Oh Rovinj!

Old Town Morning Light
Old Town Morning Light

Small towns, especially very old ones, do have a certain attraction to photographers. Structures, old architecture, people and “street photography” are on their various bucket lists around the world. However, there are some places that are especially interesting – or beautiful in that sense. The small town Rovinj in the northern part of Croatia most certainly qualifies as such a spot and I was lucky to cross it off my bucket list recently.

Clouds At The Gas Station
Clouds At The Gas Station

Rovinj is located on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula and its busy history goes back to the Byzantine Empire, probably due to the strategic location at the Adriatic Sea. Today there are roughly 13 000 people living in Rovinj and the main economic activity is tourism with peak season between May and September. There are many restaurant and bars in the old town, a tiny farmers market and unforgettable sunsets almost every day.

Rovinj Fisherman
Rovinj Fisherman

You can quite literally sit on the stones directly at the sea shore and enjoy a sundowner drink – in a bar, restaurant or simply on the main pier of Rovinj. The view is stunning wherever you go – at the shore or from the basilica in the centre of the old town. There even is a small (actually tiny) light house and a small harbour that set photographers’ hearts aflutter.

Old Town Morning
Old Town Morning

I stayed at a small place directly in the centre of the old town in one of the narrow streets with restaurants and bars around. Its busy at night but because parking is virtually impossible it seemed like a good idea. Many of the places in the old town also offer to rent a parking lot somewhere near for the time of your stay. This usually includes a short drive because there is no space for cars in the old town. Like no space whatsoever. But being able to explore Rovinj by foot during the different times and lighting conditions of the day is absolutely worth it.

Sunset In Rovinj
Sunset In Rovinj

While walking through the town I found a brilliant little shop that sells the many different olive oils of the region, which happens to be one of the best regions in the world for olive oil production. They also offer cheese, honey, wine from the local farmers around Rovinj and the best consultancy (in terms of olive oil) I have ever experienced. The first time I ever did a proper olive oil tasting – which sounds strange but it was fun and I learned a lot. With all the pictures (and olive oil) in my bag I headed back home with the promise to myself to come back to Rovinj soon.

Plitvice Lakes: Do go chasing waterfalls.

Lakes Of Plitvice
Lakes Of Plitvice

The extended possibilities you get by using an ND filter as a photographer have been discussed on the web intensively and I don’t want to add anything to that. Basically, whenever you need a slower shutter speed in bright daylight: You need a filter. The wikipedia page even mentions the “wish to photograph a waterfall” as example for using an ND filter. And I had that wish: To take pictures of waterfalls. So I actually went chasing waterfalls (in contrast to what TLC suggests). To accomplish this in style, I decided to get the Canon Drop-In filter for the EOS R to be able to use my different EF glasses with it, especially the Samyang 14mm f2.8 AF and headed for the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.

The Big Fall
Big Fall

Some quick info, if you haven’t been there or read about it: Plitvice Lakes have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage register in 1979 and the National Park consists of 16 lakes (upper & lower lakes). The difference in altitude between the lakes is roughly 130m, so many waterfalls can be found in between. There are two main entrances to the park (parking entrance 1 & parking entrance 2) and another option that I will explain later. And there is famous scene from a Winnetou movie that was shot at the Plitvice lakes.

True View Of Plitvice
True View

Once you are there you will realise that the park is big. And I would suggest to plan more than 1 day to spent there, otherwise it will be only stressful. If you want to focus on the park, 2-3 nights is optimal in my opinion. The northern part (near entrance 1) is the more spectacular part with the big fall (veliki slap) and beautiful walks over the wooden footbridges. It is also the busiest part and the lovely (and well maintained) footbridges can become very crowded. Especially between 10-16h. But as a photographer thats normally easy to avoid since the light is not as good at these hours anyway. To cover longer distances in the park fast, there are two options: A bus driving from north to south and the electric boats over the lake. Just remember: No swimming anywhere in the park! And added more recently: No drones (without permit)!

