Droning

If you notice what sounds like a swarm of bees flying overhead this summer, think twice before you reach for your Epipen and look up. It may well be a drone passing. I know as I am now a full convert to playing/filming/using drones in my work to enhance events I cover, and just for the sheer thrilling fun of having a flying camera.

As it’s summer time here in Montreal, and many people are on or about to go on vacation to visit one of the thousands of lakes Canada is so lucky to have, I’ve put together a little video on lake swimming (music credit: Patrick Watson, “Swimming Pools”).

Travel Photography: Iceland

Drone view of Reykjavic near city centre

Drone view of Reykjavik near city centre

I’ve just come back from a week in Iceland with a feeling of unfinished business and hundreds of photographs untaken, or that could have been taken better. It is a bit of a photographer’s curse to be so drawn to a landscape that it is hard to peel away from it and I never feel like I’ve really captured the image I was after. It is also what makes me love photography.

Taking photos while travelling is something that brings me far more pleasure than merely travelling without my camera. There are people that say that you are not in the moment, that your lens separates you from the experience and that you are never fully present because you are preoccupied with image taking. I couldn’t disagree more.

My camera (and it doesn’t matter what you are using – your phone, a small handheld or a full bag of gear), is a tool for connection, not the opposite. Because of it, I am always looking at things, taking in sights and paying attention to details I would not otherwise even notice. I am watching for light and how it changes and how it plays across the surface of a landscape. How the shadows of clouds slowly glide down a mountainside, like caresses. How the wind ruffles the mane of a horse grazing in a green field….

Lunch time

Lunch time

The bliss of travel is to experience a place as a newborn but with the mind of an adult so that you can appreciate all that you are taking in. You see, smell, taste, feel a new place in a way that is difficult to do when you are at home in familiar environments. Your senses become more acute.

Postcards from Iceland

Postcards from Iceland

Iceland is perhaps one of the best places I’ve experienced yet in my travels for awakening the senses. The sweep of the landscape will often force you to simply stop and stare. (It is so magnetic that one of the leading causes of road accidents in Iceland is people driving off the road, the drivers transfixed on some feature of the landscape they are driving through).

I would be wasting my breath trying to put into words the impression the countryside leaves on the observer. It is a landscape made for poetry. And, happily, photography. There was not another traveller we encountered who was not holding some form of camera in their hands at all times, and though this may bother some people I completely understood the sentiment being one of the worst offenders. I usually had two cameras around my neck, in addition to my phone, as well as periodic stops to fly my Phantom DJI4 over landscapes that were impossible to resist.

There is such an abundance of raw natural beauty wherever you look in Iceland that I can only feel regret for the few hours each night I had to close my eyes to sleep. Luckily, I was there during a period of complete, all-encompassing sunshine, so “night” was but an idea as there was never any darkness.  A more perfect experience for a photographer I cannot imagine and I am only sorry I could not linger longer than the brief week I had to explore.

There are some places we travel to that leave us feeling opened up and reconfigured. As if the land itself leaves an emotional impression inside of you. Iceland is one of those places. And I know that I will return.

A word to the wise: bring a wide-angle lens and plan to stay as long as you possibly can.

Below is a link to my Iceland Highlights (with a video to follow):

http://julianhaber.photoshelter.com/gallery/ICELAND-HIGHLIGHTS/G0000tMP6_iY5M9U/C0000a_2IcvB4c5k

As promised, here’s the video:

How to take better beach portraits

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Context counts

Taking pictures on the beach is a great way to extend the pleasure of a vacation. Long after the waves have receded into the ocean and your week in the sun is a distant memory, photos and videos from your lazy days on the beach can cast a warm afterglow on the experience.

