The Year in Review – 2022

[Copyright Andy Richards 2022]
O N THIS last day of 2022, it seemed fitting to reflect on this incredible photographic year, as well as looking forward to what 2023 will bring. When I wrote this same year-in-review post 12 months ago, I could hardly have imagined it could be an even more eventful year. But as good as 2021 was, 2022 has been amazing. It seems like I always used to do some kind of a wrap-up/thanks type piece. Last week, I posted my “favorites.” This is more of a revisit of some of my experiences in this eventful year – both traveling and at home.

FIRST THOUGH, I want to say not only HAPPY NEW YEAR!, but also THANK YOU to all that read this blog. Looking back, we have had some big travel years. And we have had some that, though they were not so big, were very fulfilling, photographically. 2022 was full and fulfilling. May 2023 only be better! I think maybe 2022 yielded some of my best ever images.

Messina, Sicily
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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TRAVEL INSPIRES most of my shooting these days. A quick look at my portfolio over 40-plus years has revealed to me that a high percentage of my images were made during our recent travel years; and are travel-oriented. I have been revamping my archival tagging system and was surprised (though not shocked) to see that my digital archives number just under 50,000 images. My lifetime count is certainly higher than that. My “tracking” is not completely accurate. I began the more serious endeavor of photography in 1977 and for the first 25 of those years, I had a less than optimal archiving system. Since moving to digital, I have archived everything. By my calculations, I have made an average of about 2,000 images per year over the past 21 or so years. Part of that increase was no doubt the fact that we could shoot with relative impunity, once we no longer had to purchase film and processing (I have actually tried to make a concerted effort over the past few years to make fewer images and be more thoughtful in the field about what I shoot). I once had file boxes of color transparency slides, of which I only scanned and saved a few. And, sadly, that was mainly only from the mid-1990’s on (I know I made some nice photographs in the earlier years – 1978-1982, especially. I didn’t do a good job of archiving. I have only one or two of my slides from the 70’s – 80’s, and virtually none of the work – mainly B&W – I did while on the college newspaper and yearbook staff). I think they call that “young and dumb.” 🙂

EVEN when I am out around home these days, I am spending more time on street shooting and cityscapes these days. So, it stands to reason that my roundup of this year will be mostly those subjects. Still, I did get some time behind the lens for just landscape shooting, and those opportunities were pretty special. A combination of increased travel (4 trips outside the U.S. and one dedicated trip in the U.S.), playing with some new photographic gear (purposed for travel), and perhaps some pent-up, post-Covid attitude, mean more images for me than usual this year (just under 7.000 images). This year’s take was by far the second biggest number I have accumulated over the past 20 years. The biggest (just over 8,000) was the year of our first cruise and our trip to Alaska. I had just acquired my first “full frame” Nikon DSLR, and I took many photos during the Alaska trip (too many).

Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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THE COVID Pandemic of 2020-2021 put a serious damper on things for all of us. I don’t think we are alone in our sentiment that we could not wait to get back out there. We started “gently” in October-November of 2021. This year we hit the ground running, with 3 cruises, a 20-day land-based trip to Portugal; and I made a week-long trip to Maine in April to photograph lighthouses. I also spent some time kicking around my “backyard,” here in the Tampa Area. I will post some “highlight” photos of each trip. There were so many. As always, they can all be seen at my photo website, LightCentricPhotography.com.

JANUARY

IN JANUARY, we took a cruise in the western Caribbean. This one wasn’t a long cruise, but it marked our first time in the Caribbean in several years. It was also our 4th trip on what has become a favorite ship: The Celebrity Reflection. It was fun, and relaxing. We made stops in Nassau, Bahamas; Cozumel, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Belize City, Belize. Interestingly, all but one (Belize City) were on small islands off the mainland of these countries.

From our Cruise Ship, we could see the familiar sight of the Atlantis Resort
Nassau, Bahamas
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OUR FIRST port of call was Nassau, Bahamas. I didn’t do a huge amount of photography during this cruise, but I was trying out a new “travel” camera system, so I did carry it around and make a few images. My expectations were not high. I was mostly checking it out for usability and image quality (more on that later). There were at least 5 cruise ships in the port, including The Disney Fantasy, Royal Caribbean’s Fantasy of the Seas, and two Carnival Cruise Line ships. Busy port.

We were in “heady” company while docked at Nassau
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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THE NEXT stop was Cozumel, Mexico. A place I had never been to. We did not plan any excursions at all on this cruise (a bit unusual for us, but perhaps less so in the Caribbean). Our “plan” was to get off the ship at each port, walk around a bit, and then re-board. This cruise was really more for the cruise ship atmosphere than anything else. I am sure the beaches, snorkeling, diving and those kinds of beach-sports activities are wonderful in Cozumel. As far as the cruise port and immediate vicinity is concerned, I don’t care if I never see it again. There are vendors in every port in the Caribbean, both in the port area itself, and usually in other parts of the city. I have been to many ports in the Caribbean. The vendors are pretty forward and vocal. But usually if you politely say: “no thanks,” they move on. Not in Cozumel. They were aggressive to the point of harassment. They just would not leave us alone. I couldn’t wait to get away. Ironically, I did buy a T-shirt in Cozumel (one of the few times I have bought anything on any cruise other than food). 🙂

Cozumel, Mexico
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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BELIZE WAS just kind of underwhelming. I think I only processed two shots from there (one of which, it shouldn’t shock you, was the local Sen’or Frog “monument”). In Roatan we didn’t even get off the ship (that is probably the first and only time we haven’t at least walked off and looked at the onshore activity. I was able to make some shots from the ship and with some cropping, make them look a bit “nicer.”  I am really not trying to be elitist here. I think there is plenty to do there, if you do your homework before you leave (and we really didn’t on this one). I also think getting to know the people, island and culture would be interesting and fun. But it looked very run-down where we docked, and I don’t think just getting off and walking around was really going to gain us anything. If we ever went back, I would certainly want to find some kind of tour. I really would have liked to do something related to the cigar-making industry, but I think that is mostly done on the mainland of Honduras. My take-away from all of the western Caribbean stops was that they were very beach, snorkel or diving-oriented. I have a friend (who is apparently more adventurous than me) who did Roatan’s version of “Hop-on-hop-off busses” (by his description, “ancient, recycled Toyota mini-vans with doors removed”) and took a river boat to a Mayan Ruin in Belize. Maybe we should have planned a little better. 🙂

Belize City, Belize
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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Roatan, Honduras
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MARCH

IN MARCH, one of my sisters (one of 5 sisters and a brother) and her husband came to Florida to “thaw out” (they live in Traverse City, Michigan, where we all grew up) for about a week. They did their own thing part of the time, but we did a few things together, too. Have you ever noticed that when people visit, you tend to go places and see things locally that you either do not do, or never have done? St. Petersburg, Florida has a small, but very cool glass/glass-blowing art museum. We visited it one day, and because I knew it was inside, I took only my Samsung S21 Smartphone. I have remarked numerous times here that – for myriad reasons – smartphone cameras are “not ready for prime time” for most serious photographers. But I have also noted that I am impressed with them and for me they work particularly well in an indoor setting with challenging lighting. I made a few images I liked. I even had some fun playing with a couple to make a composite.

Composite from Images made at St. Petersburg “Imagine” Glass Gallery
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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APRIL

I  HAVE had coastal Maine on my horizon for years now. In 2009, my buddy, Rich and I and our wives spent a week in October in Bar Harbor. Our primary destination was Acadia National Park, but we spent a fair amount of time driving to other spots in the area. I got my first glimpse of the Maine Coast that year, as we photographed several Lobster Fishing harbors and the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. These are my kinds of landscape scenes and I really wanted to get back. Having now finally done it in 2022, I want to go back again soon. I have posted only a couple here. There are many more images, including 5 lighthouses and several lobster harbors on my Maine Galleries, here.

