Archive for the ‘Photographic Journeys’ Category

Plan Your Strategy

Pantheon Fountain Rome Italy Dawn

Just before dawn at the Pantheon






















One of my favorite times of day to photograph is twilight – especially in old, well-lit cities like Paris or Rome.  There’s just something about the way the warm lighting highlights beautiful architectural details against the backdrop of a cobalt blue twilight sky.  I love it.

The problem?  Twilight only lasts about 15 or 20 minutes (at least for photographic purposes).  It’s nice that we have both a morning twilight and an evening one, so you can make use of this magical time twice each day.  But it still goes by all too fast.

So how do we make the most of that 4:30am wake-up alarm?  One strategy that I use nearly every time I shoot twilight is Directional Planning.  That’s not an official term, but it works for me.

Since the sun rises in the East, my first shots are planned in that general direction.  My next ones would be either North or South.  The final shots of the morning twilight would be West.  This stretches the amount of available time by a significant amount – in some cases giving me 45 minutes of great shooting.

I know that’s still not a lot of time, and believe me, there are moments of panic where I’m running hard to the next spot knowing I’m going to just ‘miss it’ by a few minutes.  But you would be surprised at how much can be squeezed into a single twilight shoot if you plan ahead.

All the shots in this post were made on the same morning.  By employing Directional Planning, I was able to cover a lot of territory – making the most of my time.  And I got a workout at the same time.

Trevi Fountain Rome Italy Twilight Dawn

Just before dawn at the Trevi Fountain

St Peters Basilica Cathedral Dome Vatican Catholic Pope

Just before dawn - the amazing dome of St. Peters Basilica

St. Peters Basilica Piazza San Pietro Vatican Rome Italy

First light of dawn on St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican Rome Italy








San Francisco!

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California Bay sunrise

Sunrise over San Francisco from above the Golden Gate Bridge

I always find it interesting to hear what people think of when you mention the name of a place.  For San Francisco it’s things like Cable Cars, Fishermen’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Ghiradelli Chocolate, Seafood… all kinds of wonderful things.

For me and the way my mind works, I think of the amazing views from all around the bay.  I enjoy a walk down the Embarcadero, people watching all over town, the view from Alamo Square, but most of the time I’d rather park myself with my tripod on a hillside overlooking the beautiful landscape of the bay.

Such was the case on my most recent trip to the area.  Each morning and evening I could be found clinging to some rocky cliff working a cool angle or view.  My wife thought I was nuts – she’s usually right. But it takes a bit of work to find the best shots – and that, of course, is what I’m always after.  I can honestly say that I’ve come to appreciate the grip of my Merrill hiking shoes.

But great views never get old for me.

Bay Bridge San Francisco California skyline twilight dusk

Twilight over San Francisco from below the Bay Bridge


Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California Fort Baker Bay

Early morning below the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco


A pleasent surprise in Ephesus

Ephesus Library of Celcus Turkey Ruins

Library of Celcus in ancient town of Ephesus

Don’t you love it when something exceedes your expectations?  Or maybe when reaching your destination you experience something beyond a simple visit and a tour – maybe something deeper.   Such was the case for me one day in the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey.

I first heard of Ephesus in my Sunday School classes decades ago, but didn’t realize then that the remains of the town still existed.  Recently, when the opportunity came to make a one-day stop in Kusadasi Turkey, I jumped at the chance to visit the ruins of the amazing and historic city of Ephesus some 20 miles away.

As part of my normal planning, I had looked through photos of the town, located it on Google Earth and marked the direction and time of the sunrise.  I made a list of the must-have shots, and knew that I’d have to work fast because the place is crawling with tourists most of the day.

My wife and I arrived at the gates to the city at 7:40a, bought our entry tickets, but had to wait until 8a for the gate to open.  For those 20 minutes we were alone, standing on a dusty unpaved road near the entrance.  Nothing that we saw reminded us of our current century.  Off in the distance a donkey pulling a cart lazily walked by.  There was an uncanny quiet – in fact the only sound we could hear was that of the air rushing through the giant storks wings as they flew overhead.  Somewhere in the hillside behind us the Virgin Mary most likely lived out her final years.  We could almost visualize her now walking down the winding road into town.  It was all a bit surreal.

