Quick Shots: Stroll Through Cambridge

Street photography is all about catching a split second in time that tells a story, which is sometimes very challenging. When previously using my Nikon dSLR, I didn't do much street photography because it was bulky and can be very intimidating to people when they see you hold this massive camera up and aim at them. Now that I'm starting to use a Leica, street photography has opened up in a whole new way - the Leica is no bigger than my iPhone, so it's not intimidating, and it's virtually silent. The combination means I can take pictures without my subject feeling like I'm invading their personal space!

Armed with the Leica MP and the Adox Silvermax film (which I absolutely adore, by the way), I took a stroll through Cambridge to capture a variety of the sights and sounds of this university city. My stroll coincided with graduation for students from the University of Cambridge, so it was busier than usual with lots of interesting personalities available to photograph. Here's a selection of prints from my stroll - do you have any favorites?

This woman was relaxing to enjoy one of the first nice days this spring. I was convinced to take the photograph because of her tattoos and seeing that she'd taken her shoes off. 

We were walking down the street and I saw the boy being hoisted onto the bike seat and knew I had to get in front of them to take a photograph. The boy was so excited to be sitting on his mom's bike!

A lot of the street musicians in Cambridge are not terribly good, but there are a few worth stopping and listening to as they perform. Tobias was very good!

I walked right past these two German men without noticing them until my ears caught them speaking German. Having taken some German in school, I turned to see who the voice was attached to and was immediately captured by them. For me, it's the little boy who looks bored that really makes the image.

Soon-to-be graduates from one of the Cambridge University colleges line up in procession to enter their graduation ceremony. I intentionally underexposed to create a stark contrast between the black and white of their robes. 

This woman's Thai food truck always smells delicious, but there's normally a long line so I haven't stopped to taste it (yet). The woman in the foreground was just placing her order.

Quick Shot: A Stroll Through Cambridge

I have teased about my most recent purchase in previous posts, but if you missed it, I recently added a 1974 Rolleiflex T Whiteface 120mm medium format film camera to my collection. This camera is absolutely fantastic and it's quickly become one of my favorite cameras to shoot with.

My first roll of film was "wasted" on pictures of my dog around our house, but my first real roll of film was spent on a long day walking through Cambridge, England. I wanted to focus on learning the camera - focusing, shooting, metering, composing, etc. I packed a roll of Ilford FP-4+ and headed into the heart of Cambridge to see what came between me and the camera.

Each roll contains 12 images so I took.... 12 images. The roll was then brought home and developed by me using the methods I had practiced on my first throw away roll. I was very pleased that, upon seeing the developed negatives, I had 12 perfectly exposed images! phew!

Upon closer inspection I did notice a problem with a few images. If you look closely you can see some vertical streaks on the film. Turns out that Rolleiflex changed how the camera was loaded for the T variants - previous versions had you thread the film under a roller bar, but the T doesn't go through the roller. I had just read some generic "how to load film" instructions and did not catch this little difference. The vertical streaks resulted from the film being run under this roller bar, creating very small scratches on the film. That's okay- this was the time to trouble shoot those things and it really only shows on a few images.

I scanned each of these images using an Epson V700 scanner - there is no adjustment or color correction done. What you see is what I got! What do you think?

Three Random Things - 29 October

When people hear that we're living in England, inevitably one of the first questions we're asked is about the difficulty in driving in a country that drives opposite of the US. It's actually not too hard - the first day was certainly a white knuckle experience, but you figure it out quickly. For this week's edition of 3 random things, I thought I'd introduce you to three random driving related things.

1) Roundabouts

Without question, the most challenging part of learning to drive here is dealing with the roundabouts. Not because they are hard - they actually are awesome - but because we hardly have them in the US and it's a new skill to learn. Because of well designed roundabouts, it's actually possible for us to drive from our house to London, over an hour away, without hitting a single stoplight! To help you navigate the more complicated roundabouts, where there could be 4+ exits, you have these signs before you enter. While lovely, my complaint is that they don't always indicate the cardinal direction you are heading, and it's easy to get turned around when driving in a circle!

