OUR NEXT port was Barcelona. We have been to Barcelona multiple times and spent several days there prior to boarding cruise ships and a couple different occasions. Needless to say, we love Barcelona! But having spent some time there seeing its many attractions, on our last visit, we had taken a trip out of the city and up into the mountains, to the Abbey of Montserrat. That was in 2019, and at the time we were there in the fall, there was widespread demonstration by Catalonian separatists, in the region. Barcelona is in the center of the region, as well as the 5th largest city in the European Union. The history is fascinating, and perhaps to an extent tragic. Today, the Catalonian region has some limited autonomy (perhaps a bit like a large state in the U.S.), But is ultimately unified under the rule of the now democratic and unified Spanish Government. There is not complete agreement and at various times during history, the Catalonians have urged (and even declared) its independence from Spain. Fortunately, the well-attended demonstrations and protests have remained peaceful, if not occasionally disruptive. This was one of those times. There was a march into the city (some from hundreds of miles away), which took place on the day we were in Port in 2019 (it was an overnight stop). As things escalated, it became apparent that Barcelona – and in particular, the old city near the port area – was going to become a logjam. Our tour guide was concerned about getting us back to the ship as it was due to sail away that afternoon and so, cut our tour short. Unfortunately, that not only shortened up our time in Montserrat, but eliminated a visit to a local vineyard and winery. We were disappointed, but he turned out to be correct in his concerns. We returned to the ship in the early afternoon and sat on the back (my favorite spot where the cigar smokers convene 🙂 ) and watched as the crowds visibly thickened and the city became gridlocked. As acquaintances joined us from time to time during the afternoon, we heard near-horror stories about crowds and getting back. One friend “walked” a mile back to the port after their cab-driver advised that he couldn’t get any closer in the gridlock. I say “walked” because she had a knee injury and was using one of the little knee scooters. She was upbeat and jovial about the whole thing. But we were glad to be watching it from the ship rather than down in the thick of things.
ANYWAY; LONG story. The upshot is that my wife and I had decided before we even left for this trip that we would be returning to Montserrat to “finish” the tour. At the same time, we strongly encouraged the other 4 – none of whom had been to Barcelona – to book things in Barcelona. So much to see there, including the many architectural works of Antoni Gaudi, Park Guell (the Gaudi designed and inspired “utopian” neighborhood), the old medieval city with its centuries-old buildings and history, and of course, one of the world’s most famous churches, the unfinished La Segrada Familia. We had seen most of this, in a couple of instances more than once. The Montserrat side trip was just that for us, a side trip. But one we felt was unfinished business. But we couldn’t in good conscience not urge anyone not familiar with Barcelona not to see as much of the city as possible. It is – for us – a special and magical city.
SO. MONTSERRAT. Our tour was different than the last one, which had been a small group with a private guide. This time we took a tour that left from the main bus terminal in Barcelona. We got off the ship and took a taxi to the terminal, where we found the tour company offices and waited until they opened. We got confirmation of our reservations and directions to our bus. They had an interesting (and new to us) approach. There were 4 different groups, each with a slightly different itinerary. They loaded all 4 groups on the same bus, with all 4 group leaders. We were all starting at Montserrat, so that made some sense. Then, as we went our separate ways from there, they somehow coordinated different busses. All we know is it worked for us. The day started out a bit foggy as we arrived at the Mountaintop Abbey. I tried to use that to my advantage, shooting down into the valley. The fog caused layers and a monochromatic effect, and I knew I would be processing these in B&W once I got home and cued things up on my desktop. But in the end, I think I like the second image, a hybrid of B&W and color, better.
EVENTUALLY, BEFORE we left the Abbey, the fog and cloud cover broke, and we got blue sky. I have always gotten excited when able to catch the “edge” of weather conditions. This time was no exception, as I made what I think was one of the best “landscape” type images of the trip, showing the namesake mountain up behind the abbey, poking through the cloud cover. When our 2019 visit was cut short, one of the things I had wanted to do – hadn’t had time, was to ride the funicular up to the top. I had planned to do so this time, but after some discussion with our guide, I realized that there were two things mitigating against it. First, we didn’t expect the fog to break (and I am not sure it ever really did up there while we were there). Second, I didn’t realize before that there isn’t really a view down into the abbey or the valley from up there. Rather, it is just into the center of the range. Maybe cool. Probably not worth the time under the circumstances. We did, however, do the final thing we had run out time for. There is a really nice little art museum there with many images by some of the Masters, as well as some other very talented painters of the time. We also visited the church where I was able to make some images of the church interior. They sure do them right over in Europe.
