Hiking and Biking in Alta Patagonia

bikeThere’s a lot more to unpacking after a trip then taking things out of a backpack. That little receipt from the amazing chocolate shop, the trail map from that steep hike. And it’s unpacking that I found myself once again in Patagonia. Paradise exists, and I found another piece of it in Patagonia, and with it, the renewed knowledge that the world is too big and beautiful to be seen in a lifetime. That seems so unfair.

Kilometers pass quickly below me as the mountains recede leaving space to the immense pampas. One last goodbye to Cerro Catedral from my airplane’s window and I’m well on my way back to Buenos Aires with Aerolineas Argentinas/Austral. It’s time for me to close my eyes and meditate on the past few days. I left more than just landscapes behind; I left new friends and a piece of myself. These people will go on with their travels, some far down to El Calafate or even further down to Ushuaia, other up north to Peru or Bolivia. We left each other with the hope that our roads will cross again in some other beautiful place.

IMG_0625One steady step after another, digging in the packed snow turned ice, me and my new hiking companion, a joyful french man answering to the name of Antoine, reach the summit of Cerro Catedral two and a half hour after leaving the base. The view behind us is gorgeous, but what we find on the other side is breathtaking in its majesticity. The rugged white topped mountains meet the deep blue sky with Cerro Tronador standing high in its authority. The narrow valleys below are of a lush green and broken only by streams that snake their way within them. This is a beauty that hurts. I cannot stop thinking how much longer will our beautiful planet resist human impact. How many places like this one have already disappeared? So far we have not found another planet like ours, wouldn’t that be a reason good enough to protect what we have? Each one of us has limited power; what I can do, and it’s what I do best, is traveling to places like this and share what I see with others so that they may understand what we have and what we shouldn’t lose.IMG_0512

 

 

 

IMG_0299

 

 

 

 

Untitled_Panorama1

 

 

 

 

My next article will be about the photographic gear I took me with on this trip.

 

Last Minute Trip to Argentina: Part 1

 

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires
Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

As I flip through the pages of my Lonely Planet guide to Argentina I feel an excitement growing like I haven’t felt it in a long time. In the past few years I have traveled near and far (mostly far). Just a week ago I was strolling along the roads of Munich; before then I was in Italy just in time to witness the birth of my first nephew;  two months ago I had the opportunity to visit my old college roommate in his beautiful hometown: Stockholm. So far this year I’ve been to five new countries and about to make the sixth as well as returning to several others. Every place I see is special in its own way: be it the orange sands of Wadi Rum, an ancient cemetery in Japan where spirits seem to breathe on the back of your neck, or the warm azure waters of Palau in Micronesia. Every place has given me unique memories and wonderful emotions (I couldn’t stop my eyes from getting moist while watching the sun breaking through the clouds from below while I was standing at the top of the Haleakala Mountain in Mau; or falling into a revered silence as the clouds broke up to reveal the ancient Machu Picchu before me) but all this traveling has taken its toll, it has taken a little bit of the magic of the unknown away. It is a bit like working in a movie set after another (which I have done): you will never watch a movie the same way. You will still enjoy it, but it will be different. I’ve gone from place to place making my wishes come true, loving it, but at the same time feeling like something was missing.

Buenos Aires is a bright and lively city
Buenos Aires is a bright and lively city

This time is different, though. I feel the excitement building up and I can’t wait to be at destination. This trip was not planned; maybe that’s what makes it so different and appealing. I sat in front of my computer yesterday, on my birthday, working on some photos, when out of nowhere I thought of Argentina. I quickly typed “weather in Ushuaia” on my browser but the results were less than encouraging: I would have left a cold place for another, not in the mood for that. I switched the search to “weather in Bariloche” and the results were much better: sunny with 27C/80F.

I type this half-way between Denver and Atlanta; tonight I will be on a flight to Buenos Aires where I will meet up with some friends flying out of Houston. I’m getting shivers from this, I already know, amazing adventure that is about to start.

How Else Would You Celebrate Your Arrival in Buenos Aires?
How Else Would You Celebrate Your Arrival in Buenos Aires?

Bariloche, gateway to Alta Patagonia and home of some of South America’s most scenic National Parks is my mother’s dream place. This trip is dedicated to you, mom. Thank you for giving me the positive energy to make it happen and also thanks for never stopping guiding me: with your curiosity, your intelligence, your creativity and your compassion.