But it’s also a pain having anything electronic on the beach because of all the things that make a beach, well, a beach: salty air, salt water, intense heat, sand, sand, and more sand.

fuerte1I can’t do much about the sand except to recommend keeping your gear (which includes your phone) in a ziplock bag before stuffing it into the sandy catch-all beach bag, but here are a few recommendations for making the experience less technically frustrating and for maximizing the images you take home along with the seashells you gather up from the shore:

1) Shoot early or late: depending on where you are in the world, there are optimal times to go to the beach, and unsurprisingly, these also present the best lighting opportunities for photos. Everyone has probably heard the term “the golden hour” that photographers love to gush on about. It’s actually a bit of a misnomer as it pertains to two distinct periods during the day – shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset, and may not even last a full hour, but the idea is simply that these times are when the sun’s light is warmer, characterized by a golden, reddish tone which bathes people in a very flattering light. If you’re looking to get a great family portrait on the beach, grab a few glasses for the bubbly, gather up the kids and get to the beach about an hour before the sunset. Then position yourselves facing the sun, so the light is on your faces, and fire away (you’ll need a tripod-see #2)

Getting ready to surf at the "golden hour"

Getting ready to surf at the “golden hour”

2) Bring a tripod: there are myriad tripods on the market and I’m not going to recommend any specific brand, though I think the GorillaPod style (the original is by JOBY but there are now lots of copycat brands) is best suited for a beach as you can use the flexible grips to wrap around a piece of driftwood, or balance on your bag or even a bottle of water. The only disadvantage is height as the pod legs aren’t extendible nor very long. For that you can go for any number of travel tripods that are lightweight (no heavy SLRs here) but ideal for packing, carrying and using a lightweight camera or your phone beachside.

3) Watch out for overexposure: beaches are some of the brightest light saturated environments your camera will ever deal with. There is light bearing down on you from above, bouncing off the sands below and refracting off the water before you. Be careful when you set up your shot to expose for the faces in your image, and not have them turn into blackened silhouettes by letting the camera choose randomly.

beachportrait1.jpg4. Use a flash: given the excess of light on a beach you may wonder why I’d recommend using flash. If you want really great shots of people standing in front of a gorgeous sunset, a flash is the only way you can get it right. If you don’t either you’ll expose for the sunset behind them and their faces will be too dark, or you’ll expose for the faces and the sunset will disappear.  Use a flash to highlight everyone in the shot and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

With these few tips you’re guaranteed to take better pictures on the beach, and come away with more than just tan lines.

Happy travels!

Using HDR & long exposures for blur effects in your travel shots

Ghostpeople of Berlin's East Side Gallery

Ghostpeople of Berlin’s East Side Gallery

I read an article this morning by Adam Karnacz in Vantage (on Medium), called Removing People with Long Exposure, in which he described the technique he uses to disappear people from photos at sites where it is impossible to otherwise get a clear shot. Places like St. Peters in Rome, Stonehenge or any major tourist attraction. It’s a simple trick which I also discovered myself recently while visiting Berlin. I was at the East Side Gallery, a 1.7 km long section of the Berlin Wall left standing and completely painted over by artists after the wall came down on November 9, 1989. I had wanted to visit it the first time I was in Berlin two years ago, but ran out of time. Even this visit was rushed, arriving by cab at the end of the day just as the sun was setting. In addition to the dim lighting, there was a metal fence up in front of a large portion of the east-facing wall, erected by the city of Berlin just that day for temporary cleaning of the site. But even at this later time of day there were crowds of people milling by, congregating around the most recognizable sections of the gallery.

I did not have a tripod, as I rarely travel with one since the time I almost missed a flight leaving the Canary Islands because my tripod needed to be checked by security. It is cumbersome to travel with one anyway, but I’ve found a makeshift one can be found by using what you find in your surroundings. A pole to lean the body of the camera on one side works well, or the top of a car or nearby mailbox. A garbage can will work in a pinch, depending on how recently it was emptied out.