Plitvice Water Lines
Plitvice Water Lines

The area between upper and lower lakes has many small waterfalls in the woods and a bat cave. Compared to the lower lakes in the northern part it is more quiet here, even though you will hear some water falling somewhere in the background everywhere. For me it was not always easy to find a good composition in this area, but water, trees and roots combined just look beautiful.

Roots And Stream
Roots And Stream

When you reach the southern part, confusingly the upper lake (because of the altitude), you will be blown away by smaller and very picturesque waterfalls. And I would even suggest to start here, the morning light and maybe some fog on the lakes will make up for any getting up early. The image below shows the Veliki Prštavac waterfall. Very beautiful and the sun creates a small rainbow in front of the fall when you are early enough. But it is only visible at a certain point – so also go chase rainbows in Plitvice!

Morning Falls
Morning Falls

And here is the trick that I learned during my stay that I can highly recommend, especially for photographers because you will not be bound to any entrance hours: You can book your stay somewhere at the very southern end of the biggest lake (Prošćansko jezero) in a very tiny village called Plitvička jezera. The places there are very simple but also quite cheap. You have to buy your entrance tickets for the park online. To have a guaranteed ticket, you should do that 2 days in advance. And if you are staying more than one night, you can also buy the a 2-day ticket. When you have arrived there you can then hike along the big lake into the park. Just don’t forget to take the online ticket with you because it will be checked occasionally and you need it for the boat or bus rides. The short hike into the park from there is roughly 5km and the area around the big lake is almost empty and very quiet. The images below might give you an impression. Enjoy!

Croatian Color Mirror
Croatian Color Mirror
Jezero View
Jezero View

Bilbao: A Basque Experience à la carte

Frank Gehry once famously said that “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.”. The city of Bilbao seems to achieve this goal with every day passing by.

Curvy Front
Curvy Front of the Guggenheim Museum

I wanted to make a trip to Bilbao for quite some time and for some reason a number of people seem to believe that Bilbao is located in Brazil. I earned some funny comments for “enduring” such a long flight for only 4 days… But obviously this is false. Bilbao is located in northern Spain and is also the largest city in the province of Biscay and in the Basque Country. Strolling the internet will bring up many mouth-watering images shot there, hence, my plan to make a photo trip came together easily. Also because the flight actually is only ~2,5h from Germany. 😏

Guggenheim And The Spider
Guggenheim And The Spider

Coming into the city from the airport via Puente La Salve, you are immediately greeted by the Guggenheim Museum. It is undoubtedly the most famous building in Bilbao, created by Frank Gehry in 1997. The museum was opened as part of a revitalization effort for the city of Bilbao and almost immediately after its opening it became a popular tourist attraction. The museum has helped to generate about €500 million in economic activity in the first years and this positive effect is often referred to as the “Bilbao effect“.

In Water Vapor
Water vaporised every now and then in front of the Guggenheim

But there is so much more to see and shoot. Bilbao has more than a dozen museums covering a range of fields including art, science, and sport. Bilbao is said to have the highest concentration (with regard to residents) of star restaurants while keeping the lowest concentration of fast food places. The food is fantastic and you can try to taste all the different variations of pintxos, but you will most probably fail. There even is a street in the old town (Calle Somera) that basically consists of bars. Not that the other streets in the old town really lack possibilities to eat and drink but this street will be filled with people during the weekends (actually also during the week), sitting and standing everywhere, which creates a unique buzz and is a great experience.

Arrow Martzana
Calle de Manzana, close to the Casco Viejo in Bilbao

The old part of the city also is a hot spot for fantastic graffiti and street art. The beginning of Calle Bilbao La Vieja close to the Plaza de Saralegi is famous for that and also has a number of restaurants and bars everywhere. It also used to be the centre for the Basque underground fighting for the independence of the Basque Country.

The Girl From Bilbao
The Girl From Bilbao

In addition to all this, there is obviously the river with its “Bilboats” that bring you to locations along its path and the Mount Artxanda. Walking up offers some new perspectives of the city – not only for photographers. If you prefer to not walk up, you can also use a little cable car that will bring you to the top.

