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Archive for August, 2010

I am really happy to announce that four out of my five submissions to the last IPA International Photography Awards 2010 have been awarded!

One of my images got the first prize in the Wildlife category, a portfolio of forest panoramic images got a second prize in the category “Seasons”, a portfolio of 5 images of Scotland in winter got a “Highly Commended” award and another image of a camelthorn tree under the namibian night sky also was highly commended by the jury. 

The 2010 International Photography Awards received nearly 15,000 submissions from 103 countries across the globe. IPA is a sister-effort of the Lucie Foundation, where the top three winners are announced at the annual Lucie Awards gala ceremony in New York. The Foundation’s mission is to honor master photographers, to discover new and emerging talent and to promote the appreciation of photography. Since 2003, IPA has had the privilege and opportunity to acknowledge and recognize contemporary photographers’ accomplishments in this specialized and highly visible competition.

To see all winning images, visit www.photoawards.com ! Its been really a year of outstanding results!

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I am currently under tons of images of Seychelles and Iceland, still classifying and selecting the keepers for the next webpage update…But I decided to advance another one of the northern country. This image shows that eery light that one can find at 3 am in the middle of the icelandic night. A couple of weeks after the summer solstice when this shot was taken, the light level had already decreased, but was still enough to read without any problem.

The night this image was made was quite special. We had spent a whole day in Vik (southern Iceland) totally enclosed in our room, waiting for gale force winds and rain to stop for a while. After some hours of horizontal slashing rain, the wind stopped and we could venture out again. The skies remained quite heavy and cloudy though, perfect for some crepuscular bluish moody images to depict the character of this coast: mysterious, dramatic, cold, wild and dangerous. We found this spot near the cliffs, with some nice basalt boulders spred along the coast. The tide was high, and some waves were crashing against the boulders. I was after an image showing what I felt there. Alone in the night, in front of those rolling waves in an so surreal coast, I felt respect and admiration for the force of the sea. I felt the magnetism of those waters, pulling me out to the open ocean. I decided that a long exposure image (so easy under the low levels of light) showing the dragging effect of the water as it receded would really reinforce that magnetic feeling. The volcanic boulders would be the anchor points of the image, also carrying a big symbolic meaning: the volcanic origin of the whole island, oozed from the depths of the sea some millions of years ago. As a big surf came onto the beach and receded, I clicked the shutter to freeze that moment in time where the white foam would draw like a hidden artist strongly dynamic diagonal lines across the image. The broody sky complemented the whole, and the naturally blue colour of the light reinforced the cold of the ambiance. This is an image of a very anonymous place, almost reduced to the bare elements of Iceland, which represents very well what this country is all about for me. I hope you will like it! Feel free to post your comments and ideas about this image, I am really interested in having your opinion! Thanks for reading and great light to you all.

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Last week, right after coming from Iceland, we decided to pay a visit to the Aletsch Glacier, in Switzerland. This famous glacier, listed as a Unesco nature heritage site, is the largest and most impressive glacier in the european Alps. With more than 20 km of lenght, this monster advances at the staggering pace of more than 200 m per year, grinding the rock bed along its course and carrying with it tons of rocks. I have been living in Switzerland for more than 9 years now (!), and since I first came here I have paid several visits to this glacier. Unfortunately, here in the Alps the global warming effects are well evident. Sometimes, it is difficul to feel touched by the problems in the Arctic, to think about the gloom fate of the polar bear and things like this…These realities tend to be out of our reality. As far away as these effects are, we tend to forget we are indeed talking about the same planet…However, going for a walk in the Alps during a tiny period of just 10 years is enough to see the irrefutable proofs of the global warming: These giant monsters are receding at an alarming pace. I still remember where Aletsch reached the bottom of the valley a decade ago…and that gives me the creeps. Even looking at the billboards drawings at the arrival of the telecabin show a different reality to the one we witness today. Any visitor will see represented on those drawings glaciers which do not correspond at all with their present state. Nowadays, even human signs live longer than glaciers. All this seems difficult to believe when you stand close to these giants of ice. They look so impressive and powerful that one has the impression they can withstand anything. And however, they are as fragile as a new born baby. 

The other day we decided to go down the valley, and reach the very glacier. At the end of the day, we slept in our tent, set just at a few meters from the gigantic ice pinnacles. As the sun set, I took advantage to take some nice images of intimist views of rusted colourful erratic rocks overlooking the bluish ice in the background. Once the sun had gone, an eery feeling inundated the valley. Glaciers, and most of all Aletsch glacier, are one of the most imposing views one can see on Earth. They are like dancing flames of fire or an aquarium full of colourful fish….so magnetic that one can remain staring at them for hours, drawn by their stunning force and surreal features. Being close to these monsters under the glow of twilight is really something you never forget.