Taormina: the Jewel of Sicily

From one church to another
From one church to another

Recently I had the opportunity to visit an old college friend in Taormina, Sicily, for a few days. This town sits atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea and it’s well known and renowned as one of the hot spots for beach vacation in Italy. The architecture is what one would expect from an old Mediterranean beach town, colored buildings, churches and bell towers but there is so much more to this sunny town, that anyone could get lost in its tight streets just from walking with the nose up admiring the upper floors of old houses. Balconies here come to life with precious handmade ceramics, vases, vines and flowers. Corners of streets have more ceramics depicting all sort of scenes and shop names. With so much variety and homogeneity this is truly the traveler and architectural photographer’s heaven (parts of The Godfather III were filmed here).
Like all Italian cities, Taormina has a central square, and this is one of the most distinct and recognizable squares across the country. Paved with a checkered motif and sitting over a cliff overlooking the sea, the square offers breathtaking views of the blue-green waters below and of the Etna’s mountain, Italy’s most active volcano. This was taking a nap during my visit and I didn’t get to come home with photos of lava fountains. In all honesty I was very happy to come home with some photos at all. Because of my recent bicep surgery I have not held a camera in over a month due to its weight and the inability to move my arm properly.

Lots of art everywhere
Lots of art everywhere

While the pain still lingers, my arm’s mobility is improving a little bit every day and, although I had to take breaks often from holding the camera, and some shots were just difficult and painful to make (like those I took laying down on the ground on the square), I have been very happy with the results and the photos I took home (a little less with the portable hard drive that died last night less than two years since purchase).

Giardini Naxos has quite a bit of artwork
Giardini Naxos has quite a bit of artwork

Back to the square: the checkered tiles provide great leading architectural lines and with not one, but two churches on different sides plus two large metal art pieces the possibilities to create an original shot abound, even in a town that sees a large number of tourists every year.

Another beautiful piece of architecture is given by the Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), from which a view of the city can be admired from above. The Theatre (probably built by the Romans in Greek style) is the second largest in Sicily and it is incredibly well preserved. Today it is still used for theatrical performances as well as concerts (think Opera, not Rock).

In Taormina good restaurants and shops are plenty, it is so nice to sit at a table outside to enjoy a granita (what Americans call “Italian Ice”) or a cappuccino while enjoying people-watching after a busy day of photo taking.

 

Pano of Piazza IX Aprile
Pano of Piazza IX Aprile
Mt. Etna, Giardini Naxos and Taormina at sunset
Mt. Etna, Giardini Naxos and Taormina at sunset

The Photographer’s Blues

You have been taking photos enthusiastically for months, with subjects ranging from landscape to macro to long exposures and you have participated, or at least been lurking, in many online forums but all of a sudden you just don’t feel it anymore, you want to go out and take photos but can’t bring yourself to do it. You’ve just been diagnosed with a common case of the Photographer’s Blues. It happened to me last year; after years of being driven to search a variety of light conditions, new locations, new angles on old locations, being an active member of the photographic community and devouring books and magazines, I bumped into a wall. The motivation to grab my camera was completely gone and I worried if it would ever come back. As months passed and a large pile of unread photography magazines piled up on my coffee table I occasionally would look at my non-growing collection of photos in my hard drive. Something had to be done, I wasn’t going to let this “photographic depression” take over and put an end to what had been a passion since the age of six. My first step was creating a blog, if grabbing my Canons wasn’t the highest of my priorities, writing was still something I considered enjoyable and personalizing a pre-existing interface for my new WordPress blog was actually a fun task. Some of you might not be too big on writing, but a blog doesn’t need to be a collection of long essays, you can post quick thoughts or just images with a caption. At first it might be just for you and your family or close friends but as you grow a following, you will find more inspiration, motivation as well as materials since many will offer their ideas. After all, this article would have probably never been written had it not been for a fellow blogger’s complaint that she did not enjoy taking photos anymore. Besides a blog, and as a good complement to it, if you haven’t done so already, starting a website gives you exposure (no pun intended) as well as providing another outlet to your creativity. Even if you’re not computer savvy at all, starting a website today is easier than ever. Internet Providers like 1and1 or Zenfolio (check my website under Discount Offers for details) allow you to register your own domain name for a small fee and give you a selection of tools, as well as templates, to start a website in minutes. You can create pages of any kind as well as professionally looking galleries. If you have a larger budget and some HTML and CSS programming knowledge or are willing to learn them, a software like Adobe Dreamweaver will really allow you to have total control and flexibility over your creation.

