The Arch is an ancient creation, dating back to the second century. According to Wikipedia, the arch was created by the Mesopotamians and refined by the Romans, it is defined as a curvedmasonryconstructionforspanninganopening,consisting ofanumberofwedge likestones,bricks,orthelike,setwiththen narrowersidetowardtheopeninginsuchawaythatforcesonthe archaretransmittedasverticalorobliquestressesoneitherside oftheopening. Or simply put, the best way to hold things up.
Back home in Maine, I walked through this archway many times, which leads to Eagle Lake in Arcadia National Park. I always thought of myself as walking under a bridge or under a roadway. Just walking “under the overpass”. It was not until I began photographing in Europe that the Arch captured my attention. The Arch can be the perfect photographic frame.
This modern row of arches below is located at the Mamaison Hotel Le Regina Hotel in Warsaw Poland. Having a wake up morning coffee and reading a newspaper outdoors, under an arch is a relaxing way to start the day. The repeating shadows on the ceiling had a calming effect. We did this each morning of our stay, like the gentleman seated below.
A walk along the waterfront in the Polish port city of Gdanst brings you to this arched portal through which only a small portion of a restored city, completely destroyed by WWII bombing attacks, is visible.
The Estonian city of Tallinn has many arched passageways framing your entrance to the main square.
This archway also in Tallinn, with the sunlight partially block , provided some I the best shadows I encountered on the trip. My favorite is the shadow of the coffee sign projected on the side wall of the entrance.
This is an archway I found walking in the city of Prague, Czech Republic. more gritty than other arches but even in daylight it held an eerie feeling. Notice the figure of the person at the end. Afterwards I wondered, did I actually see him there when I snapped the shutter?
This archway beckons you into the medieval walks of the Royal Palace grounds Warsaw, Poland. One Archway leads to another. Warsaw is another city that was restored to its pre-war condition after being totally destroyed during WWII.
Barcelona Spain’s Medieval Section has many archways connecting its narrow, cobblestone streets.
In Krakow, Poland the Main Market Square’s Cloth Market is an architectural (arch) lovers dream.
The beautiful arched, glass covered passage ways of Paris, France.
An arch can even lure you down the garden path in a small English village.
When we announced our decision, at what we considered an advanced age, to enter the world of Ex-Pat Life, and move to Europe, people were excited for us. However, when we said where we were going, we repeatedly got the same question, “Why Poland”? An answer of England, France, Germany or Spain, probably would not have raised an eyebrow, but Poland, “Why Poland”? It seemed little was known about Poland as a travel destination.
The answer to the “Why Poland” question could never be answered in a single blog post. My original, oversimplified, answers have evolved, altered by the knowledge gained from the length of our stay, people we have met and the ease of travel throughout the European Union. Culture, history, food, geographic location and the uniqueness of people are only some of the answers. Language, I will get to later.
Now, after almost two years, a Krakowian friend asked me about the culture shock of moving to Krakow from the United States, I replied, “I think the greater culture shock will be moving back”.
During a European vacation to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary we started asking ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be nice to just move to Europe, instead of traveling back and forth to the United States?” After all, we were older, retired, the kid was grown. What would it take? What would we do? What country should we choose? Which country would let us move in? If not now, when?
This started book buying and had our research department about moving to Europe, what to do with your stuff, taxes and most important, healthcare. My wife, Grace, had given me the gift of “A Castle In My Back Yard“, a book written by Betsy Draine, Michael Hinden. Two people, both professors who moved to the South of France, purchased a home and stayed during their summer time off from work. I was fascinated by them and their book and it provided us the inspiration we needed.
We were retired and had already changed our life with a move from New Jersey, settling into a new life in Maine. No downsizing but bigger and surrounded by more land, very cold winters and lots of snow. I was successfully displaying and selling photography and Grace attended UMaine and became a Master Gardner.
Grace has written a description of how two American Senior Citizens packed up and settled in Krakow, Poland in her Wanderlusting Dreams Blog. I will add this very important note: Do not believe the ease of just packing up and moving to another country shown on television shows such as House Hunter’s International. It ain’t that easy, trust me on this one. Navigating a government bureaucracy, in a language that is foreign to you, and accepting you had do things their way, was not an easy task.
Now that you have read Grace’s saga of our journey, I can fast forward you to our new home.
