Category - photography

Scotland 2013: T-Minus 10

So titled because in ten days I will be returning to Scotland.  I hope I will have adequate time and motivation to write consistently about the trip.  I am starting now.

This is the first of three installments.  Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here.

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It seems the intervals between my visits to the United Kingdom… Great Britain… the British Isles — whatever you want to call that archipelago with the common language and complicated history —  are getting  shorter.  From 24 years to 6 years to… 6 months.

My first trip to England was in the spring of 1976.  My then future ex-wife and I went to England for a total of five weeks.  We both worked in the TeeVee industry in Hollywood and could take that much time off because it was during the “hiatus” season when all the shows we were working on were shut down, between production seasons.   We had plenty of time – and enough money – so off we went, across the continent and across “the pond.”  Five weeks was enough time to tour almost the entire country, from the Channel Islands to Cornwall to the Lake District and Wales, and with a brief, abortive foray into Scotland (another story for another time).

St. Mawes from Pendennis - one of the few photos from that 1976 trip that I still have in my catalog.

St. Mawes from Pendennis – one of the few photos from that 1976 trip that I still have in my catalog.

There’s another whole long story here about how we went to England to get married. Georja carried her custom silk-and-lace wedding dress all over the country with us, but we couldn’t quite pull it off because of a two-week residency requirement before a foreigner could get married.  We could have established residency in one place and returned two weeks later, but we had no set itinerary and didn’t want to be obligated to be anywhere at any particular time.  We were also informed that it would not be possible to stage a ceremony as we’d imagined — on the ramparts of an ancient castle ruin.  Somebody told us we’d have to be married in the office of a justice of the peace, or a chapel or something.   Not exactly what we’d flown halfway around the world for.

So we just wandered around the country, pulling the dress out from time to time and shooting photos in romantic locales, and then packing up and moving to the next destination.  We even rented the honeymoon suite at Ruthin Castle in Wales.  There are photos somewhere of Georja dancing about the honeymoon suite in her flowing white gown.   Dunno if I’ll be able to find them, they are probably rotting in a closet in Hawaii, where we moved to and finally got married in 1980 (we divorced in 1994 after I moved – alone – to Nashville).

I didn’t get back to that part of the world for two-and-a-half decades.  Moving to Hawaii for 14 years might have had something to do with that….

Fast forward to my second marriage.  After our wedding in Nashville, Ann and I spent a week in England and a week in Bavaria.   The England portion included 4 days in the Cotwsolds, near the town of Oswestry in Shropshire at a small hotel that stood literally across a stream from Wales.  The stately ruin of Ludlow Castle was nearby, and Harlech Castle was the midpoint of day’s drive through Wales.

The view from our room at the Jaegerhaus in Hohenschangau, Bavaria.

The view from our room at the Jaegerhaus in Hohenschangau, Bavaria.

We spent three days in London and then flew off to Munich — and more castles.  We spent two or three nights in the village of Hohenschwangau, a village that had served the royal seat of Bavaria when it was its own little kingdom.  From the bed in our room at a B&B near the center of the village we could look out the window directly up at the ramparts and spires of Neuschwanstein, the fairy-tale castle built in the 19th century by Ludwig II, the Mad King of Bavaria who squandered the nation’s treasure building the sort of edifice that Walt Disney would use as the model for his theme parks a century later.

Notice the recurring theme yet?  I’ll give you a clue: it starts with “castles.”

A better look at Neuschwanstein, the "fairy tale" castle that inspired Walt Disney.

A better look at Neuschwanstein, the “fairy tale” castle that inspired Walt Disney.

It was only six years before Ann and I returned to that part of the world, only this time we went to Ireland.  As alluded to earlier, it’s difficult to know how exactly to include Ireland in a discussion of “that part of the world,” because, while Ireland may be, geographically one of the “British Isles,” if there is one thing the Irish struggled mightily for seven centuries NOT to be, it was “British.” Ireland and England may have shared a common language, but the English domination of Ireland was hardly a welcome reality for the entirety of its duration.  The Irish still consider the English culpable for the famine that ravaged their island 150 years ago.  Some grudges die hard.

We spent two fabulous weeks in Ireland, during which time I was reminded again of this odd affinity that I have for Great Stone Structures – particularly if they lie in some state of ruin.

