Ah, the Photo Blog, or Phlog, if you will. My name is Raffaella, and this is my home for all the wonderful adventures related to the form of expression I so love. You'll find various experiments - some with fire or smoke bombs! - , BTS photos and video, quality links, and more. Light and creativity are an obsession, the possibilities limitless: join me on this great ride to skip along to find what's out there.
When not exploring what I can do with my camera, lights, exploding balloons, or flaming flowers, you'll find me indulging in fancy cheeses, planning my Next Great Trip, or getting lost with the StumbleUpon button on my browser. I love my family, my pets, new lands, light, fireplaces, cheese, pasta, cheese, pasta (not a typo that those are there twice!), The Princess Bride, The Professional (Luc Besson's not Stallone's), books ("real" or Kindle).... I'll just stop there before I really start a run-away sentence.
I must give credit to Mom for starting me on the path to art & all things creative, Dad for my love of food & Italy, and to big 'Sis for helping me through lots of life's rough stuff with humor, wisdom, & empathy.
In addition to my musings here, I often post new work and experiments on my Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/raffaluce
Ah, the grand and near-mythical 365 Project: attempted by many, completed by more than a few, and thought about - and dismissed - by probably many more. I've thought about attempting this before: creating something new every single day for an entire year. It seemed unattainable; something completed by mad artists or students with lots of free time on their hands. Obviously that is not remotely the case, as many busy amateur and professional photographers undertake this intimidating task. I decided to do this quite literally last minute: I think it was about 11:30 PM on New Year's Day when I made the snap decision to just go for it.
The result is nothing spectacular, but I did what I could with what energy was left at that hour. If I'm not mistaken, (and I may very well be, it may have been Cartier-Bresson) Ansel Adams once said something to the effect of this: to create just a dozen great images in a year is an incredible feat. That is rather loosely translated from a distant memory of something I read, but it has stuck with me nonetheless. Even if Adams didn't say that, the man had some great deep thoughts on the art of the camera. With that in mind, I can't really beat myself up when every photo isn't AMAZING. It's also about learning, making mistakes, and experimenting.
So why is my 365 Project super-duper special? Well, it isn't. At least not to many - most - people. Those who stumble upon this blog, or happen to be a "Fan" on my Facebook Page, might find it kinda interesting, a little diversion from your day. I must confess that I am a terrible, terrible procrastinator, and have been my entire life. Homework, house work, job searching, editing, returning library books - all put off til the last (or too late) possible second. This, committing to something of this nature, is special for me for reasons unique to me.
Plainly, I'm tired of the excuses I make to NOT do something. One hang-up I had/have about this kind of endeavor, is that I don't always have time to break out the "good" camera. Well, I am lucky to have a snazzy new iPhone 5, which has a not-too shabby camera on it. So on days where I just can't get to my big guns and Alien Bee strobes, I'll have to make it work. This presents a challenge to not only see creatively every moment of the day (once I've had my coffee!), but to work within the limits of the tool at hand.
I've eschewed the various apps for photo editing for lacking flexibility, but the new options from the likes of Photoshop, Snapseed, and Camera Awesome let me enjoy a new degree of control and creativity. The level of commitment required from a 365 also demands a certain acceptance that not every image will be up to my usually harsh personal standards, especially on the technical side. However, each day will require that I exercise creative thought, adapted techniques, problem-solving, and vision. I am convinced that if [when!] I get to the end of the year and have stuck with it, I'll be surprised how much I've grown, both as a photographer and as a procrastinator.
I may not be thrilled by every day's photo that I create, but I will be damned pleased that I've kept my pledge that day. So, without further ado, here are the rest of the results from my first 9 days as a 365-er. Only 356 to go!
Puglia is a little-known (though recently on the rise) region of Italy taking up the heel and achilles of The Boot. This is the region my father hails from, and is peppered with hardy little towns amongst olive groves and beautiful, pristine beaches. On my last visit, I was able to visit a number of the small towns scattered about the rugged countryside.
