Europe

Budapest by Twilight

It seems the latest trend in landscape photography is to capture scenes during “blue hour.” That’s not sunrise or sunset, but the time just before sunrise and just after sunset. Essentially twilight: the time between night and day when the sun is below the horizon and the sky is dark blue, but not black as night. When in the field, I always used this time to prepare for the sunrise or hike out of the woods in near darkness while I could still just see the path. On my recent trip to Budapest, Hungary, it was my favourite time of day to shoot.

Twilight is the best time to capture cityscapes when the lights are on. This isn’t night photography. By the time the sky is black it is difficult to get good exposures. The city lights can be blown out and the sky and shadows can be plunged into the blackest part of the camera’s histogram. At twilight, it is much easier to get even exposures. This time of day only happens briefly, just as sunrise and sunset do. When it comes to photographing cities and architecture outdoors, one can still capture great images even if sunrise and sunset are a bust. City street lights are typically turned off just before the sun comes up and turned on just after the sun goes down when there is no colour (except that ethereal blue cast) left in the sky. So, it’s worth getting out earlier and staying out later.

During my trip to Budapest, I was struck by the architecture and how photogenic the city is. There is an amazing view of Budapest’s grand architecture from any point along the Danube. Most of my images were made during twilight from Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, or the banks of the river near the famous Chain Bridge. I experienced some great light during sunrise and sunset, but when the city lights were on at twilight (“blue hour”), that’s when the magic really happened.

View of the Danube river, Chain Bridge, and Hungarian Parliament from Buda Castle.

View of the Danube river, Chain Bridge, and Hungarian Parliament from Buda Castle.

Boats on the Danube and Hungarian Parliament at twilight.

Boats on the Danube and Hungarian Parliament at twilight.

Hungarian Parliament just after sunset.

Hungarian Parliament just after sunset.

The Chain Bridge and Hungarian Parliament by the Danube at twilight.

The Chain Bridge and Hungarian Parliament by the Danube at twilight.

To find out what’s in my camera bag, click here. To view my Travel Photographer’s Master Packing List, click here. Thanks for reading and best of light.

Prague in Black & White

Prague is colorful. Red-orange rooftops contrast strongly against green forested hills that roll around the city. Spring and summer boast bold and bright flowers in the city's parks, gardens, and window-boxes. Over the last several years, building facades have been revitalized and painted pastel hues of blue, pink, and yellow. I like color photography just as much as anyone, but, if given a choice, I'll always choose black and white. Striping away the distraction of color brings an image down to its basic elements. The bare bones of subject and composition are revealed. Black and white allows the emotion to come through more clearly. For me, black and white is the best way to show the haunting gothic beauty of Prague's ancient architecture. 

Below is a collection of recent monochrome photographs from my trip to Prague earlier this spring. Thanks for reading and best of light.

Charles Bridge and Mala strana, Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge and Mala strana, Prague, Czech Republic

View from the Old Town Bridge Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

View from the Old Town Bridge Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge and Stare Mesto (Old Town), Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge and Stare Mesto (Old Town), Prague, Czech Republic

The Spires of Old Town, Prague, Czech Republic

The Spires of Old Town, Prague, Czech Republic

Night on the Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, Prague, Czech Republic

Night on the Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, Prague, Czech Republic

All images in this post were made using a Nikon D750 with 24-120mm f4 VR lens on or off a tripod. They were processed using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2.
To find out what's in my camera bag, click here.
Images © 2018 Jon Reaves Photography. All rights reserved.

Behind the Image: Hungarian Parliament at Night

BEHIND THE IMAGE: HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT AT NIGHT

I don't remember how many trips my wife, Alison, and I made to the famous Fisherman's Bastion. It was a long walk from Pest across the Chain Bridge and up winding streets. The temperature was around 90 degrees each day. Living in Canada, I'm not accustomed to that type of heat and humidity anymore (thank goodness our apartment had AC). I was determined to get a particular shot. I had photographed the Hungarian Parliament several times from several different locations over the course of the week, but I had been unable to capture the Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion in an effective way.

