Views of Prague at Twilight

It is hard to believe, but it has been over a month since our trip to Prague.

While it was a short European getaway for only a few days, photographically, it was very productive and rewarding, and I certainly landed a few pleasing images in that short time.

Life has been quite busy since then, and I have unfortunately neglected to post about some of my images; so, below are the two images I captured on our first twilight in Prague.

Charles Bridge by Night

Charles Bridge by Night

From a photographer’s viewpoint, no trip to Prague would be complete without capturing an image of the iconic Charles Bridge at night.

The Charles Bridge (Karlův most) is a bridge in gothic architectural style, which was named after the esteemed King Charles IV.  It runs across the Vlatva from the Old Town to the Lesser Town, and is major route to Prague Castle up on the hill, adjacent to St Vitus Cathedral.

In summer, during the day, and indeed for much of the night, Charles Bridge is crammed with tourists and street merchants selling all manner of souvenirs.

Here is a view along Charles Bridge towards the Lesser Town on the other side, and Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral in the distance.

Praha Twilight

Praha Twilight

We had encountered this location earlier during the day on a four-hour walking tour of Prague, and I decided that it would be a good location for a shoot at twilight.

Despite the hoardes of tourists in the area, this easily accessible spot allows for a fairly uninterrupted view along the north side of Charles Bridge, plus the still reflections of the shoreline on the Vlatva.

Travel and Tripod Tales of Woe

Last week we flew into Tel Aviv via Hong Kong.

The airlines unfortunately left half the HGK-TLV flight’s luggage in Hong Kong, including all our clothes, and my tripod — a Manfrotto MT293A4 and 494RC2 travel tripod combo I had specifically bought for this trip.

The morning after we arrived, we had to go buy a new tripod, and new clothes, as we were flying to Prague the same night, and there was no way on Earth our luggage would be here by the time we needed to leave.

I bought a Vanguard VEO 235AB travel tripod at a camera shop ten minutes from here.  I’ve never used that brand before, but it is a nice little tripod which, as it turned out, handled the job well.  I will probably leave it here in Tel Aviv so that I don’t need to carry a tripod the next time we visit.

So, there we were, in Prague, at our hotel, after yet another annoying flight.  I decided to set up my tripod for the next day’s photography, so I unpacked it.

The ball head has a quick release plate, which I attempted to install, only to discover that a pin protrudes from the base of the mounting plate.  No problem, as according to the manual, the tripod included an Allen key to adjust it.  I took out the Allen key, and then discovered that the screw to adjust the pin actually takes a flat-head screwdriver, not an Allen key!

The Allen key is also used to adjust the tension on the leg hinges, but naturally, the Allen key supplied was too small.

Not only did I have the world’s most useless Allen key, but I also needed a flat-head screwdriver, which I naturally did not have.

Fortunately, despite the pin obstructing the quick release plate from sliding all the way onto the mount, there was enough space for it to be securely held, so I was able to use it after all.

Phew.

Our luggage did eventually turn up in Tel Aviv, but we were well and truly in Prague by then.

So now I have two travel tripods.

Morals of the story:

  1. Airlines do occasionally misplace/lose/delay luggage.
  2. Procure travel insurance (we did, and we will claim, as well as seek compensation from the airline).
  3. Keep multiple tripods in strategic locations (y’know, like spies do with passports, cash and pistols).
  4. When buying a new tripod, check that it is all ready to go before you have gone.
  5. Know the locations of camera shops at your destinations.

Dancing House, Prague

Prague’s famous Dancing House was one of sights I wanted to see and photograph.

I planned to photograph the Dancing House on our last night in Prague, so we headed 1.2km south of our hotel, where I positioned myself for the image I wanted, once the light was right.

Here is the image I sought out to capture:

Dancing House

Dancing House

This unusual, modern building starkly contrasts with the surrounding architecture, and certainly makes for an interesting image.

I am pleased that I had the chance to both see and photograph the Dancing House in ideal blue hour light.

Vítejte v Praze (Welcome to Prague)

We have arrived in Prague, and spent our first day wandering around.

The day began with a 5am awakening as usual.  We decided to take advantage of the serenity of the dawn hours in a European city and wander out to the Charles Bridge, which is a five-minute walk from the Charles Bridge Palace, where we are staying.

The morning was cloudy and dull, and indeed, it had rained the previous night before we arrived at the airport.

At any rate, it was worth wandering around to see what we could find, and I captured a few images.