Burrishoole Friary in County Mayo Ireland - October, 2006

Burrishoole Friary in County Mayo Ireland – October, 2006

I will state for the record here and now that I do not fully grasp the source of this attraction. I know only that it is a strong, recurring presence in my life.  And, it would appear, providence is finally acting in such a way as to explore it.

Nevertheless, it was another six years before we returned to that part of the world.  I tried a couple of times.  I have several musician friends who conduct tours of Ireland every summer.  I signed us up for one of those several years ago, but for whatever reason the prospect fell through.

Then, last summer, Ann and I started making plans for a trip the following fall (2012).  I’d suggested at first a return to Ireland, to visit some of the counties like northern Donegal and Sligo that we didn’t quite get to the last time, when we managed to go through only six of the island’s thirty-two counties.  Perhaps we’d go to Northern Ireland – the part of the island that the British refused to let go of, the part that still belongs to “The United Kingdom” and is thus separated politically from the Republic that comprises the rest of the island.  Perhaps we’d get to see the amazing natural formation called “The Giants Causeway” that somebody told us about the first night that we were there in 2006.  “It’s the one thing in Ireland you must see,” he said, but I knew at the time we were not going to make it there on that trip.  So we started to think about including that in the itinerary if we went back…

But somewhere in the midst of ruminating about a trip in the fall of 2012, the destination changed.  As much as we both wanted to return to Ireland, Ann wanted to go someplace where she’d never been.  I think she really wanted to go to Greece, and we may yet make it there someday.  It seems a bit odd in retrospect, but we somehow compromised on Scotland.

I have already documented our trip and posted the best of the more than 10,000 photo/files we shot with the nifty little cameras that we took with us.  As a friend predicted, amid the other vagaries of life it took almost six months to make it through all those files.

And now I’m going back for more.  My flight leaves on Sunday May 19, arriving in Edinburgh in the afternoon of Monday, May 20.  I will be there for 2-1/2 weeks.

T-minus 10 days and counting…

– – – – – – –

The seed for this upcoming trip was planted during the last one.  It was late in the day on October 6, the day we drove from Inverness as far as we would go into the rugged outer reaches the Scottish Highlands known as Wester Ross (not to be confused with Westeros, the fictional world where “Game of Thrones” transpires, but maybe that’s where he got the name…?).

The day before we ventured into Wester Ross, we’d stopped into a bookstore in the town of Nairn, near Inverness, where we spent three nights at an elegant estate called Castle Stuart (seeing the theme yet?).  I’d browsed through a book of photos of a peninsula near Inverness called “The Black Isle,” and seen some photos of a ruined abbey there called Beauly Priory.  I made a mental note.  And when it looked like we had time in the late afternoon after the Wester Ross tour to make it to Beauly before dinner at the castle, I steered the car in that direction.

As time and fate would have it, we reached the village of Beauly about thirty minutes before sunset — “Golden Time,” as the cinematographers in Hollywood like to call it.  We found the priory ruins.  I pulled out my camera, my cherished 12mm ultra-wide angle lens (the 35mm equivalent of 24mm, which is what I really cherish…) and tripod and started shooting “multi-frame “HDR” photos.  Ann put the telephoto lens on her camera and shot close ups of the features.

Beauly Priory at Sunset October 6, 2012.  Ann's photo, with the telephoto lens.

Beauly Priory at Sunset October 6, 2012. Ann’s photo, with the telephoto lens.

Looking back at the photos, I’m still inclined to think that Ann got better shots than I did.  Maybe we all look at other peoples’ photos that way?  In any event, Ann satisfied her inclinations toward the site in fairly short order, while I was still wandering around looking for the definitive angle and moment.

And then there was… this moment (Ann will probably kill me when she reads this – but, then, I think she’s heard this already. If not I’m screwed…).  The sun had not entirely set, I was looking for one more set-up for my camera and tripod.  And I may be paraphrasing, or my memory may not be precise, but what I recall now was Ann saying something along the lines of, “Are you done yet?  Can we go now?”

And whether or not that is exactly what Ann said, I do remember exactly the unspoken reply that went through my head at the time: “I’ve waited six years to get to this spot… and I can’t have 15 minutes??”

And this is what you get when you see it through an “ultra wide angle” lens.