On the final evening of our trip I was determined to get something good out of the Fisherman's Bastion experience. It's a popular spot for tourists- one of the major sights in Budapest. I wasn't that impressed. It looks like an awkward sandcastle. There's a architecturally underwhelming Marriott and Starbucks next to it. No matter what time of day we visited the area, morning or night, it was packed with tourists. Serious landscape photography was very difficult. If I return to Budapest, I'm going during a shoulder season for sure. 

a trick up my sleeve

The best thing about Fisherman's Bastion is the panoramic views of Pest, the Danube, and the Parliament building. I wanted a particular image. I wanted the columns and arched windows of Fisherman's Bastion in the foreground, framing the dramatic Parliament all lit up at twilight. In the early evening I set up my tripod and waited. I used a Nikon 24-120mm f4 VR lens. The Parliament is pretty far across the Danube from Fisherman's Bastion.  In order to fill the frame with the Hungarian Parliament (and make it look much closer and larger), I had to employ a simple trick that most photographers visiting Fisherman's Bastion don't use. Instead of using a wide angle and getting close to the columns like most do, I set up about 20-25 feet back and zoomed in with my lens. A wide-angle makes distant objects smaller and farther away, but a telephoto focal length compresses the elements within the frame. In this case, the Hungarian Parliament looks much closer to Fisherman's Bastion than it actually is. That's the only trick to this composition. There is no stacking. This is one frame. 

Hungarian Parliament at night from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary (Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-120 f4 VR, tripod, 120mm, f14, 3 sec, ISO 250).

Hungarian Parliament at night from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary (Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-120 f4 VR, tripod, 120mm, f14, 3 sec, ISO 250).

A little help

The big challenge wasn't getting the right composition, or even the light. Once the sun set and the city lights came on, all I had to do was click the shutter. Simple right? Wrong. There were dozens of selfie-hungry tourists blocking my shot. People were crowding the very window I was trying to shoot through. I waited for the crowd to open up, but it thickened. I realize that I have no more reason to be there than they do. It's an awesome view. I already knew getting the shot in the late evening would be a stretch (should have showed up at 4AM...shame on me). Nonetheless I was getting discouraged and was about to call it a day when a friendly face in a Red Socks hat popped up out of the crowd. 

"You guys American?" He said. Small talk ensued. His name is Cam Woodsum, a nomad travel-blogger. He'd been in Budapest for a few weeks. He said he had a score to settle between himself and Budapest and wanted to help me out. He asked if I'd like him to do some crowd control and clear the way long enough for me to take my shot. I thought he was at least half joking, so I said yes. With the help of Alison, Cam parted the sea of selfie-zombies just long enough for me to get my image. I'm very grateful to Cam for his help. This is easily my favorite shot from our Budapest experience. 

 

Prague Vs. Prague Part II

Part II: June, 2018

The train from Munich was spacious and comfortable. My wife and I had the whole compartment within our passenger car to ourselves...until we crossed the Czech border that is, where the perfectly groomed farms and country side of Bavaria gave way to abandoned buildings and yards of rusting soviet-era vehicles. In Pilsen (where the best beer on earth is made), the train stopped and everyone had to get off, walk over the tracks and through bushes to an non-air conditioned bus for a 40 minute ride to another train station (it was 90 degrees out). It was unexpected. The next train was crowded, also non-air conditioned, and smelled of B.O. Welcome to the Czech Republic. We arrived in Prague in a couple hours. Just outside of the train station I saw a homeless person poopin' in the bushes off the crowded main walkway. Welcome to Prague! So, my first impression was that the city was going to be much the same as it was 12 years before. Once we arrived in Old Town, I was proven wrong. 

Pedestrians on the Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

Pedestrians on the Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

Our AirBnb in the Jewish Quarter of Old Town was super-modern and very comfortable, but cost a lot more than the apartment I'd stayed in during my first trip. That wasn't an issue. I'm not a burrito slinging punk-rocker on a shoestring budget anymore. We enjoyed breakfasts and late-evening beers on our balcony. We spent mornings and evenings wandering the streets and photographing the cityscape. It was another great experience in Prague, but a bit different this time.