MONTSERRAT, PERHAPS intuitively, translates to English as “serrated mountain.” It is not hard to see how it got its name. The only mountain peaks I have ever seen that come close to matching it are our own Grand Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. The Montserrat Range, however, seems to go on and on for some length. It is really quite spectacular. When we left the Abbey, we traveled to a Montserrat vineyard and winery, where we tasted a few of their locally grown and made wines, along with a traditional plate of Tapas. It wasn’t really like the tapas that we have experienced either in Barcelona bars, or here in the U.S. It was more like what we might refer to as a charcuterie plate. But it was savory and tasty and basically my absolute favorite appetizer (it was kind of a motif of the whole trip – savory meats and cheese). Oh, and the wines were very nice too.
THE WINERY was – unfortunately – on the other side of Monserrat Range from the sun, which rendered my shot of the mountain range as a hazy silhouette. The image here was taken with my Samsung S21 smartphone and was really more intended as a “record” shot to post real-time on Facebook, than a “keeper” image. But I “worked” it a bit in Photoshop and at least it is and illustration of what could be, here. I would have loved to have been here for sunrise, where the range would have been – I believe – beautifully lit. Who knows? Maybe there will be another visit.
WE HEADED back to the Barcelona Bus Station, where we were fortunate to meet up with a couple women who were also on our ship and share a cab back to the port. Glad to have re-visited this, it may have been our most relaxing excursion of the cruise. And even better, the next day was an at sea day, which meant not having to walk and basically not having any planned activities. Bodies and minds were ready for R&R. I headed back to the aft cigar area to watch the sun set. I didn’t make any photos, this time, but I certainly reminisced about the overnight stay in 2019, and my nighttime version of the same cruise port image that I opened here with. Have I mentioned how much I love Barcelona?
[Tomorrow we leave for yet another trip across the Atlantic. This time, bound for Amsterdam/Rotterdam, where we cruise with our good friends Bruce and Joyce, to Iceland, Ireland and England. No posts for the next couple weeks, but I am certain plenty of new material for the upcoming months! See you soon]
[We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this “breaking news!” Well, sort of. 🙂 Some just newly-added Photoshop developments have prompted me to post this in-between the continuing story of our most-recent Mediterranean trip. I will get it back on track next week]
IF YOU haven’t looked at the newest editions of processing software, you probably should! Photographic Editing software (we like to call it “post-processing” 🙂 ) has only gotten better over time. I mostly use Photoshop. I see a few of these new “tools” being offered by other software providers. I am sure some of them are very good. And I know from trying them, some are not as good as touted. Because it is what I learned, what I have, and what I have kept up with over the years, I’ll mostly direct my specific comments to Photoshop. I have looked at other software a couple times and if I were starting out, I might well buy into one of the other, really good programs, like OnOne, Topaz or Luminar.
over the past couple years, I have revised my post-processing routine so much, that some of the old photos “begged” re-working
TODAY, THERE is good news and bad newson the “baseball analogy front.” Some of the developments over the last year or two have been “game-changing” for me. But the very newest, splashiest additions? Maybe not so much. Promising. Interesting. Ready for prime time? I am not so sure.
