Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Portofino – The Real Tranquility Base"

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"Portofino – The Real Tranquility Base"
©David A. Ziser

I captured this image just a few days ago when we were visiting the very romantic town of Portofino.  Earlier in the day we took the bus - the water taxi was not running because of choppy seas - over to Santa Margarita.  Santa Margarita is a bustling little town right on the sea and was full of energy and looked like fabulous shopping. I scooted LaDawn out of there quickly!

Our goal was to get  to Portofino just a few kilometers away - like 3 miles or so.  With some well kept sidewalks and  very scenic footpath allowed us to walk the entire distance along the coast the entire way.  It took us about 90 minutes to make the walking trip but it was one of the prettiest walks of our trip.

Once we arrived, it was time for an adult beverage, think Italy's national drink, wine of course. I found the perfect table offering the best view in the entire area of the harbor and sea.  We settled in for a few hours and just enjoyed the wine, yummy bread with some fantastic extra virgin olive oil, the sights, and cool Portofino breezes.  It was a wonderful, relaxing afternoon.

This images is an HDR image I captured from our table at the restaurant.  Once again the weather and clouds were quite changeable but the HDR effect worked nicely on this image.  The challenge is making the three images needed for the HDR image while the boats are bobbing in the water the least.  If there is a lot of motion, it just blows the photograph because the HDR algorithms can't align the images properly.  Anyway, I hope this image really does offer you our relaxed, peaceful and tranquil feeling of our wonderful afternoon.

Camera specs: Canon 5D Mark III fitted with 24-105mm lens at 24mm, F5.0 @ 1/400 second, ISO 1250.

Enjoy!  David

Photographically Beautiful Volterra and San Gimignano

Bon Journo Everybody,

SarteanoToday is Sunday, our last day in Radda di Chianti.  Today we head across the land to Sarteano where Clay and I are conducting our workshop. Everyone arrives at the castle today then we have Monday off and begin the class on Tuesday. Clay and I are both really looking forward to teaching together.  It will be a first for the both of us.  I'll keep you posted as to how the week progresses and hopefully have some nice images to share with you.

Photographically Beautiful Volterra and San Gimignano

Yesterday was a much more relaxed day than Friday.  We got a leisurely start on the day and headed first to Volterra, a magnificent Medieval city sitting atop one of the highest points in the area.  The vistas are spectacular!  Even though the weather has not been excellent for photographing the landscapes, even under the mostly gray, overcast skies the views were still amazing!

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The town too is a great place for photographs.  Just seeing these places built in the 1400's is a fascinating real-live-peek into history.  Volterra is the least "touristy" and more authentic of the two cities we visited yesterday.  The drive to Volterra in chocked full of some of the most amazing vistas to be seen in Italy.

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The city also plays home to the Vampires featured in the teen series Twilight.  We  never once spotted any vampires and felt safe wherever we ventured ;~)

0003- Europe12DAZ_2210Next it was onto to San Gimignano, a very "touristy" little town but still a cool Italy stop- the place was packed! And every 3 meters was another shop to sell you anything from Medieval trinkets and souvenirs, the local wine, and even some fine alabaster pieces that were truly beautiful.  Alabaster is indigenes to the area and was big in many of the shops both in Volterra and San Gimignano.

One again with camera blazing I caught some great shots of the Medieval towers the - city’s claim to fame - that the rich families lived and battled back in the days of old. Think Romeo and Juliet.  Height was an added safety factor for the always bickering wealthy.

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So How's the Driving In Italy?

0001- Europe12DAZ_2100You've seen the movies, you've heard the stories - driving is an adventure in this country.  The fact of the matter is that in the big cities like Rome and Florence, driving is a very chaotic, somewhat dangerous adventure for both driver and tourist.  But here in Tuscany driving is quite pleasant and fun.  I’m really enjoying driving between the hill towns of Tuscany have have a  " James Bond" feel about it.  Even with the the steering wheel on the same side of the car as in the states, and driving on the same side of the road as well makes the driving quite easy.  It's the  the super curvy roads at 50-90 kph (35-70 mph) and the stick shift - all the rentals have them over here - that gives that "Bond" feel to the driving.  I love it, BTW.

