I always try to fit in a little photography when I travel and my recent trip to Toronto was no exception. The weather wasn't great, but I've learned that my little Fujifilm X100T will stay fairly dry if I tuck it under my palm as I walk (having the camera on a wrist strap makes this fairly easy). And rainy nights in a city give means lots of mist, reflections and vivid colours.
Here are a few shots in those conditions taken around Toronto's City Hall at Nathan Phillips Square.
Day 2 wore me out. But in a good way. I spent about nine hours walking and standing, starting the day in the famous and overwhelming Musee du Louvre (more on this in another posting) and ending it off with a visit to the Sainte-Chapelle.
Sainte-Chapelle is not one of the bigger churches I have visited, but it is far and away the most memorable. It is extravagantly beautiful. Many of the cathedrals of Europe impress because of their rich histories and associations with the pious and powerful. Some churches, like Reykjavik's Hallgrimskirkja, capture attention because of their unique architecture. Other houses of Christian worship are notable for the purity and simplicity of their vision. But, again, Sainte-Chapelle is extravagantly beautiful.
I expect that many medieval churches were more beautiful in their day, but now we see only their bones with the plaster and decorative painting removed. Even so, how many churches of the period had the stained glass treasures that Sainte-Chapelle still enjoys? So much of the wall space is devoted to glasswork that the ceiling is supported by little more than light and dancing colours.
Built by France's King Louis IX (later canonized as Saint Louis) between 1238 and 1248, the church has now been annexed and partially absorbed by offices of the Palais de Justice de Paris.
But nothing can hold a candle to those windows.
I have taken advantage of the fact that I am between assignments at work to spend a few days in Paris. Although the city has the reputation of being very grey during the month of February, I seem to have lucked out with a forecast that calls for a sunny week with temperatures of 10 - 12C. Just a bit warmer and less snowy than the Ottawa Valley at this time of year.
So here I am with only my Fuji X-E1 and X100T for company in a city that is a photographer's dream. I've got some ideas for a project but the challenge, as always, is to say something visually that hasn't been said in Paris a million times before. I'm here for a break, though, so I may just let the challenge go and enjoy myself. We'll see.
Here are some night shots from my first evening in the city. All were taken handheld at ISO 3200 beside the Canal de la Villette in the city's 19th arrondissement.
It's not often that I get to attend a sheepdog trial. Ok, let's be more accurate: I had never been to see sheepdogs put through their paces before this summer. But mid-way into our house exchange with a couple from Kirkmichael, Perthshire, we learned that the Strathardle Sheepdog Trial was being held in nearby Enochdhu.
This was not our first trip to Scotland, so we were open to doing more local things off the usual tourist trails and weren't looking to spend a lot of time in the bigger centres. A sheepdog trial promised to tick all the boxes. And it did.
Watching the shepherds and dogs work together was a wonderful experience. I was surprised at the intelligence of the dogs, the lack of intelligence of the sheep, and the unbroken chain of shouted and whistled communication—even when it broke down. Done well, herding sheep with a dog is a delight to watch.
The shearing competition was probably more fun for the audience and judges than it was for the sheep (some of which were clearly nicked), but you have to admire the strength and skill of the men and women who make a quick and clean job of it. There may not be a lot of room for sentimentality in farm life, but a deft hand is to be respected.
These were clearly real contests, not demos put on with a wink for tourists (apart from a family from Belgium, we were the only tourists there). The competitors obviously knew each other and seemed to be on on friendly terms, but they were all there to win in their categories, from beginner to old hand. The sky threatened and the wind never let the refreshments tent have an easy minute, but the roll and sausage was hot and the whisky was welcome.
All in all, a glorious afternoon out in Highland Perthshire.
All pictures taken with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses.
After the colours of fall it's time for a return to some black and white... and time to clear some of the backlog from our trip to Scotland this summer!
One of the sights we had the chance to visit was the RRS Discovery at Discovery Point in Dundee.
RRS Discovery was the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed for Antarctic research, it was launched as a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1901. Its first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, known as the Discovery Expedition. It is now the centrepiece of visitor attraction in its home, Dundee.
[source: Wikipedia, accessed 16 October 2016]
Visiting the restored ship in dry dock is a fascinating trip to a not-so-distant time when the poles were being explored in masted ships by men outfitted with gear and clothing woefully inadequate for the climate. Scott, Shackleton and their crews were truly brave and hardy souls, and some of them paid for their courage and determination with their lives.