Once the gate opened, my mind went into work mode and I quickly walked to where I knew my most important shots were going to be.  So far, the ‘crowd’ amounted to 4 Brits and us – but I knew that wasn’t going to last long.

The ruins themselves are really impressive; the beautifully marble-paved Street of Curetes is amazing.  Later, once the crowds arrived I could see that nobody really gets to look at the street itself – there’s too many people in the way.  But for that first 40 minutes or so, we could see the whole city (at least the part that’s been excavated).  The sites; Library of Celcus, Temple of Hadrian, Grand Theatre are all incredible.  But what captured me most was the sense of place and time that I felt while there.

The Ephesians designed their homes with running water – using the hot water springs nearby to flow under their stone floors and thus warm their homes.  Their beautiful mosaic floors were meticulously pieced together – and still retain their color.  Their advanced society was seen everywhere.  We were totally transported back in time and felt the daily life experiences of these people.  I’ve been to countless historic sites, but this one really struck me.

I made a number of photos that day, some that I really like.  But the real treasure for me was connecting with other humans from a totally different era.  And realizing that while civilizations come and go, we all share a common thread with those that have gone before – a thread that continues to meander through every society today.

Street of Curetes Temple Hadrian Ephesus Turkey Ruins

Marble-paved Street of Curetes in Ephesus



















Street of Curetes Ephesus Turkey ruins

Street of Curetes in ancient Ephesus


San Pietro – Vatican

St. Peters Basilica San Pietro Vatican Rome Italy
Pre-dawn at St. Peter’s Basilica Vatican Rome Italy

Canon 5d mkII EF70-200 at 120m ISO 100 f11 2.5 sec

Rome, Italy

Evading the law isn’t something that I would ever advocate.  As a law-abiding person, I feel it’s very much my responsibility to live within the rules of the land that I’m in.  But sometimes, just sometimes, breaking the rules can be a good thing.  Even necessary, if not a little fun.

The rules within the huge Piazza San Pietro (immediately in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral) are pretty clear – no tripod use allowed.  I know the arguments for this and realize that a bunch of tripods on a crowded day (when is it not crowded?) would be a danger.

But what about at sunrise?  I’ve been to the Piazza 8 or 10 times before sunrise – most of the time I’m the only one there.  That is except for the 4 or 5 uniformed Carabinieri that prowl the piazza.  I use the term ‘prowl’ rather loosely.

The Carabinieri don’t want to overstress themselves – they would rather stand on street corners in groups of 3 or 4, looking grand in their spiffy Armani uniforms and telling stories to each other.  What is it with the polizia in Rome?

I plan my strategy; the first few shots will have to be from the left side of the Piazza.  This is for several reasons; they’ve just finished cleaning the fountain on that side, the
rising sunlight first hits this area, and the Carabinieri have set up their post on the far RIGHT side.

Just as the rising sun transforms the ancient marble into fiery colors I begin to shoot with my tripod mounted camera – making sure to take every shot I can think of.  I’m guessing
that it will be over with rather soon.  Somewhere between my 3rd and 4th setup I notice
the uniforms beginning to move – they’ve spotted me.

They’re still a couple hundred yards away – and not moving fast.  I’m able to hide behind the fountain.  I get a couple more shots in before peering around the side of the fountain to see where my ‘trackers’ are headed.

Two of the Carabinieri are headed right towards me – nuts.  I wanted to get one shot from closer to the center of the Piazza, but that takes me right towards the oncoming tripod cops.  I move quickly towards them, compose shoot, move compose shoot… and then it ended.

The younger cop waved his finger at me, pointed to my tripod and said ‘no, no, no.’  I gave a heartfelt ‘mi dispiace,’ acting like a sorry but ignorant tourist, tucked my collapsed
tripod under my arm and headed off toward the back of the Piazza.