How about driving at night on those curvy roads - no problem.  They have so many reflectors on the road that the lanes are easy to navigate in spite of their snake like winding through the hills.  Heck, I enjoyed the driving so much, I even passed a few of the slow moving tourist many times on our journeys on Saturday ;~)


Hey gang, that's got to be it for me today.  We've got to pack up and get ready to hit the road again.  How about I check in with you as soon as I can once we get settled into our castle surrounds in Sarteano.

Have a great rest of the day and I'll see you soon.

Ciao, David

Friday, September 28, 2012

Murphy's Law, Studio Work, and the Internet, Where Are You?

Ciao Everybody,

murphys_lawToday was meant to be a day roaming Tuscany by car, visiting the wonderful little Medieval towns, and just seeing the sights.  Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy was up a lot earlier than we were today and played havoc with our schedule the entire day.

Here's a bit of the back story.  We were under such stress with a humongous workload of projects to be completed before we left for our trip that as the departure date approached two projects did not make it to the finish line and I planned to wrap them up while we were traveling.  Not a good plan but the only plan we had if we were going to leave on time for our trip.

Anyway, I got one of the projects completed, getting my monthly newsletter out which happened late Thursday night.  The other was to edit and post my most recently photographed wedding.  This was the BIGGY.  I had over 5000 images to edit, tweak, and organize into their final presentation for my client.  I got a short start on the edit process before we left and then transferred everything to a hard drive so I could finish the job during our travels.

Challenge #1:  Slow Computers

I needed to work on my Sony Vaio laptop, not the rocket box I thought it was when I purchased it a few years ago.  Plus, it's screen is TERRIBLE for any kind of color correction.  Needless to say, it's all I had at hand so that's what I used.

LaDawn pitched in by waking early hitting the computer to finish the edit.  She completed a good bit of it along with some image tweaking, cropping and slight color adjustments.  I carried the baton the rest of the way early Thursday morning.  I got the show edited down to about 1600 images.  ( I know too many, but that is what it is.) The export from Lightroom 4 took nearly two hours - we grabbed breakfast and when we returned the export was complete.

Challenge #2: Getting the images online.

MorePhotosNext I had to get the images uploaded to More Photos for my client to view them.  Mr. Murphy's was laying in wait as I began the process.  I downloaded the software to my laptop, secured the best Internet connection I could, sketchy at best in rural Tuscany, and proceeded with the upload.  A half a dozen tries  and 90 minutes later still no luck.  I figured it was some kind of international Internet handshaking protocol that was hanging up the upload.  I decided to go to Plan B.

Dropbox logoPlan B involved me uploading all the images into my Dropbox folder and then logging into my studio computer via GoToMyPC.  I figured once I was working on my studio computer all would be fine.  Three hours later I had all the images back at the studio sitting in my Dropbox folder on the studio computer.  Now it should be no problem to get them online.

Mr. Murphy stretched his internationally long arm across the big pond - I couldn't get them to upload from the studio computer either ;~(  What was going on?  I tried to upload from LaDawn's studio computer and still no luck.  The day is fading fast - by now it's 4:00 in the afternoon. (LaDawn is thrilled as you can imagine)  I called my buddies  at More Photos and asked them to help.  I quickly shared my Dropbox folder with Eric at More Photos and he guaranteed that he would get the images on line. He did and now all is good - with the exception of us losing a day of seeing the Italian sights.

Murphy Gets A Punch In The Nose

It's now about 5:00 p.m. when I get a call from Clay Blackmore, my fellow cohort for our Italian Workshop which kicks off on Monday.  He say they're heading to Siena to scope some locations out for the class.  Yep, we’re shooting part of the time in this incredible city. It turns out that we were only 45 minutes from Siena so we agree to meet Clay and Jeff at Siena - things are beginning to look up for the day in spite of the late start.

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We spent the rest of the evening in beautiful Siena enjoying a few sights at night - very beautiful - and also sampling some fine Siena cuisine. 