Portland Head Light
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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TIMING IS everything. Rich works for a company in Michigan that owns a subsidiary company based out of Freeport, Maine (very near Portland). He travels there frequently, and I “piggybacked” on one of his trips (he worked earlier in the week and then took a few days off) and our base of operation was in Portland. But the only time we could mesh schedules was in April (May or October would have been preferred, because of Spring blooms and/or foliage). But we made the most of it. Because of the time of year, we knew our best bet would be to concentrate on lighthouses. And fortunately, there are some really picturesque light houses along mid-coast Maine. We also knew there would be some limited opportunities to shoot lobster harbors.

Lobster Boats
Southport, Maine
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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WEATHER WAS not our friend that week, for the most part. That is unusual for me. I seem to be blessed with good weather most of the time. This trip yielded mostly overcast to cloudy skies, which make photography much more challenging. But there was really only about one half-day complete rainout, and so we got out and took advantage of what we did get. And with what I think is the most photogenic light of the group, at Pemaquid Point Light, we lucked out one afternoon. It had rained all morning and had been cloudy with some showers the balance of the day. We had planned to head back to Pemaquid just to see what happened. Our weather apps predicted partly sunny by late afternoon to early evening. Eventually, we could see signs of clearing to our west. But temperatures were also dropping. This created fog at the seashore, which is a double-edged sword. We could either get some “cool” foggy images, or it would be completely “socked” in. We would see. As we pulled into the parking lot, we could hear the waves pounding (which was quite different from the still, but cloudy morning when we were there a day or two before). And then, almost suddenly, the cloud cover broke and late afternoon blue sky and sun pierced through. We got some great images of the lighthouse and reflection. I also made some nice images of the violent wave break, down on rocks we had climbed on the prior morning.

Pemaquid Point Light
Bristol, Maine
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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MAY

JUST BEFORE I left for my Maine Trip, our friends and neighbors, Bruce and Joyce, invited us to join them on a 20-day trip to Portugal later that Spring. Portugal was one of the few significant countries in Mediterranean Europe that we had never been to, and with our love for travel, we jumped at the opportunity. Flying into Lisbon on May 18, we spent the next 4 days there. Our hotel was right in the center of the Baixa (a low, flat part of Lisbon – probably the only flat part, LOL – kind of a valley between two mountains). Our hotel was a perfect location, within easy walking distance to many of Lisbon’s popular spots. Out our front door was a grid of walking-only streets. During the afternoon and evenings, there was outdoor restaurant seating, which we frequently availed ourselves of. During the day and at night, the streets were busy. In the mornings, they were often nearly deserted. Nearby, there were plazas and fountains, and the riverfront. Of course, I was out every morning. Again, so many images. Shots of intimate small street settings, Towers. And the Jacaranda Trees were in their glorious purple bloom everywhere. See many more very cool Lisbon images on my LightCentricPhotography photo site, here.

Lisbon, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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LIKE MANY European cities, Lisbon is very mass-transit oriented. Probably the most popular of their public transportation vehicles is their well-developed tram system. This includes the rather well-known “Tram 28” which makes its circuit through many of the city’s most popular areas. All-day and multiple day (often combined with other transportation forms like subway and bus) fares are available at really reasonable cost. It is a good way to see central Lisbon. The only downside is that if you do so during the main hours of the day, it may be very difficult to get back on if you get off. We waited in line for about 4 trams before we were able to get on one at the beginning. Then, they fill them up. But a fun and interesting ride, anyway.

Tram; Lisbon, Portugal
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DURING OUR stay in Lisbon, one day we traveled out into the eastern part of Portugal, to Sintra. It is best known for its two famous Castles, Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. Unfortunately, our tour did not include (and we did not know better) the Moorish Castle. I have vowed that on the next trip to Portugal we will go back there. But Pena Palace is pretty spectacular and very colorful. Again, my one image here does not do it – or the area – justice. To see the rest of the Sintra and Pena Palace shots, go here.

Pena Palace
Sintra, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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FROM LISBON, we traveled North to Porto, (probably the “namesake” of Portugal, and one of the most photogenic cities in Europe, in my view). This city is special to me on a number of levels. First, I fell in love with “old city” feel. I also loved the food. But most of all: the photographic spots there! Because we were there for so long, I felt comfortable going off and doing something just for me on this trip. 🙂 I found a nighttime photo walk in Lisbon and signed up for it. It was a good outing and we did some pretty nice photography. It was very reasonable in cost. But probably the best thing that came from it was our guide’s suggestion that I contact another photo-tour guide in Porto and spend a day with him. It was my good fortune that he had a time available for me – and that I was his only customer that day! He took me to spots that I may never have found on my own, and certainly not within the time frame of a couple days. What a day. Perhaps my best city photographs ever. I think that, among other things, has convinced me That Porto is perhaps my favorite European city (maybe tied with Barcelona). Choosing a favorite is impossible. So again, I encourage you to look at all my Porto Photographs on my LightCentricPhotography photo site.

Porto, Portugal
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WE MADE a couple side-trips from Porto, including the Douro River Valley, and Aveiro.

Aveiro, Portugal
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THE SECOND night we were in Porto, I walked down to a researched site about 10 minutes from our hotel, to set up and shoot a nighttime image of Porto, along the Douro River, with one of its prominent bridges. I would like to get back there someday earlier and try to make a sunset image. But this one will have to do for now.

Porto, Portugal
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WE SPENT another 4 days there, before heading south. On one of those days, we traveled out to the famed, Douro River Valley, where Port Wine was originally made, and where many of the grapes are still grown. The large, famous Port makers have mostly moved closer to Porto. As you can see from my gallery, The Douro Valley is spectacular.

Douro Valley Scenic Overlook
Portugal
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MY WIFE and I also traveled by train one day to nearby Aveiro. Once known for its fishing industry, and its unique and colorful, gondola-style boats, which were used to gather seaweed brought in for fertilizer for its farm fields, Aveiro today thrives primarily on tourist trade and the local university. Down near the waterfront you can take one of the above boats for a cruise around the canal. The waterfront itself is fronted by some wonderful, art nouveau buildings. It was a short walk from the very modern railway station and there were some very colorful photographic sites. You can a few more of my Aveiro shots here.

WITH A stop in the ancient walled city of Evora for two nights, we then finished our amazing time there in the Algarve (a pretty popular and even famous ocean beach area) in Lagos, Portugal. Evora was once the center of Roman and then later, Ottoman control of the region which eventually became Portugal. There are ancient castles, churches, a wall surrounding the old city (our hotel was inside the walled city), a huge aqueduct, and many examples of the architecture of the times. See more Evora pictures here.

Evora, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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THE ALGARVE is a region in the south of Portugal, that mostly borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Particularly along the southern tip of the peninsula, there are several very popular beach communities. Tourism and summer residents are a large part of the economy there, but there is also fishing, agriculture and other related vocations that contribute to the economy. It is so very different from what we saw in Lisbon and Portugal. But picturesque, if not touristy, and very fun. And the seafood was wonderful. The rest of my Algarve Pictures are in this gallery.

Lagos, Portugal
The Algarve
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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THE PHOTOGRAPHIC opportunities in Portugal (especially Porto, in my opinion) were as good as I have ever experienced. We haven’t done a lot of extensive land-based trips, so this was an uncommon experience for us. And for me, a welcome change to the travel routine. The one real negative for me with cruising – as a photographer – is that you only very rarely get to experience a location in the best light (early morning, late afternoon-evening) and almost never at night. Shooting cities at night can be pretty fun for a photographer. Here, I knew there would be several such opportunities, and some pretty nice landscape shots. I was not disappointed, and I am certain there will be another visit to Portugal in my future!

JULY

AS WE have customarily done since moving to Florida, we spent 2 weeks back in Michigan visiting family and friends during the 4th of July holiday. I don’t usually spend much time “behind the lens” on these trips. But this year, my sister and brother-in-law took us on a drive to the Lake Michigan Lakeshore – some of Northern Michigan’s prettiest scenery along Lake Michigan and some inland lakes. One of our stops that day was the Point Betsie Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. In my view, not one of the most photogenic of lighthouses, which we were at in rather harsh lighting conditions, I still made a few images.

