Archive for October 2009
I’m writing this on the train heading home from Berlin — the coolest city in Europe, if you ask me. Visiting Berlin is always something I look forward to: my mom lives there, and there is always something interesting going on in the city.
This time, it was the Festival of Lights — an annual event when many landmarks and buildings are lit using all kinds of creative lighting. This was also the first time I decided to do some serious photographing — now that I’m the proud owner of a Nikon D60 DSLR. As you would expect from a first-timer, I made a few beginner’s mistakes. The most grave one was the decision to pack a Velbon CX Mini instead of a “full-size” tripod. Since D60 lacks the live preview feature, I literally had to crawl on all fours when composing a shot. On the positive side, I found the Nikkor 18-55mm VR kit lens extremely versatile, so much so that I decided to postpone purchasing additional lenses for the time being. To be honest, I don’t think that my night photo walks yielded any decent photos, but it was a valuable learning experience.
The next item on my todo list was a visit to Berlin’s botanic garden. I’ve been there before with the missus, but I had only my point-and-shoot with me, and one of the most interesting pavilions was closed for renovation. This time, I spent almost four hours shooting flowers, but I did have a few problems in the process. Firstly, as soon as I walked into a green house with tropical plants, the lens became covered with condensation, and I had to wait 15-20 minutes before I could use my camera. So here is my question: Is there any way to avoid or mitigate condensation? The botanic garden has an excellent collection of cacti. Unfortunately, the most interesting ones were behind the glass, and I’d like to hear your tips and tricks on shooting through the glass. Despite all these annoyances, I managed to take over two hundred photos. I used RawTherapee to transfer photos to my laptop and quickly review them.
Speaking of the laptop, I planned to take a netbook on my trip, but it turned out that RawTherapee (or any of my favorite photo applications) was pretty unusable on the small screen. So I had to pack my HP production laptop. When going through my photos from the botanic garden, I realized that I made another mistake: I didn’t write down the names of the flowers I photographed. Now all of them go by names like “pretty flower”, “yellow flower”, “flower that looks like a star”, and so on. So next time, I have to remember to write down the name of each plant I photograph, or — even better — take a picture of the sign with info about the plant.
All in all, the trip was a success. Despite a couple of rookie mistakes, I’m heading home with an SD card chock-full of photos and a few valuable lessons. I’ll be slowly posting photos from my trip to Berlin on my Flickr page, so stay tuned.
We have got a new quest in our garden — a spider. Yes, I know, not the most welcome guest, but I was thoroughly impressed by how resilient this little creature is. Last week the weather was pretty terrible. I mean not like “I have to remember my umbrella,” but rather “There is no freaking way I’m going out today.” It wasn’t particularly cold, but the cocktail of nasty wind and rain made any outdoor activity a miserable experience. Well, we could at least stay at home, and a warm plaid and copious amounts of tea made the existence more tolerable. All the poor spider had was a delicate web it managed to weave a few days before. For several straight days, the spider was dangling in its own web, exposed to the merciless wind and rain.
After four days of grueling weather, we thought that the unfortunate creature was dead. But as soon as the weather improved, the brave survivor woke up and started working on its web as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, it decided to expand its woven empire from the window to a garden chair, so when I went out to refill our bird feeder, I accidentally tore a large portion of the web apart. The spider did look slightly disappointed, but it went to work once again, now focusing on areas around the window.
I’ve never been particularly fond of spiders — no matter their size and color — but I do now have a lot of respect for this little fella. There is one thing that still puzzles me, though. All this time, I haven’t seen any catch in its web. Either it’s a lousy hunter, or its diet doesn’t include flies and small insects. Also, does anyone know what kind of spider this is?
Even though a small 10x3m (about 30x10ft) patch of grass is not a garden in the true sense of the word, thanks to all the work the missus put into it, the once-empty spot now looks like a miniature version of an English garden which attracts quite a few guests, including blackbirds, green finches, wood pigeons, and sparrows.
I love sparrows. Despite their unassuming plumage, these tiny creatures have a lot of personality. I can literally spend hours watching them feeding, socializing, bickering, and sand bathing in our garden. It took us several attempts to make sparrows feel at home in our garden. For some reason they voted down the feeder mounted on a pole, but a simple wooden board on the ground proved to be a huge success.
When summer arrives, the sparrows build nests under our roof, so it’s rather convenient for them to have the fly-in restaurant nearby. In the morning, a sparrow’s nest sounds like any other family: a cacophony of hungry kids demanding breakfast and parents arguing about whose turn it is to clean the house and find food. The hardships of raising kids don’t seem to affect the parents much: they are always in good spirits, cheeky, and ready for some action.
Sparrows in Berlin are a particularly cheeky bunch. One day I was enjoying my tea and cheese cake al fresco, when suddenly a couple of hungry rascals landed right next to the plate and started nibbling my cake. These sparrows were cheeky but not stupid: before the raid, they spent a great deal of time on the roof planning the operation, solving the risk/reward equation and assessing the chances of success. You could see them coordinating the action and sending signals to each other right before the attack. It was funny to watch them hurriedly consuming the cake — with cream all over their beaks — looking at me every now and then as if they were apologizing for their bad manners.
Sparrows in our garden rarely pay attention to the guy who spends most of the day pecking on the keyboard. Occasionally, though, they come close to the glass terrace door just to see if there is anything interesting going on inside the house. Or they just sit on the garden table, cleaning their beaks and relaxing. That’s when I grab my camera and try to take a few shots. They don’t seem to mind, and that I’m really grateful for.
The Manfrotto Modopocket tripod is probably the most useful accessory in my photo bag (and it’s the only Manfrotto product I can afford).
Technically speaking, Modopocket is not a tripod, but a cleverly engineered foldable stand for stabilizing your camera. The clever part? You can attach Modopocket to your camera and just leave it there. The tripod weighs a mere 50 grams, and once folded, it doesn’t take up much space. Better yet, Modopocket sports its own mount thread, so you can use your camera with a regular tripod without removing Modopocket.
My very first camera was ЛОМО Смена 8М, and I got it when I was ten. So I guess I was doing lomography long before it became a bit of a photography cult. Unfortunately, my Смена 8М is long gone, but its spirit lives in many lomography photos.
Thirsty for more? Visit the LOMO group on Flickr.