The city of Krakow is Poland’s second largest after it’s capital, Warsaw. When you enter the town’s main square, you walk back in time into what is said to be the largest medieval town square in Europe and probably the world.
The Cloth Market dates back to the Renaissance and the city branches out from here.
Inside is clothing, jewelry, amber and souvenirs from Poland and Krakow.
Year round there are festivals. Food, Ethnic and Holiday celebrations utilize the Main Square and the Little (Mały) Square.
Name your favorite stuffing and you can probably find it inside of a Pierogi.
Bread (Cleb) making demonstrations and contests.
My favorite, Smoked Kielbasa. You will not find these in a U.S. Supermarket
I’ve only scratched the surface of “Why Poland” with some highlights. Still to come are centuries of history including Kings, Queens and Knights. There are stories of conquests and of being conquered. There is also plenty of legends, fantasy and Dragons. In the future, I will visit Wavel Castle, Wieliczka Salt Mines, Kazimierz section of Krakow, Art Galleries and the great Polish painter, Jan Matejko.
Recapping my five country excursion, (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland) we traveled some 900 miles (each way) with four people in a Volkswagen Golf. One small suitcase per person and my camera bag had to fit behind my legs in the front seat.
The biggest impact on gear, saving size and weight, was including the (relatively) inexpensive Canon 40mm STM f2.8 lens to the camera bag. The other lenses I brought along were the Canon 24-70mm f2.8, to fill in for the little wider or closer needs the 40mm could not cover and the Sigma 15mm f2.8 Diagonal fisheye. This lens would be perfect for capturing large sections of European town squares and church interiors. The camera body was the Canon 6D, smaller and lighter than my 5ds and it had internal GPS.
Below are a few of the images from that trip using my new combination (after way too much head shrinking) of camera body and lenses.
The first image was taken on a particularly dreary morning at the Port of Helsinki. With the 6d and 40mm lens attached I proceeded down the dock. I was unsure if I was supposed to approach this way or even if I was allowed to photograph there. There were no warning signs but still, I decided to maintain what I considered a safe distance.
The 40mm focal length made it easier for me to gauge what the image would look like without raising the camera to my eye. There was very little room to the left of the ship and with the lines converging as distance increased, I decided that including more fence, clouds and water would have a positive dramatic impact. Black and white just seemed to match the morning’s misty conditions. The seagull added itself, nicely.
The next image was captured Helsinki in the early morning. Again the 40mm perspective provided the exact angle I was looking for and I zoomed into position by walking a little forwards and backward, till I found the correct distance to subject I wanted.
In Estonia, I was invited to a jumping competition. My first thought was I should have found a way to fit in at least the 70-200mm. Lacking a longer lens, I concentrated on position and angle to the horses and jumps on the course. I hung on the fences and used a higher speed and did multiple burst acquisitions. I used a tighter crop in post.
In Tallinn, Estonia, I switched to the fisheye for the Town Square. Though the fisheye will distort the angles, it adds curiosity by pulling you into the image.
There was only one image that may have suffered from the lack of a long lens, a stork perched high in the nest, photographed from the car window.
The other thing I learned on this tour was, the older I get, the less gear I want to carry.
In April, I promised I would be back to relate how the equipment I took on my trip to the Baltic States worked out, and here it is.
It was a difficult decision. In my mind the piece of camera equipment I would need would be the piece I didn’t bring, cutting back, however, would a necessity. My wife and I would travel about 900 miles (each way) in a Volkswagen Golf with another couple. The luggage limit, one small suitcase per person for a ten-day trip which included Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. We live in Krakow but I included Poland because of the country’s size. Upon arrival in Tallinn, Estonia we would split up. Our friends going on to St Petersburg, Russia and we would continue by ferry, to Helsinki, Finland.
The first, most important choice was which camera body to choose. A choice between the Canon 5ds and the Canon 6D.
The second part of this is I would allow myself only one camera body. I usually carry two when out shooting on an extended trip like this. Also not knowing what I would see or what the weather would be, my preference is to not change lenses out in the open. My first choice, Canon 5ds. It’s fifty-megapixel sensor and large file size allowed for greater flexibility in framing and cropping. The negative would be physical size, which I never considered before when I lugged two of them around. The other negative for the 5ds on this trip is the lack of internal GPS.