The sharp lines and textures of the ship (as well as the bland, grey skies) cried out for a monochrome treatment, so that's what you see here.
All pictures taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 18-55mm lens.
My youngest son recently had a day off school, so we decided to make a long weekend of it in Tadoussac, Quebec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Tadoussac is about 700km from where we live so it made for a lot of driving over the three days.
And it was well worth it. Situated at the meeting of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers, Tadoussac is probably best known as that starting point for whale-watching tours in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The town is touristy but not overly so and the whales (Fin, Minke and Beluga) and seals did not disappoint. The three hours we spent in an open zodiac with fresh air and brilliant sun on a surprisingly smooth river were wonderful. We couldn't have asked for a better late-September afternoon and everything we'd heard about the magnificent marine mammals of the estuary was true.
But the evenings surprised me. The lingering sunsets in Tadoussac's harbour are beautiful and the long stretch of rocky coastline seems tailor-made for landscape photography. (And although I've been casting furtive glances at the new Fujifilm XPro2, my X-E1 continues to deliver results that please me.)
This is just a little of what I saw. I hope you experience some of the enjoyment that I did.
Like many other users of the Fujifilm X-series cameras, I've been salivating over the recently-released X-Pro 2. Saliva or no, it's just not the right time for me to be looking at a new camera, however. That means I'll be contenting myself with my X100T and my X-E1 and lenses. Three or four years is not a long time in human terms but, given the current pace of innovation in digital photography, it's a significant chunk of the lifespan of sensor technology. All the same, the discontinued X-E1 is still a very capable camera.
As if to prove that point to myself, I used the X-E1 during a night-time tour of The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. The museum, commonly known as the "Neon Boneyard," was opened in 2012 as an outdoor collection of illuminated signs from the Vegas Strip of the 50s and 60s. I was hoping to visit during the photographic magic hour but all tours were booked up for that time of day while I would be visiting Las Vegas. Unguided tours are not available, so I would be doing the tour in full darkness—I'd need to crank up the ISO on the camera, even with the illumination of the signs themselves.
I'd like to have spent more time in the Boneyard and a little more light would have been nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Our guide kept things moving at a clip and clearly knows (and loves!) his Nevada history. My only real regret was the rookie mistake of not checking the histogram more often and exposing to the right: the camera sensor and I were both fooled by the brilliance of some of the signs against the dark sky, so my exposures were routinely underexposed by 1-1/2 stops. Thank goodness for Capture One Pro 9's ability to pull the best out of the raw files.
Still, I'm happy with the images I got. If you plan to be in Las Vegas and you're a photographer or have any interest at all in local history, show business, American culture, typography or the visual arts more broadly, go visit The Neon Museum. Just make sure to book a place on the tour well in advance!
Day 4 presented the opportunity to visit Iceland's "Golden Circle"—Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss—three places of natural and historical interest in close proximity to one another and not too far from Reykjavik. The great advantage of having a car is that you can visit sites at your own pace, rather than being hustled around places of great mystery and beauty at a clip.
Visiting Geysir, from which all other geysers are named, is like walking across the earthen cover of a pot of water on the boil: a novel experience. It's fascinating to see Strokkur spout and the constant hint of sulphurous odours reminds you that you are indeed standing over a subterranean kettle that has bubbled day and night for millennia.
Seeing and photographing Gullfoss had been high on my list of things to do in Iceland since I first became aware of the beautiful waterfall with the optical illusion right-angled drop. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to get any decent light on the falls. It's a fantastic sight but it was never going to translate into anything memorable on my sensor without the all-important late-afternoon sunlight.
And why were we late in getting to Gullfoss? Because we couldn't tear ourselves away from Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park. I have never visited a more magical setting. Where else on earth can you stand with one foot on the American tectonic plate and the other on the Eurasian—remembering all the while that the two are separating? Where else can you gaze into crystal waters and see deep into cracks in the earth's surface? Where else can you walk in the footsteps of the people who established the world's first parliament on the site—over 1,000 years ago?
I don't believe in elves and trolls, but I can see why Iceland's earliest inhabitants did: they lived in a land of legendary scale and wild beauty.
The pictures below from Day 2 of my trip to Iceland were all taken during a road trip from Reykjavik to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, northwest of the capital. Very quickly it became evident that Iceland is a stunningly beautiful country and it was a real challenge not to stop the car every five minutes for another breathtaking vista. Canada also has more than its share of ruggedly beautiful coastline, mountains and natural wonders, but not in such a compressed space. Canadians are accustomed to driving great distances to see landmarks, but Iceland presents travellers with a fresh spectacular sight at every other bend in the road—it just doesn't seem fair, somehow!