I set my camera to shoot high dynamic range (HDR) (which means the camera takes three shots in succession at three different exposures, one under, one correct, and one over-exposure, then merges the three images into one). Shooting HDR requires very static subjects, otherwise the merged images don’t match up and you get strange, electric looking outlines. However, an unexpected advantage I discovered was that if you shoot HDR where something is moving in front of your static subject, i.e., people walking, you get a beautiful shot of your subject and the people either blur right out of the picture or add a surreal, ghostlike effect, showing the traces of humans but nothing recognizable. (See some of my photos of Berlin’s East Side Gallery here)

I thought the effect worked particularly well in some of the shots of got of the East Side Gallery.

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As darkness fell, I switched over to using longer exposures, but this time pointed my lens to take in a bit of the road to capture oncoming traffic to create some random light paintings with headlights next to the wall imagery. I liked the effect in these shots as well.

Electric avenueAnd then there was this final image, which had nothing to do with the wall but was in one of the cars parked right in front of it that I was using as my makeshift tripod. Somehow seems to perfectly capture the quirky, captivating, energy that Berlin emanates and is maybe one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

Berlin's Hula Girl

Why preservation of old theatres matters – a visual tour of the Tampa Theatre

As a Montrealer, I am always grateful for any chance I get to walk around in March wearing shorts, so when a friend offered to give me and my family a tour of the old Tampa Theatre, I accepted immediately without thinking. I knew nothing of the theatre’s history or what to expect when I walked inside, which made the experience all the more exciting. To call it a “gem” aside from being a clichéd worn out description, really doesn’t do it justice. It feels to me like a time machine that transports you almost immediately into another era, before people had a million different ways to connect online and consume entertainment, wherever and however they want to.

The Tampa Theatre was designed in 1926 by architect John Eberson. He was one of the leading architects of his day known for the “atmospheric” style of design. A kind of all-embracing style that immerses you in an architectural experience with attention paid to every detail, all attuned to providing a singular experience of place that effectively absorbs you into itself so that you forget almost immediately the world you leave behind upon crossing its threshold. The tiled floors, stucco walls, carved and painted columns all conspire in the effect, culminated by an incredibly realistic “night sky” ceiling.

Theatres like the Tampa Theatre were cropping up all over America through the 20s and 30s and were the places where people gathered to watch the first motion pictures, newsreels and experience opulence at every day prices. They were roaringly popular well into the 60s when attendance began declining as families began moving to the suburbs and watching television instead of going out to the theatre. Sadly many theatres like this one were demolished to free up the value of the land on which they stood. The Tampa Theatre itself only narrowly avoided the wrecking ball by a motion passed to preserved with a majority of one vote. (They are still in need of donations to maintain and develop the theatre so if you fall in love with the space as I did you can donate here)

It was a pleasure to walk through the space and we were lucky to have a personal guide leading us through and sharing the stories and history of the spaces we passed through. As a photographer I was unable to get more than a few feet without snapping shots of the décor and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking what an amazing venue the space would make for hosting an event. But words won’t do the space justice so take a look at some of my shots from today and if you are in or plan to travel to Tampa, make time to visit the Tampa Theatre. The tour takes less than an hour and is well worth the time.

Feedback welcome – on your own terms

JHP on Yelp

Yelp me out if you want to!

If you are like me you get feedback requests from nearly every online service you use. I get texts from my cell phone company asking me to fill in surveys after every call I make to them, emails from news sites I subscribe to asking for my opinion, and then there are all those annoying little slidey-up, pop-up windows that appear when you’ve visited a site asking for your opinion. Not to mention apps that periodically request a review – even ones you’ve already paid for. I get it – businesses large and small (especially small) often thrive on positive reviews and sink on negative ones. Word of mouth marketing can be the Midas Touch or the Kiss of Death, depending on how well you perform as a business in satisfying your customer needs. For an independent freelance photographer, providing superior client service is just table stakes. Nonetheless, I’ve always believed that if a client is really happy with your work, they will make the time to say so. If you’ve really done a great job, telling their friends and network about you will reflect well on them as you can then provide the same great service to their social circles. Everybody wins.