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View at the Mirador de Artxanda

Going to the beach via public transport on a sunny day is just as typical for Bilbao as eating pintxos with your fingers. On the way to, well, basically anywhere in the city, you have to pass some of the many bridges across the river. Some of them are old and famous as the Vizcaya Bridge, a World Heritage Site, also known as the Hanging Bridge of Portugalete. Some of them are modern and stylish as the Zubi Zuriwork of architect Santiago Calatrava.

Zubizuri Night Perspective
Zubizuri Night Perspective

Writing up all this makes me wanna go there again! The unique mixture of culture, architecture, food and people is worth a trip and I can promise you that you will use your camera heavily. Eskerrik asko, Bilbao!

View At San Mamés
View at San Mamés Stadium

On Photography: The Canon EOS R

So I got a mirrorless full frame camera. The EOS R from Canon. But this is actually not supposed to be about the EOS R (only a bit), but the camera may help to make a point here: It is about photography.
Let me get this out of the way: The EOS R works beautifully, the images are crisp & sharp and everything I wished for. You can check out some of my impressions from the camera below.

Wartburg Night Parking
Wartburg Parking at Night in Munich

I was shooting with the Canon 6D until now, which is also full frame and also a great camera. I travelled quite a bit around the world with my 6D and I enjoy looking at all the pictures I took. People back than basically where asking the same questions about the 6D that people are asking now about the EOS R: “But it misses feature xyz”, or “It has not enough MP…”, or “Why didn’t they do this and that…” – all the bla bla you can read in many posts that basically seem to justify their own existence by finding something they can bash.

Foggy Mountain View
A Foggy Mountain View near Lermoos

Faisal Yaqub has posted a review of the EOS R after two month of usage and points out a few features and what he really likes about the camera. It is important to note that he focuses on things that actually help him to take good photos. When I got my 6D I couldn’t help but notice how well Canon seemed to understand what I really really needed in a camera and what features I basically do not care about so much. Possibly because they understand the fundamentals of what is necessary to take good photos. And they left those additional features out in the 6D.

Zugspitzmassiv
The Zugspitze (on the very left, 2963m), the highest peak of the Wetterstein Mountains & the highest mountain in Germany.

And they did something similar with the EOS R. The EOS R combines many things that are actually helping me to take photos and/or support my workflow with the camera. The excellent ergonomics of the EOS R is only one of the many points. Or the “FV” mode that makes it so easy to control e.g. exposure compensation when you do not have an R-mount lens on with the brilliant additional ring on the lens (e.g. one of your old EF lenses). But many of these things are not mentioned in most of the reviews, maybe because they can not be compared on paper or against other cameras or brands. It is personal.

Cold Munich Morning
Very cold morning drive in Munich, Germany.

Jamie Windsor makes a wonderful point in his video on how photography can make you unhappy (Disclaimer: I think his channel is brilliant!): “The pursuit of gear is not photography!”. And it is actually why I am writing up this EOS R post: Having a good camera that actually helps you with the little things and (I think) purposely misses out on certain features is maybe the better camera for you because it focuses on you as a person taking the shot and not on other cameras, other brands or things to be compared on paper. It is a tool and, hence, has to take a step back for us to be able to focus on what actually is important to us: The art of photography!

Graffiti Sundowner
Import/Export Compound in Munich, Germany.

Aurora HDR or how my HDR processing evolved

I got into HDR photography quite some time ago (see e.g. YAHTC) and the capability to recover so many details/colours from an image or a bracketing series still fascinates me. But, maybe like many other HDR photographers, I have grown from liking rough (almost brutal) HDR edits to more photorealistic captures. I am still convinced that the Mantiuk preset from Luminance HDR in certain situations creates an effect no other tool that I have seen is capable of, but it only works in very few scenarios (e.g. inside churches like the one below). Hence, it is fair to say this is an artistic effect and nothing you can use regularly to process your photos.

Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato
Mantiuk applied to the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato

To give you an idea about my HDR tool journey, I have used or I am still using qtpfsgui->luminance, Digital Photo Professional, photomatix Pro, HDR Efex Pro, lightroom photo merge and now Aurora 2019. The number alone gives you an idea that none of them is a perfect tool, but can any tool ever be? While experimenting with these tools, the dynamic range of the camera(s) available to me improved quite a bit. Modern cameras are way better than what I started with and I assume this is true for many photographers out there. I read an article some time ago that was describing what images where not possible 5 years ago – the article is from 2016 – so now 7 years ago. It manly focuses on high ISO and high MP, but getting back to my point of regularly processing your HDR images, this available dynamic range in your camera actually puts HDR tools onto the menu for your daily editing of single RAW files. A point that was also made by Trey Ratcliff e.g. in this video. And yes, Trey is supporting Aurora and even contributed presets to the 2019 version. After using Aurora for some time now, I come to a similar conclusion: For a photorealistic edit it probably is one of the best tools out there. And this effected my HDR processing and the way to think of an HDR image.

Footbridge View
no HDR edit

The above image is a capture of a footbridge at lake Ammersee near Munich, Germany. I like the processing (obviously) and so did the flickr community I assume, because it ended up in explore. But it was tricky for me to get the look that I had in mind. It was a cloudy day when I captured the image and the sun only came out for a few minutes. Luckily I was on the footbridge with my camera ready to shoot when it happened. But the edit did not turn out as expected, in the end I decided to go for a darker look and even added some vignetting. But this was not how I experienced the scene standing on that footbridge. The image below actually depicts my personal impressions of the moment a lot better. And it was easier to get it out of Aurora. If you compare the image below with the shot of the Basilica above it seems unjustified to simply talk about HDR photos to describe both of them. The first one actually is an HDR photo, the scene & the processing are focussed on that to produce this image. The bottom image, however, uses HDR merely as a method to depict the scene as it was experienced (at least) by the photographer.

HDR edit

To wrap things up: An HDR image for me is not something that was processed with an HDR tool anymore and HDR tools (namely Aurora) are destined to become part of my processing routine rather than using them only for certain scenes & images. Thank you, modern cameras.

Recap 2018: The Canon G1X mk III

In terms of gear 2018 was an interesting year. I moved to the G1X mk III as “second cam”  (replacing the G9X with 1 inch sensor) and had lots of fun taking photos. I was (actually still am) impressed by the image quality out of this camera. I was looking for a “small” camera that enables me to take it with me without thinking about packing but at the same time I did not want to make a lot of compromises in terms of image quality. This post is supposed to give you an idea about the cam and of course to recap some captures from 2018 at the end of the year.
Enjoy!

No Diamond Forever
“Green Ice” 

The first opportunity for the G1X mkIII to shine was the green ice at the Munich Olympic Regatta Center, where after a period of extreme cold weather the sun came out and turned the ice on the water green. 

Nesselwang View
Nesselwang
Auto Train From Munich
Auto Train From Munich

After the green ice impressions, the camera accompanied me on a number of short and often spontaneous trips in & around Munich. This included a trip to the Allgäu (via Nesselwang, see above). Finally, due to luggage restrictions, I took the cam with me to New York for a few days. This included a few iconic views of course but also some tricky shooting situations, such as low light hand held (no tripod!) and action street performance.

Fenced NYC View
Fenced NYC View
New York, Aye?
New York, Aye?
Happy Street Performer
Happy Street Performer

Man In The Middle

Man In The Middle

Man In The Middle by Frederic

November 11th, 2018 marks one hundred years since the end of World War One.
“Never Again” is an art project (www.niemalswieder.com/english-version/) by Munich performance artist Walter Kuhn.
I was certainly not alone the night before the 11th, taking pictures of the poppies. They are a symbol of rememberance for the dead and fallen of both World Wars.
Remember!