I had the Canon GP-E2 but as an external unit, it made for extra equipment. A GPS is important for me, driving through small towns and villages each with several large churches, numerous monuments, and town squares. Based on the specifications of internal GPS, dimensions, and weight, I decided on the Canon 6D. I thought I had compromised but that didn’t prevent my brain from doing several flip-flops. Did I want the thirty mega-pixel down-grade?
As part of the decision process, I came across reviews that included complaints about the internal 6D’s GPS location accuracy and power drain. Though I owned the 6D for two years had yet to use it’s GPS function. Sorry to admit, I never even read that section of the manual. I concluded people may not have set up the camera/GPS function as to time zone or time of day. Most of the complaints about battery drain were from people who didn’t remember to recharge overnight or to carry an extra battery.
The 6D has one unusual aspect of the GPS. Once it’s on, it stays on, even with the camera power shut off. You must turn it off in the camera menu or create a user feature where you can do this. The other way is to remove the battery. I believe the engineers are allowing the camera to always remain aware of its location and you didn’t have to wait for it to regain satellite coordinates.
With the 6D decision made I moved on to the lenses.
More internet research brought me to the Canon 40mm 2.8 STM lens. I admit to never learning about this lens. Up till then, I thought the STM lenses were only for cropped sensors. The 40mm was different. A full frame lens. The price tag of $175 made it worth a test. Camera store.Try. Like. Purchase.
The lens solved a major problem. Wider view than the 50mm and narrower that the 35mm. It’s a closer match to my field of vision. Trying it out around Krakow, I found it easy to judge how close or far from a subject I needed to be without first looking through the lens. With its low profile, I didn’t get that, “why are you pointing that thing at me” look. In fact, I could hold it at chest level or even by my side and judge where to aim. The 40mm would be my “always on the camera, walking around lens”.
With that settled, I moved to the other lenses. The 70-200mm was out.
Even though it might be useful due to my loss of camera pixels from the 5Ds to the 6D. I had room for two more. I decided on the 24-70mm and the 15mm fisheye. The 24-70mm filled on both sides of the 40mm missing focal lengths and the fisheye would work well in the large European town squares and church interiors.
I photographed 95% of what I wanted, the way I wanted and I never had to change lenses outdoors. The only image that suffered, a Stork, a little too high up in its nest.
For many years I was employed in visual media, television broadcasting for the most part and to a lesser degree film and photography. In retirement, I returned to photography, which I first really explored in the early 1970’s. Up to that time, I had only taken pictures with whatever camera my family had and the film went to the “Drug Store” for developing. My return to picture making was never intended to be more than just a way to occupy free time. Retirement, however, can be a funny thing. I soon found myself owning a business. Dealing with taxes, business reports, and accountants. Somehow, I seemed busier than when I had a job.
This is my look back at how my fascination with photography started and why the importance of capturing that moment in time stayed with me all these years.
A New York television station where I was employed had a graphics department with some of the more talented and unusual artists in the city. Looking back I don’t think they realized how good they were but they were the coolest people I had met.
On one of my daily trips to just hang out in the Art Department, I saw Charlie (or Chuck) coming out of the darkroom carefully carrying a wet piece of paper. It was a photographic print and it was on the way to the dryer. I was mystified. He hadn’t gone in with a picture or a blank sheet of paper. How had this miracle happened?
After several days of persisting and buying beer I was allowed in the darkroom to “watch”. Strange term since at least ten minutes of this was in total darkness. I was instructed to turn on the light (the red one, which I had been shown as the first part of my lesson). I saw Chuck or was it
Charlie holding a small metal container gently rotating it upside down and back. “This is the developer”, he said. “I had the chemical in the canister before I started, I would be hard to pour that part in the dark.”
But how did the film get in there from the tiny yellow tube with green markings displaying, Kodak TRI-EX.
I was mystified at first, now then fascinated but I didn’t know I was hooked for life.
Before I was allowed to tackle an exposed roll of film, I was given a small reel of 35mm film leader. A gray piece of film that was added to to the front of an actual movie prior to the countdown. With this was a wire reel to place the leader on. I was shown what and how to do this spooling, which seemed so easy when they did it and left to stand there and practice. It required just the right squeeze and turning, one crimp and damage the negative. After a while, I entered the darkroom with these two items in hand and practiced in the dark.