Point Betsie Lighhouse
Frankfort, Michigan
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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AUGUST

WE WEREN’T done yet. Not by a long shot. At the beginning of September, we left for Amsterdam. We were scheduled to cruise the Baltic Sea on the Celebrity Apex. A “makeup” cruise of sorts. In 2020 we were scheduled for a cruise in Iceland, Ireland and the U.K. Covid shot that one down and we then went through a series of 3 or 4 “re-bookings,” one after another, they cancelled as Covid hung on longer and stronger than the world had anticipated. This one finally “took.” It actually had me kind of excited because the overnight stop was St. Petersburg, Russia. What photographer wouldn’t be excited at that prospect? [Warning: soapbox speech 🙂 ] In the past century, we have had two narcissist, power-hungry, and just downright insane characters who fancied themselves “world leaders.” Both obsessed with nothing but their own power. Neither had any common sense, sense of morals or decency. One of them was the prime mover in perhaps the worst and least – justified war in the world’s history (certainly modern history). Thankfully, (though only after much horrible death and destruction, including the attempted extermination of a whole race of people), the first one is dead (presumably at his own hand in the face of defeat in WWII). The other one is – to the world’s detriment – still alive. Much of the world saw, after the fact, the horrible atrocities Hitler wrought, but confoundingly we either cannot see history repeating itself, or we are just too complacent to address it. Vladimir Putin is, in my (ever so 🙂 ) humble opinion, Hitler reincarnated. The parallels are stunning. I ask myself every day how one man can have so much evil influence worldwide? [O.k. I’ll climb down off the soapbox]. Needless to say, St. Petersburg was scratched from the agenda after Putin’s War began.

Wind Turbines
Amsterdam, Netherlands
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WE WENT anyway, even though nearly 50% of cruisers on this one cancelled. Yeah, St. Petersburg was a big deal. But not enough to cancel a cruise that turned out to be a pretty interesting part of the world. We spent a couple days in Amsterdam, and then cruised up into the Baltic, stopping in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Denmark, before returning to Amsterdam. Amsterdam had a kind of “been there, done that” feeling to me as far as photography was concerned. We did some really interesting historical tours though. One of the most impressive parts of the beginning of that cruise was the sail away through the northern passage from Amsterdam out to the Atlantic. I expect to see windmills in Amsterdam. The old-fashioned kind. But I was surprised at the number of modern wind turbines around the Netherlands (and other parts of the Baltic).

Warnemunde, Germany
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O

UR FIRST stop was in the northern part of Germany, in a seaside, beach-vacation town of Warnemunde. We had no high expectations from this stop, and I think the best photos were right from the top deck of the cruise ship. There are just a few other “Warnemunde” images here. We cruised northeast across the Baltic over the next couple days, and landed next in Helsinki. One of the really fun aspects of cruising for us has been meeting new friends from all around the world. In 2019, before the world shut down, we met two fun couples from the northern part of England. We spent some time with them during the week, both on and off shore, and have kept in touch. This time, we met several more couples from the U.S. and Canada. One of the really fun couples is Mike and Elaine, from upstate New York. We spent a fair amount of time with them, also. I had breakfast nearly every morning with Mike. We actually have plans to cruise with them again in February, 2023 in the Caribbean. In Helsinki, neither of us had hard plans, so we got off the ship together and boarded the Helsinki “Hop on – Hop Off” bus (which stopped right in the cruise port, just steps away from the ship). We had a fun day. Helsinki is geographically fairly small and I think we probably saw most of it from the bus. We only got off right down in the downtown area, where most of the historical sights were. In my research, I learned that Helsinki was probably going to be the closest we would get to a St. Petersburg experience. Czar Alexander had a fondness for Helsinki after the Russian occupation and authorized some pretty extensive building, including Senate Square and the Helsinki Cathedral. There is also a beautiful Russian Orthodox Cathedral nearby. The waterfront is fun and impressive. I made just a few nice Helsinki images, which can be seen here.

Helsinki Cathedral
Senate Square
Helsinki, Finland
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THE REPLACEMENT port for St. Petersburg was the medieval town of Visby, on a small island which is part of Sweden, called Gottland. We took a walking tour through the old walled city, learning some history, and seeing some very old buildings. It is a pretty and photogenic city, as can be seen in my Visby Gallery.

Visby, Sweden
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WE NEXT sailed to Tallin, Estonia. Tallin is a small, walled medieval city. It is known as the oldest such city in the Baltic. It is unique in that it was at one time two separate walled cities that abutted each other so closely that the walls formed a narrow walkway between them. The inhabitants did not trust each other, and gates were closed during the night. Estonia was occupied by Russia (and later the USSR) for many years, and the Russian influence can be seen there. Estonian Citizens are also very independent and proud of their own heritage. Tallin was once an important and strategic port on the trade routes (an important part of The Hanseatic League). Today, it is a favorite vacation and nightlife spot – especially for the Finns and Swedes. There was a lot to photograph there, as you can see from the Estonia gallery here, on my website. The Russian Orthodox Church is probably the most impressive church I have ever photographed. There were many other good photographic opportunities here, as you can see from my Estonia Gallery.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Tallin, Estonia
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IN PLACE of the overnight in St. Petersburgh, Stockholm became our overnight destination. But even that changed, as, during our stay in port, the ship captain announced that we would be leaving port in the early evening the night before to avoid some bad weather conditions (so we missed our overnight – and our visit to the ABBA museum). One thing I didn’t realize prior to the cruise was that the sail into Stockholm from the Baltic involves a narrow waterway that it takes several hours to navigate. I think that was the highlight of Sweden! We got to see much of rural Sweden with some pretty nice landscape opportunities from high up vantage point of the upper ship deck. As you might guess, I spent a good amount of time on the upper deck for the sail in and back out. My numerous shots can be seen in my Sweden Gallery.

Sweden
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STOCKHOLM ITSELF is a major city, with very large, impressive municipal buildings and an old medieval part of the city that was very touristy and crowded. My favorite photographic subject in the city was the Riddarholmen Cathedral.

Riddarholmen Cathedral
Stockholm, Sweden
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THE FINAL port was Copenhagen, Denmark. If I were “king of the (Celebrity) world,” I would have made Copenhagen the overnight stop. A bit like Helsinki, Copenhagen is a compact and very walkable city. And it has some wonderfully photogenic buildings, as well as a great waterfront.  We had arranged a walking tour with our friends Mike and Elaine. It started fairly early in the morning, so we took a taxi from the ship into the downtown area, where we met our guide. After spending a few hours with her, we did a bit more walking and exploring on our own, including climbing (thankfully mostly by elevator) into a tower that gave us a great panoramic view, including the cruiseport and our ship. I thought the port area was also very photogenic and made a few images from the ship as we came into the harbor in the nice morning light. You can see my Copenhagen images here. There was a great Royal Palace Compound, the Government Palace, a University and Churches. I went there with one spot high on my agenda: Nyhavn. You can see from the photo why. I would love to go back there at night.

Nyhavn
Copenhagen, Denmark
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OCTOBER

WE STILL weren’t done. 🙂 We had made plans earlier in the year to go on a cruise with some family members. Some of them had never been in Europe, or parts of the Mediterranean before. Some had been some places, but not others. Having been to the area at least three other times, there was a lot of familiarity for us. But there is always something different; a different spin; a different agenda, and different photographic opportunities. We made the best of some pretty great spots. We started in Rome, where we spent a few days before boarding the Celebrity Edge in Civitavecchia. We then cruised to La Spezia, Cannes, Toulon (Provence), Barcelona, Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples. On our return to Civitavecchia, we flew to Venice for a few more days, before returning home. Whew! Long, and at points exhausting trip. Photographically, there were some really high points!