The first thing that struck me this time around were the crowds. Prague is popular now, the new Paris, packed with selfie-stickers, walking tours, and long lines for sites and museums. Old Town Square, once filled with sausage stands and craft peddlers, was packed to the gills with tourists. The food and hand-made local goods stalls were diminished and had been pushed into a small corner of the square. The highly-touristy "authentic Czech" restaurants were still there, but this time there were lines for them. Price gauging was blatantly obvious. Prague is still a relatively cheap place to visit, and the same beer (and better food) in Old Town Square can be purchased a few blocks away for a fraction of the price. Granted we were visiting at the beginning of the height of tourist season for Europe, but I never expected so many other visitors even at the extremes of the day.

View of the crowds and restaurant lines in Old Town Square from the Old Town Hall Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

View of the crowds and restaurant lines in Old Town Square from the Old Town Hall Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

View of crowds on the Charles Bridge from the Old Town Bridge Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

View of crowds on the Charles Bridge from the Old Town Bridge Tower, Prague, Czech Republic

The Charles Bridge was an introvert's nightmare as there was barely anywhere to stand. Even at 4AM it was still bustling with (mostly drunk British) visitors. Weaving through the crowd as a couple was difficult. A leisurely stroll to enjoy the views and statues was nearly impossible due to tour groups and professional wedding photo shoots. Also, serious artists who once sold paintings along the bridge had been replaced by people selling Chinese-made Prague souvenirs (like overpriced keychains and other useless trinkets). I got really fed-up with hearing street musicians playing Coldplay covers on their squeezeboxes, instead of regional music that fit the atmosphere. It was a stark contrast to my experience years before. Things change.

The second big difference this time around was how relatively clean the city was. Buildings had fresh paint and many had been restored to their former glory. This is actually a good thing, but took away from the humble and charming Bohemian feel the city had before. Stare Mesto (Old Town) and Mala Strana were as clean and colorful as Stockholm. The street that I stayed on in 2006 was unrecognizable. My wife and I went out looking for the hostel where I stayed in for cheap over decade ago. Before it was dirty, seemingly every other business was an absinthe bar, and many buildings were in disrepair. We never found the building because I simply couldn't recognize it. That neighborhood, just a few blocks off Old Town Square, is now the upscale shopping district. Prada and Rolex among other high fashion retailers now line the streets along with trendy bars, Starbucks, and hipster restaurants. It was actually difficult to find an authentic and affordable Czech meal. Sausage stands were nowhere to be found! 

This shows that Prague is looking up economically, mostly because of the recent surge in tourism. That's great for the small country and citizens. However, I was a bit disappointed that the entire atmosphere had changed. It didn't feel like the same Prague. It was "Prague-Land" now - a bit diluted and heavily influenced by Western culture.

The third difference was that every Czech person we interacted with spoke English very well. Czech is a bit difficult to learn, so I struggled with communicating on my first trip, especially in restaurants. This time there was no issue speaking English. Every restaurant had an English menu. Prague has a young population and English and American influence from music, the internet, and TV have obviously made an impact over the last 12 years.

An authentically meaty Czech meal with duck, ham, sausage, bread dumplings, cabbage, and beer....can you say "meat sweats?" Prague, Czech Republic

An authentically meaty Czech meal with duck, ham, sausage, bread dumplings, cabbage, and beer....can you say "meat sweats?" Prague, Czech Republic

I imagine this to be the case with all places. If you return to a location in decade-long increments change is to be expected - I've changed much as well. My wife, Alison, enjoyed our time in Prague, but she had a different experience than I did years earlier. I was happy to have made loads of images this time around. Prague is still well worth the visit. It is a very beautiful place and people have now caught on to that fact. I would recommend shoulder seasons and probably spending time in smaller Czech towns for a more laid-back experience, however. 

To see more of my images from Prague, visit www.jonreaves.com/europe/ 
Read Part I of this series, here.