Fridays in Egypt Turn into Turmoil

After the revolution, Fridays are troubled in Egypt

The time after prayers on Friday is never calm in Egypt. Today was no exception, as tragedy unfolds in the country known for some of the most beautiful antiquities in the world. Sad news from Lower Egypt about someone who got shot in the port city of Alexandria has poured into the media.

Americans are now warned to stay away from the country. It’s too bad. It’s as a country is being thrown away–monuments and all–because of the recalcitrant leaders of the country not compromising with the opposition. All we can hope for is that someday they will.

My story there began there on a Friday last March. I started out in Cairo when, shortly after my arrival late in the evening, the trip became very rocky. My love for photographing trains and subways caught up with me early on the second day of my trip when I opted for my traveling companion and I to take a subway ride after a long walk around Gezira Island near to where our hotel was located. After snapping a few shots of the subway cars and station, plainclothes police picked us up in the Sadat subway station under Tahir Square. To be sure, photographing there was a foolish endeavor, but the shots were well worth it, as it is one of the most fascinating public spaces I’ve ever seen.

To make a long story short, the encounter took a turn for the better during a rather humorous interaction with the authorities who became amused while thumbing through my images (after my instructions) in my Canon Mark II dSLR camera. They had run into the images of animals I had taken at the Bronx Zoo while looking for the subway shots. After a brief debate about what “art” was (I had explained that the subway shots were art) they were appeased and guided us out to Tahrir Square, several blocks away from our hotel.

The next day we went with a guide to the Islamic Quarter, another public space with nothing-less-than-thrilling photo ops. Afterward, I had asked to stop for some food to bring back to the hotel. The guide and driver kindly obliged, stopping at a fast food restaurant in downtown Cairo. Camera-in-hand, I continued to look for some good street photo ops. After snapping a few, I saw a group of masked young men in black (who, I later discovered, were part of an anarchist group), the leader holding a gun (which at first I thought was a toy) high into the air.

Before I knew it, I was on the ground behind a car under a hail of bullets being pulled from a fireball in the doorway of the restaurant. My traveling companion had tugged me from one of the Molotov Cocktails that the group had thrown at the restaurant. Needless to say, after the ordeal, I thanked him profusely for saving my life.

After we arrived at the hotel, I had made a decision not to continue our trip to Luxor and Aswan, but ran into the threat of a big fee from the airline for changing my reservation. I decided we would continue, fretfully I must say, on a trip that went on to become the one of the most rewarding of my life…

Sit in the Front of the Bus for the Best Photo Opportunity

If you’re on a bus, sit in the first seat up-front to capture subjects straight-on.

Want a good image from the best vantage point possible, an image that can be taken through a polarizing filter? Then sit in the first seat up-front on a bus (this image was taken from a Premira Plus bus in Mexico). The front window is polarized to give you shot some good lighting if the sun is shining brightly on your subject.

This tactic works particularly well when you’re taking the buses in Mexico because in the the cities there are often street performers engaging in activities that you never thought possible. The guy in the image above is using sticks to keep a baton-like object in the air, hitting it while lifting his leg and jumping in the air. I managed to catch him frozen with my Canon 5D while the bus has stopped at a traffic signal. The guy performs on the corner where the light is red so that his audience is a line of vehicles stopped at the signal.

To be sure, this only works if the vehicle you are in is the first in the line of the stopped vehicles, which somewhat minimizes the chance that you’ll get the shot in the same way as it was taken above. If you’re in Mexico City, there’s a good chance you’ll get a shot like this because on some days there are street performers at nearly every stop light.

Why Americans Aren’t Buying Mirrorless Cameras

The USA Today published an article about how Americans haven’t taken to the mirrorless cameras. Sales appear to be declining, creating the possibility that the mirrorless camera might not make it in the market.

The article briefly states a few reasons–the autofocus isn’t very good and  many consumers don’t know about it. Also, they buy what they know and they know dSLRs. Buyers are shunning these cameras when they are one of the most novel tech items known today, a camera that’s small, has a big sensor and interchangeable lenses.

Apparently, vigorous buyers’ interest in Japan has propelled mirrorless camera to 10 percent of the market. So, what gives?

My guess is bad reviews about the camera, more specifically bad reviews about the mirrorless camera’s autofocus, a detrimental camera part for any photographer amateur or pro. The autofocus performance for these cameras varies from mediocre to bad to worst because either the phase detect system of mirrorless cameras is inferior to that in  a dSLR camera or because the mirrorless camera has no phase detection and depends upon the imaging sensor to focus, making it focus slowly like a point-and-shoot.

Other than that the mirrorless cameras aren’t so bad, and, in many ways, are just as good as a dSLR. You might conclude that Americans want good autofocus. They want to photograph objects in motion where having an autofocus is vital to a good shot.

Personally, I would lean toward the Nikon 1 J1 10.1 MP HD Digital Camera System with 10-30mm VR and 30-110mm VR 1 NIKKOR Lenses (White), as that camera’s autofocus has been determined to be best, outranking any of the Canon mirrorless cameras’ autofocus.

Drawing from a Photograph in Photoshop or Elements

Drawing from photo in Photoshop or Elements
After making a photograph look like a painting, the next best project for your art is to tweak it into a drawing. They’re a myriad ways that you can do this in Photoshop and Elements. The following procedure is only one way and a pretty good one at that:
Open an image
Make that image into a normal layer that is not locked. Layer>New>Layer from Background (you can also double click on the Background Layer in the Layers palette).
Now, duplicate the layer so you have a copy of the original in case if you’re tweaking gets out of hand.  Layer>Duplicate Layer…  Name the layer “Original”
Select the top-most layer in the Layers palette by clicking on it.
At the top of the Layers palette, click on the Blending mode. On the drop down menu bar click on Color Dodge.
Click on Image>Invert
Click on Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur
Change Radius to reflect detail in the Gaussian Blur dialog box. Choose any value you want according to how much blur you want. Click OK
In the Layers palette, click on Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer (the black and white circle) and then click on Hue/Saturation bringing the Saturation down to zero with slider that appears.
 