Piazza del Popolo
Rome, Italy
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ROME IS a city we had been to two times before. But each time, only for the day. Having the luxury to stay for 3 nights in a VRBO right in Rome was special. And it meant I would get out in the morning light. I did not get any nighttime shooting in there, though. But during the days we got to see the Vatican (perhaps because of post-Covid and maybe the early morning tour, we got a much more intimate view of the place  – on our last visit there were shoulder to shoulder crowds everywhere we were in Vatican City). We also had a much more thorough tour than our previous walk-through on our own, of the Roman Forum and the Coloseum. On the day we arrived, our driver took us to a couple impressive spots, including a fountain we had never seen before. And, of course, the Trevi Fountain (that was every bit as crowded as it was on our first visit). Having spent 3 plus days there, it would be impossible for me to choose a photo or two that would be “representative.” And everyone has seen the Colosseum, The Vatican, The Trevi Fountain, the Royal Palace, and the Roman Forum. All my images of Rome, including a number of new ones from this trip are in the Rome, and Vatican Galleries, on my photo website. The image here is just a very short walk from our VRBO, taken just after sunrise one of the mornings we stayed there. It is probably my favorite Rome image.

Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre, Italy
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I  WAS “laying in the weeds” for La Spezia. On our Mediterranean cruise in 2019, we had stopped in La Spezia. I knew about Cinque Terre back then, but I really wasn’t prepared to do it justice. And to add to that, we had a mostly rainy day. I got to just one of the 5 villages (Manarola). But it was a learning experience. Among other things, we learned about the commuter train from La Spezia through Cinque Terre, stopping at all 5 of the villages. There is an all-day ticket for 18 Euros. The time between stops is between 5 and 15 minutes. It is possible to do several (maybe all) of the villages in a long day. With a large group (we had 6) it is not always easy to get organized and going. Especially without a tour or specific plan. And especially when all in the group aren’t especially early risers. So, I made it known to everyone that I would be off the ship as soon as we were cleared and would meet them in one of the villages once they got going. That worked for me. I got to photograph what I wanted of 3 of the 5 villages, which I had concluded were the most photogenic of all: Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Vernazza. Those images can all be seen in my Cinque Terre Gallery. The consensus of photographers whose accounts I read was that Manarola was the best of the 3 to photograph. I don’t know that I would agree. It is certainly photogenic. It is also, by far, the easiest of the three to get to, with the train station being very close to “the action.” And I do think it would be the village of choice to stay in for an overnight or two. But I really liked Riomaggiore!

Monaco
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CANNES, OUR next port, is supposed to be a playground for the rich and famous. It seems like that is a common theme along this stretch of the Mediterranean known as the French Riveria. But we didn’t spend any time in Cannes, but instead 4 of us took a train to Monaco, where we walked to the Monte Carlo Casino. We had been in the Casino before, but it was still interesting to walk around, though we did not gamble. In the end I think we all mostly enjoyed strolling along the avenue leading up the casino and along the waterfront. We stopped for probably the nicest lunch we had during the entire trip.

Monte Carlo Casino
Monaco
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
THE NEXT day, we docked at the port of La Seyne-sur-Mer in Toulon, France. About the only thing memorable about Toulon is that it is in the heart of Provence. Our private guide that day said that he was one of only two who would drive all the way to La Seyne-sur-Mer, because it was so out of the way. We were fortunate that he would, because he took us on a really great tour. Years back we had docked at Marseilles (no doubt a more convenient port for passengers and guides). We started out in a nearby National Park with some stunning views from up in the mountains, down over the riviera. We went to Aix-en-Provence (we had been there before in 2014, but the others had not). It is another beautiful old city with fountains, piazzas, churches and majestic buildings. We had lunch there and then headed back toward our ship. On the way we stopped at the medieval village of LeCastellet, a quiet, charming little village tucked up into the mountains. My Provence Gallery showcases a few of the images I have made in the Provence Region, including Aix-enProvence and LeCastellet. Perhaps the coolest photo-op I had in 2022 was the “right time – right place” shot of rock climbers preparing for their rappel down the mountains in the National Park.

Rock Climbers
Provence, France
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
OUR NEXT stop was Barcelona, Spain. We have been to Barcelona a handful of times now, staying a few days each time. It is one of my favorite European cities (Porto, Portugal, being the other). But we had seen much of the city already. On our last visit, we had a tour to the nearby Montserrat Monastery and a winery that was cut short because of a Catalonian demonstration. We wanted to finish it, so my wife and I left the others to their own designs in Barcelona and returned to Montserrat: mountains northeast of Barcelona. It was a nice day. It started out quite foggy, but as our morning progressed, the sun broke through and I made what I think is a very nice photograph of the mountains behind the monastery. Montserrat has its own gallery on my website.

Montserrat
Barcelona, Spain
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
AFTER BARCELONA, we went to a place we had never been to; Sardinia. A part of Italy, it, like so many of the European distinctive regions, has its own history, language and culture. It seemed to us that food was a big regional thing in this part of Italy. The next day we would be in Messina, Sicily and my wife and I took a food tour on our own. I didn’t make any real memorable images in either place this time, though I did post a few photos in the Sardinia Gallery on my website.

Pompei
Naples, Italy
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
THE FINAL stop on our cruise was Naples, Italy. Again, we have been in port at Naples multiple times. One of the reasons it is a very popular cruise ship stop is its proximity to so many sought after sites in the area. From Naples we have been to the Amalfi Coast two times, and to the Isle of Capri. But the other big event is the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneum. We had not been to either and this was a long, but fun day visiting them. Each has its own gallery with many photographs in my Italy Galleries. I included the Pompei image here because of the classic clouds in front of Mount Vesuvius. These ancient, but sophisticated, civilizations are spectacular, and the preserved ruins include homes, shops, restaurants, displaying impressive stonework and mosaics. They are rivaled only – in my experience – by the ruins of Ancient Ephesus, in Turkey.

Doge’s Palace
Venice, Italy
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
VENICE IS another incredible European city that we have been to multiple times. I have often described Venice as “eye-candy” for the photographer. On this trip, I concentrated less on shooting everything in front of me and more on some of the little things – as well as enjoying the city with our friends who had not been there. As always, I made a few images. You can see all my Venice images in the Venice Gallery on my photo website.

DECEMBER

YOU WOULD think that would have been enough. But there would be one more fun and successful adventure. When we moved from Michigan to Florida, in stages, over the last 10 years, I learned that an old high school classmate was an avid photographer, and a 30-plus year resident of Tampa. We touched based a couple times and vowed to get together to do some photography. Finally in early December, knowing the city would be dressed up for the holidays, I reached out to Mark, and we ultimately got together – him being my local guide – to make some really good images of the Miami Skyline. It was fun, and we plan to do it again soon – somewhere in our area. I just set up a Tampa Gallery in the past few days, with many more of these nighttime skyline images. Hope you’ll check them out and enjoy them. And I would also encourage you to check out Mark’s work here.

Tampa Skyline and Bridge over The Hillsborough River
Tampa, Florida
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WELL. THAT’s my year in pictures. The images shown here are not necessarily my “best” nor by any stretch of the imagination, all of my take for 2022. They are meant to show what I had to work with. I would be honored if you will go to my LightCentricPhotography photo site, peruse some of the galleries, and leave a comment or two. I am very thankful for a robust, healthy (in spite of the Pandemic), and very full year of travel and photography. I wish all a successful and Happy New Year! Good shooting to all you photographers out there.

Best Regards,

[On Monday, we begin 2023, flying to Cape Town, South Africa, for a few days and then boarding the Oceania Nautica, for a cruise “around the horn,” so to speak. On returning later this month, I will resume our 2022 experiences, with the Baltic Cruise series. Hope you will hang on. Stay tuned.]