A forlorn set of ruins in the countryside underneath an impressive evening cloud and light display.
One of the larger towns is Lecce, southeast of Brindisi in the tip of the Salento peninsula. With a population of around 100,00 people, it is a vibrant spot but doesn't overwhelm either. Filled with baroque architecture, it of course has a number of lovely churches but also boasts a small castle and a Roman Ampitheatre.
Lecce's castle is often simply referred to as the Castello di Lecce but more specifically Castello Carlo V. It was built in the 12th century, on orders from Charles V. It has served various purposes, from prison to military headquarters, but now is a well curated museum and architectural sight. The fairly utilitarian exterior belies a beautiful interior, which also hosts art exhibits from time to time.
While visiting, we were given the warmest welcome by two workers there. The lady (oh, how I wish I could recall the names!) gave us a personal, impromptu tour of the castle, including a special visit to the roof where evidently tourists are typically not permitted. Aside from a group of school children, we mostly had the place to ourselves, which was truly delightful.
After the Castle, we ambled into the old town, taking in the amazing baroque-style architecture strewn about the city. Apparently, kindness is not a rarity here. As I approached a church to peek through the open doors, I realized they were getting ready to close up - most likely for lunch, as it was about that time. The older gentleman kindly offered to let me in to have a look around. I'm so glad he did, as the amazing & intricate wood ceiling was absolutely worth it. I would have liked to stay longer, but did not want to abuse his kindness.
The aforementioned Roman ampitheatre is smack in the middle of town. While nothing compared to Rome's infamous Colosseo, this one seems small but still managed to seat 15,000 people. It is actually below street level, as it was only excavated in the 1930's. Even though the buildings surrounding this archeological site are far from new, they seem positively modern next to this Roman treasure from the 2nd century!
The remainder of our too-brief time in this little treasure of a town was spent simply wandering the streets. Following what intrigues you or simply strikes a chord is my absolute favorite way to soak up a place. The only thing I can think of that would improve that experience, is being in the company of a local who knows the little stories and tid-bits that add priceless context to the streets, alleyways, and buildings. Check out more snippets of this terrific place below!
I am not a morning person. As a kid, my mom (poor lady!) would have to start waking me well before I really needed to get up just to make sure I made it to school on time. Night has always been my favored time - I would get busted reading books well after I was supposed to be asleep. Even now, I'm rarely tired until at least after 1:00AM. Though now, no one scolds me for reading into the wee hours anymore.
When I'm traveling though, it's a whole new ball game. Almost instantaneously, my sleep habits shift. I go to bed (and sleep!) by 11:00 PM. Morning comes as a welcome friend to me, not something I hide from under the covers. I can't imagine being in another country, one I may not see for years more, and sleeping in. Exploring a city in the pre-dawn hours is delightful, even meditative. Everything is so hushed, the bluish light gently draping historic buildings and warrens in calm.
The legendary "Ponte dei Sospiri" just before a foggy sunrise. This part of Venice is usually near-chaotic, but was completely deserted at about 6:00AM
In Venice, where the narrow and twisting streets are packed with people even outside of peak tourist season, seeing it virtually empty was a true treat. I only saw a handful of people - a lone nun passing through Piazza San Marco, the garbage collectors with their ingenious carts trundling to the garbage boats - and the silence was pervasive yet airy. I could hear the famous pigeons slowly waking from their own sleep, the gentle lap of water against ancient palazzi, and the soft bump-thump of gondolas awaiting the day's tourists.
The best part about getting up early, especially from a photographer's viewpoint? Not having to restrict yourself to close-ups or super long exposures to get clear out the crush of people that descend by mid-morning. While people are indubitably part of what shapes a place's personality, experiencing a place in a rare time of tranquility shows a whole new side.
