Tag Archives: Nikon d810

Storm is Coming, Isle of Eigg

I spent as much time exploring the Isle of Eigg as I could. The island offered me my first view of Scotland and it was enchanting. Much of Eigg was the rugged, green countryside that comes to mind when you think of Scotland. But as I wandered the island, I found more of its hidden-away and secret places, and revealed a different facet of the island’s character.

Sandy Beach, Isle of Eigg, Scotland, United Kingdom
September 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 61 seconds, ISO 31, 10-stop ND filter, tripod.

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To give you an idea of the remoteness of Eigg, there is just one road on the island, which is home to fewer than one hundred souls. At the end of the road is a home that once was a place to stay for J.R.R. Tolkein. There has been a long standing local story that Tolkien stayed in it in the 1930s or 1940s and that the views of Rum had inspired him in writing Lord of the Rings. The island — especially its more distant corners — has a mystical, fantastical quality. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a sorcerer emerging from one of the island’s caves. Your imagination tends to venture into ancient worlds in a place like Eigg.

In my exploration of the island I found a place along its pebbled coastline. The morning was heavy with rain and in the distance the Isle of Rhum was already shrouded by clouds and was barely visible. The place seemed far away from the more people — if they can be called that — parts of the island. Here, civilization seemed very far away and the clouds that hung over Rhum seemed to portend something more ominous than a storm.

I wanted to capture the way that moment felt in that place. I wanted to capture — somehow — the mystical, otherworldly atmosphere of the island’s coast. Using a very long exposure, I focused on the receding waves to emphasize that ethereal quality. I included the pebbles on the beach as a contrast to the white mist. The result is a photograph that encapsulates the feeling I had on that day, standing at the edge of Scotland.

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Sandy Beach, Isle of Eigg

One of the things that made Scotland such a special place to photograph was the way that its weather was ever-changing. I’d never experienced a place whose moods could change as rapidly as Scotland’s. A sky that seemed to promise only rain and leaden clouds could crack open and sunlight would stream through.

Sandy Beach, Isle of Eigg, Scotland, United Kingdom
September 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 61 seconds, ISO 31, 5-stop ND filter, tripod.

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Occasionally, the two things happened at once, and an ominous gray sky and brilliant sunlight could briefly coexist in a moment of unexpected beauty. In all of my travels, I’d never experienced the unlikely coupling of those two extremes, but in Scotland it seemed to happen daily. The juxtaposition was fascinating and lovely.

My first photographs on Eigg had focused more on the brooding quality of the Hebrides — the foreboding that sometimes creeps along the edges of your consciousness on a stormy day. But as the days progressed, I sometimes caught glimpses of a different Eigg. It was an island of paradoxes, after all; the same craggy landscape that witnessed bloody feuds was also trod by the feet of earnest missionaries who brought their faith to the rugged outpost of a continent.

I wanted to capture in a photograph that paradox — the transitory, ephemeral nature of light on the Isle of Eigg, which, in my mind, suggested something of the island’s contradictory history. The shot that best encapsulates this for me is of puddles I found along the shore on a day that — like many on Eigg — was foggy and overcast. But I was fortunate that day and happened to see them as they were pierced by sunlight, which revealed the undulations in the sand under the surface. Only the slightest bit of sunlight touched the water’s surface, but it was enough, and the sand sparkled like gold.

The result is a very moody shot, but it’s a different kind of mood that in earlier photographs of the island. The light can change quickly on Eigg, and I was lucky to witness that rare moment of contradictions.

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Rocky Beach in the Evening, Isle of Eigg

One of the things that I love about photography is that there is always the possibility for improvement, that no matter my level of experience, I can always learn new techniques to improve my craft. Recently, I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop with acclaimed photographer Bruce Percy on the Isle of Eigg, off the coast of Scotland.

Rocky Beach in the Evening, Isle of Eigg, Scotland, United Kingdom
September 2017, focus stacking from 2 images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 10 seconds, ISO 31, tripod.

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There are many people who are skilled in a particular area and many others who are skilled as teachers; it’s rare to find someone who is both. Bruce is something of a rarity: he is both a highly skilled photographer and a fantastic teacher and mentor. The opportunity to learn from someone as talented as Bruce and in an environment as spectacular as the Isle of Eigg was one of the highlights of my career.

Eigg is one of the Inner Hebrides, islands located off the western coast of mainland Scotland. Craggy and sparsely populated, the jagged cluster of islands is dotted with Iron Age sites and traces of the earliest Christians to see this part of the world. The islands have a greater percentage of Gaelic speakers than anywhere else in Scotland, save their neighbors to the west, the Outer Hebrides. In many ways, walking along the rocky coast of Eigg was a bit like stepping out of the twenty-first century and into some distant point in the past.

