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It’s All in Your Perspective

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During the past several years, I have migrated to smaller gear. Importantly, this has included the diminutive Sony RX100 camera. For the money, this may be the most versatile small travel camera on the market today (though the competition stiffens every year – which is a good thing 🙂 ; and there are a couple other systems – like the Olympus 4:3 outfit, and the Fujifilm XT series – that have a heavy pro following). But no matter what gear you might be carrying, or using, there are going to be compromises and things a particular “kit” is just not going to be able to handle. For me, with the gear I carry and the travel I do, it is more often than not, two things: “reach” and “perspective.”

The only way I know of to fix the “reach” issue is to add a heavy telephoto to the mix, or get closer (which isn’t always going to be an option). So I haven’t attempted to “fix” that. Rather, I am working around it as best I can. Perspective, however, I have learned, I can “fix.” Well, at least I can improve it in post-processing.

The only way I know to fix the “reach issue is to add a heavy telephoto … or get closer the subject

Perspective is, in some ways, the opposite problem of “reach.” It often involves being too close, or the lens being “too wide” (if that is possible 🙂 ). Sometimes the same solution can be applied; i.e., moving. For many years, very good photographers did not have the quality zoom lenses we have today and used to “zoom” with their feet. When possible, that is still excellent advice. But moving away from your subject creates new challenges. It makes the subject smaller in the frame. It introduces elements and obstructions into the image that you often do not want. And often the need is to get higher and that is not always possible. I love shooting landscape images (when I get the opportunity) from the top deck of the cruise ship because it aids in perspective for tall subjects by getting me higher. But walking around on location, I often do not have that luxury. If you can find a way to get higher, or have the opportunity to work and area and find higher viewpoints, seek them out.

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

To try to ameliorate these issues, I have learned yet another virtue of post-processing software. Perhaps unfortunately, my usage will most center around Adobe’s products, because it is what I have and know. I have been impressed with the capabilities of other software – notably OnOne (which unfortunately, hasn’t worked well with my hardware), and am sure they all have built this feature in their software. It is worth exploring. This is not a full on tutorial. There are a ton of them out there already. This is really more designed to bring this issue to the reader’s attention and then encourage some exploring of your own.

Fixing perspective issues, I have learned, is yet another virtue of modern post-processing software

I have been able to remarkably improve the perspective on several of my travel images, mostly using the Transform Perspective tool in Adobe Photoshop. The Tower Bridge image was the most pronounced example I could find in my recent “take” of hundreds of images in the British Isles. We were on a “whirlwind” 4-hour tour of parts of London, and the bridge was not planned by our guide to be a part of the tour. But we cajoled him into getting us somewhere close enough to stop and photograph it. This is the location he go us too. This is obviously an image better shot from a distance, and because of the urban landscape, from somewhere high. But that wasn’t going to happen. When I got home, I was not surprised – but was still mildly disappointed with the results of my several images. But I went to work with Photoshop’s Transform Perspective tool, and the second image is my result. I believe it is much more pleasing.

Using the tool requires a combination of other tools, including some of Photoshop’s “content-aware” features, and other straightening tools. There is a bit of a learning curve. (for example, I had to learn that this tool does not operate on the background image, and you need to create a duplicate layer to do the corrections on, which is always a good practice anyway, for non-destructive editing). Also, perspective corrections also often change the aspect and scale of an image (stretching and/or squeezing), and there is a scale tool for working with those adustments. Something I find particularly useful in Photoshop, is to pull “guides” (horizontal and vertical lines) out from the margins around the areas I am trying to get horizontally or vertically level. Guides also help with correcting vertical perspective. In Adobe Light Room, you can use the Lens overlay feature to create (and scale) a grid overlay pattern on the image (although my brief expirimentation leads me to believe that is is not a versatile as the Transform Perspective Tool in Photoshop).

One important item to be aware of, is that all the above corrections will almost always result in the loss of some of your image (i.e., cropping). When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for later cropping. One of the most useful editions to Photoshop in recent years is “content aware” technology. Content aware allows you to remove, replace, move and even crop items (without having to eliminate cropped elements), letting the Photoshop engine make its best “guess” at filling in the space based on the surroundings. It is certainly not perfect. But it is pretty surprisingly good, a lot of the time. Of course, it is nothing you couldn’t already do – manually – but it was painstaking enough that most of us just cropped the best we could, instead. To the best of my knowledge, the Content Aware feature is not yet available in Light Room. But in Photoshop, I can often use content aware cropping, content aware fill, or both, to retain elements of an image that would otherwise have been lost to cropping. Busy images do not work as well, but images with simple graphics or mono color (sky, grass, etc.) work well, often with little or no cleanup afterward.

I recently saw some images posted by another talented shooter taken with a wide-angle lens, that showed perspective distortion at the edges – a possible characteristic of wide-angle lenses with “grand landscape” type images. Reaching out to him, I learned he (like I would guess the majority of shooters today) uses Adobe’s Light Room (which has really been made and marketed to photographers). I am old school, and set in my ways (which may really just be another way of saying “lazy” :-)).