 The following day, we decided to go for a stroll along the “banks” of the glacier…not really expecting to find what we found: a gorgeous natural ice cave.  Slightly tiny at the entrance, I ventured inside camera in hand, just to discover an amazing corridor full of incredible ice sculptures and inner waterfalls. A striking visual effect was created by the glacial silt covering the floor, as its reddish colour and “dirty” aspect gave place to a stark contrast with the pure and cold blue tones of the ice. At a certain time of the day, the sun pierced the ceiling through one crevasse, filtering down and spotlighting a curious ice wave formation which might have formed as a consequence of water dripping inside the cave. A little waterfall to the left balanced the composition and created a great juxtaposition of elements. As a result, I spent an hour or more taking images of this place, as the light was playing through the ice when clouds moved through the sky, totally absorbed by the magic of the place. 

This is a quite different picture…Maybe you like it, maybe not. It is not a litteral image. You will find it difficult (if not impossible without explanation) to realize what is depicted here. And in fact, there is no real need of knowing. This is one of those abstract images, made at the human scale, where the absence of recognisable elements drown the meaning of the picture and leave it at the mercy of the viewer’s imagination. An image of forms, colours, tones…and mystery.

I must reckon that I had a wonderful time there…but leaving the cave, I realized a sad fact. These caves are becoming more and more common, these days. As the melting pace increases, water trickles down the glaciers, creating an increasing number of internal caves. These caves are just alarming signs of the agony of these monsters. They are gigantic scars and wounds through which the glacier bleeds to death. As impressive and powerful as glaciers are, these features remind us their very fragile nature: they are  just water, that’s all. In some centuries, if not before, all this water might have changed its state, draining away and filling the rivers and oceans. In some time, if we do not change the course, all which will remain in the valley bottom will be a rubble of morrains, heritage of a glorious past. A sad story, with a happy nuance. We are still on time of adapting our habits to this new situation, we all have still time to adopt a more sustainable way of living. If we take the measures, these giant beauties might thank us for thousands of years to come, with some of the most spectacular natural views to be offered to our eyes on this planet.

 Thanks for reading and great light to you all ;-)

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As some of you might know, I am using more and more film nowadays. From more than a year know, I have been shooting extensively with my 617 panoramic large format camera, loaded normally with the beloved fujifilm Velvia 50 slide film.

You might think that sounds strange in these digital days. In fact, I also use the Nikon D3x, which has spoiled me with some of the best performances a DSRL can offer nowadays. However, and even if in the past I made quite a bunch of panoramics by digital stitching of 35 mm vertical images, I am of the opinion that nothing can beat the beauty of the film panoramic format. There are different reasons for that, and here I am enumerating some of them: 

1) I have always had the (maybe stupid) romantic idea that photography should represent one moment. Ok, what about low exposures? you may say…that is not a moment neither. You are right…but it is not the same. I like thinking that  my images represent the world passing by in front of the camera, a world captured forever when I close the shutter at the end of the exposure.

2) A big advantage of the 617 film format, compared to digital stitching, is the possibility of capturing moving elements into the frame. Take clouds moving, water rushing, waves crashing against the shore, trees or a barley field swaying in the breeze, people moving, etc. The only way of capturing that is by using a single-shot panoramic camera. Use stitching and you will need to render moving elements as a total blur to enable stitching later on…But doing so, all textures will be gone.

3) What about strange position of the frame, that is to say trying to take an image which is not vertical or horizontal? You cannot really level a panoramic kit to make a neither-vertical-nor-horizontal row of images to be later on stitched together. Take the 617 camera though and you will be able to frame as you like.

4) Another advantage is the possibility of placing the graduated filters the way you want, across the landscape in every single position you need. Use stitching and you will be forced to set the grads horizontally, what does not make sense when the lightness contrast is takin place from left to right.

5) The next advantage is called Velvia. When processing my nikon dsrl files I tend no to spend too much time in front of the computer…and whatever I do I will never attain the same velvia like effect in my images. Velvia was, and still is, a gift from the heavens for nature and landscape photographers. Develop on roll and you will get incredible tonal ranges with really amazing colours. Even its reciprocity failure (its not linear behaviour in terms of sensitivity to light for long exposures) gives the images a nice magenta cast which very often gives an special touch to the image.

