Yesterday, I posted a photo of a shelf of books located in the State Archives of Siena. In the writeup, I neglected to make mention of the amazing artwork that can be found on the walls and ceilings above the shelves. It is quite beautiful and you could tell that a master artist painted them. Looking up at this mural, you would swear that the columns and stonework were real, not a two dimensional rendering. I could only be impressed with the mastery of the painter who created it and how long it must have taken him.
One of the stops that was scheduled for the group was a visit to Archivio di Stato di Siena (Archives of Siena) to explore some of the documents that included over 60,000 parchments dating from 736 to the present year, the resolutions and statutes of the Republic and the correspondence and records of the judicial and financial administrations of Siena. My first thought was that it might be somewhat interesting, but, from a photography standpoint, that it would not be a place that I would be capturing a lot of photos. That mindset ended when I walked into the first room of the archive. Shelves dominated the room with books upon books on them. One room led to another. The age of each book could easily be determined by looking at the binding. The differing book covers were mesmerizing and you could actually see the advancement of materials over time by just looking at the bindings. I ended up taking more photos than I imagined and left with a great impression of the archives as both a resource and a photographic subject.
When packing for my trip to Italy, I thought I packed enough clothes to cover all the climates I would encounter at the various locations we would be visiting. Tuscany and Cinque Terre were unusually cool for the time of year but my wardrobe was up to the task. We were watching the forecast for our Dolomite leg of the trip and realized that we were ill prepared for it from a clothing standpoint. The Dolomites were experiencing very cold weather and lots of snow, so much so, that it was setting records not seen for 70 years. At first, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be seeing those green valleys with those quaint villages amid the towering mountains. The ruggedness of the mountains covered with snow quickly changed my mind. On the day that I captured this photo, we had run into a big snowstorm as we neared one of the passes and ultimately turned around. No it wasn’t what I expected, but it sure was beautiful.
Located in the center of Tuscany, Siena is famous for its medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year. Our very first day was a long one with train ride from Florence and a cab to our hotel. Talk about a room with a view, the hotel’s advertising slogan, “A window to Siena” more than lived up to its billing. After getting situated, we headed out and explored the city streets. After walking the streets for hours, we had a late dinner (an early dinner for Italians) and then back to the room. I wanted to get a view of the city at night and once I walked onto our balcony, I immediately left and came back with my camera and tripod. Siena proved to be just as beautiful at night as it does in the daytime.
When I travel on a photography trip, I am typically out in Mother Nature photographing mountains, lakes and amazing landscapes. My recent trip to Italy with Nathaniel Smalley offered me a mixture of cities, history and landscapes. Part of our visit in Siena, we visited the Siena Duomo complex to climb to the top of the unfinished facade of the Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral). We also decided to explore the museum (Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana) that houses major artwork by artists such as Donatello and Pisano. My favorite part of the museum that really captivated me was this display of statues and stained glass. The statues are the work of Giovanni Pisano, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia. The masterpiece for me is the Maestà altarpiece and Stained-Glass Rose Window created by Duccio di Buoninsegna. The lighting was wonderful and created an atmosphere worthy of these works of art.
Earlier this week, I posted a photo of an alleyway where I was able to catch a passing gondolier. That is not the norm. Many of the alleyways are seen from a footbridge and often have tons of activity on them, whether it of people walking around; boats (not always pretty ones) tied up along the water; gondolas passing through and under the footbridge (one gondola makes a great subject, multiple gondolas do not); or ripples left by boats and gondolas. For me, I prefer quiet scenes where there is no activity and the water is so still, it looks like glass. They are much harder to find and when you find them, you better shoot fast for fear that something or someone will ruin the moment. On my two visits to Venice, I have found that simply wandering the city is the best way to find these spots. If you hear or see people, head the other way. If you see stores or restaurants, head the other way. When you hear nothing, the likelihood of finding that special place is much higher. So, following my own advice, I found this spot that had the perfect reflection - I couldn’t find it again if I wanted to as I had no idea where I was. It was a moment in time that I was happy to experience and capture on digital film.