It was late when we finally got back to our hotel at 11:00 p.m.  But, I have to say, at the end of the day Murphy was vanquished, all projects completed and we have the rest of the trip to look forward to being project free! Whew!!!


Hey gang, that's it for be today.  I'll try to get another post up over the weekend to keep you up to date with more news and photographs.  See you soon.

Arrivederci,  David

P.S.  OK, a quick footnote. We've been here almost two weeks - the time is flying by - and I'm still on the same belt notch I started on in the beginning of the trip, in spite of eating and drinking Italian every day.  Uhmmm.... must be all be the walking ;~)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Photography Challenges and Wine Tasting - What a Great Combo!

Bon Journo Everybody,

0002- Europe12DAZ_1473Sorry for the delay in getting the next post up.  We rented a car in Rapallo made our way across Italy to check out that engineering and architectural marvel of the world, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Up close and personal, that thing really leans!  It looks like it could topple over any minute - with the tourists walking through it!

The tour books sort of wrote off Pisa as a tourist trap with lots of souvenirs, etc.  But LaDawn and I both agree it was a side trip worth making.  You know, it's not just the tower itself that is really cool to see in person, but the surrounding buildings like the Duomo are just beautiful to see and we're glad we did. Besides, our stop coincided perfectly with "Gelato Time" and we had sampling of that Italian treat at the New York Cafe - I kid you not, that was it's real name.

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Next it was back to the car.  We programmed in our next stop into our Garmin GPS and set out for Radda in Chianti, about 90 minutes away.  Only one problem, the Garmin died about 10 minutes into our trip.  It seems the cigarette lighter was faulty and was supplying no power to the Garmin which means we were running on battery only for the first part of the trip.  Now the Garmin battery was dead.

With the cooperation of a friendly gas station attendant, a taxi driver, and our own ingenuity, we discovered the Garmin was in good shape - we just needed to find power.  The gas station attendant looked to the back seat for another lighter but didn't find one.  After he left, I dug around the back seat more thoroughly and as lucky would have it, found another lighter socket that worked just fine - we are on our way, albeit about one hour behind schedule.

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Nevertheless our delay made our timing into Radda just about perfect as our arrival coincided with a beautiful Tuscan sunset.  We're looking forward to our four days in the Chianti area of Tuscany to be delicious, relaxing, and educational in that order ;~)

Photography and Wine Tasting - What a Great Combo!

Although we arrived late in the day on Wednesday, it was off to wine country early the next day.  I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable tasting wine all day and then navigating the twisty, turny, hilly Tuscany back roads,  so we hired a driver who knew the area, it's history, and the best wineries in the area. ( Lisa, Rafaella was GREAT!)

0001- Europe12DAZ_1680The day was wonderful especially with our stop at Monteranaldi Vineyards where a special lunch was prepared for us by the owner's personal chef.  The lunch, the main meal of the day here in Italy, was accompanied with parings of wine to go with each course.  I did mention we weren't driving, didn't I! 

Anyway, after one more stop before heading back to the hotel I managed to click off a few more images.

The Photo Challenge of the Day

I have to say,this part of Italy is just beautiful.  Chianti is about 2,100 feet above sea level and there are many beautiful vistas to see along the road.  The problem for us yesterday was slightly bad weather - we were covered up with a very gray, cloudy overcast day. 

You may think that our lighting would have been perfect for shooting - maybe for weddings but not landscapes.  If you make your exposures for the sky, the mountainside is way underexposed.  If you expose for the foliage, you blow out the sky.

HDR to the rescue one more time or so I thought.  I've been letting the camera decide which HDR exposure to use setting it on HDR AUTO for all my images so far on his trip.  Yesterday I decided to take matters into my own hands and told my Canon 5D Mark III to shoot my HDR images at a full three stop exposure range.  That made all the difference in the world to the result I wanted or rather the result I thought I wanted .  Now I could see the rich, green color of the vineyards and still preserve the cloud structure and detail in the sky – at least on the back of the camera. 

The same image in Lightroom 4 was not so good – the greens were just too much.  Check out the the images below to see the difference between the AUTO setting and the 3 stop setting. 1st image - and my tweaked image in Lightroom 4  the 2nd image.  I much prefer my Lightroom 4 tweaked image – what do you think?