The Carabinieri have now moved all the way to the left side of the Piazza and I found myself all alone on the right side…  Time for some last quick shots!

By now the sun is high enough in the sky to illuminate all of St. Peters Basilica along with a large percentage of the huge columns on either side of the grand piazza.  It truly is a
beautiful scene in front of me.  I think I’ve been able to capture it – now where’s that cappuccino?


St. Peters Basilica Piazza San Pietro Vatican Rome Italy
First light of dawn on St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Rome Italy
Canon 5d mkII EF 24-105 at 45mm ISO 100 f16 1/15 sec

Bring the Right Gear

Doges Palace Piazza San Marco Venice Italy

Pre-dawn at the Doge's Palace in Venice Italy

It’s 4:40am – the shrill squawk of the alarm clock has just sent shivers down my spine.  Two thoughts come to mind – ‘holy cow – it’s early’ and ‘where’s the coffee.’
Neither thought gets answered very well.   It’s pitch black in this tiny space that someone calls a hotel room.  I fumble around for my clothes and my gear, all the while trying to be quiet enough to let my wife continue sleeping.  I’m a little jealous.

I gingerly open and close the hotel room door, make my way down a flight of stairs to the hotel exit and then I’m out into the fresh morning air.  But I can’t shake that unsettled feeling that I’m forgetting something.  I have my tripod, my small day-pack filled with extra lenses, filters, batteries and memory cards.  I have my favorite trekking shoes on.  Everything’s here…

I walk on toward my selected spot feeling the anticipation of the first day of shooting.  This is going to be a good one – I can feel it.  As I get close to my destination I reach for my camera to start the process that I’ve become so familiar with – oh crap, now I know what I forgot – no camera!

I’m hustling to be in place for a sunrise shoot in beautiful Venice, I have everything I need – everything except my camera.  It’s back in the hotel room along with my beautiful, sleeping wife.  No worries.  Feeling a little sheepish I run back to the hotel, up the flight of stairs and quietly sneak into my room where a friendly mumble greets me.  I mention that I forgot something, grab my camera – trying to look not quite as dumb as I felt, and head back out for some shots.

I have about a quarter of a mile to walk through totally deserted streets.  These streets are so narrow that I can practically touch buildings on both sides at the same time.  With every step I’m reminded of why I love Venice so much – it’s a magical place – so unique and beautiful. It feels like I’ve stepped onto a movie set or opera stage.

I round the corner to Piazza San Marco and come to a stop.  The scene before me is breath-taking.  It is absolutely silent.  The sky behind the basilica is just starting to lighten to a deep royal-blue.  The yellowish lanterns and lamps glow and fill the piazza with rich warm colors, shadows and textures.  I absolutely love this part of my job.

I spend an hour or so creating photos, working angles – looking for ways to convey the beauty before me onto the digital sensor in my camera.  To me, that’s the difficult part; how do you accurately capture the feelings of “being there?”  I don’t think you truly can, but you can come close – I’ve seen it happen.

As the sky brightens I know that I need to make my way to the spot I’ve selected for sunrise.  Once there, I mount the lens on the camera, the camera on the tripod and re-check all the settings.  I’ve done this thousands of times before, but I still make a habit of reviewing all the camera settings.  The scene is framed, I’m ready, and now I wait.

I am still moved by the first moment of dawn as that brilliant ray of sunlight blasts the scene in front of me with an intense warm glow.  A scene that just moments before was grayish blue is now suddenly brilliant – full of color, golden, yellow, orange, red hues – all contrasting beautifully against a blue sky.  With the excitement of a 5-year old at Christmas I begin filling my memory cards with shot after shot.

This is what I came to capture.  It doesn’t always work the way you planned it, but when it does… it’s sure rewarding.

Just don’t forget your camera!

Grand Canal Santa Maria Della Salute Venice Italy

Dawn on the Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Salute, Venice Italy


Return top