Incidentally, the last image I captured from the Charles Bridge was the most compelling of the series.  This is it:

Vítejte v Praze

Vítejte v Praze

This image was captured at 6:22am.  While the Charles Bridge, and indeed Prague itself, is extremely busy during European high season, this time of the morning was quiet, but there were still numerous photographers and tourists dotted along the bridge — certainly nothing like the chaos going on there right now.

This view looks westward toward the Little Quarter (or Lesser Town), and was taken not far from the end of the bridge.  The main feature past the arch is the gothic Little Quarter Bridge Tower.  On the far right is St Vitus Cathedral, adjacent to Prague Castle, both of which we visited this afternoon.

Despite the drab light, I am quite pleased with this image — it certainly came out better than I expected, and I love the cobblestones on the bridge leading towards the distinctly Eastern European architecture.

So far, from what we have seen of Prague, it is a beautiful city.  To its detriment is the crowds and the tacky tourist stuff everywhere, which starkly clashes with the old-world charm Prague otherwise has.

Just from the many hours of walking around Prague today, there are so many photographic opportunities; but as we are only here for a few days, I will not even scratch the surface of what Prague has to offer, but culturally and photographically.

Tonight, after dinner, I am heading back out to shoot some twilight views of Prague.  Hopefully I will capture something special.

New Backpack and Tripod

It is not very often that I discuss photography gear, but given that I purchased a few new items of gear today, I figured it was worth relating the story.

Soon enough, we are heading overseas on a trip to Israel, followed by a small sojourn to the Czech Republic for a few days.

As is always the case when travelling abroad, I bring a camera rig.  While this is not specifically a photographic trip, I certainly intend to engage in some twilight cityscaping in Prague, and may even have time for the odd cityscape in Tel Aviv or Caesarea.

My go-to camera bag for most of my photography (other than wildlife, which calls for the big lenses), is my Lowepro Nova 190 AW.  It is a shoulder bag, and I have a fairly standard array of equipment permanently packed in it, which covers most of my shooting needs, and certainly the needs I will have on this upcoming trip.  This bag has travelled internationally twice now.

However, as is also always the case when travelling internationally, I take my laptop, which has its own bag.  This time we are travelling somewhat lighter, and rather than carrying my camera gear in the Nova 190 AW, and my laptop in its own carry bag, I wanted one bag in the form of a backpack which would accommodate both.

A few months ago I discovered the Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II backpack when looking in a camera shop one day.  This bag seemed to fit the bill nicely.

It has a laptop compartment which will accommodate a 15″ laptop (according to the specifications), a lower compartment (with dividers) which will accommodate a large DSLR with a 70-200/2.8 mounted, plus another medium-sized lens or two; and it also has an upper compartment which will accommodate anything else, including non-photography equipment.

Today I decided to buy a Fastpack BP 250 AW II.  Now, my laptop is a 17″ MacBook Pro, but having compared its specifications with the backpack’s specifications, it fits.  I took the MacBook Pro with me to the store, and verified that it actually does fit — it does.

So, that solved a definite problem, and has given me a comfortably-sized, airline cabin-friendly backpack which will allow me to remain hands-free whilst traversing airports, fit my camera gear and laptop in one bag, and have room for other things such as a water bottle, light jacket or other day-trip equipment.  This will be perfect for walking around Prague.  Additionally, it has a tripod compartment on the side, along with a strap for keeping the tripod in place.

This brings me to my next subject: tripods.

I am rather accustomed to larger tripods, particularly as I have a few heavy lenses and both want and need the height, stability and load-bearing capability they provide.

A few years ago I toyed with the idea of buying a smaller tripod for travelling, but did not quite find something I liked, or something which gave me much confidence, as I was wary of smaller, lighter tripods.  Additionally, they were rather expensive for what they were.

After buying the Fastpack BP 250 AW II today, I browsed around the store, and found a Manfrotto combination of a 290-series set of legs (Manfrotto T293A4) and a ball head (Manfrotto 494RC2).

I played with the tripod for maybe ten or fifteen minutes as I mentally debated whether it was suitable.  While it’s certainly not as tall as my Manfrotto 055XPROB, or even my 2005-vintage Manfrotto 190D, it is tall enough, and the extension of the centre column will give sufficient extra height if necessary.  The legs have four sections and quick release clips, which is definitely desirable.

The ball head was also quite nice, and as with all my other Manfrotto heads, it accommodates the Manfrotto 200PL quick release plate.