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

But I do have Light Room, so I looked at it. The “Transform” tool performs a similar function (it is also resident in the ACR converter that I use to convert my raw images – which is supposed to be the same “engine” as Light Room). I imported the Eiffel Tower image into Light Room and used the Transform tool in the Develop Module to correct the perspective on this image. Fortunately, this one only required some mild vertical correction and the application of the sliders were pretty easy. In doing my research I found this really well-written article on how to accomplish perspective corrections in Light Room and Photoshop (although it is really most a Light Room article). Even if you use other post-processing software, there is useful information in this easy-to-read tutorial and I recommend reading it.

Amsterdam – UNRETOUCHED
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I felt like it deserved a tougher test, so I took one of my poorly executed images through the same “hoops.” The Amsterdam image is obviously one where the shooter (yours truly) did not get his handheld image level in the camera to start with. But just making a quick “rotate” adjustment in any software reveals that there is more at issue here than just the level part (for what its worth, Photoshop has a “straighten” tool built into its cropping tool for fixing these types of issues. My experience has been that I get better results using guides and doing it myself, but YMMV). So, once again, I imported this image into Light Room, and went directly to the Transform Tool. I used the sliders for rotate, vertical and horizontal to get this one “right” (note that there is still a perspective issue on the wing to the left on the building – which may be fixable, but is beyond my talent level at the moment). There is also a slider for scale (you inevitably will get some cropping and may have to make an image smaller or even larger to fit the space properly and maintain all elements of the photo) and for adjusting aspect ratio. These same tools exist in ACR, but the Light Room implementation seems much more intuitive and easy to use. Either way, I think its pretty powerful stuff. Here is the result. I think it is much more pleasing than the original. I did my post-processing from start to finish in Light Room on this one.

Amsterdam
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Earlier, I emphasized “similar” because the Photoshop Transform and Light Room Transform tools are not exactly identical tools. I suspect the “engine” is the same under the hood, but the controls are very different. After some playing I came to the conclusion (based only on my own limited experience) that I was still getting my desired result more effectively using the Photoshop Transform Tools. One thing that the Photoshop tool has is something called “skew.” This allows a little more “freeform” correction, by adding a horizontal or vertical slant to the subject. I find that when I am having trouble matching the vertical perspective and the horizontal rotation, that this is very useful for changing the horizontal in the image without completely changing the vertical. Images like the Eiffel Tower image often present such challenges, and I did apply some skew transformation to several of my tower images on my website. I most certainly used it on the Tower Bridge image. I also think it is easier to minimize the loss of parts of the image from cropping using Photoshop. However, this tool often means using either creative cropping, content aware replacement, or some combination of both.

When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for inevitable cropping

These tools require some ability with software, patience, and the willingness to work on post-processing to obtain a desired result. I appreciate that not everyone wants to do this. But I think that the results are often worth the effort. I have been using the Transform Perspective tool for a long time, now. But perhaps not to its best use. I encourage you to try some of these tools. Use non-destructive techniques, or at least, work on a copy of your original image, and don’t be afraid to play around. What is the worst you can do? And maybe learn something. I do almost every time I play around with a new tool.

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It’s All in Your Perspective

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During the past several years, I have migrated to smaller gear. Importantly, this has included the diminutive Sony RX100 camera. For the money, this may be the most versatile small travel camera on the market today (though the competition stiffens every year – which is a good thing 🙂 ; and there are a couple other systems – like the Olympus 4:3 outfit, and the Fujifilm XT series – that have a heavy pro following). But no matter what gear you might be carrying, or using, there are going to be compromises and things a particular “kit” is just not going to be able to handle. For me, with the gear I carry and the travel I do, it is more often than not, two things: “reach” and “perspective.”

The only way I know of to fix the “reach” issue is to add a heavy telephoto to the mix, or get closer (which isn’t always going to be an option). So I haven’t attempted to “fix” that. Rather, I am working around it as best I can. Perspective, however, I have learned, I can “fix.” Well, at least I can improve it in post-processing.

The only way I know to fix the “reach issue is to add a heavy telephoto … or get closer the subject

Perspective is, in some ways, the opposite problem of “reach.” It often involves being too close, or the lens being “too wide” (if that is possible 🙂 ). Sometimes the same solution can be applied; i.e., moving. For many years, very good photographers did not have the quality zoom lenses we have today and used to “zoom” with their feet. When possible, that is still excellent advice. But moving away from your subject creates new challenges. It makes the subject smaller in the frame. It introduces elements and obstructions into the image that you often do not want. And often the need is to get higher and that is not always possible. I love shooting landscape images (when I get the opportunity) from the top deck of the cruise ship because it aids in perspective for tall subjects by getting me higher. But walking around on location, I often do not have that luxury. If you can find a way to get higher, or have the opportunity to work and area and find higher viewpoints, seek them out.