2) Speed Limits

If I asked you what this sign meant, you'd probably say it was a "do not _____" sign. With the big slash across the face, it certainly seems to carry a negative connotation! In fact, it's the sign for the national speed limit in effect. What is that? On single lane country roads, that is 60MPH, while it's 70MPH on highways. So when you see this sign, it means the speed limit is 70MPH. Right.... they could have used a better sign designer!

3) Speed Cameras

You hardly see any speed traps manned by a police officer here, because they rely on a huge network of thousands of speed cameras to automatically catch and ticket speeders. The cameras, which look like this one, snap a photo of your front plate as you wiz past and they mail you a ticket automagically. Some of the cameras are extra tricky - they measure your speed over a certain distance and send you a ticket if your average speed is too high, meaning you can't slow just at the camera and then hit the gas. They also have mobile speed camera trucks they park on the roads to catch speeders. The good news is that they warn you where these cameras exist - our satellite GPS even flashes up a warning, so there really is no excuse for getting caught. 

Quick Shot: Iconic London

It's one of the most iconic scenes in London - the photograph of Big Ben and Westminster..... so how do you make it different? I knew I wanted to photograph the famous landmarks, but needed my own twist. 

To create this image I decided to shoot first thing in the morning when there were long shadows creating harsh blacks and brilliant highlights on the buildings. The day for this was perfect - there was light cloud cover and the sun was just peaking above the horizon to cast a nice soft light across the front of the buildings. I knew it was going to be a photograph done in black and white to help capture the drama and I think the whole thing worked. 

Shot with the Nikon D800 + 24-70mm lens and black and white conversion done with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Video: Fly with Team Global Stars

I have been busy working with the Cambridgeshire based aerial performance team, the Global Stars, to produce a series of videos highlighting their stunt performances and am excited to finally release the second video. This short movie, titled "Fly with Team Global Stars" gives you an up close and personal view into what it is like to fly as a member of the team. Strap in and get ready to fly! 

Quick Shot: Accidental Ceiling

I had an accidental M.C. Escher moment when I took this photograph - I saw this ceiling and was drawn to the variety of domes and shapes. The Escher effect was certainly amplified by converting it into Black and White. Now it has that look of so many of Escher's drawings.... you just aren't sure which was is up, but your eye is captivated by the shapes and geometry.

I say this was an accidental Escher moment because I didn't realize I had taken this photograph! The church we were in didn't permit photography of any type, so I was putting the D800 away while sitting on a bench in the center of the dome. Apparently in the process of stowing the camera, I hit the shutter once, which isn't uncommon since I usually walk around with the camera in the on position and without a lens cap so it's ready at a seconds notice. The photograph was actually cropped because you can see the top of my head in the original. 

Now I certainly don't recommend taking photos someplace where you are requested not to, but accidents do happen, and this one worked out well.... especially since I normally get shots of my feet accidentally.  So my apologies to the church, but I couldn't resist using such a neat looking accident! However, if I sell any of these prints, I'll give a portion of the proceeds to the church as compensation for my accident.

Quick Shot: Tower of London Remembers

2014 marks the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, which is a very important anniversary in Europe. One of the many events being held to commemorate this centennial is at the Tower of London, where hundreds of thousands of red poppy flowers are being "planted" in the moat in honor of those who perished during the first world war.

The Tower of London played an important role for the British soldiers during WWI; it served as a recruiting and training site for the thousands of new soldiers conscripted into service. The red poppy flower is a symbol used to honor service members in the UK, much like the yellow ribbon in the US. To celebrate the centennial, almost 900,000 hand painted ceramic poppies will be placed in the moat surrounding the Tower of London. The project, which started earlier this summer, will run through mid-November when the UK celebrates their version of Veterans Day.