The “engine” for the ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and LightRoom raw converters just keeps getting better and better
I WILL start with what I think is “the good news.” The “engine” for the ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and Light Room raw converters just keeps getting better and better. As many of you know, I have written two eBooks on photographing two of the U.S.’s premiere locations for fall foliage photography: Vermont and Michigan (you can find them by clicking on the link for “Photo Destination eBooks” at the bottom of this page). Last fall (2022), we published our 3rd edition of the Vermont Book, which is co-written by my good friend,Carol Smith. In so doing, we added many new images. But in addition to new images, over the past couple years, I have revised my post-processing routine so much (primarily because of improvements and innovation in processing software), that some of the old photos “begged” re-working. And as I did that, I discovered some older, never-processed photos, that – under the new engine for Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), and a couple new Photoshop features – I now felt were worth processing. These were images that I had considered not worth the time, but something told me to keep them in the archives in case new ability came up in the future – and it certainly has. I am not always the smartest or most forward-thinking guy around, and I can think of an old-tech (think film) image or two that I no longer have that I regret not maintaining. But in this case, I feel that my archiving of virtually all my digital files has perhaps been prescient. This month, Adobe has released a couple more digital tools that will undoubtedly have me going back to look at old stuff once again, though as foreshadowed: perhaps not as completely enthusiastically. More in a minute . . . but first:
But how much better and more convenient it is to now do most of that work now right in ACR, before conversion?
MONTHS AGO, Adobe quietly upgraded the ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) “engine,” improving the way masking works in raw image processing and adding and/or improving some of the tools in the engine. For many years, I used ACR basically only to convert raw images, taking them into Photoshop for all other work. I did all my detail work, including masking, on layers in Photoshop after conversion and importing of the raw file. But how much better and more convenient it is to now do most of that work now right in ACR, before conversion?
I am using the ACR masking a lot these days for things I used to wait to do in Photoshop
THE NEW “AI” tech in the raw converter engine crosses all of the Adobe platforms (ACR, Light Room and Photoshop). For example, the new masking algorithms seem to have coincided with (or happened shortly after) Adobe added the “Select Sky” and “Replace Sky” tools to Photoshop, and I find them both (in ACR and Photoshop) to be awfully effective (the “Select Subject tool” in both is not quite as effective, but is still pretty good, and can save a lot of time when making selections in Photoshop – I basically do not use it in ACR). I am using the ACR masking a lot these days for things I used to wait to do in Photoshop. Perhaps my favorite and most useful addition is the sky masking feature in the ACR masking module. I have – in the past year – only found a couple situations where it didn’t do a great job. And in most cases, I have been able to touch up any “near-misses” with the “add” and “brush” features. In the module, there are options to “invert,” “duplicate and invert” and to add or subtract to this mask. I probably use this ACR feature on every image where there is a sky, to make at least two masks (sky, and “not sky” for lack of a better description). I then make adjustments on those masks in ACR, before bringing my image into Photoshop. I find that 85-90% of the time I don’t do any more adjustments (other than sharpening, sizing, profile conversions, etc.) in Photoshop.
IT IS pretty common in my own experience that I want to apply adjustments to a landscape image which I do not want to affect the sky (and vice-versa). The ACR masking tools allow me to easily and intuitively make separate adjustments to individual parts of an image. With an appropriate image (one with a sky), I separate those two elements (sky and foreground) early in the process of raw conversion. I use the mask function to mask the sky and then invert the mask (in my experience, this works infinitely better than using the mask “subject” feature). Then I make adjustments that I want to make to everything but the sky. I love the “shadows” adjustment, the “texture” adjustment, and the “dehaze” adjustment. On first look, “dehaze” and “contrast” adjustments appear very similar. But there are most certainly subtle differences. I generally work those two together, comparing results of each.
TWO OTHER adjustments I am at least considering quite often are “Exposure,” and “Clarity.” It is not unusual, to my eye, that the non-sky portion of my images could use a bit of increased exposure. On the other hand, it is equally likely that I may want to decrease exposure a touch to the sky. I also sometimes will apply a dehaze, and negative texture (among other things) adjustments to skies. There is a pretty cool shortcut for this. I first mask the sky and then, on the drop down, there is choice: “duplicate and invert mask.” In this way, I create two separate masks of the sky and foreground that I want. In an earlier post, I may have “disparaged” clarity a bit. I read a quote somewhere by someone I respect as a digital processing expert, where he made the comment that nearly every image will benefit from a small clarity adjustment. As I work with ACR more and more, I agree. But we are talking a very subtle adjustment in most cases: between maybe 4% and 10,% leaning toward the lower number. Any more than that, and to my way of thinking, clarity introduces what I characterize as a “grunge” look. There are, of course, exceptions (in nighttime, very low light, and severe overcast conditions, I often push clarity harder and feel that it improves things. It is useful to know that both clarity and dehaze are variations on contrast adjustments that each have their own effect. I am going to say these features are the equivalent of a “home run.” 🙂 Now for the “bad news” (or maybe at least “not so good” news).