I remember closing my eyes as I attempted the spooling onto the reel as if that would make it darker, harder and me better at it.
I learned how to place everything I needed and in the order, it was needed. I learned to see in the dark. The film canister, can opener, developer tank, were placed in order. Then the moment of truth. The door closed and locked, the red light on the outside was switched on, warning “No Entry”. Meticulously I set out to make personal history.
I began to shoot more often and I wasn’t bad at it. At the TV station, we had some press badges but no real press department. The news show used lots of wire service photos and I got to go on assignment to local events when I had the time. I’ll always remember that one of the assignments was Robert Kennedy’s funeral service and my photos were used on the evening newscast.
The age of Digital Photography started for me in the middle 1990’s. I still have vivid memories of the arrival of that yellow box with the Kodak logo. My first digital camera. I can’t remember how or why I selected this camera. It was probably more company name recognition than research. It was the Kodak model DC220 and it set me back about $300. A two Mega-Pixel digital powerhouse, packed with the latest technology. I planned on using it to take pictures of items my wife sold on her collectibles website. It was the first website I constructed (built with Adobe GoLive). According to the camera’s information sheet, it came with an 32 megabit compact flash card and cables to connect it to a computer through either a USB Port or Serial Port interface. I imagined that I already knew allot about high-tech stuff. My computer had a 386 processor, 4 megs of RAM and was complete with an RGB monitor which weighed more than a console TV. I was told this was more computing power than Apollo 11 had for the lunar landing. At least that’s what the sales guy said.
As reported in an article for Imaging Resource Review, “Kodak’s DC220 opens new possibilities and applications in the upper mid-range of the digital point & shoot world. The computer-like capabilities it incorporates give it unique power for vertical applications, such as real estate and insurance claims handling”. This probably meant it would work photographing collectibles. The camera possessed an ISO speed of 140, and available lens apertures range from f4.0 to f13.5 and f/4.7-f16 at maximum digital telephoto. It was good for making prints as large as 5×7 inches. I didn’t yet have a photo printer, but the future was out there.
Anyway, It broke. The camera insides kept working but the case was made of an inexpensive soft plastic. I used a tripod for the product shots and the screw mount receptacle in the camera instead of being metal was also a soft plastic. One too many tripod mounts and it shredded. It was under warranty so I sent it to Kodak for repair and they quickly sent it back denying my repair request. “Damaged byCustomer“ in bold letters. So I called Kodak’s Rochester, New York headquarters. I was connected to a vice president in charge of something and he explained that in order to repair it they would have to replace the entire case as it was a one piece mold. So what happened to that “Damaged by Customer part”? I’ll always remember he then added, “We didn’t think anyone would actually use a tripod”. Ah, so it was my fault for using the camera as advertised.
To my naked eye and the images in the ad, it certainly looks like the tripod connection was a separate part but I was supposed to believe the VP and not my lying eyes. I mentioned to him that the camera had a “timer function” (From Kodak’s press release: A 10-second self-timer feature lets the photographer get in the picture with the subjects). I pleaded, “It can’t suspend itself so why wouldn’t I use a tripod?”
My common sense position fell on deaf ears, I lost my case. (I’ve since learned that “common sense” can sound like sarcasm). I managed to remove a base screw from something else and wedge into place so that it was good enough for shooting on a tripod, compensating for the slight tilt to the left.
That was the end of my relationship with Kodak but now my feet were firmly planted in the age of the digital camera. Kodak never became the leader in the field of consumer digital photography which the articles of the day predicted and I never purchased another Kodak product.
My second camera was the Sony-Mavica. It utilized floppy disks instead of compact flash for image recording. This made for an easier workflow. Now I could walk the ten steps from the table-top area to the other side of our basement office and deliver the graphics to myself for editing, without cables and adapters.
The word Photography is defined as “the art or practice of taking and processing photographs”. This definition has not, nor should it refined for adjustment to the digital age. Because the concept has not changed.
There are those who consider themselves “purists”, meaning analog, film and darkrooms. They are repulsed by the sin of digital’s instant gratification, preferring to do their deeds in the dark and not move towards the light.
