh and interesting.
Still, don't take this as a call to stay home, but more like a comfort to you if, for a while, getting out there in the world, for whatever reason, is just not happening.
Photography has been slow lately. The last several weeks have been ridiculous weather-wise, plus I've been sick in the last week. I'm itching to get out there, especially since I unexpectedly became the owner of the landscape lens that I didn't think I'd be able to afford for a year at least, a lens that will, without a doubt, push me to the top of the landscape photography elite! More of that in a later post, of course. Today is all about catching up and talking about my summer vacation before it becomes but a distant memory.
If I had been doing this blog for the last 10 years, you might have noticed by now that most of my longer vacations are spent in the US, or Northern Idaho to be more specific. Not this year. This year we settled for a four-day getaway to Edinburgh, Scotland. I had never been to Scotland before, but it felt like a country that would suit me well when it came to things like climate, culture, and not least photographic opportunities.
I was not disappointed by any of those things. Of course, I could have done without the downpour that ruined part of our big bus tour to Loch Ness and the highlands, but oh well. We still had fun.
Anyway, after much consideration I have decided to simply post - and talk a little bit about - my three favorite pictures from the trip, and then add a slideshow video that will give you more of an impression of the whole experience.
The first image was taken on our first night in Edinburgh. It shows a canal near where we stayed. Apparently, the UK is full of these canals with their canal boats (which you will see more of in the video). This quay area with its modern architectural buildings and rustic boats made for a beautiful scene during the sunset, and with fantastic low-hanging clouds to add a little drama.
We returned the next evening because I thought I could do better, but the light wasn't as good, and in the end this image just turned out better than all the others.Below is, in my own opinion, a wonderful shot of Edinburgh Castle overlooking the connecting park. It was taken as the sun was setting and as we were walking back to our hotel after a long, long day of exploring the city. Our explorations had taken us all around downtown Edinburgh, including to, and inside, the castle itself. Needless to say an iconic construction like Edinburgh Castle offers countless photo opportunities, and with my usual, "better take 300 pictures too many than one too few"-approach, I couldn't have missed too many of them.
However, for all the architectural details and historical magnificence that the closeups revealed, this image, with the lush, green park contrasting the ragged castle walls, tells the story of how the city is, and always has been, dominated by the presence of the castle, for better or worse.The last of the three images was taken on our last night in Scotland which offered both the photographic and emotional highlight of our entire trip. Almost as an afterthought we decided to climb the famous Arthur's Seat hill overlooking Edinburgh. I had been on one of the neighboring hills two nights previously, and while that had been a good experience and well worth it, I wasn't totally blown away and would not have been too disappointed if we hadn't made it up to Arthur's Seat.
Well, I should have been! Arthur's Seat was a whole different experience. For one thing, you felt like you were at the top of the world. You could see for miles in all directions, and even with loads of other tourists up there, you had a sense of detachment from the real world. I could have stayed up there forever, but good thing I didn't, because then I wouldn't have gotten the below image, which was, in fact, not taken on Arthur's Seat (check out the video for that) but on the walk back down from there.
As soon as I spotted the old ruin a little off the track, I knew I was about to take some of my all-time best photos. Of course, there were plenty of ways I could have screwed it up, but short of a colorful sunset, which we just couldn't sit and wait for, and without a tripod to enable long exposures, I think I did about as well as could have been expected, which was pretty damn good. The dramatic clouds are a fine replacement for a sunset, and the image just has a feel of raw, ancient history of kings, wizards, religion, and long lost culture.
Of course, you didn't really expect me to only show three pictures from Scotland, now did you? The only reason I can limit myself to that is that I also made the below slideshow featuring another 80 or so images from four amazing days. You may want to make the player a little bigger and you definitely want to turn up the sound so you don't miss the beautiful music.
I once read that, according to science, the color green has a special effect on the human brain. Due to our origin in the jungle and other green surroundings, even for today's modern people, the color green unconsciously equals the presence of water and the absence of starvation, which again soothes the brain, gives us peace of mind, and makes us relax.
I believe it. I can feel it. Being in a green forest is fuel to my soul. I can't say for sure if it's the color green, or perhaps the quiet, or the smell, or a combination of it all. What I do know is that I live in a country with no mountains or rivers, but what we have instead - for a few weeks in May - is the most beautiful shade of green your eyes can behold. That's when the leaves of the beech trees burst open in cascades of light-green color that can take your breath away as much as any high peak or waterfall in more mountainous areas of the world . At least, that's how I feel, and it seems like the older I get, the more I feel it.
Of course, my interest in photography also helps me appreciate this special time of year even more, so it's no wonder that as the time draws near, I become anxious and look at the weather forecast to make sure I get out there on just the right day and just the right hour when light and color form a perfect synthesis. Well, at least according to my own feeling. I'm not assertive enough to claim I have the exact answer... And besides, sometimes work, your state of mind, and life in general have more influence on when you get out there with your camera than anything else.
What I do know is that - unlike the case with much other landscape photography - the time of near sunset or the blue hour are not the optimal times for green leaf pictures. The lack of light during those times of day prevent the strong green color from showing to the best advantage. The sun needs to still be - not necessarily high in the sky - but well above the horizon. The forest itself will ward off any harsh shadows and too much contrast that is otherwise a problem during afternoon landscape shooting.
This year I went out twice to try to capture the greenness at its peak. The first time, on May 12, was possibly a few days too early as, in many places, the leaves were still a tad too sparse. Still, I came away with some excellent results from a spot I've had success at before: a particularly beautiful forest edge near the Frederiksborg Castle Garden.
Still in the same neighborhood, this may be my favorite shot. The light coming in from the right highlights the exquisite green color. But this is about as low as the sun should get before there's not enough light.
And yet, here's a picture taken several minutes later. The sun is still above the horizon, but it was becoming more difficult to emphasize the greenness. This is an HDR put together from two different exposures.Realizing it was becoming too late to catch the green leaves, I headed for the castle where I took some really nice long-exposures, but that's for another post.
Instead I went out again a week later - a little earlier in the day and with the leaves now fully expanded and still with all the brightness preserved.
As with all pictures I post on this blog, these too have been submitted to some more or less heavy post-processing. Sometimes, I admit, the post-processing I do is to make the scenery look a little more... shall we say... "colorful" than perhaps it actually was. Here, the post-processing has served only one purpose: to make the pictures resemble reality, as reality in this case cannot be surpassed. A raw unprocessed photo will not do reality justice at all - at least not with my limited skills as a photographer.
One trick to improve an image of a forest is to go against your instinct to make it as sharp and clear as possible. Unlike with just about all other pictures, I reduce clarity in Lightroom when I post-process pictures of forests. You should try it and see what happens.
The time when the green beech forest is at its peak lasts only about three weeks and is now long gone. After that, the leaves start to turn darker. They are still beautiful, but there is nothing like those three weeks to invigorate your spirit, soothe your soul, and take some awesome pictures!