The real eye-opener is Adobe’s new Generative AI tool, based on its “Firefly” technology
THIS MONTH, Adobe pushed out another significant update: version 24.5. I ask the question whether these are the baseball equivalent of an “error.” That is really pretty harsh. While I hoped the title would grab your interest, I would not really characterize them as baseball “error.” But neither are they a “home run,” in my estimation. Maybe more like a base hit (which doesn’t presuppose a score or a win).
THE MAY updates contain several “improvements.” I think two of them are particularly significant. They are both “AI” based ” features, and work along the lines of Adobe’s other “content-aware” offerings. These additions, by the way, are in Photoshop itself, rather than in the raw converter. This immediately means they are operative only on images that have already undergone conversion from raw to some other image format. One is the automatically included (for CC subscribers) new “Remove” tool. Nested with the Healing Brush and Spot Healing Brush Tools, it is yet another “content-aware” tool that might be more convenient and useful than some of the others.
BACK IN 2009, I traveled to Minnesota to visit my buddy and fellow photographer, Rich, and to meet my good friend, talented photographer and writer, and Photoshop “Guru,” Al Utzig. We spent a fun, long weekend on Minnesota’s vaunted “North Shore.” Perhaps the highlight of that trip was our visit to Split Rock State Park, and the Split Rock Lighthouse. We were there for one of the infrequent “Lighting” events (the lighthouse has been decommissioned) for this spectacular, cliff-borne lighthouse. Because of the event, there was an unsightly (photographically) white “event tent” in the front of the light. Al suggested we go ahead and shoot away, and he would show us an easy way to eliminate the tent in post. That night in our hotel rooms, Al introduced us to the then newest AI technology by Adobe: “Content Aware Fill.” While it didn’t/doesn’t always work flawlessly (more in a minute), all you did was drew a rather loose lasso selection around the offending element (the tent in this case) and used the fill command (keyboard short cut: shift_backspace, and then enter) and poof! the tent was gone. I was awestruck and it became one of my new best friends. For the first time ever, I could calmly shoot an image with people or other things in it, knowing I could “fix” it later.
SINCE THOSE “Content Aware Fill” and companion “Content-Aware Move” tools were introduced, they have improved it over time, doing things like adding a window that opens to allow adjusting the masking and sensitivity of the AI mask used to remove the element. Then later, they added a “content-aware” feature to the crop tool. I have used that liberally, too. But they don’t always work the way you expect (or hope). Sometimes they work flawlessly, but when they don’t, there is still a fair amount of “healing,” “spot healing” and clone work in some cases. The new “Remove” tool applies the content-aware technology to a brush which you can use to “brush out” an offending element. I have barely played with it. But I have done enough to tell you that – like the other content-aware tools, it doesn’t work flawlessly. I am still learning about fine-tuning its use. But I think it has a place in the toolbox. In the Grist Mill Image, above (our trip rendered mostly horrible shooting conditions, unfortunately), we were dodging rain, and I knew my opportunities to get a “pristine” foreground would be limited to non-existent. I shot anyway, knowing I would be able to remove the other people using the “content-aware” technology. Sure enough, in post, I used the content-aware fill tool to remove the three people. Because there was a fair amount of conflicting detail around them, a simple lasso proved problematic. I spent more time than I wanted to, fiddling to get them out in a convincing manner. So I was kind of excited to try the newest “Remove” tool. I was pleasantly surprised. Rather than a selection tool, it is a brush (still making a selection, of course). You can adjust the size of the brush, but there is not much else (yet?) you can do to fine tune the tool itself. One think I found disconcerting was that the default behavior of the brush is that it performs its action after you release the mouse on each stroke. I did discover that there is a check box for that behavior. I leave it unchecked by default now. Many of the objects I want to remove are larger than the brush I am using. I want to be able to finish my brush selection before committing to the action. Of course, that adds some mouse clicks. As I got more comfortable with the tool, I found myself toggling the checkbox on and off, depending on the size and situation of the element I was trying to remove. I also like to keep a “History” window open when doing this kind of work, and it became pretty easy to move back and forth until I was happy with the changes. I will say that I think it did a better job than my original try back in 2011. And I think it is a much easier tool to use for certain purposed. I am happy with it as an addition to the other content-aware tools, as it gives me yet another way to approach retouching. So, I’ll call this one a solid “base hit.”