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

To try to ameliorate these issues, I have learned yet another virtue of post-processing software. Perhaps unfortunately, my usage will most center around Adobe’s products, because it is what I have and know. I have been impressed with the capabilities of other software – notably OnOne (which unfortunately, hasn’t worked well with my hardware), and am sure they all have built this feature in their software. It is worth exploring. This is not a full on tutorial. There are a ton of them out there already. This is really more designed to bring this issue to the reader’s attention and then encourage some exploring of your own.

Fixing perspective issues, I have learned, is yet another virtue of modern post-processing software

I have been able to remarkably improve the perspective on several of my travel images, mostly using the Transform Perspective tool in Adobe Photoshop. The Tower Bridge image was the most pronounced example I could find in my recent “take” of hundreds of images in the British Isles. We were on a “whirlwind” 4-hour tour of parts of London, and the bridge was not planned by our guide to be a part of the tour. But we cajoled him into getting us somewhere close enough to stop and photograph it. This is the location he go us too. This is obviously an image better shot from a distance, and because of the urban landscape, from somewhere high. But that wasn’t going to happen. When I got home, I was not surprised – but was still mildly disappointed with the results of my several images. But I went to work with Photoshop’s Transform Perspective tool, and the second image is my result. I believe it is much more pleasing.

Using the tool requires a combination of other tools, including some of Photoshop’s “content-aware” features, and other straightening tools. There is a bit of a learning curve. (for example, I had to learn that this tool does not operate on the background image, and you need to create a duplicate layer to do the corrections on, which is always a good practice anyway, for non-destructive editing). Also, perspective corrections also often change the aspect and scale of an image (stretching and/or squeezing), and there is a scale tool for working with those adustments. Something I find particularly useful in Photoshop, is to pull “guides” (horizontal and vertical lines) out from the margins around the areas I am trying to get horizontally or vertically level. Guides also help with correcting vertical perspective. In Adobe Light Room, you can use the Lens overlay feature to create (and scale) a grid overlay pattern on the image (although my brief expirimentation leads me to believe that is is not a versatile as the Transform Perspective Tool in Photoshop).

One important item to be aware of, is that all the above corrections will almost always result in the loss of some of your image (i.e., cropping). When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for later cropping. One of the most useful editions to Photoshop in recent years is “content aware” technology. Content aware allows you to remove, replace, move and even crop items (without having to eliminate cropped elements), letting the Photoshop engine make its best “guess” at filling in the space based on the surroundings. It is certainly not perfect. But it is pretty surprisingly good, a lot of the time. Of course, it is nothing you couldn’t already do – manually – but it was painstaking enough that most of us just cropped the best we could, instead. To the best of my knowledge, the Content Aware feature is not yet available in Light Room. But in Photoshop, I can often use content aware cropping, content aware fill, or both, to retain elements of an image that would otherwise have been lost to cropping. Busy images do not work as well, but images with simple graphics or mono color (sky, grass, etc.) work well, often with little or no cleanup afterward.

I recently saw some images posted by another talented shooter taken with a wide-angle lens, that showed perspective distortion at the edges – a possible characteristic of wide-angle lenses with “grand landscape” type images. Reaching out to him, I learned he (like I would guess the majority of shooters today) uses Adobe’s Light Room (which has really been made and marketed to photographers). I am old school, and set in my ways (which may really just be another way of saying “lazy” :-)).

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

But I do have Light Room, so I looked at it. The “Transform” tool performs a similar function (it is also resident in the ACR converter that I use to convert my raw images – which is supposed to be the same “engine” as Light Room). I imported the Eiffel Tower image into Light Room and used the Transform tool in the Develop Module to correct the perspective on this image. Fortunately, this one only required some mild vertical correction and the application of the sliders were pretty easy. In doing my research I found this really well-written article on how to accomplish perspective corrections in Light Room and Photoshop (although it is really most a Light Room article). Even if you use other post-processing software, there is useful information in this easy-to-read tutorial and I recommend reading it.

Amsterdam – UNRETOUCHED
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I felt like it deserved a tougher test, so I took one of my poorly executed images through the same “hoops.” The Amsterdam image is obviously one where the shooter (yours truly) did not get his handheld image level in the camera to start with. But just making a quick “rotate” adjustment in any software reveals that there is more at issue here than just the level part (for what its worth, Photoshop has a “straighten” tool built into its cropping tool for fixing these types of issues. My experience has been that I get better results using guides and doing it myself, but YMMV). So, once again, I imported this image into Light Room, and went directly to the Transform Tool. I used the sliders for rotate, vertical and horizontal to get this one “right” (note that there is still a perspective issue on the wing to the left on the building – which may be fixable, but is beyond my talent level at the moment). There is also a slider for scale (you inevitably will get some cropping and may have to make an image smaller or even larger to fit the space properly and maintain all elements of the photo) and for adjusting aspect ratio. These same tools exist in ACR, but the Light Room implementation seems much more intuitive and easy to use. Either way, I think its pretty powerful stuff. Here is the result. I think it is much more pleasing than the original. I did my post-processing from start to finish in Light Room on this one.