In that moment,  amid the sun setting behind the ruins of the Beauly Priory on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands, the seed for this impending trip was planted. I remember thinking as we drove away… “I need to come back here by myself…”

It seemed like an idle thought at the time.  But submerged within that thought there was this undeniable…. longing.

Idle thought or not, that seed took root a few months later when I received an e-mail from another musician friend.  At the bottom of the email, his calendar listed a concert at a very special venue near Edinburgh in May.  I sent an email back.

I’ll tell the rest of that story next week.

If It’s Not The Camera…

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 10.31.08 AM…maybe it’s the lens?

I’ve been observing the results I’m getting with my new Nikon D600 camera, trying to figure out why some of the shots are coming out really fuzzy.

After conducting a series of tests with different lenses at different apertures under otherwise controlled conditions, I think I have come to the conclusion that its not the camera – its the lenses – some of which I’ve had kicking around for more than 10 years.  Perhaps they have reached the end of their life expectancy?

Read the full report here, and please come back here to post any comments.

 

Meet “Powerglove”

Well, this is fun.  File it under “62-year-old acoustic folkie, goes heavy metal.”

Powerglove, the heavy-metal band whose show I caught the last few minutes of at MTAC last Friday, is using one of the photos I shot for their Facebook cover photo: Screen Shot 2013-04-01 at 8.40.07 AMNear as I can tell, Powerglove’s metier is heavy metal versions of your favorite TeeVee and cinema theme songs.  Get a gander on their version of “The Fllintstones”:

There’s more where that came from – an album called “Saturday Morning Apocalypse.”

Yeah, I think the kids are having more fun than we did.  I just hope their hearing holds up…

 

 

 

@MTAC 2013

If you’re looking fMTAC-1or the photos I shot Friday night at the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention in downtown Nashville, you can find them here.

I’ve also compiled a little video slideshow…

Clearly, these kids (?) are having a much better time than I did when I was their age. Which was, umm… like 40 years ago… when we were worried about staying out of a war… Oh, wait…

Scotland Day 9: Isle of Skye

I managed to get through another batch of the Scotland photos over the weekend.

After our stop at Eilean Donan, we continued on north and west toward the Isle of Skye, which has probably got more dramatic landscape per square mile than any place on earth.  Well, at least, any place on earth we’ve ever been to.


View Larger Map

We spent two nights at a b&b hear the village of Portree, and spent the day in between roaming up the east coast of the island, around the northern tip of the island, and then back down the west side of the east peninsula around sunset.  Along the way we saw myriad sea cliffs, one castle ruin, and the incredible mountainous rock formations called “The Quirang.”

Next morning we packed up once again, and went out toward the western peninsula, stopped at the Talisker Distillery, and then spent the balance of the morning at a picturesque area called ‘The Faerie Pools.” Then it was on to Fort William.

There were a lot of photo opportunities throughout the day.  View them all in the video below, or see the individual photos here.

Scotland Day 8: Eilean Donan

Returning now to the 10,000+ photos we brought back from Scotland…in October…

Day 8 found us saying goodbye to Castle Stuart after a three night stay.  We then drove down the east shore of Loch Ness – most of the traffic is on the west shore, which we’d explored on Day 6, via three wheeled motorcycle. 

From Loch Ness we headed north and west toward the Isle of Skye, following the road that took us to Eilean Donan Castle.

Yes, Eilean Donan is probably the most recognizable edifice in all of Scotland, and maybe all of Britain next to Big Ben and the Tower of London.  Given its location among the mountains, at the intersection of three lochs, it’s understandable.

What we did not fully realize until we got inside is that Eilean Donan is a restoration.  The castle lay in ruins for nearly 200 years after the Jacobite Rising of 1719.  In 1911, the heirs of the clan MacRae acquired the island and its rubble and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory – largely following plans drawn from a dream that occurred to the new owner, Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap.  After 20 years and the modern equivalent of some $20-million pounds, Eilean Donan was re-opened in 1932 and has since become one of Scotland’s primary tourist destinations.

We were fortunate to be there at a time of year when there was not much visitor traffic. I shudder to think what it’s like in August…

Anyway, here’s the video; if you want to see the individual images, find them here.