THEREAL eye-opener is (or should be) Adobe’s new Generative AI feature, based on its “Firefly” technology. To be fair, this one is only available as part of Adobe’s BETA version of Phototshop. “Beta,” of course, by its nature, means it is not really ready for release. And as we will see, it is not. If it can be improved enough to do what it is intended to do, however, it will be pretty mind-blowing. Either way, this one is bound to be somewhat controversial. Understandably. No new technology – especially AI-based – is going to come without some discord. And virtually (see what I did there? 🙂 ) all new digital technologies come with the potential for harm, along with great good. This one is pretty interesting. borrowing from (I assume) Adobe’s database of millions of images and image elements, the “AI” here is not just pixel manipulation. Rather, it is moving more toward an actual artistic attempt to create. It basically takes verbal (written) “suggestions” you make and creates (or composites?) an image or image element based on them. For the image here, I simply loaded one of my existing images into photoshop. Looking at the two side-by-side images, you could conclude they were made just minutes apart. But there is only one base image here, made in 2021. Today (2023), I used the new Generative AI tool. I made a selection (in this case a rectangular one) on the image where I thought a bike and rider might look interesting and typed “bicyclist” into the dialog box. Telling it to “generate,” Photoshop created the cyclist in the image (as well as a couple other options). If you don’t like their options, tell it to generate again. And again. And again. Based on some YouTube video examples I have watched, you can be much more specific and detailed with your dialog suggestions and (theoretically) get more refined results.
Why would you want to do any of these things?
BUT WAIT, there’s more. You can start with a blank document and let Photoshop generate an entire scene. You can also add canvas to an image and let photoshop contextually generate content (just leave the dialog box blank and tell it to generate). And, by selecting elements in an image that you don’t want in the image (think people), and generating (again with no text), I watched it do a pretty clever job of removing those elements. Why would you want to do any of these things? One of my buddies quipped a year or so back on an email exchange that we might as well just sell our camera gear and sit in front of our computers. 🙂 Obviously, that would remove the primary element that attracts us enthusiasts to our “sport.” I will always go out and make photos. I enjoy the trip as much as the result. But I can certainly see some use for this crazy new technology on the creative side of things! At this point, if you are a Photoshop user and have gone into your PS to find this Generative AI tool, you may be mystified. Where is the thing? I said it was nested with some of the other “Content-Aware” tools. Right? Not yet. This is in Beta. So how did I get it? You have to be a CC subscriber and you have to download the beta version. I did that. The nice think is it loads separately from my already tried and true Photoshop version.
DOES THIS stuff work? Kinda-sorta. If the scene is too complex, or the request too specific, then not so much. If it is a simple scene like an element with lots of water surrounding it, the Remove tool works pretty well. But I have played enough to see that it will only work in certain situations. It placed the bike and rider nicely in the Dunedin Trail scene. It also does pretty well with undetailed, “bucholic” scenes like the one below. The base image is a sunset I have photographed many times near my home here in Palm Harbor Florida. The land mass you see in the background is actually an island out in the Gulf. There is no lighthouse there. It seems to me the Generative AI tool did a decent job of creating a lighthouse to my “lighthouse” verbal prompt (after me selecting an area in the image where I wanted the lighthouse to be).
YOU NEED to plan for scale and position, though, because while the tool seems to do a pretty good job of blending the new element with the color and light surrounding it, you cannot move it without penalty. It doesn’t adapt or re-blend automatically (maybe somebody much smarter than me can figure out how to do that. One thing I did on another image was make the Generative AI addition on a separate layer and then use a soft black brush on the mask. That kind of worked on the Gauley River image where I used Generative AI to add “kayakers in red kayaks.”