OK, enough of that. It’s would be like debating Canon or Nikon. That’s not what this is about. This is about equipment in general. Simply cameras and lenses. Which ones work best for you and how much of this stuff do you really need. This is also about age and money. That’s the age of the photographer, not the age of the equipment.
When I started with film, life was simpler with allot less choice. Especially for me and my budget resources. A lot of money in 1969 (around $850) could get you a
Hasselblad or Bronica, the great single lens reflex cameras.
If you liked the format (2 1/4 x 2 1/4) for less cash you could get a Yeshiva-Twin Lens Reflex or Rolleiflex.
A Kodak Instamatic in 1971 would be around $45 but still, something you would you might
have to up save for.
For the average person who snapped the birthday party and dropped off their film at the drug store for developing, the choice came down to which Instamatic was popular.
For the enthusiast however it was 35mm. Canon, Pentax, Nikon, Olympus or Minolta. The 35mm through the single lens reflex with “Electric Eye”, built in light metering and auto operation. Though the electric eye had been around for years it became my thing in the late 60’s early 70’s. No more separate light meter.
The Instamatic cameras and the twin lens reflex cameras did have an advantage of sorts over the 35mm. You couldn’t change their lenses. The 35mm brought with it the wide angle, telephoto, and normal lenses, which led to the invention of the consumer camera bag, plus sore shoulders, backs and necks.
This brings me to today’s problem, which is pretty similar to yesterday’s problem. Do I really need that much equipment or to spend that more?
I am not an equipment expert or a real gear-head but in recent years I have learned to ask myself these questions, “What am I going to do with it if I get it? Or do I need it or do I just want it?
During the past two years, my wife and I have been traveling Western Europe. I have turned to travel photography because it’s a way to capture what I like and provide inform to others of what’s out there. We travel by plane or train and my equipment stays close by. Traveling usually with two camera bodies and four lenses it gets weighty but I only have to maneuver till I get to the hotel and decide what to take for the day. Quickly for those asking, “Why two bodies?” This is because I can end up in situations where if I changed a lens in the open bad things could happen inside the camera no matter how careful I am. I have had to remove dust spots the size of golf balls from images, then spend hours getting the camera sensor clean.
Until recently I never thought about down-sizing but preparing for a trip to Estonia, Lithuania and Finland came the awakening. I would be traveling by car with three other people. Not a Chrysler 3000 type of car but a sensible sized European car. Additionally, we would be dropped off in Estonia to make my way to Finland by ferry while my friend and his wife went on to St Petersburg, Russia, and my wife and I would meet up again for the return. How would I pack everything I needed? How would I handle dragging the weight around? The answer was simple, I couldn’t.
Taking the cowards way out, the first thought was “buy something”. I hear mirrorless is “hot”, followed by frantic research, mostly on the B&H Photovideo website. Ah hah, Fujifilm has a new model. Read reviews, everybody loves it. Compact and lightweight OK, buy, buy. Wait, wait. Does it have GPS? Is it adaptable to the lenses I already have? GPS has become an essential tool for the old guy who forgets what the pen and pad in the camera bag are for. No and no.
After a reasonable time for pouting, I looked to my camera gear to see if I could lighten the load. I have Canon 5ds bodies and they are pretty hefty but also 50megapixel cameras. On the shelf was my Canon 6D, the backup camera. Mmmmmm. Lightweight and built-in GPS, fits my lenses, sold. Good to sell yourself a camera you already own. On to lenses. I didn’t know what lighting situations I would face but most of my lenses are 2.8, except for the 50mm(1.4) and 85mm(1.4). The 50 and 85mm were too long and the 16-35mm was too wide. I only wanted to travel with 2 lenses. I settled on the second lens, 24-70mm 2.8. For the first lens that I would want to use 90% of the time, I tried out the Canon 40mm 2.8 STM pancake. Stop laughing, it may look little funny but it’s terrific little lens, quiet, low profile and $179 dollars. It turned out that what I needed was new thinking, not allot of new gear.
Here’s the new travel kit. Canon 6D with 40mm 2.8 attached. Canon 24-70mm, to go a little wider or longer and just for fun a Sigma 15mm 2.8 diagonal fisheye. The lens changing rule is gone but I will try to find shelter (and the cleaning kit is in the suitcase).
Posting the outcome when I return in May.I f you have thoughts on traveling with equipment, please share.