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Hey gang, that's it for me today.  We're heading out to see the sights today, including Volterra.  Some of our DPT readers may know Volterra from the Twilight Series - that's the town known for the vampires!!! LaDawn and I are playing it safe and wearing our turtleneck sweaters during our visit;~)

Signing off for now.  See you soon.

Ciao,  David

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"The Jewel Of Cinque Terre"

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"The Jewel Of Cinque Terra"
©David A. Ziser

I could not believe this view as we began our decent to the other side of the mountain (heading towards Vernazza) while on our trek yesterday between Monterosso and Vernazza Italy, two of the six small towns included in the Cinque Terre region.  We had hiked about 2 hours from Monterosso and finally, tired, sweaty, week kneed, and somewhat wet and muddy we spotted Vernazza in the distance.  It was just like in the movies where they show these tiny little towns carved into the mountains.  The we were, in person, seeing the same site - it was magical!

The clouds began clearing from the rain showers that came throughout day.  The sun was beginning to shine through making the exposure quite a challenge.  I didn't want to miss opportunity to capture the full essence of the wonderfully beautiful scene and opted to puts the camera in HDR mode.  After doing so I clicked off a few shots to check my final exposure.  This image was the final result - and image that for me, takes my breath away!

Camera specs:  Canon 5D Mark III fitted with Canon 24-105 IS lens at 45mm, f5.6 @ 1/800 second, ISO 800.  Enjoy!  - David

Our Photographic Adventures In & Around Cinque Terre

Bon Journo Everybody,

Wow!  What a great last few days we've had up on the northern coast of Italy in the Italian Riviera.  On Sunday we left Florence via train – what an adventure itself with 2 - 65 lb. bags, 2 camera cases, a computer bag, and LaDawn’s large travel purse* -  and headed up to Rapallo, Italy which is pretty central to the Italian Riviera.


Down the coast we have Cinque Terre, one of the top 1000 places to see before you die - we were there yesterday. And just to the north of us we have Santa Margarita and Portofino, two very beautiful coastal towns to visit  in the area.  We're planning a water taxi trip to both towns today.

Train2Train1*DAZNOTE:  OK, before the “baggage packing police” get on our case, you have to remember that we’re are in Europe for two months, covering two seasons, with a planned 12 day Mediterranean cruise, and two professional presentations to give in Italy and Spain.  I hope that takes a little of the heat off of any judgment folks might want to make about our packing challenges ;~)

Getting those darn bags on the train – lifting them 3 feet to the floor of the train and then 5 more feet to the overhead storage area took just shy of Herculean strength to make it happen in the 3 minutes the train gives you in the boarding and unboarding process.  Our fellow travelers were a big help in making it happen for us.

Some Of The Most Beautiful Views In The World!!!

Now I know why this place is listed as one of the most beautiful places on earth - BECAUSE IT IS!!! To see these six small towns lodged into the mountains which go crashing to the sea is a sight to behold. 


We dodged the rain yesterday enjoying a wonderful glass of the local wine just sitting, relaxing, and enjoying the breathtaking sights like you see below - just amazing!

Cinque Terra1You can actually walk between all six of these small towns, the adventure is not for the faint of heart - more later.  Three of the walkways, including the very popular 30 minute walk, Via del Amore, have been damaged with mudslides from the recent heavy rains in the area.

MonterossoLaDawn and I decided to be quite a bit more ambitious.  The rain was spotty all day and since Via dell Amore was closed, we decided to take the train back  to Monterosso – big crowds there - and see if we could hike to Vernazza about a 2 1/2 hour trek on one of the most difficult mountain paths known to man - or so it seemed to a couple of “rookies” as we set out on our journey.

Why so difficult - well, you start out at sea level and climb over the mountain which takes you up to about a 700 foot elevation - think walking up the Washington Monument only every step of your foot way slippery, muddy, often filled with puddles ankle deep and very dangerous - only about 15 inches wide in some areas with NO hand rails to save you from falling several hundred feet should you misstep.