FROM THERE, things kind of go downhill. From my limited experience, this “AI” software really doesn’t do a very good job with anything detailed. The kayakers look cartoonish, and the red unnatural. When you zoom in and look at virtually any face I have seen it generate, they are just short of (and in some cases absolutely) horrible. Animated subjects (I have tried dogs, tigers and horses so far) are cartoonish and undetailed. Also, the blending from whatever the source is not always good. Arms and hands are often cut off. Sometimes remnants from (I can only assume) the images from which the generative elements were taken from are inserted in the image. Faces are – again – not well done and often cartoonish, or even unreadable. Color matching can become problematic, especially when brighter images are involved. And sometimes, it doesn’t even come close to what you “verbally” requested. When I tried to get it to place Texas Rangers on the cobblestone walkway in front of the Capitol Building in Austin, it was totally confounded. The words “Texas Rangers” got me either a white bench, or white dogs. “Texas Rangers on horseback” yields only horses. I may need some more tutorial work on this feature. I next tried a large waterfall shot. I tried to place a canoe coming over the edge of the falls. It couldn’t differentiate between canoe and kayak. It does colors well (I asked for green and for red and that came in correct each time). But in all but one try (and I made quite a few), the canoes/kayaks were facing the wrong way. Even when I told it “facing viewer,” or “coming at viewer.” Even when you do get a “decent” generated result, the color, scale, and perspective often needs work. This means making layers, trying to use transformation, adjusting brightness, saturation and color balance. At that point, I think I could find my own image (e.g., of a kayaker in a red kayak), and just make my own composite image. So, as I said earlier, for the most part, not ready for prime time.
From my limited experience, this “AI” software really doesn’t do a very good job with anything detailed
THERE IS one area where the Generate AI feature seems to fare a bit better: when you give it context to work from. In the image below, I pretty much hacked up the original composition. Not sure what I was thinking. I thought it might have been salvageable if I hadn’t cut off the kayaks in the middle, leaving the rest totally out of the frame. I cropped the image some, and then, continuing to use the crop tool, I extended the left edge out enough to make room for the “rest” of the kayaks. It took me a couple tries to get the extended portion wide enough for Photoshop to figure out I wanted the entire boat in the image. I then selected the blank canvas and told Photoshop to “generate” without giving it any verbal prompts. I am led to believe that this causes the software to interpret the suggestion to use the surrounding image for context. I was reasonably impressed with the result.
IN THE Chicago image, I tried using Generative AI to remove people from an image (not my idea – got it from a YouTube review). It worked better, at least for my one example. But it still didn’t get it right on the first try. I had to use Content Aware Fill to remove remnants of the flag above the policemen, and what the AI “thought” should go in there, which was more flag. So conclusion so far: not a good as I had hoped or expected. But you would expect this to get better over time. Until then, a new “tool” for the bag, to be used sparingly. I will still be relying on those tools that consistently work for me. For now, Generative AI is kind of a weak, ground ball. It will take a combination of circumstances and luck for the runner to even get on base. But I do say “for now.” This AI stuff – scary and wonderful at the same time, will keep on coming and keep on getting . . . well, more “AI.” 🙂
For now, Generative AI is kind of a weak, ground ball
IF YOU are a CC subscriber, you should be able to find the beta Photoshop version in your Creative Cloud software. There is a “beta” slider you can use to download it. It doesn’t load into your existing setup. It loads separately. Find it. Play with it. decide for yourself. But you do, in my view, owe it to yourself to take a look at some of these new features – if you haven’t already done so.
PROVENCE ALWAYS conjures fields of lavender and bucolic French countryside for me. We have actually been to the Provence Region a couple times now. We have never really done the countryside and haven’t seen lavender (We haven’t been there in the right season for the blooms). Our first visit was in 2015 with our friends Paul and Linda. We did a wine tasting tour that trip and though we did drive through the countryside, we mostly visited vineyards; and one city: Aix en Provence. Maybe someday I will make a land-based trip to the Provence Region.