Photographers are everywhere, and most of them are social people looking to learn new things or willing to share what they know. So, why not get in touch with other photographers in your community and start a club or a weekly meeting/photoshoot. Not only that’s a great way to make new friends, but everyone wins in terms of knowledge and portfolio images as well as finding a great enthusiasm booster. Starting something like that can be easily achieved with just a post on Craigslist. I was a very active member of the online community of a well known photo magazine, but ended up abandoning it because of the excessive spam (eventually everyone left). It was great times, we had weekly assignments, photo critiques and everyone had something to share. It always saddened me how the magazine management let something that great just die. Recently I created discussion forums on my own blog and I’m hoping to capture the same environment of cooperation that we had then, minus the spam. Search “create online forums” on Google and you will find enough tools to make your own. Don’t feel up to the task? Make yourself a promise to become involved in a discussion forum with at least two or three posts a week. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, those who have the answers are usually more than happy to share; we all like the feeling that comes from having helped someone.

If you can afford it, take a photography seminar or in-the-field workshop. You’ll learn from a pro and be taken to places you probably didn’t even know; and chances are you will learn functions of your camera that you didn’t even know existed or that seemed too esoteric.

I left the most exciting one for last: travel!

Get in your car, get on a plane, get on a cruise ship… just go somewhere new. I’m what you could call a professional traveler. To me traveling is a way of life. I like to see new places, explore new foods, meet new people. I can guarantee you that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve flown to Europe for as little as $400 round trip from Los Angeles. My two weeks in Peru (and who doesn’t want to photograph Machu Picchu?) came to a total of less than $1,000 (flight included from Salt Lake City). A 4 nights cruise to Bahamas was $262 (gratuities included as well). All it takes is a bit of planning and some good price shopping skills. Go to new places and you will come home with a new collection of photos that you will be excited to share with friends and other photographers.

And if you really don’t or can’t get away from home, find the nearest forest near you and photograph trees. Get into the woods with a wide angle lens and explore its possibilities. Try to make those trees look as imposing as you can. You will like the results.

I’m writing this while sitting on the steps of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Arts. I hope my ideas make you want to grab your camera. I’ll end this article here as my right index is itching once again to press the shutter.

Ancient Architecture – The Pyramids at Giza

_MG_2646

It was bound to happen. I grew up a mere two hours flight away but I had never been there. I looked left from the height of my camel saddle and there they were, all three of them, the majestic pyramids of Khufu (Cheops), Khafre and Menkaure. All history books I’ve studied in school talked about their size, of what a great feat of architecture they are, and yet, being in front of them still caught me a bit off guard. This was pure splendor of architectural perfection.
Once again I was traveling with newfound friends, quite an assorted background: United States, Czech Republic and India. Our guide, Ibrahim, picked us up in Alexandria and for the three hour drive to Cairo he shared with us his historical, geographical and political knowledge of ancient and modern Egypt until the first road sign marked “Giza Pyramids” presented itself high above the highway. We peeked through the windows of our transport to catch a glimpse of them and when we finally saw one in the distance, high above the road, our torpor was replaced by excitement. We were not out of the van one minute that quick fingers had already started snapping away at the humongous construct and after the classic, or rather cliché, group photo of us posing as ancient Egyptians on a wall we proceeded to the far end of the pyramids toward the desert from where we could get an unobstructed view. Ibrahim introduced us to our camel guides, a young bunch excited at the prospect of making some money in this disastrous tourism downfall  but also interested in us having a good time. And so here I was, a few hundred meters away from the pyramids, in the heat of the Sahara desert, standing up on a camel to bring home a memorable photo of myself and the pyramids to my family and friends. This being my second camel ride in a week it was still quite fun and exciting if not uncomfortable. Unfortunately on the way back my 7D decided to abandon me for the rest of my trip and nothing would bring it back to life. I will not have a good camera until I return to the Unites States, meaning that from that point on all photos would be taken with my cell phone. I would not give in to negativity and dismay though, and used that as an excuse to return to Egypt sooner rather than later.

