Tag Archives: 24-70 f/2.8
As a photographer, I am almost always working. Even when I’m “officially” on vacation with my family, I can’t help but be drawn to beautiful, interesting places. I always have a camera with me, so even my down time usually results in at least a few photographs.
My family and I made a trip to St Moritz for the holidays. Skiing is one of my favorite pastimes to share with my family, and St Moritz lives up to its reputation as a beautiful winter retreat.
But St Moritz is, as we quickly learned, much more than a winter ski destination. In St Moritz, it’s possible to experience any number of weather extremes — snow, storms, mist, and even sun — over the space of a day. Every day seemed to bring totally different weather than we’d had the day before. And there were more brilliantly sunny days than most people would ever expect.
In fact, the large number of bright, sunny days in St Moritz is one of the things that made the resort. For centuries, it was a popular spot for religious pilgrims who made the trek to drink from the area’s mineral springs. Pilgrims who made the journey to the springs were granted absolution from their sins. It was only in the mid-1800s that a pioneering entrepreneur, Caspar Badrutt, realized the unique appeal of a place that offered snow-covered natural beauty with 300 days of sunlight each year. Badrutt invited a handful of English friends to St Moritz during the winter, promising that if they loved the place as he expected, they could stay at his expense. If they didn’t like it, he would reimburse their travel expenses. The English tourists came, and as Badrutt expected, they loved the place, and a major tourist destination was born.
Like Badrutt’s English guests, I find the juxtaposition of snow and sun strikingly beautiful. But the most beautiful days in St Moritz were the ones when we had a snow storm followed by brilliant sunlight. The light that fell over St Moritz on those days — when sunlight broke through an atmosphere still heavy with snow — was enchanting and bathed the town in a fairy tale glow.
A view like this one, taken over St Moritz as the sun broke through the snow, is the reason that my family vacation became a semi-working holiday.
Sometimes, as a photographer, you set out to photograph one thing, and along the way, you find something unexpectedly beautiful that changes all of your plans. When I set out to go to the Isle of Eigg, a place I’d long wanted to see, I planned for a short stay in Edinburgh along the way.
I’d seen photographs of the city and read bits about here and there, but none of it had left a particular impression with me. I planned the stop in Edinburgh mostly as a lark.
But in the way that things often happen, Edinburgh surprised me — the city is a wonder. I wandered through the Old Town, down its narrow streets and hidden alleys, each one seeming to hold untold stories. The twenty-first century doesn’t intrude much in Edinburgh’s Old Town; walking along the brick streets in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle is a bit like stepping into a Harry Potter novel, and I say that admiringly.
I made my way to the top of Calton Hill, one of the main hills overlooking the city. Calton Hill was planned to be a monument to soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars, but money ran out and it was never completed. It’s difficult to imagine now, but for years, the hill was seen as an embarrassment to the city, known as “Edinburgh’s Shame.”
Nowadays, no one views the hill as an embarrassment. Attempts to turn it into a commercialised tourist attraction mercifully failed. It’s ruggedly beautiful and from the top of Calton Hill, I had views of the entire city. It was my first trip to Edinburgh, intended only as a quick stop along the way to another destination, and I felt lucky to have gotten to explore the city and its Old World charm. Looking out over the city as the sun set, I understood Queen Victoria’s remark that Edinburgh is “fairy-like and what you would imagine as a thing to dream of.”
I learned something more about insignificance when my travels took me to Sossusvlei. In Namibia I’d seen stark, desolate landscapes and ancient plant life that was blackened and bare from centuries in the sun. I expected that I’d seen the most remarkable landscapes the country had to offer, but even after exploring the alien landscape of Deadvlei, I was amazed by Sossusvlei.
By now, my eyes were beginning to adjust to the starkly contrasting colors of Namibia — the rich terra cotta earth against a brilliant blue sky. I had even, to a degree, become accustomed to the strange, weathered trees that I seemed to encounter at every destination. My eyes were used to these things. At Sossusvlei, what I found most breathtaking was the sheer enormity of the place.
Sossusvlei is famous for its massive sand dunes, which are believed to be the tallest in the world. The biggest of them, known as Big Daddy, is roughly 325 meters high. Their striking red color is a result of the iron in the sand, and the contrasting colors, combined with the dunes curving, feminine lines make it one of the most photogenic destinations in Namibia. Like myself, photographers are drawn to the place because of its incredible beauty, but then — also like me — they find themselves feeling tiny and inconsequential in the face of its majesty.
