Dec 29, 2009

Prime Time: On the Waterfront

A cold and sunny morning with a clear blue sky: what more do you need to grab a few lenses and head out for some you-get-what-you-see shots?

Not far from where I live, the Rupel river passes by the town of Boom. There’s a beautifully redeveloped quay area, lined with trendy apartments and lofts, and featuring an excellent brasserie. The perfect place to meet with Rob, a friend and seasoned photographer, who traveled all the way from the Netherlands to bring me a mint copy of the famous Nikkor 180/2.8ED lens.

A cup of coffee (and a modest monetary exchange) later, we left for a short walk-around in the area. A few quick shots to become friends with my newly acquired piece of glass: what a true delight to handle this compact, sharp lens! Then we took the (free) ferry across the river to get us to the small marina of Willebroek.

_DS75475wThe chilly temperature and our plans for the rest of the day had us cut our little tour shorter than we wanted, so a repeat visit some time in the spring is likely to follow. Back to the ferry then…

_DS75500wAnd a good opportunity this time to shoot a couple of pseudo-panoramas with a 24mm prime, another recent addition to my lens collection (thanks Filip!).


Gear notes: D700, 50/1.8, 180/2.8D, 24/2.8

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Dec 28, 2009


We don’t get a lot of snow here in Belgium - and most of what we get would not even qualify in the eyes of those that are used to the ‘real stuff’. The 10-15 cm we received a good week before Christmas therefore called for immediate action!

_DS75445wNo need to step outside: the morning sun showed off its best as I peeked through the windows looking out on our (tiny) garden.
As soon as the outside temperatures start dropping towards the freezing point, we put out some goodies in the trees for the many birds that live in our neighborhood. Our reward: frequent visits by all kinds of colorful little friends.

_DS75514wAnd even an otherwise dull-to-see street takes on a different and special charm in the waning evening light…

Gear notes: D700, 70-200/2.8VR, 24/2.8

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Dec 19, 2009

To give, not to take…


Perhaps you never heard before about Help-Portrait, a movement started by US photographer Jeremy Cowart. Around the weekend of December 12, more than 8300 photographers and volunteers assembled at 715 locations in 42 countries. Their mission: to take, print and hand out portraits to people in need, for free. All together more than 40,000 individuals portraits were delivered.

_DSC6414wI had the privilege to be part of the one and only Belgian team participating. 7 photographers and a few more helping hands set up shop at ‘De Lange Gaank’, a community walk-in center in Turnhout, on Friday, December 11. We organized no less than 4 shooting areas – 2 with studio flashes, 2 more strobist-style – as well as a fully loaded post-processing and printing center.

Help-Portrait 2009 With the first candidates already queuing up, we concluded our practical arrangements, distributed radio flash triggers and got started on what was to become a memorable (and hectic) day.

Help-Portrait 2009It’s impossible to describe how it felt seeing our models-for-a-day quickly warming up to the occasion and finding them engaging with full enthusiasm. Not to forget our final reward: all the smiles and twinkling eyes as people received their printed pictures!
We must have shot between 80 and 100 portraits that day, more than enough to keep the editing computers busy, photographers patiently awaiting their turn. And then there were the pictures of the center’s staff and volunteers, who of course also had to get into the spotlight! Even the crew from the regional TV station left with a personal souvenir of their passage.

Help-Portrait 2009We are still finalizing a short video with an account of the day and a selection of the pictures we took. I will keep you posted!

Gear notes: D300, 10.5/2.8 - D700, 50/1.8, 24-70/2.8

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Dec 11, 2009

Prime Time: Out into the Fields

_DS75243wOn a recent Sunday afternoon, we took my parents out for lunch to their favorite countryside restaurant, close to where they live. As often when I go back to my native Flemish Ardennes, I pack a camera and some glass ‘just in case’. That Sunday however, the weather was not very promising: a biting wind, some occasional precipitation, and a grim sky for most of the day.
  _DS75257wOnce inside the restaurant, I noticed that the dining room had been redecorated. One of the walls now carries this painted faux clock. That sight immediately grabbed my attention, and I had the crop for the image in my mind right from the beginning. Even before dessert was served, I had to get up and take the shot!

By the time we left, the skies cleared a bit: a perfect moment for a parting shot into the setting sun. What a pity that our human presence is spoiling so many of nature’s gorgeous treasures!

Gear notes: D700, 35/2.8D, 85/1.8D

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Dec 1, 2009

Generations I

My grandfather (my mother’s father, to be precise) worked as a commercial photographer in an era where this occupation was not only unusual but also well respected. From what I learned, his professional training was thoroughly artistic (including learning to draw and paint), but left him with enough technical knowledge to experiment with chemistry. Later he would work closely with Gevaert – a major manufacturer of photographic products – for field trials of new plates, films and papers. A true beta tester!
And here’s a view of his first photo studio, same period. On the top floor of the house of course: no way around using natural light in those days! Hence the big skylight overhead, with (look closely at the full-size picture) strips of black curtain to model the flow of light. Behind the curtain at left, a large and bright side window. Notice the intricate backdrop which, I heard, was just one of the available scenes, painted by himself. Add chairs and various props. And last but not least: the large view camera on its wooden pedestal. Ah, those were the days!

The picture above was taken in his basement darkroom, around 1926. He had just set up his shop and studio in Sint-Amandsberg (near Gent), his home base for many years to come. Quite a stylish portrait, most likely made by one of his study friends.

Many years later, my father would arrive there as a young boy, start an apprenticeship and eventually become a professional photographer as well. He first learned all there was to learn, and then fell in love with the daughter.

The rest is (my) history…

Gear notes: long forgotten

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