The Doge's Palace with the Basilica just behind it, seen from an archway in Piazza San Marco. Just me and the pigeons!
Every place I go, I am determined to rise at least two hours before the sun at least once. Twice or thrice is even better! For me, it is a perfect way to create travel art, and it makes me feel so calm and happy. Once the sun is rising in the sky and the people are bustling around, I can sit in a small cafe with coffee and a pastry and ride that feeling for a while. It's a beautiful few hours that are inevitably one of the absolute highlights of any trip I've taken. Then I get to go back to my bed and catch a pre-lunch nap!
Florence's Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River just after dawn. The other advantage to getting up super-early is that you can really give the light time to develop without feeling rushed.
Dawn breaks along the Amalfi Coast, viewed from the hamlet of Praiano. Crowds were not necessarily a concern here (though in Amalfi they were in abundance!), seeing this subtle sunrise's unique colors and light was absolutely worth rising early!
Travel photography is undoubtedly my first photographic love. Capturing a sense of place, both in sweeping vistas and small details, is a delectable challenge to me. The one part I've always struggled with, though, is people. I never seem to know quite what to say, or how to approach. I don't want to seem disingenuous or make the person feel like a cheap commodity. The last thing I want to do is make them feel like they have a stalker!
Sometimes people are more receptive than you expect, such was the case when I was in Rome several years (too many!) ago. The morning market at the Campo dei Fiori provides a wealth of colors, shapes, textures, and patterns to indulge in. The energy is great, and completely worth getting up at 5AM to make it as the vendors set up their stalls. We arrived just as their day was beginning, and moments later an energetic young lady with a mop of blonde curls spilling from under her helmet pulled up to one group on her little scooter. She had brought a hearty dose of morning caffeine for everyone, along with a brilliant smile. She did speak some English, which along with my modest Italian, meant we could chat a little. She was a bit camera shy at first, but the rest of the group didn't seem to care much one way or the other. I snapped away a bit, then wished them a good day and got out of their hair.
Shot with my Canon 40D and the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens. ISO 400, f/2.8 @1/100 (L) and f/3.5 @ 1/80 (R)
Feeling encouraged, I continued to shoot around the area. Some images were in the more traditional travel vein, others focusing on the terrific array of fruits and vegetables. I don't recall seeing any other photographers there, and since no one seemed bothered by me being there, I was able to get some great day-in-the-life type images as a result.
Canon 40D with Canon 70-200mm f/4IS lens for most of these images, some with Tamron 28-75 f/2.8
My newly found confidence would be tested later in the trip, but I'll get there in just a moment. Sometimes I find myself frustrated by the times people do notice me when I'm hoping for just the opposite. It ruins the moment I was trying to catch, and leaves me feeling dejected regardless of whether their response is encouraging or not. One instance where I do feel this worked quite well is in the following image of a gaggle of Nonne (Grandmothers) waiting for the bus (I assume) near the Pantheon area of Rome.
Canon 40D, 48mm, ISO 400, f/4 @1/60th sec.
This is one of my favorite travel images ever, at least personally. The first couple of frames they didn't notice me, as they were chatting amongst themselves and I was a decent distance away. But once they did, they lady on the right turned away. Her two friends on the bench seems amused, the other two in the chairs completely indifferent. I love the various responses they each had once I was noticed (caught?). This was the last frame I took of them, because even though only one seemed bothered by it, I wanted to at least respect her very obvious desire to not be photographed.
Which brings my to my final thought, the image and moment that I still find myself thinking about 4 years later. In a larger city, it seems people are less bothered by photographers. I imagine that being overrun with tourists snapping away on a pretty regular basis is likely part of that - they kind of become white noise and you aren't noticed as readily. This may just apply to a place like Rome or even Europe in general - I still have to see if that theory bears out in other countries.