On the upside though, the views were magnificent.  Of course the higher you climbed, the better the view.  Just check out a few on my images in this post.  We've never seen any vista as beautiful as what we saw yesterday - just amazing!!!


Of course, as a photographer I'm doing my best to expose and compose for the best result.  Although I was shooting in RAW, shooting into the bight sun made for some very challenging exposures.  HDR to the rescue, at least for some of my images.  One of my favorite HDR images is shown in my image of the day post “Jewel Of Cinque Terre above.


Anyway, it looks like the weather is lightening up in the area today so we are looking to a photographically picturesque, somewhat less strenuous, adventure today.  Can't wait to share with you later this week.


Hey gang, that's if for me today.  Tomorrow's schedule is quite busy as we leave the Italian Riviera, pick up a rental car, a quick trip to Pisa and then head down to Tuscany for a few days.  Also Internet connectivity is quite good at our fabulous Excelsior Palace Hotel, (THANKS Lisa at Provident Travel) the best hotel in all the area, but the cost to connect is about $42/day USF.  We have to eat too so I'll probably not be posting daily ;~)

Have a great rest of the day and I'll see you soon.

Arrivederci,  David

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Reflections Of The Day, Italian Style"

Arno Sunset

"Reflections Of The Day, Italian Style"
©David A. Ziser

After a day of walking the city and visiting the famous Uffizi Museum for most of the day we grabbed a glass of Prosecco wine - it's sort of like "everyman" campaign - quite tasty and refreshing. Then is was back across the Arno River to find a restaurant and relax.  Our timing was perfect - the sun was just setting across the water.  I spent the next several minutes "working" the scene from lots of different angles.  This image was one of my favorites - and again, a straight out-of-the-camera HDR image.

The cloud structure, rich red and blue colors of the sky, textures of the building on the opposite shore, the tour boats going down the river, and the reflections in the water gave me a picture postcard image I'll look forward to making into wall decor once we arrive home.

Camera specs: Canon 5D Mark III fitted with Sigma 12-24mm lens at 20mm, F5.6 at 1/20 second, ISO 2500. Enjoy!  -David

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I Shot My First Italy Wedding!!!

Good Morning Everybody,

No kidding - we were planning one more long walk through the city on our last day in Florence.  We headed out from the J&J Hotel which was close to an old church at the end of the block.  LaDawn first noticed the wedding decor on the church rails and a small car waiting for the Bride and Groom.

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I couldn't resist, I had to check things out so into the church we went.  Sure enough, the wedding service was just concluding.  Being a wedding photographer, the most surprising thing to me was the fact that the photographers and videographers were all over the altar to get the best angles for their shots. They also had studio lighting set up approximately 8 feet high to both sides of the alter. Just look at the images below to see the action of the photographers.

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I’ve had similar experiences myself in my career where the photographer is expected to be right up there, up close and personal with the bride and groom to capture the photograph. 

My first experience with that expectation was at a Cuban wedding I photographed years ago.  The father of the Bride and the priest were pressing me to get closer to the action.  More recently, when photographing Hasidic Jewish weddings, the photographer is expected to right up there under the Chupa with the bride and groom, wedding party, and rabbi to capture all the action.

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Anyway, back to my Italian wedding.  After the ceremony. the bride and groom, witnesses, and the photo/video crew all converged on the altar for the signing of the marriage license and register - you can't miss that shot, and judging from all the camera activity going on up there on the altar, those guys and girls didn't miss it either.

The other surprise was that there was NO recessional that we traditional have at our services in the USA.  All the wedding guests family and friends left the church and lined up outside with rice waiting for the bride and groom to make their exit.  A few minutes later we were at the height of the action - rice flying everywhere!

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After making their exit, the bride and groom spent several minutes greeting their guests and getting photographs made with family and friends.  We were there about an hour.  Here are a few of my favorite images from my first REALLY Italian wedding.  Enjoy!_______________________________________________________________

Hey gang, that's it for my bonus weekend post.  We head north to Rapallo and our adventure continues. After we get settled in and get a feel of the surrounds I'll be back for an update.

Caio, David*

*Thanks Lisa ;~)