IMG_0146The docile animals dropped us beside the pyramid of Khafre where our guide picked us up and together we walked toward the smaller pyramids near the Cheops one and inside one. The narrow slanted and slippery passage took us a hundred feet or so underground, not a place for the claustrophobic. There was no decorations on the walls, and as the outside light receded further and further away the sight of a chamber on the left side of the wall, at the bottom of the passage slowly came to view. No living mummies here waiting for us in the dark recess of the chamber and we actually left the place without receiving any curse from an ancient Pharaoh (that we know of). The chamber was small and empty and all was in there was just some massive stone blocks, but we sat on one of them and dreamt of a day when it was filled with beautiful artifacts and riches beyond anyone’s dreams.

The afternoon was filled with a quick visit to the papyrus museum and shop where we were shown how papyrus is made and how to recognize an original sheet from a fake (fakes are made of banana leaves); lunch on a beautiful restaurant on the bank of the Nile river after a short boat ride and also a tour of the bazaar in Cairo where shops and tents selling ordinary clothes and trinkets alternated with show of true artisanship displaying handmade and hand decorated lamps and plates. It was a wonderful experience that we all enjoyed. In the evening we returned to the pyramids for the Light and Sound show. Without the ability to take good quality photos, after taking a few with my phone I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

20130430_190201

This was a trip that deserved taking a second body, unfortunately having sold my 5D Mark II an not having had a chance to get my hands on the Mark III I was left with only one body. I carried a variety of lenses with me: the ever present 24-105, the 10-22 and a 100mm macro with an extension tube, all Canon. I also brought a warm/cool circular polarizer but frankly I’m enjoying less and less the look of a polarized image as I find the change too aggressive. I also recommend bringing a light tripod.

If you’re visiting Egypt and need a reliable and experienced guide I strongly recommend our guide Ibrahim Mahdy (he also speaks Italian). He is knowledgeable in the history and culture of Egypt and will provide an excellent experience at reasonable prices.
His company is G Adventures.

NikSoftware by Google Collection

Nik Software titles have been a must for many professional photographers and recently Google bought this software company, but the best part is that Google has slashed the prices of the Nik products. For just $149 we can own the entire collection whereas before a single software titles was upwards of $200. And if that wasn’t enough, until March 30th only you can use my coupon code LucaDianaPhoto to save an extra 15%.

Click on the logo or here to access the Nik Software page

Peru Day 6 – Nazca

_MG_0999
Landing Strip for Spaceships?

 

It’s been over five years since my adventures in Peru but the events that took place there, especially the night of October 29th, are burned in my memory and will be for a long time. The following is  recap of what happened after Huacachina, after we nearly lost our lives in a bus crash, which incidentally was when I stopped writing my travel diary for that trip.

The morning was filled with excitement as we got up from our small beds in the hostal found the night before. Nazca was the fulfilling of another dream for me. Lindsey only knew what I told her about this place, but to me this was the place where magic and extraterrestrials came to life. I was about 10 years old when our mailman delivered a book that my mother had bought me: The Last Mysteries of Earth. It was huge, had a shiny blue hard cover and I read all of it front to back, several times in fact. Back then I promised myself that when I grew up I would go see those places. Years later I forgot about the book, but when it finally came to mind I realized that unconsciously a good part of my life had been driven by it. Still today I’m trying to keep the promise I made to myself.

_MG_1081

The book had a chapter about the strange lines of Nazca, an intricate network of strategically placed rocks that only from high up in the sky reveal the most amazing figures like a spider, a monkey, a condor, and even an image known as “the astronaut.” The book told the story of Maria Reiche (1903–1998), a German mathematician and archaeologist who spent all her life in Nazca studying the lines trying to understand their secrets. My hope was to meet her one day but unfortunately I arrived in Nazca 10 years too late. As of today the mystery of the desert of Nazca, a region that has not seen rainfall in over a thousand years, is still unsolved. Theories abound but none of them is conclusive, including the mystery around who built the lines but most importantly: how did they do that. The lines are so perfect that scientists are baffled at how that was accomplished without an aerial view.
We left out lodging and called a taxi to take us to the small regional airport, the Maria Reiche Neuman Airport several kilometers out of town. I had a grin from one ear to the other, kept looking around like a child in a candy store and counted the minutes that separated me from seeing the images in the book with my own eyes. The taxi dropped us off by the General Aviation hangars and we perused all the trinkets in the small gift shop for a while waiting to be called. Not long had passed that a friendly voice called me by name, it was our pilot dressed in full uniform who introduced himself and told me: “I heard you’re a pilot, you can sit next to me.” With us there were two middle aged American ladies and a man who came here with the same curiosity about the lines. I climbed on the co-pilot seat of our six seater Cessna (a 206 I seem to recall) and felt right at home. Lindsey sat in the back. To my dismay the controls had been removed from my side, but I came here to see the lines and take photographs so I wasn’t going to let that bother me.