Amsterdam
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Earlier, I emphasized “similar” because the Photoshop Transform and Light Room Transform tools are not exactly identical tools. I suspect the “engine” is the same under the hood, but the controls are very different. After some playing I came to the conclusion (based only on my own limited experience) that I was still getting my desired result more effectively using the Photoshop Transform Tools. One thing that the Photoshop tool has is something called “skew.” This allows a little more “freeform” correction, by adding a horizontal or vertical slant to the subject. I find that when I am having trouble matching the vertical perspective and the horizontal rotation, that this is very useful for changing the horizontal in the image without completely changing the vertical. Images like the Eiffel Tower image often present such challenges, and I did apply some skew transformation to several of my tower images on my website. I most certainly used it on the Tower Bridge image. I also think it is easier to minimize the loss of parts of the image from cropping using Photoshop. However, this tool often means using either creative cropping, content aware replacement, or some combination of both.

When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for inevitable cropping

These tools require some ability with software, patience, and the willingness to work on post-processing to obtain a desired result. I appreciate that not everyone wants to do this. But I think that the results are often worth the effort. I have been using the Transform Perspective tool for a long time, now. But perhaps not to its best use. I encourage you to try some of these tools. Use non-destructive techniques, or at least, work on a copy of your original image, and don’t be afraid to play around. What is the worst you can do? And maybe learn something. I do almost every time I play around with a new tool.

Amsterdam

(Left-Clicking on an image opens it in a new window, bigger and with better resolution)

Here is the final (finally) post on the British Isles Cruise – and not a minute (er, week) too soon. In just a couple weeks we are off again to another Mediterranean adventure, this time in Spain and along Italy”s northeast coast. So, more to come in the not too distant future. In the meantime, this one is a couple days late. We have just begun a major renovation project in our Florida home, and the main part of the house will be – at times – inaccessible, making my computer difficult to reach. Stay tuned …..

Amsterdam was our port of departure from the ship, and so we had to disembark, and get our luggage to our motel near the airport for our flight out the next morning. We were all pretty tired and we purposely had not made any plan for tours that day. Instead, we went down to the center city and walked around. Amsterdam has always kind of been known as the “anything goes” city, and we at least had to stroll down the “Red Light” district, and walk around to see the marijuana dispensaries. It is a pretty wild scene. And we were there during the day. I can only imagine how it ramps up after dark. In that part of the city, you can smoke in any of the bars, and there are shops everywhere, so that the smell of marijuana smoke was pretty obvious, as we walked though that part of the city. As you can see, even though we have now “legalized” canabis in many of the states here in the U.S., we have a lot of “catching up” to do to get even close to the marketing now done in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In spite of all the craziness, most of the city is comprized of things you would expect to see in many other European cities. Along with Bruges, Amsterdam is considered part of the “Venice” of the north. Situated along the eastern shore of a peninsula which separates the North Sea from a large, protected inlet (Markermeer and Ijsselmeer – “meer” translates roughly from Dutch as “broad” or “large” lake), eventually feeding a large canal that ultimately crosses the entire peninsula and empties into the North Sea (at the very northeastern end of the English Channel). This allow for an impressive canal system within the city, and it is known for its Dutch Architecture lined canals. The buildings all have “false front” gables, and in general, each individual gable has its own characteer, distinguishing it from the adjoining buildings.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

There are also some rather grand buildings in the main downtown area of Amsterdam, as well as a couple very striking museums and other municipal buildings, replete with flowers and fountains one might expect in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Like most larger cities, there are also some quiet back streets that border the busier areas, with local bars, and restaurants.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

One thing that kind of stood out to me what how much less ostentatious most residents are with their modes of transportation. Though we saw alot of this throughout Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, the bicycle was an extremely popular mode of transportation. This was more prevalent in Amsterdam than in the other places.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I also noticed that Amsterdam seems to have a firm commitment to alternative energy sources. There were charging stations for electric vehicles available right in the downtown area.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Amsterdam appears to be a significant hub for flights and connections throughout Europe, and I suspect we will be their again – perhaps for a longer period of time. I will Look forward to that, based on our very short time there.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges

Bruges, Belgium

We ancitipated Bruges, which our research touted to be “The beer capital of the world.” We had a 1/2 day tour scheduled at the beginning, which in addition to some historic sites and buildings, was to also include some chocolate and beer tasting. Belgium is know for its chocolate, its waffles, and its beer. Unfortunately, we recieved a call from our guide who was driving from Brussels, as we waited out by the cruise terminal. He was tied up in traffic from a major accident and it didn’t look good that he would be arriving any time soon. We ultimately cancelled and took a taxi into the city. Even though it doesn’t seem far on the map, it was a good 1/2 hour drive, and during that time our driver – whose English was excellent (though his native language is Dutch), gave us some historical context.