Although Eigg is largely unknown as a travel destination, it’s a popular and well-documented location among photographers, primarily because of Bruce’s workshops. The challenge I gave myself was to try and capture something new and unique about the island. I was, after all, seeing it with a newcomer’s eyes.

The trip to Scotland — the rough and rugged edge of Europe — was a first for me. I was amazed daily by the rapid changes in the weather: the same sky that was gray and ominous one moment could become illuminated with brilliant sunlight the next. There were days when it seemed we could experience all four seasons in the span of a few hours.

But in my memory, Eigg exists largely in the grays and heavy blues of impending storms. When I photographed the rocky beach along Eigg’s coast, I used long exposure and ND filter to capture those mood and the sense of something imminent on the horizon.

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Namibian Nights

After a day spent walking and climbing the dunes at Sossusvlei, I set up camp with other photographers roughly 70 km away. It’s the nature of being a travel photographer that sleep is often difficult. You exhaust yourself during the daylight hours, but when you try to rest your brain won’t always cooperate. I find myself going over and over the places I’ve seen that day, the shots that I got and the ones I wish could have been better. My mind wanders.

Milky Way and Night Sky of Namibia
May 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/4, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 6400, tripod.

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As it turns out, it’s a good thing to be a sleepless photographer in Namibia. As beautiful as the country is during daylight hours, I found it to be even more striking by night. The Namib Desert is one of the best places in the world to see the night sky. There’s little electricity in this part of Namibia, meaning there is virtually no light pollution. When you look up at the night sky in Namibia, you see it the way the ancients saw it.

People don’t look up at the night sky anymore. We go through life continually distracted, and because we’re rarely ever in places that are really, truly dark, most of us simply don’t notice what goes on above us. But in Namibia’s desert, you can’t help but look up. It’s such a vast, calm expanse — and mostly devoid of people — that it’s an ideal place for stargazing. It’s one of the darkest skies in the world.

I keep coming back to the idea of insignificance, but if Namibia in the daytime makes a person feel small, being in the desert at night convinces you very quickly that you are of no consequence in the grand span of time and space. It was humbling, and incredibly beautiful.

I took many photographs in Namibia at night. But can anyone really capture the beauty of one of the last truly dark places left on earth?

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Dunes of Sossusvlei, Namibia

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.

Big Daddy Dune of Sossusvlei in the Morning, Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia
May 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 112mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/15 second, ISO 64, tripod.

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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.

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Acacia Trees of Deadvlei, Namibia

Namibia left me awestruck on a daily basis. Each day that I was in the country, I encountered landscapes and scenery unlike anything I’d seen anywhere else in the world.

Dead Acacia Trees and Red Dunes of Deadvlei in Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia
May 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 35mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/20 second, ISO 64, tripod.

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Kolmanskop gave me an idea of what the world would look like if humanity vanished, and the Quiver Trees made me feel that I’d stepped into a landscape conjured in a child’s imagination.
I thought I’d seen the most otherworldly of Namibia’s landscapes, but I was unprepared for the Deadvlei Trees. A place like this reminds you that we are all powerless against nature. It also gives you some perspective of just how insignificant humans are in the grand passage of time.

Deadvlei was once under water. It’s believed that roughly one thousand years ago, the Tsauchab River flooded, creating shallow pools with a clay pan underneath. In the shallow lake formed by the flooding, acacia trees flourished. But approximately two hundred years later, the climate changed. The area became dry and drought-stricken, and the massive dunes cut the area off from the river.

Looking at the area now, it’s difficult to imagine that there was ever water here. Deadvlei — its name means “Dead Valley” — reveals an earth devoid of water, its clay surface baked white and crackled from centuries of heat. Oddly, the acacia trees that flourished when Deadvlei was awash with water are still here. Believed to be several hundred years old, they remain; scorched black from centuries of sunlight. The air here is too dry for them to decompose; instead, they stand like blackened monuments to the passage of time.

What I had seen so far of Namibia left me eager to see more of this eerily beautiful country.

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Fisherman Bastion in the Morning, Budapest

It didn’t take long for me to become thoroughly charmed by Budapest. It’s a beautiful city, and it seemed that every time I turned a corner, I found another stunning architectural work. It was tempting, at times, to simply find a bench, sit, and spend hours out of the day admiring some of Budapest’s grandest structures.

Panorama of Fisherman Bastion in the Morning, Budapest, Hungary
July 2017, panorama from 4 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 0.6 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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But I knew that as taken as I was with Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica, there were other sights waiting for me in the city. After a few days of exploring, I decided to photograph Saint Matthias Church, another of Budapest’s most striking churches. It was my birthday, and I wanted to spend the day in and around the church, hopefully getting some great shots.

