Photo of the day – Under the Glow dome

photo of the day

Today’s Photo of the Day is from the Dutch city of Eindhoven, where the GLOW festival of light is going on now through Saturday. Eindhoven is the hometown of electronics company Philips, made a multinational brand by Anton Philips who is the subject of the sculpture here. Each year, the town hosts a forum of light-based art and architecture installations, performances and events; in 2011, the theme is illusion and reality. Mr. Philips is standing under a dome of 30,000 lights, over 80 feet high, illuminating the entire square outside the main train station. Flickr user toffiloff captured a great perspective, making the sculpture and light installation even more impressive.

Send us your favorite festival photos for a future Photo of the Day by adding them to the Gadling Flickr pool.

Green Spain: Exploring Iberia’s Celtic north

Green Spain, Cantabria, Santander
When people think of Spain, they tend to think of a sun-soaked, dry land with a hot climate and beautiful beaches. For the most part that’s true, but Spain’s northern region is very different and equally worth a visit.

Spain’s four northern provinces are often called Green Spain. From west to east, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and the Basque Country are a verdant strip between the North Atlantic/Bay of Biscay and a chain of mountains that traps the rain. Lush, with a mild climate and rugged coastline, it feels more like the British Isles than Iberia. Indeed, the old Celtiberian culture that existed before the Romans has survived more here than in the rest of Spain. You can even drink cider and listen to bagpipes!

I’ve covered the Basque region in my series Beyond Bilbao: Hiking through the Basque Region, so let’s focus on Green Spain’s other three regions.

Cantabria is the smallest region of Green Spain, but packs in a lot of fun. Santander is the main city. I’ve been here for the past three days lounging on the beach with my wife and kid. The weather has been warm but not too hot, and the water cold but bearable. I actually prefer these beaches to the jam-packed tourist hellholes of Benidorm and spots on Costa del Sol in the south. Fewer drunken Englishmen, more space. More risk of rain, though, which is why I’m inside today talking to you folks.

%Gallery-127797%Like the rest of Green Spain, Cantabria has a rugged coastline you can follow on a series of trails. Jagged rocks break the surf while far out to sea you can watch freighters and tankers sail off for distant lands. Picturesque lighthouses dot the shore at regular intervals to keep those ships safe, like the one on Cabo Mayor pictured above, an easy stroll from Santander. The currents and tides make this and the Basque Country good spots for surfing, but wear a wetsuit!

If you go inland you can hike, ski, and rock climb in the towering mountains, many of which reach higher than 2,000 meters. Lots of little villages lie nestled in the valleys, where you can sample local produce and relax at outdoor cafes watching the clouds play over the peaks. Prehistoric people were attracted to this region too. The Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias have dozens of caves with prehistoric paintings dating back as much as 20,000 years. The most famous is Altamira, which is temporarily closed to visitors, but many more caves are fully open. There’s something deeply moving about standing in a cool, dark chamber and playing your flashlight over some paintings of bison and shamans left by your distant ancestors.

Asturias is bigger than Cantabria and famous for its cider. Alcoholic cider, that is. Personally I think Asturian cider is the best anywhere, and there’s some tough competition in England and Galicia! Many brands of Asturian cider are only available in Asturias. I can’t even get them in Madrid. The Asturians claim that cider doesn’t travel well over the mountains, but I think they’re just keeping the best for themselves!

Galicia is a bit different than the rest of Green Spain. Sticking out from the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, it gets the full blast of Atlantic winds. It’s even more rugged, with more amazing views. A big draw here is the Santiago de Compostela, where the Cathedral of St. James has been a pilgrimage center for more than a thousand years. It’s the destination of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Way of St. James) a network of pilgrimage routes across Green Spain. Some trails start as far away as France, and they all join together eventually to make their way to this holy cathedral where St. James is said to be buried.

Hiking is big in Green Spain. If you don’t want to walk all the way from France to Galicia, there are plenty of shorter trails and day hikes. If you’re more interested in what’s under the land than on top of it, the Picos de Europa in Asturias and Cantabria have some of the best caves in the world. I’m not talking about the homey caves of prehistoric Spaniards, but massive labyrinthine networks of tunnels reaching more than a kilometer into the earth. If you’re not a dedicated spelunker, take heart. Every guidebook lists “show caves” you can go to with the kids.