To darken, click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer again, this time choosing levels.
Adjust the Levels as you see fit.

HDR Doesn’t Have to Look Overprocessed

Learning to shoot three or more images of different exposures and combining them using software such as Photoshop CS 5/6 HDR Pro (part of Photoshop CS 5) or Photomatix is not all that difficult. In my book Beginning HDR Photography,  you can learn the workflow (steps) to make a variety of HDR photographs, which add detail to all parts of the photograph with options such as the Grunge to Painterly styles for maximum enhancement.

Don’t underestimate the value of HDR, as it can make a big difference in your photography, especially on cloudy days (to show details in the cloud layers). To be sure, some say that the medium is overprocessed and others don’t say it’s not photography at all, but digital art. No matter what your opinion is about the craft, it’s the only real way you can get more detail into your shadows and highlights without clipping (blown colors) from the processing.

When you learn how to shoot images at different exposures and combine them in postprocessing with Photomatix Pro 4 (the best for HDR processing), you’ll understand the process better, being able to tweak the photographs with more precision and know when you can and can’t do additional processing in Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop’s companion software that tweaks with little damage to the photo)

Contrary to being an art with which you need a tripod to produce, HDR can be shot simply with and without a tripod by adjusting the camera setting known as AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) to shoot several shots at a time at different exposures.

You can also shoot HDR photo sets (landscape, street or indoor ) by adjusting the Shutter Speed settings. HDR photographs give you the choice of making a product that’s ranges from natural looking ones to those that appear surreal or painterly.

Samsung S4–Smart Phone that’s a Point-and-Shoot Camera

Hot on the heels of the iPhone 5 is the Samsung Galaxy 4, heading toward a number one finish in the sales numbers. The Samsung S4 camera reviews are pouring in.

Why? It’s the camera! At 16 MP with a 10X zoom lens, which makes the device look like a point-and-shoot, it usurps Apple’s iPhone 5 camera, crushing it to a proverbial number 2.

If you’ve shot with an iPhone and struggled to get a close-up of a a far-away object  you know that the iPhone is a poor performer, leaving that object as a spec in the frame.

Don’t let the numbers fool you though, as the one-third inch sensor size is pale in comparison with that of the least expensive dSLR. What that means is that when you look at your photo at 100 percent resolution on your computer, you’ll find the edges falling apart, making it unsuitable for many practical applications such as printing a photo taken with the camera for your living room wall.

Okay, Apple. Get your groove back. Where’s your zoom lens and more powerful sensor? Are you going to be the first company to squeeze a decent-sized sensor into a smart phone?

Hope so. 

Islamic District in Cairo–A Must-See

People in Cairo’s Islamic District

While Cairo’s Islamic District is filled with beautiful mosques and restaurants, it’s the people that make this place. For a Westerner it’s like being on another planet. All impressions you may have had about the place turn into chimeras.

The Islamic District is about a twenty minute cab ride from Tahrir Square, is a must-see destination when you go to Cairo. Everything about the place–the architecture, the shopping (the market in the district is huge), the mosques and the people seemingly take you to another time and another place.

Look closely at the people’s faces in the shot above the two men at the far right are pondering deep thoughts, a barefoot guy with his legs crossed sits next to them on the left, head down in slumber . On the right you see many traditional garments from head scarves to kaftans.

To be sure, in order to get a photo like this, you have to take a wider picture of a scene, so as not to get all of the people staring at the camera (and the photographer), annoyed at breaking a traditional Islamic code of conduct–the Hadith–a set of laws that sometimes prohibit images of any living thing.  A good 35 mm sensor will catch people sharply, even if you have to crop the image to see them.

Finally, the expressions on the human faces seem to be pensive, possibly thinking about their revolution and what it means to life in their city and pondering the passing people as reflections of Allah.

Focus and The Art Photographer

If you photograph architecture stick with it until your an expert

Catch yourself hanging out a cafe sipping a double non-fat latte? Wearing black? Maybe you don’t yourself, but find someone who does. Definitely take the opportunity to photograph him/her or take a self-portrait if you do.

Most important of all, don’t judge yourself as a non-creative person just because you don’t fit the stereotypical mode. Moreover, if you do, might as well camp it up. I mean you only live once.

If you do have an interest in being the real thing, consider what you like, not what someone else does. As an art photographer be assured that you can like whatever you want, photograph anything you like and carry yourself anyway you please.

If colors turn you on, photograph them in every which way–muted, sparkling, brilliant, subdued. Shapes and forms got your goat? Take them in in all of their splendor from gnarled trees to inch worms up-close.

Whether you’re a street photographer or work in a studio, keep in mind that what separates you from the classical masters of any era from Stieglitz to Evans and Model to Adams is your practice, motivation and talent. Yes, in that order.

If you pick up a camera once a week, your photographs are bound to be mediocre no matter how good what camera you use. Practice every day with enthusiasm and a dash of talent and you’ll be on your way to a successful career.

Add to this, extensive knowledge of your subject and you’ll pass those who are generalists because you’ll be devoted to a focused genre, be it landscapes or architecture.

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