Soon enough I decided to buy it.  The salesperson advised me that it was a discontinued model, and as it appeared to be the last unit and lacked both the quick release plate and packaging, he gave me a nice discount.

So, now I have a suitable, light-weight but sturdy tripod which can be taken on international trips, which reduces the bulk and weight of what I am carrying, and nicely attaches to the side of my newest camera backpack.  For the kinds of photography this trip will present, this rig is more than enough to suit my needs, and it will also be quite suitable for other photographic outings locally and inter-state.

Booked: Trip to Israel and the Czech Republic

Later this year we are travelling to Israel for a wedding, but since we will be within close proximity to many other destinations, it made a lot of sense to also plan a mini-holiday somewhere else nearby.

While there are some fantastic places in the world which are worth re-visiting, what is more appealing is the notion of visiting a place we have not previously visited.

Over a number of months, the main destinations we considered were Dublin (Ireland), Budapest (Hungary) and Prague (Czech Republic).

Today we decided on Prague, and while booking flights to Israel, we also booked flights to Prague.  We have both been to Europe before, but in my case, I had never been to Eastern Europe.

By all accounts, Prague is a beautiful city, so I am looking forward to not only seeing Prague, but capturing some cityscape and architectural images of the Czech Republic’s capital city.

It has been nearly 16 years since I last visited Europe, so I am looking forward to seeing it again, and hopefully landing some pleasing images.

2015 Retrospective: Intense and Focused

Now that we are well into the year 2016, it is time for a retrospective look at my photographic journey in 2015.

The year can be summarised as intense and focused, as the majority of images I captured during 2015 were in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where we embarked upon an incredible seven-day safari with our friend and safari leader Mario Moreno.

Looking at my statistics, I shot more images in 2015 than I did in the years 2013 and 2014 combined.

Had the Kenya trip not happened, I suspect I would not have shot much.

Photographically, my year started quite late — near the end of April — with a macro/still life image of a new watch I had been given:

Certina 1888

Certina 1888

We had some family in town from overseas, so I took the opportunity to shoot some cityscape images from a location at which I had not shot before.

One afternoon we headed to the Glebe apartment and I waited for the right light to capture some views of the beautiful city skyline.

This was the result:

Dusk Descendence

Dusk Descendence

And a little later, during blue hour:

The View Sucks

The View Sucks

I also took the opportunity to capture this tight view of the Anzac Bridge as twilight fell:

Anzac Bridge

Anzac Bridge

In May, we all had an outing at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour.  I took a camera and a couple of lenses, but I did not shoot a great deal of images.

This image of a kangaroo was one of the more pleasing images I captured on the day:

One of Skippy's Mates

One of Skippy’s Mates

Later in the month, I felt compelled to head out and shoot another cityscape.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, I scouted for some vantage points along the western side of Circular Quay, and finally settled on the observation deck of the International Passenger Terminal, which affords a higher view, and additionally was empty and free from passers by.

I waited for the blue hour, and captured this view of Sydney which I have not seen (or photographed) before.

Circular Quay West

Circular Quay West

It had been a slow, but pleasing enough start to the year.

In June, the photography I had been eagerly anticipating since we booked the trip the previous year, would finally happen.

We headed to Kenya to spend seven days in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we would re-ignite our passion for wildlife and landscape photography.

So far I have published over 100 images from that trip, so I will not publish a great deal of those images in this article; but as the trip brought us a lot of first-time encounters, I will instead present some selected highlights from the trip.

We were based in the luxurious eco-lodge Elephant Pepper Camp, which afforded us total isolation and positioning right in the middle of where the action was.

This is a view of one of Elephant Pepper Camp‘s honeymoon/family tents:

Elephant Pepper Camp's Honeymoon Tent

Elephant Pepper Camp’s Honeymoon Tent

And this is a view of the camp at twilight, depicting the dining tent, lounge and camp fire:

Around the Camp Fire

Around the Camp Fire

Highlights of the trip included one of my finest bird images, which was my first frame of only two I snapped while this pied kingfisher was bobbing up and down in flight:

Suspended

Suspended

Just about every day, we were treated to lions — most prominently, the Cheli Pride.  One of the fantastic things about the Cheli Pride was its abundance of cubs, and on this trip, it was our first time seeing wild cubs, such as this cute little lion:

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

On one afternoon, we were fortunate enough to spend some time, in pleasing, afternoon light, in very close proximity to a lilac-breasted roller, where I captured this and a number of other images of the national bird of South Africa:

Plumage

Plumage

Naturally, a safari in Africa encompasses more than just wildlife — there are amazing opportunities for stunning, iconic landscape shots, and we certainly took advantage of that, rolling out into the plains in the pre-dawn darkness before other safari-goers were even awake.