Climbing the dunes — which is what most people come to Sossusvlei for — reveals a landscape that words and photographs can’t adequately describe. There’s more life here than you would imagine, and it says something of the resilience of living things that so many plants and insects have adapted in order to survive here.
But I found plenty to amaze me from the ground. I set up my tripod, framed the shot, and tried my best to capture some of the incredible beauty of Sossusvlei.
Visitors to Rovinj are often struck by its resemblance to Venice, its neighbor almost directly across the Adriatic Sea. The only thing that seems to distinguish “Little Venice” from its namesake is the absence of canals and busloads of tourists.
The similarity is not a coincidence. Rovinj, once controlled by both the Byzantines and the Franks, was regular victim of pirate attacks. Across the Adriatic, Venice eyed the city, which was then an island, as a possible outpost for their maritime empire. In 1283, Rovinj swore its allegiance to Venice in return for protection.
This arrangement between Rovinj and Venice was never an altogether happy one. Though Rovinj was part of the Venetian republic from 1283 to 1797, its citizens were never fully accepted by the Venetians, who viewed them as inferior. In time, residents of Rovinj came to resent Venetian rule, even as they prospered courtesy of Venice’s protection.
Nowadays, however, Rovinj is a Croatian city and the tensions with Venice are long-forgotten. Twenty-first century visitors to the city are the real beneficiaries of that long-ago relationship. Walking the streets of Rovinj, one sees the winged lion — the symbol of Venice — virtually everywhere. And the city’s most recognizable structure — the Church of St. Euphemia — is built in the Venetian Baroque style and was constructed as a twin to Venice’s own Campanile of St. Mark.
As I position my camera to capture the city, I don’t think of faded empires or animosities between cities. I only marvel at the beautiful hybrid created by the fusion of cultures in Rovinj.
Artists often have complicated relationships with their birthplaces. James Joyce was conflicted in his feelings about Dublin and left the city, although he could never entirely cut the chords that bound him to it. William Faulkner was a keen-eyed critic of life in Mississippi, but seemed unable to write about any other place. Following their deaths, both men were embraced by the birthplaces that they could never quite reconcile themselves to.
And then there is Salzburg. It’s a lovely city, nestled between hills, tailor-made for a photographer’s work. It is also the birthplace of Mozart, an artist intimately associated with the place of his birth. If you ask most people what they know of Salzburg, most will tell you it was the home of the composer. Walking through the city’s ancient streets today, I almost expect to see Mozart when I round a corner. The city is permeated with his presence.
Tourists come to Salzburg by the busload to see the small apartment where Mozart was born and the larger residence—both now museums—that the family moved into when Mozart was a teenager. Salzburg, understandably, has commercialized its connection to the composer. But Mozart, especially in his youth, couldn’t wait to leave the city and felt stifled within its confines. He chafed in his role as court musician to the Archbishop and even as young man knew that he was meant for bigger things.
Walking through the streets of Salzburg on a cloudy early evening, I think of the weight of history and place. I think of the ambitions of a young man who wanted to escape the city of his birth but who has been embraced as a cherished native son. As I frame my shot of his birthplace, I wonder what the composer would think of the museums that occupy his former homes and the tourists arriving there daily. Perhaps he’s made his peace with Salzburg, I think as I photograph the city in the blue slivers of early evening.
There’s something to be said for the people who chose to settle on Santorini, for the faith and the mettle of people who perch their most important town on the vertiginous edge of a cliff. People come to Santorini for its spectacular, made-for-a-postcard views of blue-domed churches at sunset. But they don’t often give a lot of thought to the island’s inhabitants.
It was my last day in Santorini. I’d climbed the steep passageways, wandered through its churches, and captured more than a few of the island’s famous sunsets. It wasn’t yet the high season, but the island was still crowded with tourists and I found myself wanting to spend the time I had left in relative solitude. Santorini and its history had given me much to think about.
You can’t look at Santorini without understanding something of its history — Santorini is, after all, merely the remains of a larger island destroyed in a massive volcanic eruption in roughly 1500 B.C. The modern-day towns seem to hang so near to the edge of the caldera formed by the eruption that a good breeze might blow them away. Santorini’s 1,600 residents exist on a spot 260 meters above the sea. It takes a certain kind of people to live in such an environment.