A Tale of Two Cameras: #DSLR -v- #Micro4/3 Shootout

(Click here to cut to the chase. Otherwise, here’s some deep background:)

The Nikon v- The Olympus

Nikon -v- Olympus. Which would you rather carry? The answer may not be so obvious.

As many in my Vast Legion of Followers and Readers know by now, I have been in the midst of a migration in my camera preferences for the past half-year or so – from the “DSLR” format to a newer format called Micro 4/3rds.

I started using a DSLR with the purchase of a Nikon D100  in the summer of 2003. I selected Nikon because that’s what I’ve been using in the 35mm SLR realm since I got a Nikon F2 back in 1974.

The DSLR format has always frustrated me slightly, due to what is known as the “crop factor” with most “35mm” DSLRs – because they are not, in fact, actually “35mm.”  The sensors in the early (and now most but not all) DSLRs were smaller than a typical 35mm film frame by about 1/3rd.  This means that a “crop factor” of 1.5 is applied to whatever lens you’re using – so a 100mm lens on a “crop factor” camera yields a frame sized as though the lens were actually 150mm.

Since my earliest days of shooting with the Nikon F2, I have always been enamored of the perspective and ultra-wide angle afforded by a 24mm lens.  But when the crop factor is applied to a 24mm on a typical DSLR, you wind up with a frame more like what you would get from a 36mm lens, which is a fairly standard wide-angle.  In order to get the perspective of a 24mm on a crop-factor DLSR, you’d have to get a 16mm lens (the cropfactor is 1.5, so 1.5×16=24).

With the D100, I used a Sigma 17-35 wide-angle zoom, which at it’s shortest focal length worked out to ~26 or 27mm, which was close enough – well, no, not really.  In 2006, before Ann and I went to Ireland, I got the then new Nikon D80, which offered a noticeable improvement in image quality over the prior models (particularly in low light settings) but still had the smaller sensor.  With the D80 I often used a Nikon 18-200 f/3.5-5.6, which is a great all-purpose lens, but again, with the crop factor, it translates to 28-300mm.  Same with the Nikon D300s that I have been shooting with since the summer of 2009.  Still no 24mm without going to pricey 16mm fisheye lenses. and even then, it’s still  not the same as my cherished 24mm.

There are now what are called “full frame” DSLRs, with a frame that is equal to the frame of the old 35mm film cameras, so a 24mm lens = 24mm.  But the full frame models tend to be a full third more costly than the crop-factor models.  I’ve never quite been able to justify the cost.

As Ann and I got close to our trip to Scotland in the fall of 2012, I started giving serious thought to buying a “full-frame” DSLR, either the older Nikon D700 – which is the essentially the same technology as my D300s in a “full frame” sensor, or the newer Nikon D800, which offers the next generation of sensor and camera technology.  A used D700 I might have been able to score for well under $2K; the D800 would have set me back $3K.  I wavered… and started thinking seriously about switching altogether to the new Micro 4/3 format.

I’d learned about the Micro 4/3 in the summer of 2012 by attended a seminar hosted by Will Crockett that extolled the virtues of the new “mirrorless” format.

Yes, the sensors are even smaller than the sensors in a typical DSLR.  But sensor technology has come a long way in the three years since I purchased my D300s.

This is the sort of perspective you get with a 12mm lens on an M4/3 body - the equivalent of 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.

Kinloss Abbey in Scotland: The sort of perspective you get with a 12mm lens on an M4/3 body – the equivalent of 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.

M4/3 is really a whole new ball of wax.  It’s greatest virtue – aside from image quality that is virtually indistinguishable from the costlier DSLRs – is the compact size and negligible weight.   And there is no crop factor, only a new kind of math.  To get the angle and perspective that a 24mm lens would provide on a full frame DSLR, you use a 12mm lens on an M4/3 camera body.

Long story short (hah!): for what it would have cost to take one full-frame DSLR to Scotland, I could purchase TWO Olympus OM-D EM5s, one for each of us (yes, the lenses cost more, but who’s counting?)  The OMDs were perfect for the trip and we’re immensely satisfied with the images we brought back.

But there was one aspect of my photo work where I had reservations about the compact cameras and lenses: shooting live club/concert stills – where the light is dim and the action is pretty relentless.  Last week I finally had a chance to borrow suitable lenses and run some (very unscientific tests) tests, and I’ve compiled the results on a separate page with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one.