This was one of my earlier landscape shots, captured during a moody morning:

The Moody Mara Plains

The Moody Mara Plains

On another morning, we captured the ‘postcard shot’ of a rising sun behind a lone acacia tree:

Sunrise on the Mara

Sunrise on the Mara

This particular tree is known as Mario‘s Tree, as Mario often photographs it.  We certainly did — several times — including one particular morning which greeted us with a colourful sky:

Lone Acacia

Lone Acacia

On only our second day on this trip, we were treated to a number of first-time encounters.  In the morning, we encountered our first Mara leopard, who was also also the first leopard we had seen in a tree; and in the evening we found our first male lion of the trip, again a member of the resident Cheli Pride.

We had gone back to Leopard Gorge to look for the young male cat, when we found a large, dominant male lion in the area instead.  If the leopard was around, he was hiding and would not be seen.

Here is the beautiful young male leopard perched high in an elephant pepper tree:

Leopard of the Day

Leopard of the Day

We not only encountered one male lion, but two!  His brother also emerged from the distance and joined him for some bonding and lazing before the night‘s hunting commenced.

Here is one of the stunning Cheli Pride males we encountered:

Surveying

Surveying

The day after we met the dominant males, we encountered numerous members of the pride, minus the males, feasting on a zebra kill the next afternoon.  This was another ‘first’ for us, as we had hitherto never seen lions feasting on a kill.  It was quite a sight, as this wider image shows:

Feast

Feast

The next day, we spent a dramatic afternoon with the Cheli Pride again, firstly as we encountered one of the mothers on her own, out in the open, calling for the pride.

Here is an image I captured of the lioness in the warm afternoon light:

Cheli Mother

Cheli Mother

Before long, a mighty rainstorm descended upon us, which made the big cat uncomfortable, as well as presenting challenges for us.  As the rain began to subside, camera shutters sounded like rapid gunfire as we captured action shots of the lioness shaking the water from her head.

Shake It Off

Shake It Off

Towards the end of the trip, we spent one day further south in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we experienced yet another first.

So far, the one species of African big cat we had never seen in the wild was the cheetah.  On that trip, we finally encountered wild cheetahs.  It was an exciting experience to firstly see them from a distance, and then drive to position ourselves optimally to be ahead of where they were headed.  It became more exciting as the cheetahs got closer, and I had a few opportunities to photograph the family, which consisted of a mother and four sub-adults.

Here is one of the nicer images I captured of these amazing big cats:

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

It had been a long wait, but finally we spent some time with wild cheetahs.

Our next morning in the Mara consisted of a portrait shoot with Maasai tribesman called Baba, with whom we travelled to Mario‘s Tree, where we shot some dramatic silhouette portraits of him as the sun rose on one of our final days in the Mara.

Here is one of the more striking images I captured during the session:

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

Our final evening in the Mara brought something we could have never predicted, and something which is quite rare to see: mating leopards!

At first, we spotted a young female leopard high in a tree during the warm afternoon light, but within a short time, a large, amourous male emerged from the thicket, and the two leopards began (or continued with) their ritual of rapid, exposive mating sessions, which can last for days.

We spent the rest of the drive witnessing this amazing sight, and the following image captures an intense moment as the female expresses her displeasure at the male’s advances:

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

The next morning was our final, somewhat subdued game drive in the Mara before we would fly back to Nairobi for a night and another day before departing Kenya.  We were fortunate to encounter a small pod of hippos in a watering hole, where I had the opportunity to capture some relatively close-proximity images, such as this large hippo on the bank, less than 30 metres away:

Hippo on the Bank

Hippo on the Bank

Before too long, this amazging photographic journey came to its conclusion.

After the intensity of our Mara trip, and my generally low photographic output before the trip, it was not surprising that I did not shoot much afterwards.  In fact, I shot only one more image for the remaining six months of the year!

The one image I did capture was a macro image of some red and orange roses to commemmorate our anniversary.

Fifth

Fifth

And so concludes my photographic journey for 2015.  It indeed was an intense and focused year, with Kenya dominating my photographic output, but with a few other images here and there.