Port of ZeeBrugge
Burges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges, was perhaps one of the earliest Belgian cities, rising in medieval times and becoming a major trade center at the Renaissance emerged. It was strategically located near the sea (our port of call was Zeebrugge, which means “Bruges by the Sea”).

The Markt
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

There is a continuous canal from the port in to the center of the city. Its most prominent feature is the Markt, a large oval plaza, surrounded by colorful and impressive architecture; today mostly retail establishments catering largely to tourists. Our cab driver dropped us off on a quiet street directly behind the Markt and we made arrangement for him to pick us up and return us to the cruise port later that afternoon. As we walked into the open plaza, it became immediately obvious that this was a photogenic scene. Lining the plaza on one side are some very colorful buildings with Dutch Colonial architecture, belying strong Dutch influence. There are some pretty impressive historic buildings, including a belfry that dates back to 1240, once the center of the town on the other perimeters.

The Markt
Brussels, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Belfry is about 272 feet high and it towers over the surrounding buildings.

The Belfry of Bruges
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Belfry of Bruges
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges City Hall also faces the Markt and is an impressive building.

Bruges City Hall
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

WWe arrived between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m., to a city that – surprisingly – had not seemed to have awoken yet. We walked around some of the surrounding streets where there were no vehicles, few people, and shops that had yet to open.

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges is also a city with numerous canals, and has been referred to as the Venice of the North. Having spent a fair amount of time in Venice, I can say that while the canals in Bruges (and Amsterdam) are impressive and lie in beautiful surroundings, they are very different from the canals of Venice. Notably, there are automobiles everywhere. Having said that, I will be among the first to agree that Bruges’ canals are photogenic.

Rozenhoedkaai Canal
Bruge, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

Canal
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

Canal
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

Canal
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Indeed, canal tours are among the most popular thing to do in Bruges, and certainly afford a great way to see the city.

Canal Tour Boad
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In addition to tasting some of the local brew and chocolate, we did walk around the old city and saw a few other nice sights as we walked.

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Ultimately, we found some beer, we found some chocolate, and we ended up a nice, rather relaxing day in Bruges at Cuvee Wine Bar, where we had a couple nice wines, and some cheeses and meats, before heading back to the cruise port. Back at the cruise port, as we sat on the back bar enjoying the late sun, a drink and the sail-away, I wasn’t sure whether to feel safe, or threatened, given that the ship moored directly behind us was most certainly not a pleasure cruiser. It appears that they make them a bit smaller than we do stateside. 🙂

Military Aircraft Carrier
Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Some Thoughts on “Peak” Foliage

For a better viewing experience, click on an image to see it larger, in another window

Presque Isle River
Porcupine Mountains
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Nearly every year, about this time of year, I have posted something about the coming fall foliage season. It is no secret that I am a bit of a foliage “geek.” The majority of my dedicated photography trips over the years have sought a location to shoot fall foliage, and have generally been from late September through October. My ebook, Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage; Where to Find the Iconic Shots is clearly all about foliage photography. The majority of the illustrations in my Michigan ebook, Photographing The Michigan U.P., while more broadly intended, are of fall foliage scenes. I have traveled multiples time to Vermont and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as Maine, , West Virginia, Virginia, and New Mexico for the specific purpose of shooting fall foliage.

One popular on-line dictionary has several different definitions of the word, “peak.”

A recent post on a media page I visit regularly, included a photograph, illustrating “peak” foliage. It was a nice, colorful image, but I would not have described it as peak – or even near-peak. The post got me thinking about the concept of “peak” foliage. Every year, this term is tossed around on internet sites, including photography sites and “foliage progession map” sites. Having spent much time planning and thought about “foliage” photography, and, having written and commented on it on many ocassions over the past 15 years, I get a number of questions about “peak” foliage conditions. The most common, of course, go something like this: I am planning to be in Vermont/Michigan for a week during (date). Will the foliage be at, or near peak at that time? My answer is nearly always equivocal: “it depends on what you mean by ‘peak’.”

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

One popular on-line dictionary has several different definitions of the word, “peak.” One of them is: “a point in a curve or on a graph, or a value of a physical quantity, higher than those around it.” This may be a more objective, measurable definition than we may want in an artistic setting such as photography. I read this to mean that point where everything leading up to it, and everything following it, is not peak. By my thinking, this definition would apply to foliage immediately before it begins to turn brown, dry up and fall. That probably fits my own definition of “peak” best. I recall scenes – especially growing up as a young man in Vermont where I was in it every day for a number of seasons, where the leaves were almost all spectacularly colored, with no remaining green leaves, and nearly 100% still on the trees. In reality, this is impossible. There will always be stages and most always, leaves on the ground, which in most cases, I think is a positive anyway. But my point is that “peak,” under this definition, is that instant immediately before things turn and go downhill. It is the way I have always viewed “peak.” And I think most progression maps and official foliage “predictors” would agree with that definition. My own “peak” definition is perhaps better illustrated by the 2012 Hiawatha National Forest image, again made in the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

“Backyard” Foliage
Saginaw, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

But a second definition, may really describe “peak” more accurately: “the point of highest activity, quality, or achievement.” This is a more subjective definition. And for our purposes, it is probably the sounder one. I read this to mean that “peak” is what I think “peak” is. When I look at a scene, I look for the most “productive” iteration of that scene. When I have the luxury of re-visiting a foliage location multiple times in the same season, it means I can make a judgment about what is the most visually pleasing blend of color and undeveloped foliage. Most times, though, I have had to make a judgment at the time I arrived at the scene.