They weren’t people who were easily broken by their environment. Later, long after the volcano did its work, the residents of Santorini, faced with an unforgiving natural world and raiders from the Middle East, they dug homes into Santorini’s rough-hewn surface. Known as yposkafos, which means “dug into the rock,” many of these homes still exist on Santorini, a testament to the hardiness of its people.
The rock dwellings weren’t the only structures that Santorinians built for protection. Invoking their faith and the protection of God, they built churches by the dozens. By some estimates, there are 600 churches on Santorini, because for many years, individual families built them to ensure God’s protection over their husbands and fathers who made their living on the sea.
On my last day in Santorini, I entered one of these churches — the famous blue-domed Saint Theodore. My plan was to take a few last photos of Fira and its sunsets, and walking through its winding streets, I happened to come upon this view — the magnificent Saint Theodore Church in early evening sunlight. The view was all the more special because I knew my time in Santorini was coming to an end, and like all visitors to the island, I was completely charmed by the place.
As it happened, I didn’t capture one of Fira’s vivid sunsets that day. But what I did capture was all of the essential elements of Santorini in one image — its pastel-hued architecture against black, volcanic cliffs and the deep blue of the sea. And there’s something here, I hope, of the strength and faith of its residents. As for that last sunset – now I have a good reason to go back.
The next morning, I awoke early. I wanted to photograph Oia in the soft light of early morning. Its sunsets may be spectacular, but Santorini is no less beautiful by sunrise.
Walking along the winding streets and staircases of Oia with most of the village still asleep, I let my mind drift to Santorini’s history. So much of Oia is new — the necessary result of rebuilding after the 1956 volcanic eruption — that it was sometimes easy for me to forget that I was walking in the footsteps of one of the oldest civilizations in Europe.
The people who originally called the island home were the Minoans, an enigmatic people whose culture is, after many centuries, still something of a mystery. They wrote in a language that has never been fully deciphered; much of what is known about the Minoans comes from others, after the fact. Even today, the Minoans are a shadowy, mysterious people, with much of their history lost to the passage of time.
But what we do know about these early inhabitants of the Aegean islands suggests that the Minoans were a highly advanced people. Their palaces, particularly the palace at Knossos on the island of Crete, was not only aesthetically impressive, but was a technological marvel, complete with flush toilets.
The ancient historian Thucydides referred to the Minoans as a thalassocracy, or an empire of the sea. Protected as they were by the sea, the Minoans were virtually invulnerable; their palaces, even the grand one at Knossos, were not fortified. Their dominance of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas was so complete that they viewed their world as unassailable. Hundreds of years after Egyptian society peaked, the Minoans looked out over impossibly blue seas and saw a world that was theirs alone.
But unlike the Egyptians, the Minoans did not shut themselves off from the world. They were vibrant, dynamic people, as seafarers tend to be, who traded their textiles and metalwork in Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia, and Lebanon. Evidence of their artwork can be found in the Nile Delta.
But at the height of their power, the Minoans vanished. Without any obvious threats, one of the most powerful ancient civilizations simply disappeared from the historical record, leaving historians and archaeologists (and the occasional photographer) to puzzle over their demise for centuries.
For a while that morning, I had Oia to myself. The sun was just beginning to make itself known, and the tourists, likely still sleeping off the wine of the night before, were not yet out and about. I watched the sun rise over that beautiful island and pondered its ancient mysteries. It’s easy to become lost in the past in a place like Santorini.
By the time I got around to photographing one of Santorini’s famed sunsets, I was thoroughly captivated by this small sliver of volcanic island. Everything about Santorini was enchanting — I was so charmed by the island that even after climbing flight after flight of narrow, cobbled stairs, I only wanted to see more.
I spent days exploring and photographing Oia’s blue-domed churches and its windmills, and marveling at the view over the deep blue of the Aegean. I photographed its iconic chalk-white churches and homes, made all the more striking against the blue of the sea and sky. But I hadn’t yet captured one of the island’s sunsets.
Everyone knows Santorini for its famed blue and white churches, but it’s equally famous for its sunsets, so much so that crowds of tourists gather at certain points on the island for the best views. Oia, in particular, is regarded as one of best places on the island to watch the sun go down. In summer, which is the high tourist season in Santorini — finding a spot to oneself is all but impossible.
I was there in the shoulder season, and still Oia was crowded with tourists who had the same objective as I did — to see those spectacular sunsets. The windmills were a popular spot for sunset viewing, as was Oia Castle. I’ll admit that I went hoping to catch a few dreamy, golden hour moments to myself, and was disappointed to find that dozens of other people had the same idea.