This is just a quick overview of what northern Spain has to offer. You’ll be getting more from me in coming months about this fascinating region because we’re moving up here in September. If you have any specific questions, drop me a line in the comments section and I’ll try to turn your questions into day trips and posts!

Travel Photo Tips: using a 50mm F1.4 lens to redefine low-light shooting

50mm f1.4

If there’s one question I’m asked more than any other when it comes to DSLRs, it’s usually one dealing with low-light shooting. Being able to effectively capture a scene in dimly lit situations (or at night altogether) is one of the toughest things to do in photography. Even if you have a flash, you have to be careful when firing it if you don’t want to simply blow everything out and ruin the “mood” and “feel” of a night shot. The most common problems with night images are this: too much blur, too dark of a shot overall or too much noise in the shot. How do you solve those issues? It obviously depends on the camera and accessories you’re using, but one surefire way to make your existing DSLR entirely more capable at night is the purchase of one single lens. The 50mm F1.4 is as close to a magic bullet as there is in the photography world, and if you travel, you can bet you’ll end up wanting to take photographs after sunset.

The 50mm F1.4 has a lot of things going for it. For one, it’s available for nearly every DSLR out there. You can find dedicated versions (either first-party such as Nikkor or third-party like Sigma) for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Olympus DSLRs, with plenty of aftermarket solutions out there for even more brands. Secondly, it’s incredibly small. My D3S camera body dwarfs the 50mm F1.4, and when I’m trying to conceal my camera and get it into concert venues and the like, having a “stub-nose” lens like this makes it much easier to get through. Thirdly, it’s relatively cheap by FX (or full-frame) standards. And finally, the shots you can get from this lens are truly amazing, and they can enable you to capture memories of a trip that you’d otherwise never be able to. Read on for a few examples and suggestions on how to best make use of this low-light masterpiece.

%Gallery-116211%First, you’ll need to understand a little about why this lens is so cut out for taking low-light shots. The trick is its aperture. For a refresher on how aperture affects your photographs, have a look at a prior article here. This lens can “step down” to f/1.4, which is a fancy way of saying that it can allow a flood of light in compared to most lenses, which can only step down to f/3.5 or so. When you’re shooting with limited surrounding light, having the ability to let your lens pull more light in from practically nowhere is vital.

50mm f1.4

This allows your shots to be brighter, your shutter speed to be faster (which lessens the chance of unwanted blur) and your trips to be more memorable. The 50mm aspect is also important; this is not a zoom lens. It cannot be zoomed at all. If you aren’t familiar with “prime” lenses this will probably be strange to hear, but you literally have to walk forward and back while holding the camera to get closer / farther from your subject. 50mm, however, is a solid distance that’s useful in the vast majority of circumstances, and since there’s no zoom to worry over, the lens is the easiest in my collection to travel with.

50mm f1.4

Using the 50mm F1.4 at night is pretty simple. Regardless of what DSLR body you have, I’d recommend setting the aperture down to f/1.4 (using Aperture Priority or Manual Mode) and firing a few test shots. Compare that to shots with the aperture set at f/3.5 or higher, and you’ll notice an immediate impact. The flood of light that is allowed in by the F1.4 lens is really incredible, and in many cases, it allows a shot to be taken that would never be possible otherwise. Of course, all of this is assuming that you’re trying to avoid using a flash in order to retain the mood of your scene; lowering the aperture all the way to f/1.4 is simply an alternative to using a flash, and it’s one that natural light lovers greatly prefer. The gallery below gives you an idea of why — retaining the low-light vibe while still letting in enough light to capture a bright, sharp and blur-free image is reason enough to consider one of these lenses for your collection.

50mm f1.4

Owning this lens most definitely isn’t the only way to take low-light shots. You could use a flash, purchase a new body with a higher ISO range (something like the Nikon D3S) or move your shot into a place with more external light. But if you’re unable to move your shot (the Grand Canyon is a little hard to relocate, especially after sunset), you aren’t willing to spend thousands on a new DSLR body and you aren’t fond of how a flash distorts the vibe of a night shot, there’s hardly a better and more affordable alternative than the 50mm F1.4. For Canon owners in particular, there’s a 50mm F1.2 that allows even more light in, but of course it’s over four times more expensive; the 50mm F1.4 for Canon bodies is around $350 on the open market, whereas the F1.2 version is over $1,600. It’s hard to justify that increase.