6) Another good point is something that reminds the speech of those die-hard large format photographers, something I really adhere to: shooting a totally manual film camera with no bells and whistles really sharpens your skills as a photographer, forces you to go slower and multiplies your rate of “keepers”. Armed with a handheld exposemeter and limited by the narrow velvia latitude of little more than 4 spots, you really need to nail the exposure. For that, you need to take readings from all over the scene, make an ingenious use of grad filters and pre-visualize exactly in your head how the final slide will appear on your lightbox. By contrast, when using the Nikon D3x I become lazy and normally use the matrix mode for exposure, set the manual mode and go, taking a look at the “blinkies” of the histogram to compensate the exposure if needed. In fact, with modern DSRL cameras, it is quicker to shoot and re-evaluate if needed than measure the light with a spot measuring device…That is nice at one point and can make you take images that would otherwise impossible to take (think wildlife or candid moments, for instance), but at the same time you really lose the control. Take a velvia loaded 617 film camera, and the control and responsibility is totally yours. Another side-effect of using film is the fact you shoot less, but better images. As there is a non-negligible cost every time you press the shutter (more or less like a cinema ticket per roll), you’d better know what you are doing when you shortlist your options…

7) Do you like Xmas? What about Xmas every week?…Well, going to the lab to collect your slides is really like Xmas. Tomorrow I will collect from the lab my Iceland slides (some 65 120 rolls)…and I am biting my nails to the bone while I wait. I still remember that sunrise over that valley a few weeks ago…did I get it right?? well…time will tell. You almost forget all the images you took, and then after some weeks there they are, glowing on your lightbox. There is nothing like a nailed slide on the lightbox, i can tell you.

8) Resolution. This is really a BIG advantage. The other day I was day-dreaming about the last digital backs which decorate the rear of medium format cameras like the Hasselblad, Phase One, Leaf and so on. Take the biggest sensor nowadays sold, with some 60 Mpix. Even if the prices have dropped quite a bit lately, you need still to spend the price of a medium car for one of those digital guys. And still, due to the format ratio and when you make some calculations, the answer is quite overwhelming: to recreate the same resolution and print size that I can get with a scanned 617 slide (using a Flextight virtual drum scanner) I would need a 355 Mpix camera!! Well…i think that by 2200 that camera might be at a decent price in the market. Which comes to the point, if you shoot panoramics and want no stitching and big prints, film is still the way to go for quite a long time in terms of resolution. When I scanned my slides on my scanner, I get Tiff 16bits files of around 1 Gb. That is huge, enabling you to print up to 2.40 m, or in fact till the grain of the film is too visible. Here below I am showing a couple of images to show the resolution aspect, with a general view of one of my last images from Seychelles and the crop at 100% of a tiny (really tiny) area of palm tree leaves of the right-bottom side of the image. That shows it all.

Now, you will say, this guy is trying to sell us something or has shares in one of the panoramic cameras manufacturers… No, in fact I will be sincere and tell you there are also serious disadvantages for this system. They are not small, and might deter quite a lot of people of using them, for logical reasons.

1) The cost. Yes, the camera is expensive. As Fuji stopped fabricating the Fuji GX617 and Fotoman its Fotoman 617 MKII (they stopped the production a few months ago), today just Linhof still manufactures their Linhof 617SIII. They make absolute technical masterpieces, but they come at a cost. You must pay more than 15 000 USD to get a camera with a couple of lenses. Then you add the film cost and the developping cost. You need also a quite powerful scanner to get the most of these slides, and that means a flextight hasselblad scanner…umm…. add some other 10’000 USD or less if you can get a second-hand one. …A lot of money, indeed…

2) WYSIMWYG….or What-you-see-is-maybe-what-you-get. Getting used to the digital world really makes using film quite a nightmare. A 617 panoramic camera is a totally manual camera, you have just 4 shots per roll, light tends to be best when you are in the middle of a roll change fidgeting with the wrapping, you never know whether you took the image with the cap on, you do not know if the exposure was ok, you might have condensation on the filters and discover it months later…Take a glorious image in Iceland and wait for a month before you know what happened…difficult to say the least.

3) 617 cameras are big, and heavy. Take them to the Alps and you might quickly need knees surgery…Add some bags full with film, and an overseas trip turns into a nightmare at customs and in the cabin of the airplane

4) The latitude of velvia is about 4 stops. Compare that with the almost 10 you get (when processing the raw file) of a digital file of the nikon D3x. That is a lot of difference…you’d better be proficient in exposing!

5) There is no throug-the-lens here. You take a look through the detachable viewfinder, and suppose parallax effect will not be too big to ruin your framing. Or, you stick back your groundglass and take your pull over your head to compose as a large format photographer does. That does take time, and in any case forces you to set the graduated filters visually more or less appreciating how far they should be from the center…Again, a lot more of experience needed!

So, what is best? As always in photography, it all depends on you, your style, your experience, your situation, your preferences…and a big word jumps onto the stage: compromise. Life is full of compromises,  and that is specially true for photography. There is no free lunch, and it is up to the photographer to decide what suits him the best at a certain moment. For the time being, I am really having a big time with my two cameras, and would never trade them for anything in the world right now. But what will happen in a few years? Time will tell…In any case, what it is sure is that technology and tools might change, but photography will remain exactly the same forever. Never forget that!