Once in Puglia, my father's home region in southern Italy, the vast majority towns are quite small - they can often be walked in just a few scant hours. This also means that for the most part, there are far fewer tourists clicking around with the cameras. You can't really blend into a crowd when it consists of you, an old bike, and a sleepy dog in the middle of the street (true story!).
He did not move for the car, but rest assured the driver simply went around him. Once it passed, he laid his head back down to continue dozing.
I noticed a man working on tambourines and other small wood items in his shop across the street. Some items were hung from the ceiling, and he had this great grizzled black beard. It was very much something you'd see in a travel magazine about small towns in southern Italy! I wanted to capture the doorway and atmosphere surrounding the shop, as well as the artisan at work. Naturally, he noticed me pretty quickly. Even from across the street, it looked like he was scowling at me. Determined not to be "chicken", I crossed the street and tentatively entered his workshop.
I asked him some questions about his work, and looked around a bit. I did my very best to get all my Italian right, but nerves tend to cause problems with that, so I may very well have gotten some key things wrong. It was definitely that vibe you get from some folks in small places - that "we don't like outsiders" sense of suspicion about you. That very well could be entirely my fault, so I hold no grudge and am not trying to fault the man at all.
I asked if I could please take a photo of him in his shop, and while some was lost in the translation, it was definitely a resounding "No." I think he said something referencing the photos I took from across the street, which had made him uncomfortable in some way. I felt bad, and definitely disappointed. While for some approaching a stranger and asking to take their photo may be something that is second nature, it is difficult for me even now. It was a little like asking the mysterious new guy at school to hang out and getting a vaguely annoyed nu-uh for your trouble.
I've included the photo below for reference, not for any artistic merit. It's really a throw-away shot, especially now. The light was all wrong for what I wanted to achieve, and the angle of view poor, and I think the focus was off a bit too. Even if the light and my position had been perfect, I still couldn't use it because of his response. I've blurred out his face, because even though he will likely never, ever see this blog, I still will respect his wish to not be part of what I do.
How do you handle photographing strangers? Do you have any similar tales good or bad? It'd be great for anyone to share stories about your experiences or tips in this area!
I've been wanted to set something on fire for a while now - without actually winding up with a visit from the friendly fire department down the street. I decided to start small, and found the perfect opportunity when I noticed the dead and dried out herbs growing on the side patio of a local restaurant.
Yes, that's an iPhone snap put through Instagram's app after tinkering with my Photoshop app - guilty! I was struck by the delicate shape of the dried up dill (and basil) languishing in the hot sun. So I uprooted the dead stuff and took it home with me.
You can see that I'm a fan of fire already from images like this:
But I wanted to try something different and not strictly abstract. Part of that involved planning to exercise more control over not just the fire, but also the overall image. I decided to use my Canon 580EX flash triggered by my Alien Bee remote system to fill in some shadows and highlight the form of the plants. I'm not used to posting my process yet, so I neglected BTS shots (sorry!).
The flash was on a boom and flagged to prevent too much spill, placed camera left and behind the subject. I also used a warm gel to match the light of the flame while a sunlight reflector bounced some light into the shadows - the flash power I used ranged from 1/4 to 1/64 on manual.
Once I had my settings, I was ready to burn! I created a mound of dirt to support the plants, and a barbecue lighter to fire it up. With my Canon EF-S 17-55mm lens pre-focused and a cable release plugged in, I went for it.
To be honest, the first one flamed out much faster than I anticipated, nor did the plants burn in their entirety. Overall, I feel pretty pleased with my results despite it not going quite as expected. The final images were tweaked with some burn/dodge work, levels/curves and color adjustment.
I do plan on coming back to this type of work, which should be easy as the Atlanta summer heat scorches everything in my yard.
55mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/4 sec
This one is actually a composite of two sequential images - the top right portion worked so well with the other image I had to. I don't often (almost never, really) do composite work, so I was really happy this worked out.
49mm, ISO 200, f11, 1/6 sec.
55mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/4 sec.
Raffaella De Amicis