_MG_0984
Taxing to high adventure

In a short time we were up in the air heading toward the desert. The nose of the plane pointing toward a pretty big hill, when our pilot took the aircraft to the opposite side and banked it to about 45 degrees revealing a huge figure covering the entire side of the hill top to bottom which made me stare with an open jaw and a whispered “wow”: The astronaut came into view.

_MG_1009
The Astronaut waves at us
(Click on the photo for a larger version)

We circled a few times so that everyone on each side could see it well. Leaving the spaceman behind we flew a pattern that took us to the spider, the condor, the hummingbird, the monkey, the landing strip and many others, one more beautiful and fascinating than the previous. The same questions that Maria Reiche and many other archaeologists asked themselves came to me: who built this lines? Why? How did they reach this kind of perfection without seeing from above? Why these particular figures and geometrical shapes? What did they know that we don’t?

Our pilot said it was time to head back and told me I could take the plane home. I reached over to the controls on his side and happily took the Cessna back to home base. After a smooth landing we descended from the aircraft where I found out that Lindsey had not enjoyed the tour as much as I did since she got motion sickness soon after take off.

We crossed the street to a nice looking resort and sat by the pool on this hot day sipping ice tea. The gardens were in full bloom and several beautiful birds sang their songs as they flew from a tree to another. We asked a young lady at the reception to call a taxi to take us back to town and she asked if she could tell a trusted friend to pick us up. We agreed on $9 and waited for the driver to show up. He arrived about 20 minutes later in a tiny car that could barely hold the 3 of us (and none of us is a giant) and spoke no English, a sticker across the entire windshield bore the name of his wife. He was a young man in his early twenties and seemed very nice. He asked us if we had seen anything else in Nazca besides the lines. We had not and he offered to take us to the Puquios (the aqueducts), which have been estimated to date back to around 500 AD and built by a Pre-Columbian Nazcan civilization. Amazingly these Puquios are still fully functioning regardless of several major earthquakes and carry fresh water from the mountains to the valley. Our driver and newly-found guide told us that the ticket to the Puquios was $4 but at the gate we could buy a $10 pass which included admission to several other areas of interest as well as the museum in town and offered to take us to these places. With nothing else planned for the rest of the day we purchased the pass and were driven around the valley across aqueducts and more lines by our new friend who turned out to be very knowledgeable about the history of his region.

_MG_1132
Exploring the Aqueduct
_MG_1025
The Hummingbird (305 feet / 100 meters long)

Several hours later he dropped us off at the museum in town telling us how to get back to our hotel, which was a short walk away. He expected nothing more than the previously agreed $9 but we felt that would have been dishonest and ungrateful to a guy who showed so much enthusiasm and willingness to go out of his way to please us so we gave him a generous tip and left him speechless.

——————————————————

We found a nice little restaurant for our late lunch and for $5 each we had the best ceviche to date and a large tasteful plate of rice and seafood with mineral water.

In the evening we took a Cruz del Sur bus to our next destination: Arequipa. The bus was a large comfortable double decker: first class on the lower deck with seats reclining to flat bed position and Economy class on the top deck with seats reclining to a comfortable almost flat position. A brochure onboard showed that the bus was equipped with a GPS tracking system which would alert the central office shall the bus stop for any unscheduled reason. Ten hours and we would be in Arequipa.

_MG_1164
Hiking in the desert around Nazca

Two and a half hour into the trip everyone was asleep while, sitting toward the back of the bus, I happily typed on my laptop logging the events that had taken place the day before. Lindsey was sitting in the front row. I felt we were going really fast in a moonless pitch black night when we came to a sudden stop sending my laptop flying in the air. I immediately stood up and reached to it within the limit of my seatbelt and was able to grab it before it flew further away. Everyone woke up screaming, not knowing what had happened as the bus flipped on its side still sliding forward and finally stopping at a 45 degree angle. People everywhere were trying to stand up and smash the windows to get out, screaming incoherently. I remember standing on my seat and yelling in Spanish to sit down and not to panic. I had no idea where we were on our journey, but I knew at some point our road went by some cliffs hundreds of feet over the ocean and I was afraid we might be there. I didn’t want anyone rocking the bus. As people calmed down a bit I moved to the front of the bus to find, with much relief, Lindsey unarmed and the large window in front of her completely shattered. A few of us were able to open the door finding out we had crashed on the side of a sand dune.