I had seen photographs of this display and it was one of the sites I was most intent to photograph in London. Although I usually find black and white images with one color gimmicky, I knew that I wanted this image to be that way to really draw your attention to the abundance of red poppies flowing from the tower. This image was actually a panorama of several images stitched together to create this wide angle perspective on the Tower of London. I actually took this photograph during a rain storm, which gave the clouds a nice dramatic touch.

Be sure to visit the Tower of London Remembers Website If you are interested in learning more about the exhibit or want to purchase a red poppy to be planted in the moat.

Quick Shot: Aerial St. James

The wind in the United Kingdom is sometimes unforgiving, but when the wind gusts broke temporarily, I grabbed the DJI Phantom Vision 2+ quadcopter and took it to photograph the St. James Church in Spaldwick. The church, which has existed since the late 12th century, is the prominent feature in this small village of a few hundred people. The spire on the church is 152ft tall, which can make it very challenging to get a photograph of the entire church from the ground. 

To get these images, I put the quadcopter 160ft in the air so that it was looking down over the top of the church. I approached from several different angles to get a varying perspective on the spire and church.

These photos were beautiful in color, but really popped when I converted them into black and white.

Behind the Scenes: Airshow Photographer

Ever wonder what it's like to be just feet from the action at an airshow with nothing but a (big) camera lens between you and some of the most powerful aircraft in the world? 

Let's take a step behind the scenes as an airshow photographer at the Little Gransden Air and Car Show from a few weeks ago. Although not new to aviation photography, I don't have many connections in the UK yet, so I was very grateful when an opportunity arose for me to be an official photographer in at this show. I may not have my furniture shipped over from the United States, but I had everything I needed to shoot the show, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Being a show photographer starts by getting to the show with all your equipment and checking in with the coordinators. After signing my life away to the Brits, I was issued a neon yellow vest that certainly raised my fashions up a few notches. More importantly, the vest gained access to the otherwise restricted portions of the show along the runway, which offers an unobstructed view of the aircraft. This area is tightly controlled by the CAA (British version of the FAA) as you are closer to the aircraft with no safety barriers between you and a spinning prop. 

Neon yellow really can be quite the fashion statement! In my right hand is my D610 with Nikon 80-400mm lens while I have my D800 with 24-70mm on my left shoulder.

Neon yellow really can be quite the fashion statement! In my right hand is my D610 with Nikon 80-400mm lens while I have my D800 with 24-70mm on my left shoulder.

The group of photographers first had an orientation with the organizer who showed us where to stand and explained some of the basic rules for the day. Those rules include getting the heck out of the way should there be an accident - we are standing immediately in front of the fire and rescue services! 

A view of the crowd from my vantage point. Straight ahead is where the planes would park before it was time to perform and the runway is immediately to the right (off image).

A view of the crowd from my vantage point. Straight ahead is where the planes would park before it was time to perform and the runway is immediately to the right (off image).

After our photographer orientation, I had an hour to sit with my friends and enjoy our packed lunch before I had to scurry off to the pilots briefing. This is the last minute planning meeting for everyone flying at the show. Here, the show director reviewed the order of the performances, the timeline, and the take-off sequence. This turned out to be a bit of a spectacle - some performers wanted to get airborne several acts early to give themselves some practice and prep time, so there had to be some careful coordination and planning to make sure everyone knew where they were supposed to be and that all the planes were in the right place at the right time. Adding to the balancing act is that some planes have certain restrictions - for instance, an ultralight glider was set to perform immediately after the Vulcan, but we had to wait 3 minutes for aerial disturbances and turbulence caused by the Vulcan's jets to subside before the ultralight could take to the air. 

Managing the logistics for an airshow is very tricky business and made even harder when some of the performers fly in from another airfield to display and then fly away - the timing has to be perfect! Here a pair of Lancaster's flew over the show immediately following a memorial prayer service to honor those who have died in service to their country.

Besides a slew of logistics, the show director also took this opportunity to cover radio frequencies, information on getting fuel, and where the backup runway to land in the event of an emergency was located. It was all the sorts of things that, as spectators, we take for granted when seeing a brilliant show.