My Favorite Images of 2022

WITH FOUR trips outside the U.S., and one photography-specific trip, 2022 was a pretty amazing year for photography. I had a lot of chances to make images. In the past couple weeks, I have gone through the process of trying to select my 10 favorite images for the year. A daunting task. It turns out I have a bunch of favorites. “Favorites” does not necessarily mean “best.” Both terms are, of course, purely subjective. I chose these images over a period of 2-3 day. I am not sure I would pick the same ones if I began again today. That is how subjective it is. As is photography, for the most part. But here are my final picks – not in any particular order:

Mackerel Cove
Bailey Island, Maine
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
IT IS partly about the “story.” On our trip in April, my buddy, Rich and I had spent most of a week on the peninsulas of mid-coast Maine. Our primary targets were lighthouses. We got some really nice pictures, and they were part of the reason winnowing down to just 10 was so difficult. It could have been 25. Or even more. The photo above was made on our penultimate (I have always wanted to use that word in a post 🙂 ) day. It turned out to be the one really rainy day of the trip (the rest was mostly overcast, but we stayed dry). We tried to find one lighthouse and fishing harbor, but the fog was so thick, we couldn’t see more than a few feet offshore. We had seen images of this colorful shed with buoys hanging off it and decided to find it. We didn’t really like the “orthodox” shot we had seen, from up on the road, so we found a spot to scramble down a steep, brushy bank, to the beach. I hadn’t noticed the beached boat from the road, but when we got down on the beach I knew I needed to get as close as possible, and shoot this from a low perspective, with the shanty becoming part of the background. The gloomy skies that afternoon meant I would do some work in post-processing when I got home. I liked my result.

We Are The Champions
Porto, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
AGAIN, THE story. We spent 20 days in Portugal in May-June. What a trip. What a country. My favorite spot was the city of Porto, to the north (and probably the “namesake: of Portugal). Shortly before we arrived in Portugal, the Porto “football” team won its national championship (I believe for the first time in many years). This fan proudly displayed her team flag as we walked and shot the streets of Porto. I am not sure what the “favorite” criteria here is. It may be my favorite. Or, it may be my guide, Jose’ Manuel Santo’s favorite of my images. Either way, the story is as good a memory for me as the photo.

Porto at Night
Porto, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
IT MAY or may not come as a surprise that most of my favorites this year came from either Portugal or Maine. While others were great, I think my best images came from the time spent in those locations. There were so many wonderful photos from Portugal. I had researched this shot, and the viewpoint from which it was made, long before we left the U.S. I walked to the spot (maybe about a mile away from our hotel) the very first night we were in Porto. The shot is of Porto’s Ribeira, a very popular tourist and night spot along the Douro River, near the city center. The prominent and photogenic bridge is Ponte de Dom Lui’s I. To reach the viewpoint (“Miradouro” in Portuguese), I walked across the Ponte Infante Bridge to the other side of the Douro River. The viewpoint is actually in the neighboring town of Vila Nova de Gaia.

Colored Doors
Porto, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
FOR OUR stay in Porto, I engaged a photo guide for one day (this was after my night shot above). It was one of the best decisions I have ever made when traveling to an unkown city. I will surely do it again in the future. My guide, Jose’ Manual Santos, operates his company as Pictury Photo Tours, in Porto and on trips out into the Douro Valley. Hose’, in addition to being a talented photographer, is a wonderful gentleman and we had a great day together. He is gracious and knows Porto (where he has lived all his life) intimately. I saw places I never would have had I just struck out on my own. Those who have followed here for a few years may remember my fascination with colored doors (first in Dublin, and more recently in London). These were as good as any I have seen and was just one of the really cool photo spots Jose’ took me to see. I will note, for precision, that this building is actually in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the bridge from Porto. The viewpoint from across the river actually yields some of the best images of the city of Porto from a landscape perspective.

I started this process with a kind of “best of” point of view and quickly decided to change the focus to “favorite.” Again, there is no doubt that my decisions are colored by the story.

THE TRIP to mid-coast, Maine was another place that yielded many more great photographs and made the selection process so difficult. I started this process out with a kind of “best of” point of view and quickly decided to change the focus to “favorite.” Again, there is no doubt that my decisions are colored by the story. I have had Maine Lighthouses and the Maine coast on my radar for years now, and really jumped at the opportunity to spend nearly a week there. I would return in a heartbeat.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
Bristol, Maine
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
We photographed 5 lighthouses. 3 of the 5 would be on my “best lighthouses” list. Pemaquid probably has the best “story.” We visited the site on two different days (at least an hour’s drive from our hotel). They were two very different days. The first was a (predictably for the trip) a cloudy, early morning. The air was completely still and the ocean relatively calm. The tide was out, and we were able to climb well out onto the rocks, which were dry for the most part. This gave the opportunity for the interesting rock foreground, carved by years of ocean waves. I know it is not the most unique perspective, but I was looking for the reflection image above. There were some very small tide pools, and I did get a reflection shot of sorts. But the sky was dreary, and it wasn’t what I had hoped for. We decided that we would try to return later in the week and catch the late sun. The day we returned started out rainy and was (consistent with the rest of the week) mostly cloudy and dreary. But we had some hopes, as our weather apps both told us it would clear in the late afternoon. When we returned, there was a steady wind, and the ocean was as rough as I have ever seen on a normal day. Waves were crashing way up over the rocks we had climbed around on the previous day. The good thing was that they had created a couple much larger tide pools. And, with a stroke of good fortune, the cloud-cover broke, and we were treated to brilliant blue skies for the rest of the afternoon and into evening. Maybe not the best, all of the above makes this qualify for a favorite.

Rail Station
Porto, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
ONE OF the Places Jose’ took me was the Art Deco interior-designed Porto Rail Station. There are some very interesting windows in the station that he tells me make for magical lighting later in the day as the sun sets. We were there mid-day, and I did not make it back. It was also very crowded at that point. I made some images of the mosaics and yellow Art Deco trimmings that I liked. But what the heck. I was at a railway station, and it was an older one. I thought I should at least walk out and see the platforms. The image above immediately drew my attention. For me, it was an easy pick for a favorite.

Algarve
Lagos, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
THE ALGARVE is a “region” (at one time, hundreds of years ago, it had something close to its own sovereignty, and eventually became part of the kingdom and eventually nation of Portugal) in the southwest part of Portugal. It’s warm climate and long coastline on the Atlantic Ocean makes it the premiere beach, boating and fishing area for vacationers. These visitors (many have semi-permanent vacation residences) are not just from Portugal but come from all over Europe. We met a couple from England who have a vacation residence and a boat in a marine there. The coastline is mostly rugged, with some beautiful sandy beaches interspersed. The rock formations are primarily what I would describe as sandstone and there are often outcroppings out into the waters. Paddleboard rentals and classes are one of the many popular watersports. I made this photo not far from our Lagos Hotel. I like the pattern and symmetry of the paddleboarders around the rock outcropping. Again I made quite a few really nice photos here and this one edged out a few others as a “favorite.”

Ponte del Dom Luis I
Porto, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
IT SEEMS like in every major city there are one or more landmarks that are visible and dominating from all over the city. Paris’ Eiffel tower, The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., The Golden Gate Bridge in San Franciso, and The Acropolis in Athens come to mind among others. The Ponte del Dom Luis I is one of those landmarks. And it is a wonderful, strong element to build into a landscape image. This closer perspective is made walking down a street in across the river, Vila Nova di Gaia, toward the walking portion of the bridge, on our way back over to Porto. I have a handful of shots of Porto using this bridge as an element. As I looked at them all side-by-side during selection, this one kept coming to the forefront.

Doge’s Palace
Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WE FOUND ourselves in Venice again in October; me for the third time and my wife for her 4th. Having spent a lot of time around St. Mark’s Square during those trips, I found myself looking for something hadn’t “seen” or shot previously. I made less shots and just tried to let things come to my vision. A runner-up here would have been the shot I made showing the water ankle deep in the middle of the square from the rising tide. It was the first time I had experienced it. This one drew my interest partly because of the graphic elements, and partly because of the “lone” human figure sitting on the benches (obviously there are several, but the first one primarily draws the attention). As I processed the image, it occurred to me that this was probably better rendered in B&W. I don’t do that often, so it is a surprise it made the cut. But it did 🙂

Tampa Skyline
Tampa, Florida
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
L

AST, BUT certainly not least, my recent shoot, spent with an old high school friend (Mark Weaver), of the downtown Tampa skyline at night, yielded several “favorite” eligible images for me. I think this will probably be my last serious photography outing of 2022, and it may be that it is partly because it is so recent. But it has also been on my radar since I moved to the Tampa Bay area a few year back. The bridge in the foreground changes its lighting colors every minute or two, from yellow, to red to blue, with shades in between. I made several colors of the bridge in this same images. I think the blue works best, possibly because it ties in well with the blue roof of the distant Regions Bank building in the skyline.