Map of the Nazca Lines (Click for larger image)
Map of the Nazca Lines at the bus stop
(Click for larger image)

People starting flocking outside as cars raced by us carelessly on the road regardless of the debris of the crash in the middle of it. We found out we had hit at high speed a large truck carrying metal scraps which was traveling in the same direction as us but at much slower speed and with no lights. The front of our bus was completely destroyed and seeing that I feared for the life of our driver. Miraculously neither ne, nor anyone else, had suffered any major injuries. A lady visiting from Italy had banged her knee and felt some pain but she would survive. An older Peruvian lady felt like she was going to have a heart attack, and a French guy cut a finger in his panicked attempt to break the window. Lindsey later would find a stone stuck in her bra. About an hour later, maybe less, the clock seemed to have stopped and ticking faster all at the same time, a police car approached. A single police officer, a large middle age man, parked halfway on the road and shut off his lights. I asked him if it was safe to have a car parked on the road in darkness and went back in and turned on his lights. Meanwhile cars and trucks kept zooming by us, uncaring.

While everyone was trying to make heads and tails of what had happened, Lindsey and I started a conversation with two guys from Sweden and a couple from France. As fate likes to play tricks, it turned out that one of the Swedish guy’s godfather was a friend of mine. Two and a half hours after the accident a Cruz del Sur bus arrived and picked us all up, our trip was to continue. I looked at the stars and wished that no other bus crash was involved in our upcoming adventures.

The inspiration to my trips
The inspiration to my trips

If you’ve missed the previous days, my dear reader, click on the tab “Travel Adventures” and find “Peru.”

bus
Our bus took an unexpected turn
What’s left of our bus
Lindsey was seating on the top right side, the driver on the bottom left side

To Edit or Not to Edit…

Every so often in conversation with friends, in online forums or letters to magazines the topic of photo editing or retouching (those opposed will use the word “manipulation”) comes up. I want to give here my opinion on the subject. I’ll start by saying that the issue is twofold: on one side it’s merely artistic, an interpretation of what is seen and therefore completely subjective; on the other side it’s a mechanical problem.

When is much too much? There is a correlation between the two sides. I need to make one point clear: there is no such a thing as a non-retouched photograph. I know, you’re thinking… What?! This is true for both film and digital media. A digital camera is built around a sensor that interprets light. Each active pixel sensor measures the light and converts it into an electric signal, needless to say each brand works it a little differently. The electric signal has to be interpreted (by software in a computer or firmware inside the camera) and therefore the amount of data that corresponds to the image has already been “transformed” (retouched) by the camera maker or other software company.

Let’s make a true life example: you shoot an image in JPEG, you click the shutter and you get the file in the memory card. By now the firmware in the camera has already modified colors, light and discarded all unnecessary (according to programming) data as Canon, Nikon, Fuji or whoever else built the camera. So, you say: ok, I will shoot RAW then, and I’ll use the data as seen by the sensor without any action on the firmware part. Well, it’s not actually that simple. First of all, the sensor is like a human eye, but much less perfect therefore what you capture is already an interpretation of what you see (don’t believe me? Go shoot high contrast scenes and compare what you see with what you get). Second, RAW data is not an image, it needs to be converted into an image by specialized software. Now you have to load your RAW file into your favorite software (mine is Adobe Lightroom) which means the software company has decided how to interpret the data. Load a RAW file into Lightroom, Aperture, DxO Labs, etc. and you will see differences.

That’s why when someone tells me proudly: “I don’t retouch my images” my answer is usually: “In that case you’re letting someone else do it for you” – It is that simple, you can load an image into your favorite software, modify it a bit and make it look like what your eyes saw, or you can let the camera maker or software house decide how you saw it.

What about film? Well, pretty much the same story. Different emulsions produce different results and when it comes to exposing, toning, etc. every touch is personal.

I hear now and then people say “Ansel Adams would never retouch” – As a matter of fact Ansel Adams could be considered the father of modern retouching and some of my friends who had the chance to work with him assure me that he would love using Photoshop.

Here is an interesting article about the art of editing in the old days: Trick or Truth?

Discussions welcome. Remember that this is my personal view.