I have long had the Dolomites on my bucket list and finally was able to check them off the list last month. Over the years, I had often heard that the Dolomites were also known as the Italian Alps and that is technically true. Ask the locals whether they are one and the same, you might get a different answer. So a little research was in order to determine the difference in terms.
The Alps are the most extensive mountain ranges in all of Europe, encompassing eight different countries including Italy. The Alps are so massive and cover such a large area that trying to classify them into sections have gotten no further that the broad names of Eastern Alps and the Western Alps with the center being in Switzerland. Northern Italy is where the Alps are and the Italians have used a similar naming scheme that divides the “Italian Alps” into the Northeastern and Northwestern sections. The Northeastern section of the “Italian Alps” are known as the Dolomites. The Northwestern section is simply known as the Alps.
We spent all of our trip in the Dolomites. No matter what the name, the Dolomites are simply gorgeous. There are towering mountains with many small villages that can be found mostly in the valleys but, in some cases, well up on the mountains. On our way to our first hotel, we passed the small town of Borca di Cadore (population 809). As soon as we saw it, we had to stop and I took this photo. The town is dwarfed by Monte Antelao, which is the highest mountain in the Dolomites (aka King of the Dolomites), measuring a little over 10,000 feet. To illustrate how massive the overall Alps are, Antelao only ranks as the 282nd highest mountain of the 537 peaks over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in the Alps.
Walking the streets of many Italian cities amid the architecture and history just captivates your mind’s eye. Siena, for example, was founded sometime between 900 and 600 BC. Think about that for a minute. That means the streets that I was walking on could have been around for over 2,500 years. I don’t know about you, but that boggles my mind. Think of all that might have happened on them over that timeframe. How many people walked on this street. The amount of history they have seen, both good and bad. While many of the surrounding buildings were not around during that whole time, they are still old enough to have a lot of stories to tell. As I took in the great curved architecture that surrounded us, I noticed this one lone tree silhouetted against the background. I started to wonder how old it was, how it survived over the years and many other questions that I knew would be unanswered.
Landscape photographers can control a lot of factors when planning a shoot, but one thing they can’t control is the weather. We had visited this beautiful landscape location known as the Villa (not pictured in this photo) a couple days before and were completely shut out. No rain, but rather, colorless overcast skies. Not conducive to getting that great early morning light. We spent several hours hoping for the best and ended up shooting some flowers. I was hoping that we would return to the location but it wasn’t on the schedule. Fortunately, we somehow got it back on the schedule and headed back out a couple of days later. When we first got there, it looked like a total repeat of the previous visit. Overcast skies prevailed. We decided to wait it out and hope against hope that we would get some clearing. The landscape gods were smiling upon us and the sun began to light up this Tuscan gem of a location.
Other than canals and their footbridges, there are two other things that are in abundance in Venice: alleyways and gondolas. The alleyways in Venice are everywhere, as they provide very narrow spaces to walk between the numerous buildings that are squeezed onto the 118 islands that make up the city. Of the over 400 footbridges found in the city, you can count on an alley being present. Gondolas, on the other hand, seem like they are everywhere but, in reality, they number only about 400 or so ( at their height in the 1800’s, gondolas numbered over 10,000). The number of gondoliers also number around 400 and are licensed by a guild. To become a gondolier requires 400 hours of training over 6 months, an apprenticeship and the passing of a comprehensive exam. I am guessing that there is a waiting list to apply for becoming a gondolier as the average one is estimated to earn $150,000 annually.
When we walked down this extremely narrow alley, we were surprised to see a gondola pass by. From our angle of sight, it didn’t even look like there was a canal there as there was barely enough room for a gondola to fit. We barely even saw the gondola itself. It almost appeared that the gondolier was floating on air passing that alley’s opening. We then went into a waiting game, hoping to capture another gondolier sighting. That required a lot of patience as there was no guarantee that it wasn’t just a stray gondola passing by. Finally, we experienced a few that passed by. This one was probably my best shot with the classic red hat and striped shirt.