Our search for “peak” may blind us to the image that is right there in front of us

The opening image was taken at “Lake of the Clouds,” in the far western end of the Michigan Upper Peninsula. I was there in early October, hoping to find “peak” foliage conditions under my own (admittedly nebulous) definition. I had seen numerous examples of  the lake, which can appear to be floating up in the clouds under certain conditions, in full color foliage. That is what I envisioned. But this year, color development was obviously in its very early stages. There was very little color around the lake. Had I left it at that, I would have missed one of my favorite fall images (and one which has been my most successful over the years in terms of sales). I doubt it would have the same impact if all the leaves were fully turned (or at “peak” by my own definition). But in this case the image better fits the second definition. I think it was absolutely the point of highest activity, quality, or achievement.

Vermont Covered Bridge
A preview of the fall foliage show to come
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Does any of this really matter? Probably not (which is why my blog description includes “musings” by me). In the end, what really matters is if the image is pleasing to me. But it may be instructive in answering the question posed by travelers about where and when the “peak” foliage is. We will always continue to see the term “peak” being used to describe fall foliage. But as photographers, we really shouldn’t get all hung up on a term. We should try to “see” images that are out there.  And our search for “peak” may blind us to images that are right there in front of us.

Falling leaves signal that the end of the season is very near.
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

 

 

 

An American (or four) in Paris

(Left-Clicking on an image opens it in a new window, bigger and with better resolution)

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Ah, Paris! It conjures that accordian music and a bustling city (with some Gershwin in the background). And food. It was all there. Our next port of call, LeHavre, was just a short ride accross the English Channel. We arose and left the train early, for another train ride – this one 2 hours.

Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

This cruise, as I have noted previously, was rather unusual for us in that the ship docked overnight in 3 of our ports of call (Dublin, Cobh, and LeHavre). In our experience this usually happens, if at all, in only one port. In this case, not only did the ship dock overnight, but it did not depart LeHavre until midnight of the second day (technically you might even say it docked for two nights). We took full advantage of this time, booking an overnight stay in a Paris Hotel, and we had most of two very full days in Paris.

Champs-‘Elysees
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I have learned from travel in other countries, that shooting from a moving train is essentially impossible, and I have really given up trying. So all I could do was enjoy the French countryside as we headed toward Paris.  And the bulk of the trip was countryside, with many small, and very well-kept farms. I wanted to stop the train a number of times and just get off and shoot. Maybe someday.

Paris, France

Much like our London experience, less than 2 days is really not long enough to see Paris. There is just too much. Several days would be easy to fill.

The Louvre
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

But we were a little better organized, here, with pre-purchased tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower, a walking tour around the Notre Dame Cathedral and neighborhood, and plans to use two forms of public transportation which really worked well for us – the “Hop on – Hop off bus and boats.”  While we again only scratched the surface, I think we were able to see the main points of interest we had, including the Cathedral, the Louvre (outside only), the Eiffel Tower, Champs-‘Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Eiffel Tower is probably the central icon of Paris, and it is one of those landmarks that is rarely out of sight, wherever in Paris you might be

I overdid the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know how many images of it I made, but I know more than I really needed to.  We saw it from the river, from the tour bus, and from various points on the ground. And I shot it. I shot it at night and I shot it again during the daytime. The Eiffel Tower is probably the central icon of Paris, and it is one of those landmarks that is rarely out of sight, wherever in Paris you might be. So I had lots of opportunities. We knew we would be on the grounds of the tower the first evening – we were up on the top for the sunset – an unforgettable experience. But I had also done some research on vantage points to shoot it from. One of the best turned out to be Place du Trocadero, a plaza directly across the Seine from the tower.

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

From the grounds, it was difficult to shoot. The same dynamics as I mentioned in London were at play here. It is a massive structure, and perspective is just impossible up so close. But there were still some interesting and perhaps dramatic images here, especially at night.

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

As we left the grounds the evening we were there, I saw a nice reflection opportunity. In another life (or on another trip), I would like to go back with a tripod and better equipment and explore this a bit. But I was happy enough for handheld, point-and-shoot results in this case.