I would like to end with a question for you reader…WITHOUT WANTING TO START A POLEMIC DISCUSSION, do you think film is dead?…feel free to give your opinion, i am really interested!!

Full image. Zoom corresponds to the red square area

Zoom view at 100%, slight sharpening applied

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Hello all! We finally landed from our galactic trip to another planet. Or at least, that is the impression we had when we came back. Our Iceland trip is over and it seems like the plane taking us there really left our atmosphere and ventured into the deep galaxies. The place is so surreal and strange, that the idea one is just a few hours away from central Europe seems really difficult to believe…

We spent a few weeks there, visiting quite a big part of the country: the incredible-outstanding-gorgeous area of the south, the central part of the country, the North and the Fjords of the Northwest. As usual in all our photographic trips, we set a veeeery slow pace, trying really to get the grips of each of the stops and squeeze the best we could the photographic potential. We run in mostly crowded and touristic places though, finding in most cases the biggest joy in some of those anonymous and in-the-middle-of-no-where places where travelers normally step on the accelerator in the search of the next iconic place.

One of the main logistical “tricks” we adopted for this trip was the schedule-inversion. As sun sets at around 11:30 and rises again at 3:00 during the first weeks of July, one option is sleeping during the “day” and waking up for the “night”. And I say “night” because between sunset and sunrise the sun is not far below the horizon, and ambient light is enough to read a newspaper…or make glorious images under the crepuscular glow. So, as soon as we arrived, we started waking up at around 15:00 hours, going out for shooting and coming back at 7:00 am, after a nice “dinner” in the sun (or the rain). The main difficulty was making that compatible with the normal schedules of hostels and guest houses, but a good and creative mixture of tent and bed made it possible. A trip later on during the end of August-early September would just make things easier, with already quite normal hours of sunrise and sunset…and maybe the first snow dusting the mountains…

The country itself is nothing but spectacular. However, is another kind of “spectacularity”. Take Switzerland for instance. That country is also spectacular, with a beauty that springs to you and slaps you in your face. You cannot help taking an image of the Matterhorn or the three giants of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau…In Iceland however, the beauty is more silent, the landscape is reduced to the bare elements, it is a raw and subtle place where the openness and raw features of its shapes, colours and skies make it so special. This is why in order to “discover” and really appreciate the beauty of the country you must tune in with it to really understand its attractiveness and photographic potential. Some people (surely not photographer) might say that in Iceland there is “nothing”…Well, this is place with virtually no trees, almost no bushes…just lava, sand and gravel, lichens and mosses, ice and water and incredibly dynamic skies. Put all that together and you have photographic material for a lifetime…or several. Iceland is a glorious “nothing” which will become addictive to the nature photographer. Really a place to savor slowly, by tiny sips, and a place where surely you will want to go back.

In the next weeks I will be posting some of the images I took there, with some explanations about them, where they were taken and how. Today, I am bringing one of the first images I took in the iconic but really unforgettable place of Jokulsarlon, in the south-east of the country. Due to the retreat of the glacial tongues fed by the huge Vatnajokull, a lagoon formed a few decades ago. Nowadays, big chunks of ice calve from the ice mass into that lagoon, leading to a hard-to-believe scene of natural ice sculptures floating into a huge mirror-lake lagoon. In summer, as the sun sets and rises close to the North, great light is found exactly in front of the lagoon, giving the opportunity of striking colourful reflections when the weather plays ball. This was the case of this image, taken the very first “morning” we had there at 3:00 am after a rainy “night”. As sunrise time approached, rain stopped for a while and some nice colours inundated the sky and the far away glacier. A couple of hours before sunrise, I had been walking along the lagoon shore in the search of some distinctive ice forms. I found this nice chunk, with a shape which reminded me of three horses galloping in the water, their heads sticking out from the surface. I put them quite in the middle of the frame (breaking that “holy” rule of the thirds) to give them the weight I wanted and included a part of the black mountains to the right, adding a strong diagonal which converged to the center of the image. As sunrise approached, the great colours in the clouds and glacier appeared, seeming even stronger due to the contrast of the rest of the broody sky. I moved so they converged over the central ice chunk, highlighting it and adding a strong majestic character. The rest of ice chunks balanced the photograph, and a quite split horizon (again, another photographic “rule” broken!) reinforced the static character of the lake, showing also the place as a surreal limbo where water and sky merged together, a place hardly bound to our reality. This is an image breaking indeed some of the frequently adopted “rules” of photography…I would love to hear from you what you think about that… Do you think this image would have been better if complying with those rules?

I will be writing much more often from now on, once every week at least, with posts related to some images in particular and some other general things related to photography, nature, trips and general thoughts…Do not hesitate to hang around and drop a comment too! (in your mother tongue if you prefer, google translate makes wonders!). I would love to hear what you think about…

Thanks for reading! …and great light to you all,

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