September 30, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #16

As you look past Machu Picchu to Huayan Picchu, you see a mountain covered with plants.  Yet at the top of the mountain there are many Inca ruins.  No one seems to know exactly why the buildings are there.  The most common believe is that the buildings were used as an outpost to survey the surroundings for possible enemy movements.   But again, because the Incas had no written language, there exact purpose will never be known.
Looking at the people in these photos, I think you can get some idea as to how hard the climbing is.


September 27, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #15

You might ask:  what does a well maintained trail look like?  It looks like this.

September 23, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #14

Today’s photo was taken from the top of Huayna Picchu (the mountain directly behind Machu Picchu).  According to the Lonely Plant tour book on Peru:  “at first glance, it would appear that Huayna Picchu is a difficult climb, but there is a well maintained trail; although the ascent is steep, it’s not technically difficult.”  Not sure what that means.  What I do know is that almost everyone that we encountered on the trail was gasping for air and making frequent stops to rest.  Access to the mountain is limited and you have to obtain a separate ticket to climb Huayna Picchu, but I think it is worth the effort.
Today’s photo is not one of my favorite shots from Machu Picchu. I am presenting it because you do not often see photos of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu.  I think this angle gives you a much better perspective of how large Machu Picchu is, its overall design and its relationship to the surroundings.

September 21, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #13

Well, we have finally arrived at what I really wanted to photograph—Machu Picchu.  Before I go into how and why I took the photograph that I took, I would like to provide you with a little background.  Photographing Machu Picchu is hard.  Why?  Basically, three reason:  (1) it has been photographed so many times and as a result, the bar is quite high for any photograph to be judged as good; (2) the orientation of the sun from left to right which cast hard shadows on many parts of the ruins and the harsh light because of the altitude makes taking a pleasing photograph very difficult; and, (3) the limited access (open at 7:00 AM and closing at 5:00 PM) makes for rather large crowds and poor lighting.
Before I discuss today’s photo, I want to say that I got lucky.  We stayed at the hotel at the top of the mountain and as a result I did not have to worry about catching the last bus (at 5:00 PM) down the mountain.  I got to stay to the very last minute of the park’s opening.  Second, clouds moved-in late in the afternoon and softened the light and provided some great rays-of-light that added to the photo.
I tried two compositions of Machu Picchu: one showing almost all of the ruins and the one presented here which shows only a small portion of the ruins.  I shoot seven shots (+3 EV to -3EV) with the camera on a tripod, so that I could use HDR, if I wanted.  In the image presented I used four of the shots (-3 EV to 0 EV) and combined them using nik HDR Pro (which is becoming my favorite program for HDR).  Because I wanted to soften the HDR effect, I then used nik Color Efex Pro’s glamour glow filter.  I think the result is details with a soft feel.  Finally, I dodged and burn various elements within the photo.

September 16, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #12

One of the things that I immediately noticed as I walked around Cuzco is the bright colors.  Almost everyone seems to be dressed in bright colors with lots of geometric designs —especially, the children.  In today’s photo, I simply liked the colors and how they seemed to be amplified by the dull brown and grey of the road and the ruins in the background.

September 13, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #11

After returning from Sacsayhuman, we treated to a fabulous sunset.  Looking at the dynamic range, I knew that I would need to use HDR to adequately capture what I was seeing.  My tripod was back in the hotel (resting from the travel, I guess), so I had to employ one of Barry Armer’s techniques—hand-held bracketed exposures.  I braced myself against a lamp post and shot five exposures at one-stop increments (+2 to -2 EV).
Last week, I watched an interesting video by Kevin Kubota on [FRAMED] about post-processing HDR shots when you do not have a steady tripod.  Essentially, he exports all of the exposures from Lightroom or Bridge into Photoshop as layers.  He then aligns the layers within Photoshop and then exports the various layers back as individual files.  He then runs his normal HDR program to convert all the exposures into an HDR image.   I tried this on a couple HDR wanta-bes and found that it does seem to reduce the ghosting that you get with out-of-register images.  If you are interested in watching the entire video you can find it here.   (As a side note, Kevin Kubota has presented some good post-production techniques for Lightroom and Photoshop—you might want to check them out at [FRAMED]).

Today’s image is of La Catedral on the Plaza de Amas in Cuzco.  The Plaza is the main gathering point for many tourist and residents throughout the day, and as a result, many people are moving always around in front of La Catedral—not the best conditions for using HDR.  Solution:  crop the people out!  I just felt that trying to fix all the blur of people and cars would take too much times, especially since they are really not the main subjects of the photo.

September 9, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #10

You have now left the Galapagos Islands and you are in Peru—Cuzco, Peru to be exact.  Cuzco was the capital of the Incas.  On a hilltop overlooking Cuzco is Sacsayhuman, which is an outstanding representation of Inca engineering and building skills.  Stones for the ruins were quarried over four miles from the ruins.  The Incas did not have any metal tools to quarry the stones or wheels to move them.  Just image the effort that was required to put these stones in place.  Complicating the planning and building even more was the fact that the Incas did not have a written language.  With all of this in mind, I must admit my mind was blown.
The first things that struck me as I walked around the ruins was the precision of the stone work and the shear size of the stones.  Today, I present three photos that hopefully will communicate this:  the first photo is of JD’s hand and a seam between two of the stones; the second photo is of JD standing in front of the largest stone (estimated to be 350 tons) in the ruins; and, the final photo is of a key that was used to join the stones.


September 6, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #9

Before leaving my photographic tour of the Galapagos Islands, I would like to answer a few questions that I have gotten regarding visiting there.
First, yes, access to the islands is controlled however you still have quite a lot of freedom to explore most of the islands.  The reason that I say “most of the islands” is because they periodically put certain islands “off limits” so that the vegetation and wildlife can recover.  The government appears to be doing a very good job striking a balance between tourism and the environment—even though I am sure that both sides (tourism business and environmentalists would argue that point with me.
Second, why the photographic restrictions, like “no flash”?   Don’t know and really do not care.  My attitude on the “no flash” rule is that:  (1) it’s there country and they can make the rule; and (2) it does not seem to be an unreasonable rule consider how fragile the environment is.  Personally, I get a lot more upset when I encounter “authority” figures in the United States that tell me that I cannot photograph in this or that public place.  I recently watched a video on Fstoppers (  that dealt with this very issue.  You might want to check it out.

Finally, would I go back to the Galapagos Islands?  The straightforward answer is “no.”  But, that is not because the Galapagos Islands are not a great place to visit and photograph, because they are.  Rather, it is because there are still lots of places in the world that I want to see, and of course, photograph.
Today, I present a few random shots.

September 3, 2011

What I Did on My Vacation #8

Last week one of my friends asked me why I did not include tortoises in my list of animals in the Galapagos Islands.  Well, I guess because I have never gotten a good photograph of any tortoise.  Like the last trip, all my tortoise photographs look more like big rocks in a field rather than extremely long-necked reptiles from a different era.
All of the tortoises that I have seen in the Galapagos Islands are in the highlands of the islands.  As a result, they are generally in tall grass with misty rain falling on them—not exactly the shot normally seen in the travel brochures.
Here are my best photos of the tortoises and their environment.