Tag Archives: 24-70 f/2.8

Oia Churches at Sunset, Santorini

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.

White Churches of Oia Village at Sunset, Santorini, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 35mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

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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.

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Acropolis in the Evening, Athens

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.

View of Acropolis from the Areopagus Hill in the Evening, Athens, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 31mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 0.8 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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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.

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Acropolis in the Morning, Athens

Visiting Greece was a dream — what traveler hasn’t imagined walking along ancient streets in the shadows of Olympian Gods? When I planned the trip to Greece, Athens was the first stop on my itinerary; I could hardly wait to see one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the birthplace of democracy and philosophy.

View of Acropolis from the Philopappos Hill in the Morning, Athens, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 62mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 25 seconds, ISO 80, tripod.

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The first to visit and shoot in this grand city was the Acropolis and Parthenon. Athens is a city of stark contrasts, where the distant past seems to live alongside a very modern metropolis. I wanted to see Athens the way the ancient Greeks would have seen it; I wanted to approach the Parthenon, that beautiful temple to their patron, Athena, with the same sense of wonder and pride they must have felt.

I found what I think must be the best view of the Acropolis at the top of Philopappos Hill. The hill is in the center of Athens, but from here, the modern city of cars and busloads of tourists somehow manages to disappear. I walked among olive trees in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and at the top of the hill, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis at dawn. Seeing the Acropolis from this vantage point, with modernity temporarily suspended, I think I felt something of what the ancients must have felt here…

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Selva Val Gardena in the Evening, Dolomites

Although I love to photograph the Alps — it’s a stunningly beautiful place — it can be frustrating because finding the perfect view is difficult. It can be harder than you might imagine to capture that kind of natural majesty.

Aerial View of Selva Val Gardena in the Evening, Val Gardena, Dolomites, Italy
January 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 80, tripod.

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As soon as we arrived at Selva Val Gardena, I began exploring the village’s hiking trails to find the best view of the city and the mountains. This was a family vacation, but I couldn’t resist photographing the village.

This is one of my favorite spots in Selva Val Gardena — it’s a place where the ski slopes and the road seem to converge, forming a dramatic angle in the photograph. There is energy in this photograph that I like — the dynamic convergence of the two roads, as well as the three cliffs in the background that overlook the slopes. There’s the suggestion of something menacing about those cliffs, perhaps a warning of the mountain and its dangers.

Once again, I found a spot overlooking the village and set up my tripod. Even though the snow on the slopes was artificial and the cliffs gave a somewhat sinister cast to the scene, I liked it nonetheless — an Alpine village in the early hours of evening.

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Aerial View of Selva Val Gardena, Dolomites

For the past several years, my family and I have spent the first two weeks of the New Year skiing in various locations in Europe. This year, we chose the Italian Dolomites, famous among skiiers for its Sella Ronda region. We chose a ski resort in the village of Selva Val Gardena, one of the three villages that make up the valley known as Val Gardena.

Aerial View of Selva Val Gardena in the Evening, Val Gardena, Dolomites, Italy
January 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 48mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 25 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

This year, however, was different. For the first time that I can remember, there was no snow. There was artificial snow on the slopes, to be sure, (and the skiing was great) but the surrounding mountains were strangely snowless. Selva Val Gardena wasn’t any less lovely for lack of snow; it could be a picture postcard of an Alpine village. But there was nothing to indicate that this was ski resort in January — lovely as it was, it might just as easily have been the middle of summer.

But as I had no control over the weather and I didn’t want to waste an opportunity for a great shot, I managed to slip away and get some fine sunrise and sunset shots. Even without snow, I found Selva Val Gardena to be an enchanting place.

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Panorama of San Sebastian in the Morning

A bit later, after photographing the Biblioteca Municipal, I walked further out along the beach.

Panorama of San Sebastian in the Morning Light, Basque Country, Spain
July 2016, panorama from 3 horizontal images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 44mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 0.4 seconds, ISO 31, tripod.

I wanted a panoramic view of the city, one which would encompass the Old City, the port, and Monte Urgull, the hill which dominates San Sebastian. Given its height and its location, the hill was used for many years for the city’s defense. Since 1950, however, Monte Urgull is most well-known for its 12 metre long statue of Jesus at its crown.

By the time I found a spot which would allow me to capture everything I wanted in one shot, blue hour was waning and the first hints of morning’s golden hour were breaking through the horizon. Against the soft hues of the beach and sky, the brilliant green of the hill was striking. As the sun rose higher, the clouds began to glow a golden pink, and the sculpture of Jesus seemed illuminated from within. Centered within the panorama, it made an imposing image.

From this vantage point, it wasn’t difficult to see why San Sebastian is one of the Basque region’s most loved cities. The city is a mixture of old and new, sacred and secular, man-made beauty juxtaposed against nature’s handiwork. And for a few moments on an early morning, I was lucky enough to capture all of it one shot.

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Biblioteca Muncipal, San Sebastian

It’s fitting that in 2016’s San Sebastian is European City of Culture, I chose to take a photograph of the Biblioteca Municipal.

Panorama of Biblioteca Municipal Central in the Morning, San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain
July 2016, panorama from 5 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 2.5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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I walked to the area in early morning, with the first tentative rays of sunlight beginning to break through the night sky. In the quiet of an early morning, with the area mostly to myself, the structure made a striking picture.

It is also fitting that in a city known for its abundant and energetic nightlife, nearby nightclubs were still bustling, even at this early hour. The nightclub on the left was particularly busy, with revelers still spilling out into the street. In the stillness, I spotted a man alone on a bench, his head in his hands. I couldn’t help wondering if he was one of the club’s patrons, a man whose party had come to an unpleasant end. I imagined he must have quite a story to tell.

Looking away from the clubbers, I focused the photograph on the library, with the city hall in the foreground. Waning darkness and the soft glow of streetlights lent the shot a soft, subdued quality. As the last of the night’s partiers trickled into the street, I packed up my equipment, pleased with the shot and silently amused by the man on the bench.

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Kursaal Bridge, San Sebastian

I was excited to see San Sebastian, one of the jewels of Basque country. The city is nestled into a crook of the Bay of Biscay, and is famous for its green hills and beautiful beaches.

Kursaal Bridge and Urumea River Embankment in the Evening, San Sebastian, Spain
June 2016, panorama from 3 horizontal images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 25 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

It’s a city of many personalities and moods, both youthful and laid-back and sophisticated with an Old World vibe. At virtually any point in the storied city, it is impossible not be charmed by its beauty.

I arrived in San Sebastian at nightfall. The city is particularly lively after the sun goes down; it’s a modern, innovative city noted for its culture, particularly its film festivals. But I was interested in another side of San Sebastian — I wanted a quiet moment to see the city apart from its nightlife.

I strolled through the Old Town along the Urumea River embankment. I stood at the foot of the Kursaal Bridge, looking across the river at the conference center of the same name. It’s a bit of a jarring juxtaposition: two cube-shaped, modern structures perched along the fringes of the Old Town. The buildings are controversial: beloved by some for their modern sensibilities, derided by others for obscuring the beaches and for their incongruity in the graceful Old Town.

I wasn’t here as an architecture critic. I wanted to capture the Kursaal Centre and the river by early evening light, and set up my tripod at the base of the bridge. The buildings may be a bit out of place, but against the river, I found them fascinating in early nightfall.

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