[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
ON THIS Christmas Eve, as 2022 comes to an end, we have more adventures to look forward to, and I have a lot more photography ahead. We leave for South Africa in just 2 days, to start 2023 off with a bang. In February, a cruise in the Caribbean and in June a cruise in Iceland, Ireland and the U.K. Are on the agenda. A trip to Germany is on the horizon for September. Probably some other stuff in between. Plenty of new stuff to come, including two more trips that happened in the fall of 2022. There will be a couple week hiatus here, as we travel to South Africa and back. When we return, I will post a series on our August/September trip to the Baltic Sea. In the meantime, I wish you a happy and prosperous 2023!

Coming in January: Helsinki.

Something has to be in Focus

Day Lily
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013
All Rights Reserved]
LATELY, I see a lot of social media-posted images of flowers. Flowers are pretty, and a naturally attractive subject. But there is a frequent component to these images which detracts from their otherwise attractiveness as images: focus.

Yellow Rose
Randomly selected from social media posting

EVERYBODY HAS a camera these days, mostly in the form of their cell phone. But surprisingly, I see a lot of these out-of-focus images by photographers – often in groups dedicated specifically to photography subjects or gear. Photos that, with recurring frequency, have no part of them in sharp focus. For illustration, I searched the internet for some of the ubiquitously posted flower images. Consider the above image of a yellow rose. The green and yellow pastel colors, and the background bokeh are pleasing enough. But the image just doesn’t really “make it.” There is no part of the plant – flower, petals or greenery that is in sharp focus. And I think that “kills” the image. In most instances, what we are trying to do in a photograph is to draw the viewer’s attention to at least some feature of the image.  A common way of doing that is making certain that what we want the viewer’s attention on is in focus. This is particularly true in this type of image. Close focus like this can be difficult, and I think yellow is one of the most difficult colors to get looking good and sharp. But something here needs to be in tack sharp focus, in order for this to be a “good image.” The shooter needs to decide what part of the image is most important and focus on that component; probably (but not necessarily – that will be up to the photographer) the petal edges in the front-center of the flower.

Sharpness is one of the fundamental photographic skills

SIMILARLY, THE Peonies photo below lacks any area of sharp focus, from foreground to background. I find my eye wandering all around the frame, looking for a center of interest. Some portion of the image needs to be in focus. I would probably work to get one of the two or three large foreground flowers sharp. The below image, in my view, suffers from the same issue. Overall, a pretty scene. But nothing in the image is tack sharp, with the same result as above. The eye is looking for a place to land.

Peonies
From Social Media

THERE IS certainly something inviting about a frame-filling, bokeh-enhanced, colorful flower in its element. But the one fundamental that, in my view, makes or breaks these images – the difference between a nice image and just a so-so picture posted on the internet – is focus. Sharpness is one of the handful of fundamental photographic skills. It is perhaps one of the first things we learn. It can be affected by inaccurate mechanical focus of the lens, by movement of the camera during capture, and movement of the subject during capture. Without something in the image being tack sharp, the result is just a fuzzy picture, albeit maybe a colorful one. I appreciate that sometimes, in the interest of art, a photographer might intentionally let the entire image go out of focus. In my view, that seldom works. Imagery that has some out of focus elements can be very effective – as long as there is some part of the image in focus. Which part? That depends on what the photographer is trying to portray. In the majority of my own such images, I try to have one area – and particularly, a component like the pollen saturated stamen in the opening image. In the image below, I illustrate my thinking that it is o.k. to have out-of-focus parts of an image – even most of the image. Indeed, this is a technique often used to draw a viewer’s attention to the portion of the image we want their eye to go to (in this case, the water-droplet saturated foreground flower). But there must be some part of the image that is in sharp focus.

Stella D’Oro Day Lillies
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013
All Rights Reserved]
CLOSELY RELATED is the concept of depth of field. Photographic images are two-dimensional. Like all two-dimensional art, there are graphic principles that will make us see them in three dimensions. One of those is the perception of elements from front to back. In oversimplified terms, depth of field is that portion of the image – front to back – that is in sharp focus. Sometimes we would like everything in the image to be in sharp focus. That can probably best be achieved with a short focal length lens and a small aperture. But more often than not, the closeup flower images I am referring to here are enhanced by some degree of purposeful out-of-focus elements. But not everything. At least some part of the image has to be in focus for the image to draw us and be believable. The out-of-focus portions of an image background (and sometimes foreground) is sometimes referred to as bokeh. In the Purple Coneflower image, each flower, from foreground to background, becomes progressively less in sharp focus. That is a function of depth of field. Understanding this will go a long way toward a nice, deep image. If I had focused on the middle flower, for example, I might have had an out of focus foreground, which would have seemed out of balance to me.

Purple Coneflowers
[Copyright Andy Richards]
All Rights Reserved]
WHAT PART of the image needs to be in focus? That is the artist’s question. But some part of it certainly must. The tulip image below just begs – in my view – for some depth. But it isn’t successful in my opinion, largely because there is no part of the image that is in really sharp focus (or at least no part that is intentional and of interest). I would love to see the center tulip in the foreground in crisp, sharp focus, with a gradation of progressive out-of-focus tulips behind it. It would give the image the depth and drama it lacks here. While certainly not my own best effort, the Shasta Daisy image further down illustrates what I am trying to convey. There is enough sharpness in the image to catch the eye, but I think the out of focus parts of the image make it much more interesting. And again, it progresses from sharp to less in focus from the front to the back of the image.

Tulips
Social Media Photo

I  DON’T know what cameras and lenses were used on the illustrative images (other than my own, of course) here. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that most (if not each) of them were made with smart phones. The yellow rose image that has nice bokeh – maybe not. But bokeh or at least out-of-focus areas in an image can be created with artificial intelligence, both in post-processing and now, in-camera with the impressive “computational photography” technology built into them. Hard to know, and not really relevant to my point here.

But in spite of the moniker “smart phone,” the camera (in a phone or stand-alone) is not smart

THERE ARE some takeaways here for photographers. The first is understanding of how focusing works. Most modern cameras and all phones today incorporate auto-focus. But in spite of the moniker “smart” phone, the camera (in a phone or stand-alone) is not smart. It is technologically amazing. But it doesn’t think. There are sensors in any camera that detect and focus the camera on points in an image.

Multiple AF Sensors depicted on camera screen or viewfinder

MODERN CAMERA focus area sensors have become very complex compared to the old-school manual focus aids, and then auto-focus sensors in our old analog cameras. The image above shows multiple sensors, linked to an autofocus algorithm that “smartly” chooses the areas to focus. For still photos like those shown here, I never use this feature, preferring to use only one sensor, and to have it movable by me to the area in the image I want to be in focus. Smart phones are not as easy, because the default settings do not show these sensors at all and the camera defaults to its programmed focus strategy (my Samsung Galaxy S21 has a “pro-mode” which lets me see the multiple sensors in multiple mode, but I still cannot see – or move the single AF sensor point around). It is important to know what is happening “under the hood.” Left to its own doing, the camera will do one of two things: (1) focus on whatever point the sensor sees, or (2) find nothing to focus on and get confused, rendering an out-of-focus image. Smartphones are pretty darned good at finding focus, but they do miss sometimes. But obviously the key point here is to understand what the sensor is “seeing” to focus on. The photographer must be aware that the camera will try to focus on something – but it may not be what the photographer thinks it is focusing on.