But I respect my clients and people’s time above everything and since I find requests for feedback increasingly annoying, I assume others do as well.

Which is my round-about way of saying, that I’ve created a separate page on a the pretty popular recommendations service, Yelp, where reviews from my past, present and perhaps future clients are welcome. Good or not, your honest, real feelings and thoughts on the work I’ve done for and with you are welcome and if you feel so inclined, and have the time, please stop by and let me – and the world – know what you think.

Here’s the link: Julian Haber Photography on Yelp

Thank you!

…then we take Berlin

I recently visited Berlin for the first time and immediately fell in love with the city, now my second favourite place in Europe after Barcelona. I was attending a trade show (ITB, the world’s largest travel and trade show) but managed to get a few days around the busy show to wander around a little bit of Berlin and take a few snapshots I’m happy to share here (click on the image below to visit my gallery):

The Joy of Serendipity or How I Landed a Gig Shooting a Hotel and Restaurant in the Canary Islands

Three weeks ago I was going through my photo portfolio and slowly working my way through years of events, portraits and weddings preparing for a new Facebook photo page I’ll be populating with albums over the next few months. It is the kind of herculean task easily avoided and often set aside. It is particularly uninspiring on sullen hot days working out of my small home office. It was in just these circumstances that I received an email from a friend of mine whose family owns an historic ancestral 600 year old estate in Betancuria, a small village of no more than 200 inhabitants (several more goats) on the island of Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. She needed to hire a photographer to shoot the rooms in her hotel (www.princessarminda.com) and her restaurant and then tour the island to photograph its mountains, beaches, caves and other highlights, and would I be interested?

Completely unexpected, completely unprepared, I thought about it for five seconds and said yes. I’d never been the the Canary Islands and quickly decided that reorganizing my photographic portfolio well, it could wait another few weeks.A few days later I was flying to Frankfurt, then on to Fuerteventura where I arrived on a windy, cool evening at 9:30 pm. My friend pick me up at the airport and we drove through winding dark roads, flanked by cacti and not much else, wending our way into the tiny little town of La Vega where we met up with her father and two wonderful Estonian emigrés who were working at the hotel with them. I had a cool beer in my hand a minute later and really couldn’t believe that four days earlier I had no idea where I’d be in this moment.

There is something absolutely liberating and exhilarating doing something entirely out of the ordinary, totally unplanned and with no set expectation for what will happen. I knew I was there to photograph the hotel rooms and restaurant and islands sights, but when and according to what schedule was wide open. I had eight days to spend however I wished, visiting a picturesque island I’d never seen before with nothing to carry but my camera. No wallet, no keys, no maps, no phone, no direction but towards the best lighting. In such a disconnected journey it is easy to forget time. I noticed as well that the low-level uneasiness and minor stresses that easily fit themeslves into my normal life just melted away, like a wave smoothing out the sand on its return to the sea.

In the landscape of Fuerteventure with its austere hills, tall cacti and aloe vera spears there is none of the clutter you see in most urban lives and within days, my mind took on the same expansive emptiness and openness. At night the wind blows and it is cool while during the day the sun burns down with intense heat through mainly cloudless blue skies. In this timeless space, I found myself wandering from one view to the next, with no hurry, a hiker/photographer’s dream. I lived on fresh goat cheese produced just up the street from the Princess Arminda, slices of chorizo or jamon serrano (dried paper thin slices of ham), papas arrugadas (salted, dried whole potatoes usually served with a spicy garlic sauce), fresh figs I plucked myself from the tree, goat stews, cold draft beer and not much else. Such a vacation seems the perfect antidote for the stress of a modern life, and I was lucky to have it given to me.

There are a few photos of the island now posted on the Facebook page Julian Haber Photography that I’d like to share from the experience. For those interested in visiting the hotel, you can contact Juan, the owner here.