Before my recent Italy trip, almost all of my friends who have visited Italy told me that I must visit the Tuscan city of Siena. I was a little concerned before I got there that I would be disappointed because they hyped it up so much. When I checked into our hotel and looked at the cityscape, I realized that they hadn’t hyped it enough. Located in the center of Tuscany, Siena is famous for its medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year. Settled sometime between 900 - 400 BC, its architecture screams history. Built on a Tuscan hill, the streets and alleyways seem to go in just about any direction. Walking around the city, you feel like you entered a time machine and were transported to a medieval time. While there are some cars present that tell you that you are still in the present, there is no doubt that Siena was built for its people and that, even today, that fact is still true.
From a photography standpoint, Siena really shines during the golden hours when the setting sun adds a glow to an already perfect scene to something even more amazing. The buildings just pop when the evening sun hits them and I sometimes just stood there and took it all in instead of shooting photos of the scene. On my previous visits to Italy, Venice has always been my favorite one. After visiting Siena, Venice has a new rival for me.
The Cappella della Madonna di Vitaleta (Chapel of the Madonna) is a landmark in Tuscany. It is famous, as it once was the home of a Renaissance statue of the Madonna that was sculpted by the artist Andrea della Robbia. The chapel is on private land and is reachable by walking on a long dirt road thanks to the owners allowing access to the chapel. The actual origin of the chapel is unknown and it is thought to have been constructed during the Renaissance period. Its first mention was in a document written in 1590. The chapel is quite small and we were able to photograph it from a distance from the highway before gaining access to the hill it was built on. The clouds were amazing this evening and I took this just as they were beginning to put on a show for us.
Well, it has been a long time since I have posted a photo on my blog or on social media that wasn’t an iPhone shot. There are lots of reasons for my absence, but they all sound like excuses to me now. Upon reflection, I think I just fell into a rut and wasn’t feeling overly inspired. I just returned from a three-week trip to Italy and I came away re-inspired. I won’t be posting a lot over the next month or so as I am on the road again, but I am sure that I will be back to normal after I return in late June.
As for Italy, I have fallen in love with the country, landscape and its people. It always had a spot in my heart as my mother’s family immigrated from there. Now that I have explored new parts of it, I am amazed at the diversity of its beauty. From the architecture and history of cities like Florence and Sienna to the quiet streets of small towns in Tuscany to the towering mountains of the Dolomites to the people and canals of Venice to the ruggedness of the Italian Coast, it has something for everyone.
This is my first photo I have edited from the trip. It is one of the five villages that make up the renowned Cinque Terre: Manarola. The views of the Cinque Terre are second to none. The history of how they came to build these villages, starting at the top of these cliffs to protect themselves from invaders (Turks and pirates) is fascinating. Over time, as the threats waned, they began to build their homes closer and closer to the Mediterranean Sea until there was nowhere left to build. When I edited this photo, I wanted to portray an old-world feel to the scene, which I hope I did.
As I have slowly creeped along reviewing my photos while transitioning to On1 Photo RAW, It has become obvious to me that I have developed quite an affinity for Badlands National Park. Ever since I visited the park in 2013, I find myself gravitating toward the South Dakota folder to pick photos to edit and post. This "elite" status has often been reserved for my favorite places, namely Yosemite, Banff, Grand Teton and Arches. It is clear to me that they need to move over to make room for Badlands. The only regret that I have is that it took me so long to finally visit there. While it is remote and can be harsh during parts of the year, once you get there, the landscape is among the most diverse and accessible and is worth the trip. Where else can you walk out of your hotel room and within minutes get sunset shots like this one?
There are two things that I remember vividly from Crater Lake: the unique manta ray shape of Wizard Island and some of the bluest water found in the world. The water is also some of the purest that you will find anywhere. When researching the reason for why the color was so blue, I found the answer on the National Park Service's website (paraphrased in the next paragraph).
The water is so blue because there is hardly anything else in it. The water molecules found in Crater Lake contain no sediments, algae, pesticides or pollution, making it very pure. The water molecules absorb all of the color spectrum of sunlight except for the blues. The key to creating the deep blue color is having enough water to absorb the other colors. Since there are 4.6 trillion gallons of water in the lake, there is no problem.
Tucked away near the Colorado - Utah border is a cool National Monument that I try to visit whenever I visit Moab. Located about 20 minutes outside Grand Junction, the 23-mile Rim Rock Road rises 2,000 feet to give visitors to the park great vistas of the surrounding landscape. There are some amazing canyons along the road with sandstone and granite formations that tower above the canyon floor.