Shasta Daisies
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013
All Rights Reserved]
THE PHOTO below is another failed attempt at depth of field/bokeh. It is a “close, but no cigar” try. The technique of out-of-focus background (bokeh) is obviously at work here. But in order for the photo to be successful, the foreground image (or at least a substantial part of it) – the subject of the photo – has to be sharp. It is not, which is too bad, as it has the makings of a really nice image. A close look at the middle ground of the photo reveals very attractive color. To me, the image looks like it could even have been processed in a computer to create the background. That background may be a bit bright, but some work in post-processing could tone that down nicely. And then you have the makings of a good photograph, in my opinion. But the achilles heel of this one is the failure of the photographer to get the subject in sharp focus. It can’t be fixed (in spite of Google’s misleading commercials about how the new Google Pixel “fixes” blurry photographs. Nope. It doesn’t 🙂 ).

Flower Photo
Social Media

A  SECOND takeaway here is that focus is not the only thing that contributes to an unsharp image. Even if your lens is set up to properly focus a subject sharply, there is another thing that can cause blur in an image: movement. It can either be movement of the subject (animation, wind), or movement of the camera. Humans cannot possibly hold perfectly still. Today’s technology, once again, has come lightyears in counteracting this with image stabilization technology (IS). None is better than the IS in smartphones. But they all have their limits. If light conditions are low enough, it may be necessary to use wide open apertures and very slow (long) shutter speeds in order to allow enough light to fall on the sensor to capture a visible image. These conditions mean camera movement will create blurry photos. At the same time, wind may be moving things in the photo that the photographer expects to be in sharp focus. And of course, animation (people and animals) can create blur. So, again, the shooter must understand these issues. It looks possible to me that the above image was made in lower light conditions and that wind or camera movement could have caused the out-of-focus conditions. I think it is worth mentioning here, that the process of digital rendering of an image can also contribute to a lack of sharpness. I see that with my scanned (from film) images – particularly when the scanner/scanner software isn’t the very highest quality. For cameras, but probably not applicable to smart phones, there is also another operator, often at work. Many cameras (particularly in the early days of digital cameras) have filters on them (to prevent a type of color “polution”), called anti-aliasing filters. The technology of color digitization of images involves an array of red, green and blue sensor-filters. The combination of these filters creates the “pixels” we read about in our images. Anti-aliasing filters attempt to remove some unwanted fringes, tints or bleed-overs in images. In the process, it created some softness of the image. This can usually be remedied in post processing by some careful “sharpening.” Some of the soft images we see may be a victim of this, rather than an unsharp original. As time has gone on, this issue has been addressed by much better digital capture technology. If you are shooting jpg images, the phone or the camera already applied sharpening to account for this. But if you are shooting raw images, the anti-aliasing piece may be of concern/interest to you.

The photographer must be aware that the camera will try to focus on something – but it may not be what the photographer thinks it is focusing on

MY MOM always told me that if you have a criticism, you should have a helpful suggestion to go along with it. 🙂 So here goes: Most importantly, understand how your camera (smartphone or stand-alone) achieves focus. For smartphone users, there may be some settings “under the hood,” that you can use to see the focus bracket. There are also “apps” that you can download that will give you more “user-controls.” These apps – in some cases – will allow you to manually control aperture (which effects the depth-of-field/bokeh issues discussed). You can also use the phone’s AI (the iPhone 12 and above have particularly good ones), to create a bokeh effect. But you must remember to have some portion of the photo (usually in the foreground of the image) already in sharp focus. For stand-alone camera users, spend some time in the manual (yeah, even if you are a guy 🙂 ). Modern cameras use a number of different technologies to achieve focus and you have some control over that. For the images being discussed here, using auto-focus (and I mostly do), I like to set the single AF/single shot mode on the camera. You can also often set the size of the focus area. You can experiment with that – but it is important that you understand what it is doing (or trying to do). Think about which part or parts of an image you want to be in sharp focus, and then concentrate on getting the focusing sensor on those parts. Most often, background bokeh will be achieved by either wide apertures or long lenses – or a combination of both. Be aware that in both of these cases, the depth-of-field will be much narrower and what you see in the viewfinder might not be the same as the end result. Hope some of this stuff helps somebody out there.

[NOTE: I am always a little sensitive about writing “critical” blogs like this. I will be the first to admit that my images – by either my own critique, your critique, or just points of view – are imperfect. I think we should all be striving to make all of our images better. I also am very cognizant, particularly as I look at the completed version of this blog post, of what WordPress, Facebook, and other sites do to our images when posted – these are things that are beyond our control. It is very possible that any of the images used here may appear softer than they did on the creator’s individual screen. I have certainly noticed changes in image quality to my own images after posting. The “illustrative images” here are purposely unattributed. The idea is to illustrate a “teaching point” and not to be critical of any image or photographer. As always, I appreciate those of you who follow and who read here. Thank you]

Posting Your Pictures to Social Media – some “tips”

AS THE holidays approach, folks will be posting more photos on social media than usual. Maybe some new phones (and even new cameras), holiday gatherings, family gatherings, and holiday decorations. I know I have posted these “tips” before. But I think they are worth repeating. I continue to see a few things that make otherwise pretty good images well . . .  not so good, online. I see this more on Facebook than anywhere else (but maybe that’s because I spend more time there than any other site :-)). The same issues are prevalent on Instagram, though. Do you want your images to stand out? There are really just a few “rules” to follow to get you there.

I Have purposely tilted the horizon on this image for illustration purposes
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]

Watch Those Horizons

THIS IS still the most common issue I see. And, surprisingly, I see it more often than we should from some pretty good photographers. In my mind there is nothing more obvious (and deleterious) to an image (especially one with a well-defined horizon – like water) than a crooked horizon. Look at my illustration. Our eyes will fool us at first, due to the many interesting (and perhaps beautiful) elements of the picture. But eventually, your subconscious will tell you something is wrong here. My mind immediately wonders how all that water doesn’t drain out of the scene. 🙂 I think it is a combination of things. In the case of the experienced shooters, it probably results from handheld shooting. For most of you who are probably using your smartphone, of course everything is going to be handheld. All the more reason to be aware of this concern. The best approach is to try to get it level when shooting, and there are some handy aids for that. Virtually every camera today has grid lines that can be turned on that superimpose the frame and give you a point of reference for horizontal and vertical orientation (more below). Most dedicated cameras and many smartphones also have a “level” app that can be turned on. Use them. They are your friend. And finally, even if your result has an unlevel horizon, you can almost always fix that. Almost every phone camera now has an “app” where you can very easily level up the horizon on a photo you have taken (many of them are “one-click” automatic). If not, “there’s an app for that.” Don’t believe your own eyes. Most of us have a bias and while we think we are shooting level, we are not. I have proven that to myself empirically time and again. It is the easiest thing to fix and perhaps the most dramatic improvement you can make.

There is nothing more deleterious to an image than a crooked horizon

Most cameras and some smart phones today have a feature that you can turn on that incorporates a “level” tool. If you have it, turn it on!

In-camera Level tool

Focus

I  STILL see a lot of images that are not in sharp focus. With your cell phone there is usually only one “culprit” here. You are not “telling” the phone where to focus. Cameras that have autofocus (most of them – and all cell phones) have “sensors” that tells the camera what part of the image to focus on. Most of the time, the sensors (usually multiple points) are set at a general, fairly wide setting, with the camera software “programed” to get the image in focus. And in most cases that gets it right. But if you are very close to your subject, or there is a very distant background that has some detail, getting sharp focus front to back is more of a challenge. This is mainly because of something known as depth of field (DOF). For serious photographers here, if you aren’t familiar with DOF, you need to do some research and study, and understand it. For smartphone users, it is probably less critical. This is – in part – because most smartphones today incorporate 2 or more lenses and the mix and the software figures DOF out. Most of the time they get the right part of the image in focus. But only if you point the focusing mechanism at the correct target. Usually, the sensors detect contrast or detail and that is how they determine sharp focus. If there is an area in the image with sharp detail or contrast that is not your subject, it is important not to point the focusing sensor at that area, or it will “fool” the camera into focusing on the wrong thing. This often results in a blurry image. Get to know how that focusing bracket on your phone works (they are probably adjustable and movable). It will improve your results. But be careful. Look at the illustration below. Newer cameras can incorporate multiple focus points as below. They contain relatively sophisticated programmed in algorithms. They work pretty well in many situations but can also be “fooled.” If possible, I think it is best to set just one focus point and know where it is. On my cameras, I focus set to a single, movable (by me) AF sensor point. I feel that I then always know where the camera is “aiming” for focus. The illustration below shows a multiple point AF setting, with the rectangle activated and placed at the point of focus (as noted, on my own cameras – at least for still photos – I have all the other points “turned off” so you do not see them, and I am only using the single rectangle focus point). [I may change these settings if I am trying to shoot a moving target].