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The next day, I shot the tower again; this time from the Seine. There are more, but these are probably enough for now 🙂

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Next to the Eiffel Tower, the one thing I wanted to see most was the famed Cathedral Notre-Dame de-Paris, with its gothic architecture and 850 year plus, majestic wooden spires and roofline.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The news of the fire on April 15th (just short weeks before our visit), destroying much of the old wooden infrastructure, including spire and rooflines that were made from wood timber construction, was heartbreaking to viewers around the world. I had been looking forward to seeing the inside and grounds. We were fortunate to get some good views from the exterior, but the interior is not accessible to the public at this point, and a large, opaque construction fence surrounds the entire grounds, so that only views from farther away are possible. I hope to return someday, and see the entire thing.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Under Reconstruction
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

What you can see of it It is still magnificent.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We met our walking tour guide at a small cafe in the neighborhood of the Cathedral. These tours are free (you can find them and similar tours in most cities). They are usually given by locally attending students, or members of local art, history or acting programs. Our experience has been that our – normally youthful – guides are enthusiastic, fun and very knowledgable of their subject. The normal treatment is to give them a gratuity, usually what you think appropriate. We have tried to be generous over the years, knowing they are usually young students and truly appreciating the value we get from the. I highly recommend that you seek these types of tours out and partake. We have never been disappointed.

Cafe Odette
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Cathedral is on an island in the middle of The Seine. The cafe was on the mainland, on the south side of the river, known as “The Left Bank,” and directly across the main street is the Saint Severin Roman Catholic Church. Originally built in the 11th Century, the church is one of (if not the) oldest churches in Paris.

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Originally built as a smaller church, in the Romanesque style, it was enlarged years later, and today had Romanesque and Goth styles combined. The interior, much of it believed to be authentic original construction, includes impressive arches and stained glass.

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

After spending a few minutes in Saint Severin, we walked across the bridge to the front of Notre Dame. We learned that the Cathedral is not only a church. It is a neighborhood and much of the surroundings made up that neighborhood.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The quiet little street in the image here could really be a quiet back street in almost any city in the world. But it happens to be in the famous Notre Dame neighborhood.

Notre Dame Cathedral Neighborhood
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

After our tour, we boarded one of the “Hop on – Hop off” bateaus (boats) for a cruise up and down the Seine. Making images off a moving boat is only slightly less challenging than from a moving train or vehicle. Nonetheless, you do have a bit more mobility, and I was able to make a few “keeper” images.

Paris from The Seine
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Paris from The Seine
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Île de la Cité
(Notre Dame) from The Seine
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Louvre
from The Seine
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

T
The two days went by fast, and we were soon enough, boarding the train for the ride back to LeHavre and departure for Bruges. But there will be many memories of Paris, and anticipation of another visit in the not too distant future. One of the best memories will be being at the top of the world on the Eiffel Tower and seeing the sunset over that same Place du Trocadero that we had photographed the tower from earlier that afternoon.

Sunset over Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

 

London (from Dover)

White Cliffs
Dover, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The “British Isles” Cruise, as I have mentioned, may have been a bit of a misnomer, as we really didn’t spend much time in what I would personally consider, Britain. “The British Isles” would include, in my view, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and perhaps a couple of the smaller Islands in the vicinity. We were only in England during two days of the entire tour. The first day was Liverpool.

Port of Dover
Dover, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

This the second day, our port of call was Dover, a port at the far southeast part of the country, where the English Channel empties into the North Sea. The “White Cliffs of Dover,” said to be the official icon of England, and the inpiration for Vera Lynn’s song, made famous during WWII, were prominent while we remained in port. The white cliffs are said to be the first sight of England you see when you cross the English Channel, and Dover is on the English side of the narrowest part of the channel.

Perhaps unfortunately, we didn’t see much of Dover

Dover is a rather small seaside town but has a few things going for it. Because we had only one day – which we allocated totally to London, we really didn’t see Dover.  We took an early morning train from the quaint, but efficient Dover Train Station, to London. 20/20 hindsight is, of course, clairvoyant, and looking back we may have miscalculated at this port. When we planned the trip, 3 of the 4 of us had not been to London, and as it was only a 1-hour train ride, we felt that we really should use this opportunity to go there. What I did not appreciate is that you just cannot do London justice in a day – especially a very short day. We burned at least 2 hours on the train rides. Perhaps would have used our time better by staying in Dover and exploring the area. We later learned that there is a great military museum, as well as England’s largest Castle (nearby on the cliffs). If ever in Dover again, I suspect we will see some of those sights.

London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Not that London wasn’t great, and we certainly do not regret going.  But the whirlwind nature of our tour of the city really didn’t do it justice. London is a place that requires some time to see everything, and when we do it again, we will plan to spend at least several days there. We also booked – inadvertently – a rather odd tour for our time there. It was in interesting tour, but would have been one of the side tours we might do if we had more than one day on location. It did not afford much opportunity for photography, though there are certainly some things I would liked to have shot.