Held in one of the hangars before the show started, the pilots orientation was a chance to work out the final logistics for the flying performances. Here the flight director is briefing the pilots that would be performing on everything from emergency procedures to where the snacks are located.

Following the briefing, I made my way to the flight line to start shooting. This is where the behind the scenes gets less interesting - the obvious photographing of planes ensued! But there were several unique twists to being a show photographer; the show director was standing nearby and I could overhear her radio. This meant I could hear the pilots talking to each other... "ready... go" was a good clue they were about to do a trick or stunt I needed the camera poised and ready for! 

Getting the timing right for photos like this can be a bit tricky, but it helps when you are standing close to the flight director and can overhear the pilots talking on the radio!

Several hours and 5 memory cards later, my feet hurt but I had shot just about everything possible from the show! After returning my vest it was time to head home and start the long and painful process of editing thousands of images to find only the very best.

My friend, who was back in the crowd, got this distant photo of my position for context. I am in one of the neon vests between those firetrucks - it's a position that offers a great vantage point without blocking the views of the rest of the crowd.

Although I normally shoot with my Nikon D800, I actually opted for the D610 for this shoot because it offers a faster shooting rate and the lower megapixels meant I could fit more images per memory card. The camera performed beautifully and is probably my new "go-to" for any action shooting. I still used the D800, but kept it equipped with a 24-70mm lens and used it for close up shots of the action immediately in front of my position. 

Being so close to the flight line also gave me a chance to get some unique angles on non-flight activity. For instance, Mark Jefferies greeted the crowd after an exquisite aerial solo performance. By being away from the crowd, I could shoot back on them to add the additional context.

The show was an outstanding success - all of the performances went off without any major glitches and I took away thousands of great shots. After almost 6 days of editing (slightly delayed by the fact that our furniture was delivered in the middle of it), I narrowed it down to the very best images. Here are a few of the other photographs from the show:

Quick Shot: Ivy League

Cambridge is known for having a few wonderful colleges and places of higher education. In the United States, we refer to the most prestigious schools as the "Ivy League", but I think this Cambridge college building is actually more appropriate for that term!

In (kinda) related news, our furniture that was shipped from the US has arrived in our new home, meaning the Scenic Traverse Photography studio is back up and running! It's nice to sit in a chair with my computer on a desk for a change! I've been planning LOTS of big stuff, so stay tuned for lots of new content, including a big "behind the scenes" blog in the near future!

Quick Shot: British Harvest

The United Kingdom is covered in farms and fields that require an annual harvest in the fall. For those farmers, these last few weeks have been very busy! These farmers wake at the break of dawn and work late into the evening to prepare the foods that end up on our table. It's dirty and hard work, but also makes for a few great photo ops. 

These prints were all taken over several days at the Little Gransden farm during the process of their fields going from flowing wheat to almost bare earth. 

Quick Shot: Mustang Nose

Last weekend was the annual Little Gransden Airshow, which is held to raise money for children in need. I honored by being invited to join the airshow as one of the official photographers, which permitted me access to the flight line for the aerial displays.

During the course of almost 4 hours, I photographed approximately 50 aircraft that exhibited during the show..... my camera felt like it was just eating up memory cards to keep up with the action! Thankfully, I packed plenty of spares.

One of the benefits of flight line access during the show is that you get a head on view of the planes as they taxi back from landing, meaning I had many chances to get some intimate head-on portraits of some beautiful birds.

I have always had a soft spot for the P-51 Mustang, so I was thrilled to have a chance to shoot this Mustang from the flight line during the show. While I got many great aerial photos, my favorite turned out to be this one on the ground where the Mustang was coming at me nose first. 

Stay tuned to the blog for some behind-the-scenes information about how putting on one of these air shows works... and lots more photos of classic birds.

The P-51 Mustang named "Marinell" taxiing down the flight line after landing. I love this photo in black and white to show off the polished metal on the fuselage of the aircraft.

Quick Shot: Black and White Cliffs of Dover

We have been in the United Kingdom for just over a month, but I have been so busy moving and getting settled that I haven't taken much time to go on road trips and photograph this beautiful country.