50mm f1.4

I should also mention that while the average 50mm F1.4 lens will cost around $350 – $400 regardless of what brand or body you’re buying for, there’s a bargain alternative even to that. Many companies also make a 50mm F1.8 lens, which allows nearly as much light in, but not quite as much. The good news is these are usually around half as expensive as the F1.4 variety, but in my experience, it’s definitely worth saving up and getting the F1.4. It’s a lens that’ll never leave your collection, and will likely follow you around for as long as you’re into DSLR photography. $350 or so is a low price to pay for the ability to take blur-free images in dimly-lit restaurants, at outdoor sporting events and in concert venues, not to mention millions of other after-dark opportunities.

Curious to learn more about travel photography? See our prior articles here!

Shopping for a new 50mm F1.4 lens? Check here:

Photo of the day – Flamenco in motion

Photo of the day

When you see flamenco, you probably think Spain, but today’s beautiful photo was taken by the prolific Flavio@Flickr near Tel Aviv, Israel. It’s a beautiful image of movement, color, and light; you even get a sense of music. The sensuality and drama of the dance is refreshing to see compared with many of the serious and spiritual shots we often see from Israel travelers.

Captured any great performances recently? Share them with us by adding them to the Gadling group on Flickr and we might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Travel Photo Tips: What is shutter speed, and how does it affect my pictures?

what is shutter speed

Now that you’ve got a grip on ISO, it’s time to talk about shutter speed as it relates to light. What is it, and how can it be tweaked to better the photographs that you’ll take on the run? A great question, and we’re glad you asked. Simply put, shutter speed refers to the length of time that the shutter stays open while snapping a photograph. In general, the longer a shutter remains open, the more light is allowed in. And the more light that is allowed in, the brighter a picture becomes.

There’s a fine line that is walked with shutter speed. If you don’t leave the shutter open long enough, your images will turn out too dark to be useful. Having a shot that’s too dark can spoil an otherwise great vacation memory, and it’s nearly impossible to brighten an overly dark photograph using Photoshop (or a similar editing application) without adding a lot of noise and grain. On the flip side, leaving the shutter open too long can result in a couple of negative outcomes.

We’ll discuss these and walk you through an example after the break, so grab your advanced point-and-shoot, interchangeable lens camera or DSLR and read on get a better feel of how changing the shutter speed can change the outcome of your snapshots.As usual, we’ll try not to dive too deep into aspects that you don’t really need to understand. But there are a few basic things you’ll need to know about shutter speed in order to make quick adjustments as you’re shooting different scenes — assuming you’re not shooting on automatic mode, of course. Your travels won’t always put you in an optimal place for taking shots, leaving you with limited options to control the amount of light that floods into each shot. Adjusting shutter speed is one of the quicker ways to do just that.

Shutter speed is referred to in terms of seconds, or fractions thereof. For example, you may see a “400” on the data monitor of your camera. This means that you’re set to shoot at 1/400 of a second. This is just a small fraction of a second, which means that the shutter will open and close extremely quickly. If you see an “8,” that means you’re set to shoot at 1/8 of a second. In the image below, the “30” signifies that this camera is currently set to shoot at 1/30 of a second.

what is shutter speed

Here are a few general rules to keep in mind while adjusting shutter speed. These won’t apply in every single scenario, but these are good guidelines to keep ingrained in your mind when you’re trying to figure out shutter speed extremes on the fly.

  • If you’re shooting a still subject handheld (without a tripod), it’s generally tough to hold the camera still enough to eliminate blur from a shot at a shutter speed slower than around 1/80 of a second. Sometimes you can get as slow as 1/25 of a second while holding it still, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
  • If your subject is moving at all, and you’re forced to hand-hold the camera, I’d recommend shooting at 1/160 of a second or faster to ensure little-to-no blur is introduced. If you find that 1/160 of a second still isn’t quick enough, a bump to 1/200 or 1/250 of a second should suffice.