I had flown into Grand Junction and planned to shoot sunset and sunrise in the park before heading to Moab. When I landed, the rain started and continued through the afternoon. I was almost ready to hang it up but something told me to at least drive the road and scout out for the next morning. As I started up the road, the weather began to clear and some great golden hour sun began to peek through (you can see the storm in the distance). At one of the pullouts, the sun lit the tops of these formations just right and made it worth the trip.
Misty Fjords National Monument is located 40 miles east of Ketchikan, Alaska, along the Inside Passage Coast in extreme southeastern Alaska. The area is nicknamed "The Yosemite of the North" for its similar geology. Formed by glaciers, the glacial valleys are filled with sea water. The walls of these valleys are near-vertical and range from 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level and drop 1,000 feet below it. The scenery ranges from tidewater estuaries to mountains often shrouded in mists, sky-blue lakes, waterfalls and the seemingly endless evergreen forest. Misty Fjords' road-less location is only accessible by floatplane or boat from Ketchikan. We took a tour boat out of Ketchikan for a 6-hour boat tour. The weather was pretty raw with periodic rain. Along the way, we saw it all, rugged mountains, eagles, the very cool New Eddystone Rock and waterfalls. New Eddystone Rock is a pillar of basalt that originated from fractures in the floor of Behm Canal over the last 5 million years. The texture of the New Eddystone Rock indicate that it was form by volcanic magma that rose above the surface of the water.
There are very few terrains that look so different from one another depending on where you are than in the Badlands of South Dakota. Driving the 31 mile road that traverses this rugged park, the landscape changes many times from jagged rock formations to mounds of rocks. They vary in forms of mountains, mesas, canyons, buttes and hoodoos. These formations also have very different layers of rock, often having very different and unusual color.
To explain the formation of the badlands as simply erosion would be a mistake although it is a major contributor to its development. The process of deposition was prominent in the building of the different layers of mineral material such as clay and sand. Each layer solidified and was then covered with the next one over a period of almost 50 million years. When the layers solidified, erosion from wind and water created the many different landscapes that are found there today.
This photo, taken at the extreme eastern end of the park, shows the jaggedness of the peaks. If you at the foreground, you can see how the erosion created these short rock formations that extend well behind and to either side of where I am standing. I have only visited this place once and am really hopeful that I can get back there soon.
One of my favorite spots in Acadia National Park is at Otter Beach (aka Boulder Beach). As can be seen in this photo, the beach is not exactly your typical sand beach, but rather a bunch of large rounded stones that are quite difficult to walk on. I muddled my way carefully over the stones (I have taken a fall there before) in the hopes that I would have a decent sunrise, so that the stones would begin to glow golden. My first location was closer to the water but it turned out that the tide was coming in. Even though my boots were waterproof, the water went above them, resulting in getting both feet soaked. As a result, I moved back to this position and was rewarded with some great light. Not only did the rocks on the beach light up, but the Otter Cliffs in the distance also glowed orange.
Going through my photos while transitioning from Lightroom to ON1 Photo RAW has been a tedious task. This is offset by the little nuggets of gold that allow me to relive old memories through my photos. I captured this photo way back in 2008 on our first Mediterranean cruise. My wife and friends like cruising but, being a photographer, I prefer to stay on land to take advantage of the golden hours of sunrises and sunsets, which are nearly impossible on a boat. The great advantage of a cruise for me is that I have visited places that I never would have. That is the case with Malta.
The island of Malta is located south of Italy and north of Tunisia. It has a population of less than 500,000 and is a beautiful place to visit. We only spent a day there but I particularly loved traveling to the northern part of the island to visit the ancient city of Mdina. Built in the 8th century by Phoenician settlers, it was once the capital of Malta. Over the centuries, other areas of the island became more populated and the capital changed to Valetta. Today Mdina has a population of only 300 and property is handed down to descendants. Walking the streets and layaways of this walled city transports visitors to medieval times. The architecture is ancient with a Baroque look to it. Walking the alleys like this one was spiritually lifting when thinking of all of the history this city has experienced.