This area around Snæfellsjökull—which Wikipedia tells me is "a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit"—is wild and home to mysterious crevices and caves. Little wonder that Jules Verne chose it as the entry point for his Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I didn't make it all the way to the centre, but I did manage to visit a lava cave (Vatnshellir) that took me 35m below the surface of the earth. That was far enough.
As always, the wind didn't spare us for a second and the rain, when it came on and off, was frequently horizontal. Given all the fury in the elements and landscape, I couldn't quite bring myself to process Day 2's pictures in colour: they called out for black and white. Here are just a few.
Iceland was never really on my radar. Sure, I'd enjoyed pictures of the rugged countryside and the hardy Icelandic ponies but I had never seriously considered going until a friend suggested a week-long trip for the fall of 2015. And I'm glad he did.
Yes, everyone and his dog is currently heating up the flight paths to Reykjavik. And with Icelandair's fantastic seven-day layover deal and the ever-expanding Wow Air it's only going to get busier. But you can't let that hold you back—there is nowhere else like Iceland for the photographer.
I've never visited a country that is so welcoming to visitors. Tourists with money to spend are no doubt welcome since the country stared financial ruin in the face in 2008, but Iceland has rebounded and the warm smiles of its people seem unforced. Add to that the excellent English spoken by virtually everyone and Iceland is a very easy place to visit... once you acclimatize to the high prices.
After arriving on the surface of the moon at Keflavik Airport, we picked up the rental car and decided to see a bit of the southwest coast before heading for our hotel in Reykjavik. We had a few hours to burn before we could check in and hoped that keeping busy would help us to get used to local time more quickly. In retrospect, this was probably not the smartest move after an overnight flight, given that I—for the first and almost last time in my life—fell asleep at the wheel. The combination of my friend's lunge for the wheel and his panicked yell brought me around fairly quickly. Lesson learned: I'm not in my 20s anymore and can't manage shoulder-less, narrow roads on no sleep.
But this is a happy story, so let's just cut to some of the pictures from Day 1 in this magic country. Unlike driving a car, I can use a camera just fine with only one eye open.
From one extreme to the other.
From the empty stretches of red PEI sand and seawater so cold it burned my legs to the hot smells and constant press of NYC's streets, a two-day drive took us to another world. And it was time to break out my new X100T again.
B&H Photo was the first port of call, where Douglas Kirkland was giving a fascinating overview of a photographic career that has spanned almost six decades. For those of us who do not live in a major centre, it's hard to pass up the chance to listen to a figure like Kirkland live when the opportunity arises. And, since no stop at that photographer's playground would be complete without touring the store and buying something, I picked up a wrist strap and lens hood for the Fuji. The wrist strap would let me keep the small X100T out of sight but close to hand and the hood would provide a measure of protection for the lens without having to fiddle around with a cap while out for the day. Which leads me to...
Three Questions for the Good People at Fujifilm: 1) Why are you still using the slip-over style of lens cap on the X100 series after all this time? It's a pain to use and too easy to lose. Please consider other options. 2) Why have you persisted with that strange arrangement for the thread on the front of the lens? It needlessly complicates changes between the lens cap, filters and lens hood. 3) And speaking of the lens hood, how do you justify US$70 MSRP for a piece of moulded plastic and a threaded ring? I suspect that most people will do what I did and buy Vello's US$20 version. Other than missing the "Fujifilm" label on the plastic, I haven't noticed that the cheaper product provides US$50 less protection.
But let's return to the camera.
So, what is it like to use the X100T in Manhattan? A dream. It is small, light, responsive and discreet. I wore it strapped to my wrist all day with no fatigue and it was ready to go at every opportunity. It was small enough that it attracted no attention from passers-by although, to be fair, there are so many tourists and cameras in New York that you start to look strange if you don't have a device in front of your face.
And I was thoroughly pleased with the pictures I made. I generally shot in RAW+JPEG Fine using the "BR" setting because I like the contrasty images it produces, particularly with blue skies. The "Classic Chrome" palate is fun to play with, but I suspect that we'll all be getting tired of seeing images rendered that way before too much longer. I've always appreciated the way Fuji has with JPEGs and I got hooked on being able to use the camera's WiFi to transfer pictures to my iPad for immediate sharing. Once home, though, I spent some time with the RAW files because of the extra latitude for adjustments.
Results from the trip? Buyer's remorse, 0. Fujifilm X100T, 1.