Of course, both of these points are assuming you do not want blur in your shots. There are certain scenarios where some amount of blur is desired, such as capturing the beauty in flowing water in a babbling brook. But in those cases, you can start at around 1/100 of a second and move slower. Here’s an important point, though: when you desire a certain amount of blur in a shot, you’ll almost certainly need a tripod. Why? Because you only want a certain portion of the photograph to be blurred (the water, in the previous example), but you wouldn’t want the rocks and surrounding plants to also be blurred.

Let’s look at one simple example to give you a better grasp on how adjusting shutter speed makes a difference in your photographs. You’ll need a camera with a manual mode; most point-and-shoot cameras do not allow users to adjust shutter speed, but a few of the more advanced models will. Essentially all interchangeable lens, Micro Four Thirds and DSLR cameras will, however.

what is shutter speed

Similar to our ISO example, we’ll have you head to a room inside your home. Find a subject — a phone, a coffee mug, any kind of still object — and place it on a table or on a bed. We’ll be shooting this with various shutter speeds. There are a lot of other variables to consider, of course, but this simple example will show you how shutter speed itself directly impacts the outcome. Let’s start with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second, and disable your flash for the duration of the example. Fix your ISO on 1600 (since you’re indoors in a low-light scenario) and your f/stop number as low as it will go (f/2.8 or f/3.5 if possible). Focus on the subject and shoot. What’s the outcome? Probably a dark shot, but if you can make out any of the subject, you’ll notice that it’s impeccably sharp.

Now, adjust that to 1/250 and shoot again. What’s the outcome? Probably a slightly brighter photograph, and one that’s still sharp. You should get the impression that you’re moving in the right direction. Now, adjust to 1/160 of a second and shoot again. Your image should be even brighter, and if you have a steady hand, still sharp and blur-free. Now, the fun part. Adjust to 1/50 of a second and re-shoot. You probably noticed just how slow the click was. But how about the outcome? It’s probably a very bright image, maybe even too bright, but it will almost definitely have some level of blur to it. Let’s try one last stop: lower the shutter speed to 1/5 of a second and re-shoot. It’s practically impossible to hand-hold this shot and not introduce blur. You’ll probably be happy with how bright the image is, but the amount of blur will likely make the image less than ideal. Below is a brief gallery guide of how changing the shutter speed alone can allow more light in, but also make it easier for handheld shake to introduce blur.

%Gallery-112431%
In a nutshell, you’ve just learned how shutter speed alone can adjust your shot. If you need to let more light in, slowing the shutter solves your problem, to an extent. If you slow it too much, you’ll lose the ability to compose a blur-free image. If you speed it up too much, the image will become too dark. Like we said at the start, it’s a fine line you’ll have to walk. If you try a similar experiment outside, in broad daylight, you’ll notice that you need a much, much faster shutter speed to compose a usable image. If you keep that 1/8 of a second while shooting outdoors, you’ll probably get the polar opposite of a completely dark photograph: a completely white photograph. The solution? Speed that shutter up dramatically –1/500 of a second or faster — and see how it changes things for the better.

what is shutter speed

Keep in mind that this is just a basic explanation of shutter speed to get you started. In future articles, we will cover tips on how to use changes in shutter speed for creative effects in scenarios related to travel. For example, using the shutter speed to help you best capture a flowing waterfall, compose an exploding firework shot, controlling blur, etc. Hopefully with the pointers listed here and in our previous article on ISO, you’ll be two steps closer to understanding your camera’s ‘Manual’ mode.

Let’s recap:

  • Adjusting shutter speed is one of the quickest ways to add more light or restrict light to a photograph
  • Indoors, or in low-light situations, you’ll need to slow the shutter speed dramatically if you don’t have a flash to use, or would rather not use the flash
  • In general, it’s difficult to not introduce blur into a shot while shooting handheld with shutter speeds 1/80 of a second or slower (or 1/160 of a second if your subject is moving)
  • Outdoors, you’ll need very quick shutter speeds (1/500 of a second or faster) in order to avoid having a completely white image, or an image that’s overly bright
  • Having a tripod or a lens with vibration resistance can enable you to have a slower-than-average shutter speed, yet still avoid blur

Stay tuned for more tips on understanding metering, f/stop, white balance and more! Our basic guide to understanding ISO can be seen here.