Sensor Placement

THERE ARE a couple other reasons for blurry shots. They both involve movement. In a still photograph, we are trying to capture an image outline in sharp detail. The shutter opens for a “moment in time” and then closes. It attempts to “freeze” the image during that time. Certain things influence the length of time the shutter remains open. Light is required for exposure and the less available light, the longer that shutter must remain open. I am oversimplifying this a bit, but it probably works well for smart phone users to think this way. If you are using a DSLR-type camera, you should familiarize yourself with something known as “the exposure triangle.” Movement occurs in one of two ways. If you are handholding your shot, and the time is fairly long, your body’s natural shake and movement will move the camera, resulting in blurriness. Today virtually all phone cameras have built in “image stabilization” (IS), which is essentially gyroscopic technology designed to counter our body tremors and movement. They work amazingly well but are not failsafe. The second way is when the subject moves. Image stabilization will not help with that. Subject movement happens most often when there is wind, or when the subject is animate (animals and humans).

Exposure/Lighting

THIS IS one of the harder ones. Most smartphones do a very good job in even lighting conditions. Where all cameras show their limitations is with difficult lighting. The difference between dark areas and bright areas in a picture is often referred to as contrast. “High” contrast images often have very dark and very light areas within the frame. The human eye is very good at adjusting our vision to that contrast. The camera sensor; not so much. In spite of leaps and bounds forward since the early days, digital sensors have limited ability to properly expose over a large range of contrast. In some pictures, you will have to make a choice about what you want to be well exposed (the bright areas or the dark areas). Usually, that is going to be the darker areas. Most often I see the problem in “people” portraits, where you can barely see faces. Often this happens on a very sunny day, or late in the afternoon when the sun is still bright, but very directional, raising the contrast and creating deep shadow areas. What is happening? Cameras have another sensor (meter) in them that “reads” the light and tells the camera how to expose an image. They calibrated to expose whatever they see at a setting known as “neutral gray.” It tries to properly expose the area it reads. But it has difficulty distinguishing between those very bright areas and the deep shadows. Newer meter technology has been “programmed” to kind of “recognize” a scene and adjust the overall exposure. It works pretty well, especially in even lighting conditions. But high contrast still confuses it. So, our result often shows the inability of the sensor to capture both light and dark areas beyond past a certain point. In the photo below, the strong direction of the sun and the visor on the subject’s cap are creating deep shadows. The meter tries to do its best to expose the overall photo. You can see that most of the image is decently exposed, but perhaps the really important part – his face, is largely in shadow. If he weren’t wearing sunglasses, you would probably not be able to see his eyes.

Deep Shadows Photo

HOW DO we address this? As we talked about with focus above, it is important to know what part of the image you want correctly exposed, and how the camera is going to accomplish this. Like exposure, there is usually an indicator of where the meter is pointing (often the same bracket or point as the focus sensor), and how much of the overall scene it is measuring. On higher-end cameras, we have the ability to fine tune how wide an area the sensor/meter reads. That capability is usually there, with some digging, on your smartphone, too (and if not, there is probably a downloadable app that will do it). if you meter the area the faces are in carefully, you will get them exposed and visible. But if the contrast is too bright, this may be at the expense of incorrect (usually over) exposure of the rest of the image. In the image above, we may need to purposely overexpose the entire image to get the eyes properly exposed. It is possible (even probable) that the sunny, bright background will be completely blown out though. So sometimes you have to make a choice. When you have control of the situation, a better approach is to try to move your subjects into what we refer to as “open shade.” Not dark shadows, but out of the bright sunlight. This evens out the lighting conditions and gives you a better chance for good exposure. And, when all else fails, if you turn on your flash (I know that is counter-intuitive on a sunny day) and pop some flash into the shaded area, you may get a better result. What that is doing is actually trying to “even” out the contrast, by lighting the shadowed areas. Since flash covers a very limited distance, it can be very effective. In the photo above a controlled pop of flash (referred to as “fill” flash) would probably help this image. But easiest, and perhaps best would be to move him to an area with less high contrast conditions, such as the “open shade” we discussed. You usually have control over things like that. Based on our natural intuition, it often comes as a surprise that bright sunlight is not always best for photography. It is also a good thing to be aware that certain environmental elements contribute to lighting issues. Water and snow, particularly, can create high contrast and reflect bright sunlight. Exposure meters often have difficulty with snow and water scenes, and it may be important to adjust accordingly.

Guidelines are not meant to be slavishly adhered to. They can, and sometimes should be broken

Composition

YOU MAY think I am getting too deep here, and that a discussion of composition is for artists and serious photographers. O.k., sure. But again, why not use just a few “tips” to make your personal snaps stand out? The main principle I follow is to ask: “what is my subject and what am I trying to convey?” It really doesn’t have to be to philosophical or analytical. But once you identify the subject it is much easier to think about the best way to portray it. There are some guidelines that may help with this. They may make the process more mechanical, but that is not actually a bad thing as it can get you where you want to go without having to think too hard about all the other esoteric considerations. The first guideline is the most important of all: Guidelines are not meant to be slavishly adhered to. They can, and sometimes should be broken! 🙂

If camera lenses are round, why are all our photographs square? – Stephen Wright

WE HAVE already covered another aspect of one of these tips above: the level horizon. But while we are talking about horizons, lets address a point that can make a huge difference in your images. And that is to consciously think about where you place the horizon. There are some “rules” that classic artists have developed over the years that are applicable here. Probably the most common “rule of thumb” is to use the so-called “rule of thirds” when placing a horizon (and subject) within the rectangular frame we deal with in photographs (I think it was comedian, Stephen Wright who asked: “if camera lenses are round, why are all our photographs square?” 🙂 ). In most cases, putting the horizon in the middle of the frame results in a less dynamic, often boring image. What I also see, is that sometimes we get so excited about our beautiful subject that we don’t see other things in the photo. If 50% or more of your image is plain sky (even plain blue), or plain water, you are most likely not accomplishing the dynamic image you think. Your eyes and brain see the image and fool you into thinking that is what you are capturing. The camera is mechanical and doesn’t have that “brain” function. Think about bringing your subject more “front and center” and excluding (or at least limiting) plain backgrounds and foregrounds, which will usually have the effect of moving the horizon up or down. That is usually a good thing. One major exception to this rule is the “mirror-type” reflection image. Often that image looks most dynamic when the break between subject and reflection is dead center (but even then, not always). Almost all cameras (and many smart phones) today have a feature you can turn on which superimposes a “rule of thirds” grid in your frame. This not only helps with composition but can also help with level horizons. I encourage you to turn this feature on!

Using Grid Lines and “Rule” of Thirds
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
PLACEMENT OF your subject within the frame is closely related here. It involves not only the horizontal placement, but the vertical placement of an image. I refer to this as balance. If you are making a close up “portrait” image, you will probably just center the person or persons and it will yield the result you want. But if the person or people are doing something, you can often make the image more interesting by adding context. Are they looking at something? If so, it is usually preferable for them to be looking into the photo instead of out of it. Is there something that gives it context (a new car, a boat, mountains, etc.)? Then you may want to place parts of the image at the intersection points of that “rule of thirds” grid. I recently read a comment by a pro who suggests that this is really the wrong way to look at this issue. He argues that the placement of horizons and subjects within the frame is not nearly as important as what you are trying to convey with your image. I won’t disagree with him. But I might say it a little differently, as I did above. Guidelines are just that: Guidelines. They are not meant to be slavishly adhered to. But knowing them and thinking about them can certainly help to make your photos better in many instances. I hope maybe some of these things will help someone make some better photos during this holiday season. Above all things, have fun!