After lugging my tripod and cameras up Oia’s maze of stairs, I found a great view and got set up to capture the sunset. Plenty of other people had the same idea, but I knew they could be edited out of the photo if necessary. As the sun began to set over the Aegean, the crowds were momentarily hushed as they and I looked in awe at the one of the most breathtaking sunsets I’d ever seen.
But then I happened to glance to my side — at Oia itself, and I realized that one of the most spectacular sights was in the other direction. As incredible as the sunset was, it left Oia’s whitewashed buildings glazed in a glowing, pastel light, and I thought the village had never looked lovelier. And while the crowds of tourists were mesmerized by the sea view, for a few moments, I had that watercolor-hued image to myself.
To walk the winding streets of Oia was to be continually reminded of the beauty that sometimes comes from tragedy. The island of Santorini is famous for its blue-domed churches, and there’s no denying their charm. The image of chalk-white churches and their blue domes against a clear blue sky is perhaps the quintessential postcard image from Santorini. But as with the island itself, there’s an element of the tragic behind the island’s iconic churches.
Perched high on a caldera cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea, Oia was once a village of fishermen, and the lives of fishermen were filled with dangers and uncertainty. The sea that provided for your family could turn deadly; there were no guarantees.
And so the people of Oia did what people have always done in times of distress: they prayed. To keep their husbands, fathers, and sons safe at sea, the families of Oia — the wealthy ones, at least built churches. Year after year, one family after another built churches, many of them named for the saints that the fishermen looked to for protection. The lucky fishermen who returned safely brought all manner of treasure — religious icons, crystal chandeliers — and as a result, the churches of Santorini often house remarkable valuables. Most of Santorini’s churches are still owned by the families who built them; they’ve simply been passed down through the years.
Like the fishermen who made their living in the Aegean and were keenly attuned to its dangers, to live in Santorini is to live with an understanding that the sea is violent, unpredictable. Many of the tourists who come to Oia and take their postcard-worthy photographs of the town’s sugar cube white buildings are unaware that in the not-so-distant past, Oia was nearly wiped from the earth, and that one of the only things keeping the town alive today are the tourists themselves.
On July 9, 1956, a massive earthquake struck Santorini. It lasted only twelve minutes, but in that time, much of the ancient villages of Oia and Fira were destroyed. More than thirty lives were lost, and almost ninety percent of Santorini’s buildings were damaged or destroyed. Much of the local population moved elsewhere, and villages like the ones now famous for their blue-domed churches were in danger of disappearing. Oia and the surrounding towns didn’t really begin to recover from the earthquake until the 1970s, when they began to look to tourism as their lifeline.
Here in Oia, so much of its beauty comes from the tragedies of its past. The faithful uttered fervent prayers and built churches to stave off disaster. In the wake of another, later disaster—the earthquake—the town was rebuilt and its churches were refurbished, painted in their trademark blues and whites. As the sun sets over Oia, I think of the incredible beauty of this place and the fragility of life.
After exploring and photographing the Parthenon, I wandered around the Acropolis. It was easy to become lost in thought there, imagining Athens in the time of the philosophers. Eventually I made my way to the Areopagus, a large outcropping of rock to the west of the Acropolis. It was a rock with a dark history, as it was once the site of trials for those accused of homicide.
That wasn’t the only significance of the Areopagus. It is believed to be the site of a famous meeting between Alexander the Great and the philosopher Diogenes. Alexander, whose personal tutor was Aristotle, was as much a student of philosophy as a general. The brash young commander, who had already met and won the praise of many of Greece’s most influential philosophers, was dismayed that Diogenes had not yet come to meet him and chose to go to the philosopher himself. He found Diogenes on the Areopagus, reclining in the sun. Eager to win the philosopher’s respect, Alexander asked Diogenes if he wanted anything; the philosopher’s simple reply was “Stand out of my light.” Rather than feel insulted by the philosopher’s indifference, Alexander was impressed by his haughtiness.
I think of this meeting as I wander the Areopagus and set up my tripod to photograph the Acropolis from the other side. Looking over this grand city from this vantage point, I can imagine Diogenes with the sun on his face, speaking imperviously to Alexander. Athens can do that; it’s a city that inspires a feeling of grandeur. Lounging atop the Areopagus in the sun, I can imagine it must have been easy for the philosopher to speak indifferently to the man who conquered most of the known world by the time he was in his mid-twenties. I take my shots, and with a setting sun in my face, I feel a bit like a philosopher myself.