Click here to see how the compact, lightweight Olympus OMD compares to a big, bulky and heavy Nikon D300 when shooting in clubs and concert halls.

If you have any comments, corrections, or feedback to offer on what you see on that page, please share them in the comments section below.

Thanks,

–Paul Schatzkin
February 14, 2013

 

Here’s A Surprise: Amazing Young Talent Descends on #Nashville!

at The Basement in Nashville February 5, 2013First, imagine it’s 1940-whatever and you’re hearing Chet Atkins when he first showed up in Nashville.

Then imagine it’s 1980-something and you’re hearing Harry Connick, Jr. for the first time.

Now imagine that you’re hearing BOTH of these amazing talents early in their careers in the same venue, on the same night, and even playing a couple of tunes together.

That’s what it was like this evening as stellar young “Chet-style” guitarist Jonathan Brown and torch singer/keyboardist Andrew Walesch opened the “New Artists” night at The Basement in Nashville.

Here are some photos from tonight’s show. Sorry, no recorded music to go with it yet (yeah, I know, sorta defeats the purpose…)

A few notes on these photos: I borrowed a couple of high-end lenses to use on my Olympus OM-D for this shoot – the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 and the Panasonic 37-100 f/2.8. The latter is the equivalent of the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 that I have been using in situations like this (with a Nikon D300s) for the past two years. The difference is the OM-D/Panasonic f2.8 combination weighs in at a fraction of the Nikon assembly — which rig is convenient combination camera and anvil.

But I have to say, on first glance, that I’m not altogether thrilled with the results I got from this rig.

Going in, I was a bit concerned about the likely responsiveness of the OM-D in this situation, compared to the Nikon.  It took a little getting used to the different form factor, but once I did I was pleased to see that the shutter lag and auto-focus were not a problem.

Still, once I got the files loaded into Lightroom, I have to say they just don’t compare to the results I get from the Nikon rig.  Compared to what I get from the Nikon, these files were soft and noisy.  In club/concert settings I usually have to push the ISO to 3200; These days, between the advanced sensors and a little bit of noise reduction in Lightroom, that’s not an issue.  And while these images are entirely useable in the format you see them in here, I don’t think they would hold up if I tried to make decent sized prints of them.

I’m going to shoot another show Wednesday night; this time I’m going to bring the Nikon, too – so that I’ll be able to see exactly how the two setups compare.

Stay tuned…

What Is It With The Brits, Burials – And Parking Lots ?

king-richard-iii-1-sizedNo doubt you have all heard by now that the long-lost remains of Richard ‘My Kingdom for Horse’ III – the last of the England’s Plantagenet kings the final loser in the  Wars of the Roses (and the last English king killed in battle) – have been  positively identified.  The bones were found last summer – underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England.

LONDON—Researchers on Monday said the long-lost remains of King Richard III have been found and identified—after sitting under what is now a parking lot in the English Midlands for more than 500 years.

The findings appear to solve a centuries-old mystery involving one of England’s most-storied rulers, who has remained in the public fascination through a Shakespeare play and Hollywood movies.

Which story I found  rather amusing, because of this detail that we were shown in the course of a Mercat Tour of “The Secrets of The Royal Mile” during our second day in Edinburgh:

That yellow marker in the middle of car-park space #23?  That marks the final resting place of no less a Scottish luminary than John Locke, one of the leading proponents of the Scottish Enlightenment (and, thus, also among the early inventors of the whole modern world).

Apparently they are reserving space 23 – much observant Jews save a seat for Elijah at the Passover Seder.

I wonder what he’ll be driving…??

You can see the rest of our second day in Scotland here; or the video slideshow here.

 

Scotland Day 7: Wester Ross

Still forging my way through the 10,000+ files that Ann and I brought back from Scotland.

The photos in this slide show are from the we spent touring the more remote regions of the Scottish Highlands, from Inverness west and north in to some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve ever seen:

The video is in HD – click “full frame” and give it a moment to settle into the higher resolution to get the full effect.  Or click here to see the photos themselves in higher resolution (without the video).

So, let’s see… a two week trip that ended on October 14…I’m halfway through the photos (though I’ve made a first pass at almost all of them, the best of which you can see here) and now it’s February…at this rate I should be done by sometime in May… at which point I might be thinking it’s time to go back…