San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo

Last week I received an email mentioning San Antonio, TX and since I had not been there yet, but had been planning to visit at some point, I thought this would be a good time to take a quick trip to Texas. I had heard many good things about the city from friends so, knowing well that a two day trip (even less, once we consider the time spent on the air and in airports) would not do it justice I figured that at least I was going to have a taste of it, and perhaps come home with a good photo or two.
San Antonio, from a touristic perspective, is a city rich of points of interest and is also quite affordable. I was able to book a nice hotel just five minutes walk from The Alamo and Riverwalk for a very reasonable rate.
I wanted to travel very light, with a change of clothes in my small backpack and just my 5D Mark II and its 24-105L lens (which turned out to be a good choice), I also brought a circular polarizer which I ended up not using.

At the Alamo

The evening of my arrival day was spent taking photos of the  Alamo from outside as it was already closed. I tried to be creative in the way I included people, as the location is crowded at all times and I didn’t want to end up with photos of a building surrounded by people but rather with the people telling a story. After that I strolled around Riverwalk taking more photos, and working with some long exposures to catch the movement of the passenger boats that run up and down the river. As I didn’t have a tripod with me I used whatever support I could find. Can you tell from a photo when a wall was used instead of a tripod? I can’t. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite photos I took of the Seattle skyline was shot using a trashcan to steady the camera. Do I encourage everyone to always travel without a tripod? Would I fly all the way to Easter Island without a tripod? Certainly not, but at times, when weight and movement restrictions are the most important things to you, being able to improvise can make the difference between a good photo and a bad snapshot.

Riverwalk

Riverwalk is a vibrant, entertaining location on the sides of the San Antonio river, filled with fancy hotels and great food outlets. That alone, makes you want to go back to San Antonio. Fortunately for me it’s passed high season therefore the city was not overly crowded with tourists and the temperature was comfortably warm, rather than uncomfortably hot.
After a good night sleep I went back to the Alamo for some more photos and this time I was able to get in (free admission, donations appreciated). The courtyard is quite nice and there are many details to photograph, one of my favorite was the lone star on a metal bench. I only had two hours left before catching a bus back to the airport (with a 4 hours layover in Salt Lake City, which I would have definitely preferred to spend in San Antonio) and I wanted to see more of the city. I walked to the San Fernando Cathedral, which is the oldest standing church in Texas, beautiful inside and out. I took some photos of the nearby City Hall building, and then walked to the Market Square where good Mexican food abounds. My day in San Antonio ended with a good and abundant meal at a very low price. Perfect ending, isn’t it?

San Fernando Cathedral

The Basic Illustrated Guide to Cross-Country Skiing

Hello everyone!


My Post Office Box today had a nice surprise: an advance copy of the book “Basic Illustrated Cross-Country Skiing” published by Falcon Guides. This is good news because I have spent nearly a year doing the photography and editing for this book. More than a thousand images were taken and I had to select just over 100 of them to make it into the book. The editing of those images took a considerable amount of time, particularly for the montage. The weight of the project was partially alleviated by new hardware. Let me take you for a minute behind the scene to tell you what I used:

– A new custom built Windows 7 64bit desktop computer with a Pentium i7 3.6Ghz overclocked by 20%, 16GB, GEForce GTX 560 Graphic Card with 2GB or RAM. 120GB SSD to contain the operating system and 4 different Hard Drives in removable trays for software and data, Liquid Cooling.

– Wacom Intuos 5 Large tablet (saved me hours of editing)

– Two 24” HD monitors

– Lightroom 4 64bit (first the beta which was already rock solid, then the final), Photoshop CS4 64bit, OnOne Perfect Layers 6

Some days were spent miserably outside in the cold with winds that would chill us to the bone, other days were warm and sunny and fun. Sometimes we would get the correct shot right away, other times we would have to try over and over before we got what we wanted. For an entire month the weather was so bad I could not do any shooting.
Scott (the author) and I have worked on many projects for ski magazines and the past experience made it easier as we could visualize the scene and know what the end results needed to be without so many words. Having worked for quite some time in Hollywood in movie production I must admit that this was not very different from shooting a movie.

My thanks go to Scott McGee for bringing his positive attitude (and food) to our photo locations, and to our editor at Globe Pequot Katie Benoit, for the constant positive reinforcement and flexibility with our deadlines.

The cover features Scott’s lovely family enjoying a morning of cross country skiing by the town of Kelly, WY

I have a few copies available for sale. The cost is $12.95 +$3 shipping in the US. Credit Cards/Checks/M.O. Ok – email sales@lucadiana.com