BUT THIS was – once again – cruise based. Our ship ported in Toulon, France, situated between Nice and Marseille. In 2015, we had docked in Marseille. Franck, our guide on this cruise told us that the Toulon Port is not really a favored spot. His opinion (he actually lives in Nice) was that it was too remote, and there was really nothing to see or do in Toulon itself. He was one of only a handful of private tour guides who would even make the drive to Toulon, because of its perceived distance and remote location. If and when I finally get the opportunity to have a discourse with someone at Celebrity who influences policy, I would like to have a conversation about these “remote” ports. They seem to have occurred more often in the last couple years. As an aside, we experienced the same phenomena with our “English Channel” cruise in late 2021 on Princess. I am certain there are reasons for it (presumably port fees and restrictions), but we have certainly been spoiled by being able to just walk off the ship in the past – or at least be central to good spots to visit.
WE WERE fortunate that Franck was willing to travel to Toulon for us. He was a great guide, and we had a good tour. We started in a beautiful national park (Parc Naturel Regionale de la Sainte-Baume), with a drive up to a high overlook. From there, we could see the Mediterranean. The views were pretty spectacular. The region is actually known as Alps-Cote d’Azur (something like “Alps by the coast of the blue sea” – my tortured translation, of course). 🙂 In the south of France, this region is temperate, and has always been a favorite of Europeans for its warm weather and seaside along the entire coast (also known as The French Riviera). It also photogenic, from the seaside landscapes to the harbors and boats, and mountains in the national parks just to the north.
WE ALSO learned (by observation) that this part of the park was a popular rock-climbing spot. I posted the image here on Facebook a month or so back, noting that sometimes great shots are a matter of serendipity – “right time, right place.” I felt pretty fortunate to be in that mode this morning. This opportunity also underscored the move back to an interchangeable lens camera. Here I wanted to get in as close as possible and was able to use the 150mm (300mm 35mm equivalent) focal length (not available on my RX100), to make this image.
AFTER THIS pretty cool spot, we went to one of Provence’s perhaps most popular destinations: Aix-en-Provence. A city of approximately 145,000 residents, there is some history there. Not surprisingly, it was founded by the Romans around 100 B.C. The entire region of Provence passed to France in the late 1400’s A.D., including Aix. In 1501, Aix became the capital of Provence. Nearly always a city of culture, it was often visited by such literary and artistic figures as Emile Zola, Ernest Hemingway, and Paul Cezanne.
AIX IS also a university town. Aix-en-Provence University, (now Aix-Marseille University) was chartered in 1407, by Louis II. The university is said to be popular with students throughout Europe, as a high-quality institution in a city that is relatively safe and fun to live in. The university offers courses of study in engineering, humanities, economics, law, political science and administrative planning. As you walk away from the center roundabout with the fountain (Fountaine de la Rotonde), to the east on the avenue Cours Mirabeau, you walk into some of the old city, with quiet, shady streets, and majestic buildings.
LIKE EVERY European city or town, there are churches. Most of them are photogenic. This quiet spot was the one we ventured into today.
FRANCK HAD made us reservations in a restaurant back by the Rotonda Fountain: La Rotonde, where we had a nice lunch. He then rounded us up to move on to our next (and last) stop for the day. LeCastellet is a medieval village on top of a high hill or cliff in the region. It was on our way back from Aix, and just to the northwest of Toulon. The old village has mostly foot traffic, as the cobblestone streets are narrow and winding. It actually reminded me of another, similar village along the French Riviera: Eze. Today mainly a tourist venue, there are many quaint shops and small cafes along these streets, as well as small overnight accommodations.
IN THE village I found a few images photogenic spots.
FTER WALKING around some, we sat in a small cafe and had coffee and wine, before meeting with Franck at the exit from the feudal village to head back to Toulon and reboard our ship. A very nice day. It was just a taste, but I can see that the Provence region is a place that would merit a few days’ stay and exploration.
IN THE fall of 2019, we did an “Italian Riviera” Cruise on Celebrity. One of the stops was Monaco and Monte Carlo. We were anchored out from Monaco’s small seaport and tendered in. The tour we had that day took us to the old city of Nice, the ancient village of Eze, and then around pretty much all of Monaco. We even covered 100% of the Grand Prix course. We also saw the Prince’s Palace and of course, the Monte Carlo Casino.