St. Pancras Train Station and Hotel
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

When doing my post-processing, I realized I only kept and processed some 26 images, and of them, only about a dozen different subjects. I am pretty happy with what I did get. The capital and largest city in England (indeed in the UK), London straddles the River Thames, which ultimately empties into the North Sea to its east. As might be expected, London archtecture is generally massive and very impressive. There is no one dominating style and we saw classic mixed with modern. The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed much of London, including the entire Medieval City of London inside the Roman Gates. Architect Christopher Wren was responsible for a great many rebuilt structures, including some 52 churches (perhaps the most famous amoung them; St. Paul’s Cathedral). I think another trip to London should incorporate a tour of the Christopher Wren buildings.

St. Pancras Train Station and Hotel
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The St. Pancras Train Station and Hotel (where we began our day in London) was originally designed by William Henry Barlow and construction completed in the late 1800’s.

St. Pancras Train Station and Hotel
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Downton Abbey fans may recognize the magnificent staircase inside the St. Pancras Hotel (like Game of Thrones, I have never watched an episode).

St. Pancras Staircase
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

St. Pancras Staircase
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

St. Pancras Staircase
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

London gets it name from Londinium, the ancient Roman name for the Roman settlement that is still buried under central London. It is pretty certain that civilization dates back much earlier than the Roman Empire. Beginning with the conquering of the land by William, Duke of Normandy, the Normans probably most influenced the history of Modern England, and eventually, much of the United Kingdom.

St. Bartholemew’s Gatehouse
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The story of Henry VIII, (1509-47), a descendent of William, his split with the Roman Catholic Church (when Pope Clement VII refused to approve the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon) and his subsequent creation of The Church of England, in 1534, making himself the head of the Church) is well-known. St. Bartholomew’s Church is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in London, and one of few examples of Tudor London, surviving the Great Fire. The main, old church, built in 1123, was mostly demolished by order of Henry VIII. The church that is there today is the result of a restoration between 1887 and 1928. The arch, shown here, once the entrance to the church, is said to be original, except for the timbered structure on the upper facade, which was probably redone sometime in the 16th century.

Smithfield Meat Market
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Part of our tour involved seeing some currently standing buildings near the St. Bartholomew Gate, on Little Britain Street. Our tour was really focused on some historical aspects of London and not really on the big-picture, famous sights. But I was able to make an image of the entrance to the rather well-known (at least to us meat-lovers) Smith Field Market, just up the street from where we were stopped.

Guildhall Art Gallery
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Guildhall buildings were massive with many buildings and a large square, and was also a mix of modern architecture with some classic flares. The image of the Art Gallery is an example of much more modern lines.

Royal Courts of Justice
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our guide, at some point learned that I was a recently retired attorney, and that my wife spent the bulk of her career working in the court systems, and decided to make an impromptu stop at the Royal Courts of Justice, a massive building taking up at least 2 city blocks, and housing mostly, what we would call “appellate courts” here in the U.S. With my little camera,and on the ground viewpoint, it was difficult (like many of the buildings in London) to do the building justice – pun absolutely intended 🙂 . Of course – and unfortunately – photography was forbidden inside the building.

Royal Courts of Justice
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We crossed the Thames on several ocassions during our tour, inevitably seeing different bridges over the river. The most eye-catching, perhaps, was London’s Tower Bridge (often mistakenly referred to as “London Bridge,” which of course, isn’t even in London any longer). It is one of those majestic sites that draws the eye. It wasn’t really part of our guide’s planned tour, but we cajoled him into finding us a place to get out and photograph it.

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our spot was a little park almost directly under the span, and as other photographers might imagine, photographing it was a challenge. My little Sony has a 24mm equivalent at the wide end – just not wide enough for this kind of photography. My final image here, was made with the able assistance of the transform perps

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

At the end of the tour, our guide drove us by Buckingham Palace. Again, it was not in his plan for us, but we pushed to have him drop us off for at least an on-the-ground photo or two. We were there only very briefly, and I would like an opportunity on another occasion to walk the grounds and spend some time. Again, the massive structure makes small camera, low viewpoint shooting problematic. But I made the best with what I had.

Buckingham Palace
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The gold guilded gate ornaments may be the most impressive feature of this particular building.

Buckingham Palace
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Buckingham Palace
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

we finished our day in London, having only a couple hours left, with a ride on the London Eye. It offers a great, high perpective on the city of London. Working with reflections in the glass enclosures, presented its challenges, but I thought that all-in-all, I got some nice images and it was truly worth the ride.

The London Eye
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Prior to our trip, I had read that one of London’s true icons, Big Ben, is currently under construction, not due for completion until 2021. I was able to get a nice image of British Parliament, with the famous clock tower at one end. But it is clearly under construction (in fact, I believe only one face even has the clock face visible). Nor did we ever hear the famous bells during our day.

British Parliament and Big Ben
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The “birds-eye” vantage point of the London Eye did allow for some nice, long-view images of London as it sits on the Thames.

London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The London images were kind of a smattering of things we saw during a much too short visit. There certainly were things we missed that we really need to see: The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Savile Row, Trafalgar Square, St. Margarets Church, and …. well you get the picture (but I didn’t). See what I did there?  🙂 . I assume we will be back.