To get a good view of Saint Matthias, I walked up to the Fisherman’s Bastion, a large terrace built as a viewing platform between 1899 and 1905. As I discovered, calling the Bastion a “terrace” is a bit misleading; it doesn’t give an adequate sense of the scale and grandeur of it. The Bastion has seven turrets, a parapet, and a monumental double staircase; it’s the kind of place you’d expect to find in a children’s fairytale. Calling the Bastion a “terrace” is the equivalent of calling the Louvre a “gallery.”

I became so consumed with exploring the Fisherman’s Bastion that I decided to save Saint Matthias for later. It was early morning, and the white stone of the Bastion glowed pink in the breaking light. It was one of those spectacular sunrises that you catch every now and then, and the light made the detailed stonework of the Bastion even more special.

I didn’t get to Saint Matthias that day. I spent the day among the seven turrets of the Bastion in perfect sunlight, on a day that felt like a gift from the universe.

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Saint Stephen Basilica in the Morning, Budapest

On my second day in Budapest, I visited the other of the city’s two unmissable structures, St. Stephen’s Basilica. Though the buildings serve very different purposes — one celebrates sovereignty and the other faith — they have one thing in common: they are the same height. Current city regulations prohibit construction of anything taller.

Panorama of Saint Stephen Basilica in the Morning, Budapest, Hungary
July 2017, panorama from 3 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 8 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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Ecclesiastical buildings are almost always breathtaking, and this one is no exception. A large, intricate mosaic marks the entry to the basilica (it’s so beautiful that I decided to make it the focus of the shot), and the building’s interior is magisterial. The monumental size of the basilica is really only apparent from the inside, where various marbles and precious stones shimmer in candlelight. The massive structure is one of the most photographed buildings in Europe.

Remarkable buildings often have remarkable stories, and the basilica has its own tale of tenacity and vision. Built on the site where wild animals once fought each other for public entertainment, the original church was a refuge for many residents during a devastating flood in 1838. In their gratitude, the survivors vowed to build a larger church in its place.

In 1845, architect Jozsef Hild began plans for a massive domed church, but there were numerous delays — not the least of which was a revolution — which meant that the foundation was not laid until 1851. Hild died before completing the basilica, and his successor, Miklos Ybl, faced an even bigger challenge. It was already apparent that Hild’s design would have to be reworked when, in 1868, the huge pillars that supported the dome began to sink. The walls of the grand church broke apart and the newly constructed dome collapsed to the ground. It was such a catastrophic failure that the only solution was to completely rebuild the basilica from the ground.

The basilica was finally completed — by a third architect following the death of Ybl — in 1906. It was said that at the consecration mass, Emperor Francis Joseph kept looking upward, wary of another collapse of the dome. The dome did not collapse, however, and today offers one of the best views of this beautiful city.

It’s easy to be awed by a structure like St. Stephen’s simply for its incredible beauty. But as I positioned my camera and waited for just the right amount of early morning light, I was also awed by determination and vision that went into its construction. I was reminded once again that buildings are nothing if not a reflection of the human spirit.

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Budapest Parliament in the Evening, Hungary

My work as a photographer often leads me to some of the world’s most beautiful places, both natural and manmade. While the natural world is frequently breathtaking in its beauty, I find myself no less awestruck by the work of human hands and our small attempts to leave something of ourselves behind.

Budapest Parliament and Danube River Embankment in the Evening, Budapest, Hungary
July 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 92mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 161 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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When I’m fortunate enough to photograph some of the world’s most beautiful buildings, I often allow my mind to wander and I frequently find myself thinking that structures are far more than brick and mortar. They’re reflections of the human spirit, the spirit of a designer who possesses a vision and, in the case of national buildings, the spirit of a people. They’re a reflection of the way a nation sees itself.

Budapest is easily one of the most striking cities in Europe, a jewel perched along the banks of the Danube. On my first night in the city, I took a walk along this storied river, and was instantly charmed by Budapest and its architecture. In the blue light of an early evening, with the lights of the city reflected in the Danube, Budapest is especially beautiful.

But what I was most drawn to was its Parliament building. It’s a striking, neo-Gothic structure and the tallest building in the city. Overlooking the south bank of the river, it’s impossible to miss. As majestic as the building’s exterior is, its interior is equally impressive.

The building was inaugurated in 1896, to honor the nation’s sovereignty on the thousandth anniversary of its founding. It’s a structure worthy of a thousandth anniversary. Designed by the great Hungarian architect Imre Steindl, the construction involved almost 100,000 people. In the seventeen years it took to complete the building, nearly half a million gemstones were used. Think about it: almost half a million gemstones. The Parliament was the crowning achievement of Steindl’s career, but the master architect went blind before the grand building was completed.

As I prepared for the shot, these are the things I thought of. I thought of a nation’s pride reflected in its Parliament and the brilliant man who designed it, unable to see his masterpiece completed. These are the stories that buildings would tell if they had the ability.

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Rovinj in the Evening, Croatia

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.

Rovinj Skyline in the Evening, Istria, Croatia
July 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 320 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

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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.

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