ON THIS cruise, we were docked at Cannes, a distance away from Monaco. Home of the Cannes Film Festival, and apparently a wealthy area, we really didn’t spend any time there. I had intended to walk around the seaport area of Cannes before boarding the tender to return to the ship, looking for photo-ops. But we used up most of our day with train travel, and in Monaco, so that didn’t happen. Maybe another time.
WE MOSTLY wanted to go back to Monaco again, and the Cannes Port was an hour plus train ride or drive away from Monaco. We took the train. This was destined to be a pretty unstructured day, and other than walking around Monaco and to Monte Carlo, we basically stopped and had a drink at one place and a very nice lunch at another, and ultimately returned to Cannes (and the ship) very close to all aboard time.
IHAVE found it interesting how when we visit a place multiple times, we often approach it from different directions, making the experience unique for me each time. On our first trip, we approached with our driver, right up what is one of the main streets (and a part of the Monaco Grand Prix course), to where it circles around the front of Monte Carlo, from the West. We parked and walked around the casino and vicinity for about an hour before returning to the seaport and our ship. This trip, we approached Monte Carlo from above, from the train station, which was to the northwest of the casino. Of the 4 of us who made this trip, two were suffering from some foot problems, and though the walk was downhill and less than 1/4 mile, it seemed a lot longer.
BUT I really liked our approach this time. From the main street above the casino, there is a nice parklike area, with walkways that go down the hill toward the casino. On the way, there are several fountains, each on a different level. I was able to frame the casino with fountains in the foreground, a couple different times. In front of the casino, there is plaza that has a unique reflecting mirror. After that walk, we stopped in the Cafe du Paris Monte Carlo for drinks.
LIKE OUR first visit, we walked into the Casino and walked around on the first floor for a few minutes. Not really being big gamblers, we weren’t too intent on going into the actual casino gambling areas. But as might be expected, the interior architecture is grandiose. We then walked down that same main street we had driven up 3 years back. I hadn’t really done that in 2019, and I though the view down was pretty impressive. I was able to catch a BMW sedan approaching, and thought it was fitting (though a Lamborghini, or Ferrari might have been more so). 🙂
AFTER STOPPING for a really nice lunch with great food, in a semi-outdoor restaurant right on the water, we did a bit more walking (including a pretty strenuous walk back up to the train station – what goes down must eventually go back up 😦 ). Along the main street just above the waterfront, were some pretty nice views of the water, and some pretty nice boats. Did I mention there is money in Monaco? It was a pleasant, if somewhat tiring day. We had been on the move, on our feet then for 5 days straight. And there was more to come before we rested.
ICONTINUE to carry the “new (ish) Olympus m4/3 setup on these trips. For years, my travel was either family/personal, or dedicated to photography of some place I would travel to. My gear for the dedicated trips was (and will for the moment, continue to be) my Sony A7rII, 46mp, “full frame” (so-called) camera and lenses. But as I have said before here, all that gear is heavy, bulky, and challenging to carry on a trip. When the trip is solely dedicated to a photo-destination, it is easier, because packing involves mainly clothing and gear for just that trip. But when packing for a more general trip, it quickly becomes problematic. I am not yet ready to rely just on my smartphone. I did rely on my small P&S Style Sony RX100 for a few years. But I missed the flexibility, and personally, the feel and handling of the DSLR-like camera. The more I have used the m4/3 camera, the more familiar and comfortable I have become with the settings (I only worry about the very few settings I need for my own purposes), making changes and adjustments quick and intuitive. All of the images from my last 3 cruises have been made with this system (or my smart phone in some cases). I am looking forward to using it more, as we continue to travel. Having said that, I will again say that the “gear” is a tool, and you sometimes need to think carefully about which tool you will use for which “job.” As I noted recently on a couple of my posts on the South Africa trip, I would definitely re-think my gear if and when I return there. In particular, I think maybe the “safari” shooting with the smaller gear was too much of a compromise. I will take the more serious setup on any additional trip involving a safari. But for the most part, I am happy with the m4/3 setup for my travel. It will be my sole gear for our upcoming trip to Iceland, Ireland and England.