This weekend we set our sights on one of the most famous attractions in England - the White Cliffs of Dover. The cliffs are chalk based, which gives them their brilliant white color, and Dover is the closest crossing point between England and France. In fact, we could see the coast of France in the distance and our cell phones switched to a French carrier! 

Over the course of several hours we hiked (and picnicked!) around the cliffs to capture their beauty. I was aided by some changing weather too - it rained twice separated by bouts of intense sunshine. I was constantly taking my coat on and off to cope with the rapidly changing climate, which was partially due to strong gusty winds along the coast.

I knew that I wanted to capture several images during the day - the first was a black and white photograph that demonstrated the contrast between the brilliantly white cliffs and the surrounding landscape. Other photo projects, which I'll feature in future Quick Shots, included creating a 10 image panorama.... stay tuned!

This was shot using my Nikon D800 + Nikon 14-24mm wide angle lens. Black and white conversion done using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. 

The White (and black) Cliffs of Dover.... Look closely to see one of the rainstorms along the horizon!!

Quick Shot: St. James Church in Spaldwick

A few days ago, heavy winds brought some interesting clouds over our house, which happens to overlook the St. James Church in Spaldwick. With the clouds changing every few seconds, I decided to grab the camera and sit in the back of the church yard to see what kind of scenes I could capture. Since this view is just steps outside our back door, I can promise you'll see lots of future quick shots of this beautiful church (which dates back to the 12th century!)

Heavy winds brought some dynamic clouds around the St. James Church in Spaldwick

Quick Shot: Bridge of Sighs

No, I didn't loose my camera or fall off a cliff... I just haven't had internet access since we moved out of our temporary accommodations and into our permanent UK residence, which makes it challenging to post a quick shot. But since I missed you, I have crammed myself into the one corner of this house that has access to a free wifi hot spot so I can share this photograph of the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge.

The Bridge of Sighs is part of the St. John's College and crosses the River Cam in downtown Cambridge. It got it's name for the sighs that students would give as they crossed from dorms into the exam rooms on the other side of the bridge.

I got this photograph while we were punting on the river..... a punt being the name of the boat available for hire on the river. I'm sitting in the same kind of boat you can see in the photograph and took the picture looking up at the bridge before we passed underneath. Thankfully our punt driver was kind enough to give me a good angle and it wasn't too crowded in the waterway.

Punting on a beautiful day in Cambridge allowed me to get this dramatic photograph of the Bridge of Sighs.

Quick Shot: Air-to-Air Over England

Scenic Traverse Goes Flying!

You probably noticed I've been having some fun photographing all of the aircraft at the Little Gransden airport near Cambridge - and you wouldn't be the only one! Some of the pilots at the airfield have also taken notice and today they invited me on a fly-along to do some air-to-air photography.

Air-to-air involves photographing one airplane from another to get some photographs of an aircraft in flight. It's significantly more challenging than shooting from the ground too.... suddenly you have to contend with holding a camera out of a flying plane's window and keeping it steady enough to get great shots while both you and your subject are cruising over the ground. Adding a particular challenge today was that the airplane I was shooting from also had under the wing struts, so that meant the alignment of the two aircraft had to be such that the struts weren't in the way. 

The entire flight was only a few minutes long, but gave me several chances to photograph this beauty over the skies of the United Kingdom. I'm very appreciative that they let me come along and take some shots for them this evening - what do you think of the final results?

The plane I flew in - notice how the window was removed to facilitate my camera and lens sticking out and into the wind! It's a very small aircraft, but very nimble as well - and lots of fun to ride in!

A view of the Little Gransden Airport and grass airstrip.

A more detailed view of the aircraft hangars and property at Fullers Hill and the Little Gransden Airfield. We are staying in one of the buildings behind the hangars, so it's easy for me to constantly keep my eyes and ears open for any activity at the airfield.

How would you like to maintain that garden?! This was one of the many scenic views afforded to us from the air. I think this would fall into the "high rent" category!