Aug 30, 2010

Colors of China

One more grab from memory lane. The least you can say is that China is a country full of diversity and contrasts…

DSC_7865wBeijing, within the Summer Palace

DSC_7453wTian Di Yi Jia restaurant, outside Beijing

DSC_7610wBeijing, roof in the Forbidden City

DSC_7814w Tourist traps at the Great Wall near Mutanyu

Gear notes: D70, 18-70DX, 28-200G

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Aug 26, 2010


Life here is kind of hectic for the moment, so allow me to serve you some images from the archives.

The Mediterranean island of Malta has been at the crossroads of peoples and cultures throughout its history. Today it offers an unequaled collection of villages, buildings and artifacts spanning more than six millennia.

DS3_0672wA typical backstreet in the capital Valletta

DS3_0688wThe famous bay windows
 DS3_0699wInside Valletta’s St John’s Co-Cathedral
 DS3_0853w Exploring Mdina, a medieval walled town

DS3_0872wSt Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina

An perfect destination for a short spring break, as we did in 2008.

Gear notes: D300, 12-24DX, 18-200VR

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Aug 23, 2010

Mirror mirror on the wall

Care for another look inside the Egmont Palace in Brussels?

Egmontpaleis - Spiegelzaal
The spacious Hall of Mirrors runs along the front side of the Palace’s east wing and – in its current form – is the result of several restoration efforts. The parquet floor dates from around  1930, the side paneling in Régence style was renovated in 1971.

Egmontpaleis - Spiegelzaal
Need I spell out the photographic challenges? On the day of my first visit the sun was blazing through the windows; for my second pass I could benefit from an overcast sky. Once again the HDR approach came to the rescue: I bet you can hardly see which of the above pictures was shot on what day?

Egmontpaleis - Spiegelzaal 
It’s near impossible to capture the true size and scale of such a rich interior. The image above (another HDR of course) was shot with my fish-eye lens and ‘straightened’ in post-processing. With such an extreme wide angle of view, extra care is needed not to include any fellow photographer or a casually left tripod or photo bag, directly or reflecting in one of the many mirrors. Fortunately, I ended up with only one intruder, one small enough to take care of using Lightroom’s spot removal tool.

Egmontpaleis - Spiegelzaal 
There’s so many details to discover and capture here, just look at this small (?) salon at the far end of the Hall. But let’s not hang around forever and leave some for a next occasion, shall we?

Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8G, 24/2.8, 16/2.8, 17-35/2.8D

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Aug 20, 2010


A few random shots of… well, things with wheels encountered along the streets of Antwerp.

_DS78899w _DS78908w _DS78912w 

All shot during the 2010 Worldwide Photo Walk.

Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8G, 35/2.0D

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Aug 16, 2010

Stairway to Heaven

Take this for a challenge: here’s a monumental and lavishly decorated stairway located inside a multi-dome hall. Polished marble and mirrors everywhere. Add a few statues and carved decorations, and a couple of antique tapestries. Lighting: a long wall of glass doors behind at ground level, above that on the first floor a row of windows. Beyond that, just a few bulbs inside in chandeliers, and one bright skylight way up in the back. Go figure!

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap
Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap 
Let’s take care of the angle first. Obviously you have to go wide, very wide, because there’s not much possibility for backing up. Keep in mind receding lines when tilting upwards, not to forget distortions and symmetries. Tripod and spirit level at the rescue.

The two images above were actually shot with a 16mm full-frame fisheye lens, and later de-fished and perspective corrected using Lightroom 3. I am quite pleased with the capabilities of this new software, and amazed how good the end result can be (especially if you wouldn’t have known from the beginning…).

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap
Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap 
Now let’s worry about the proper exposure. From harsh daylight to very dark corners: no way to capture that dynamic range even with the best FX sensors. So let’s go HDR, and take 3 to 5 shots with a 2EV exposure difference between them (on my D700, that means 5 or 9 ‘clicks’ as auto bracketing is limited to 1EV steps).

Exposure fusion in Photomatix Pro 3.2 for natural and realistic looking results. Extra care dealing with the color casts generated by different light sources. Global tone and contrast adjustment, perspective correction and some local brushing for adding (or removing) accents in Lightroom afterwards. Lots of patience behind my decent but anyway underpowered computer. And then a second pass to give all the images a somewhat consistent look.

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap
Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap

I was taking these pictures surrounded by a small group of other photographers, all equally eager to take ‘their’ shots from the same ‘perfect’ spots, of course with no one else within the frame. And we had just two hours to cover the whole building (well, at least the areas we were given access to).

So when a few days later I was offered to come by for a second pass, I decided to pack light: I only took a few prime lenses and a sturdy monopod. That gave me a lot more mobility and better chances to quickly sneak in and take my shots.

At times it felt as if this stairway was leading me through hell…
Looking at the final pictures however gives me that soothing kind of heavenly satisfaction – and leaves me with a list of more images to capture and mistakes to avoid in case I could sneak into the Egmont Palace one more time. After all, who knows?

Gear notes: D700, 16/2.8D, 24-70/2.8G, 24/2.8

Click on the image(s) to see a larger version

Aug 11, 2010


The Kloosterstraat, just south of Antwerp’s historic center, is packed with all kinds of arts and antiques shops. All images below were shot from its sidewalks, just peeking in as I was passing by.

_DS78748_51wThere’s light at the end of the tunnel…

_DS78761wSsshtt… don’t spoil my concentration!

_DS78765w  Objects in space

_DSC6754wDiscarded or bargain?

Amazing how many totally different scenes you can capture along just a couple of blocks!

Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8 – D300, 18-70DX

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Aug 8, 2010

Into the Palace

Egmontpaleis - Ingang

There’s a few places that are a simply marvelous to capture, but are equally hard to get into with a camera (don’t even mention a tripod). Recently I was fortunate to be invited to join a limited group of photographers that was offered access to one such exclusive location. And even better, I got to return for a second time a few days after my first visit. How about that!

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap 
The Egmont Palace is a large mansion located near the Wolstraat/ Rue aux Laines and the Kleine Zavel/Petit Sablon in Brussels.
Originally built between 1548 and 1560 in Italian renaissance style, it served as the city residence for the Egmont and later the Arenberg families. During the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the building was transformed and/or renovated in classical style.
Today, it is used for formal meetings, receptions and dinners by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Egmontpaleis - Bibliotheek
We were allowed to visit and photograph some ‘famous’ parts of the Palace, each of them a splendor to the eye – and a challenge for the photographer! The vast perspectives of the halls, the luxurious decoration of the rooms and the complex interplay of daylight and artificial sources each force you to bring out the best of your technique and experience.

Egmontpaleis - Spiegelzaal

Just to name a few of the spectacular places we could shoot: the imposing Ambassador Stairway modeled after another one in the Versailles castle, the Library in Directoire style, the Hall of Mirrors in Régence fashion, the Tapestry Room with samples dating as far back as 1580…

By now you understand why I came back with more than 800 pictures collected in only a few hectic hours! As I work my way through post-processing, beefing up my perspective correction and HDR techniques, I will come back to show you more sights from this magical place in future posts. Stay tuned!

Gear notes: D700, 17-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 16/2.8

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Aug 3, 2010

Fish fun

If you are a regular visitor of this blog, you already know that I like exploring exaggerated fish-eye effects. Here’s a couple of square-cut ones, collected during the recent Antwerp session of Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk.

_DS78774w7 Corona’s and a lime

_DS78781wAll about houses…

_DS78777w Are you looking at me?

Gear notes: D700, 16/2.8

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