This website is mainly a landscape photography blog dedicated to capturing the beauty of the nature that surrounds us. It's administered and run by two landscape photographers - Otakar Hevler and Marek Potoma. Useful landscape photography tips, tutorials, technical information as well as darkroom processes.
I wrote before a bit about my new toy that I took with me to Baikal this year - DJI Mavic Pro. I'm still flattered by the new possibilities it adds to my landscape photography practice. My photographic sessions became longer as I used the drone at all times when I finished shooting or when the light was too flat. What's the most amazing about it all is that you don't really need too much to start producing an interesting footage and imagery from the air. It took me two days to properly set the drone up, get used to the sensitivity of the joysticks and test all modes that I thought would be useful.
Lake Baikal From The Air
As a photography traditionalist raised with a transparency film and a newbie to the video editing, I'm still studying how to process and edit clips in the software (Adobe Premiere Pro) that is perhaps the most time consuming part of a learning curve. I see now where I made mistakes and how I'll fly next time. It's very interesting though. While in the middle of the process, I created a short mix of sequences to share at this stage. It shows what I was doing and although it has a different dynamics from how I want the final movie to look like, it gives an idea:
One of the reasons I keep returning to Baikal is that you have plenty of photographically creative options even if you avoid local icons and typical views. Two years ago, I was so amazed with the frozen lake that I forgot about everything I pre-visualised having seen images of the iconic spots on internet. Now, with heavily increased tourist traffic, it became actually impossible to be alone in such place at the best time of a day. That is why I did not make a single image of Ogoy island or Shamanka viewpoint despite of 3 trips to Baikal.
One morning I made a rare exception. Since it was snowing all night, it might have been dangerous to drive on the snow-covered ice at night for a dawn shooting. My driver was brave enough to try. I felt limited in options as due to the lack of backgrounds, I always need to use structures or patterns in the ice to construct an image. On the other hand, I had all lake for myself as there seemed to be nobody at all. I had a lake all for myself, but there was nothing but 10 centimeters of snow on it.
I chose to go and check Ogoy - the island with a typical ‘dragon-like’ head. We came early. The engine stopped and I carefully walked the virgin snow. What a feeling to be alone again in a wind and coldness! The space and silence were immense. The rock was mine and I was all hers (if it is she :-)). It's been an hour till dawn when I set my camera up for the classic composition with the tip of the rock exaggerated by my wide angle Rodenstock. I thought of other options, but did not want to spoil the foreground with my footsteps. Rightly so as I figured later.
Caption: Morning with the Dragon, Camera: Linhof Techno, Lens: Rodenstock 23mm, Digital Back: Phase One IQ150, Exposure: 1s, Aperture: f/16, ISO: 100, Filters: Lee ND Graduated 0.45S
I agree the composition is rather obvious. On the other hand, the fresh snow on ice makes a scene very clean and a bit unusual from what has been photographed at this place. I was also lucky with the light - it's been breaking enjoyably slow and yielded some nice pastel tones at the end.
I made couple of exposures after a long wait as the sun was crossing through the horizon. Later on, I tried different angles and views destroying the snow all around, but this one made the best justice to the shape of the rock, which was key for the image in this situation. In the post-process I corrected the contrast via curves and added some punch (gentle enough, hopefully) to the sunrise colours with the help of luminosity masking.
Today was certainly the coldest day I have ever experienced. My phone showed minus 29 when I was leaving the hotel at about 5am. And it did not get any warmer later. All my outdoor and photography equipment went through the ultimate test. And I’m happy to report that except for iPhone X losing the image transition signal when flying the drone, everything else including Phase One (that I was afraid it might have been built mainly for a studio shooting) worked flawlessly and reliably - it definitely exceeded my own operational longevity at such weather.
Especially DJI Mavic Pro drone impressed me how well it behaved in a strong wind and that the batteries’ life was not significantly shortened due to very low temperature. By the way, this drone is a fantastic toy simply elevating a photographic pursuit to another level. I used it to scout the ice, but of course I shot some beginner footage and photos. I will write about it once I process the material.
Back to Baikal. It’s my third time here at the same time of the year. I remain amazed by its immensity and subtleness that a visitor gets in one package. Ever-present ice formations and structures remind humans that everything is subject of time that can’t be controlled. Just walking and observing is a great experience of its own.
Traffic at Ogoy island
Traffic on the ice
But this time round, I need to travel much farer to avoid the crowd. The lake is just flooded with tourists, mostly from China, who are moving in droves very early morning. It was not the case last year when I was warned by the hotel receptionist that it is dangerous to drive (or better be driven by a local guide) on the ice in dark. We could go anywhere and it was no doubt we would be alone at sunrise. One year later, the request to have a packed breakfast does not surprise anyone. Each and every night, we keep seeing whole clusters of small buses for 8 riding one after another to all known spots of Lake Baikal each and every night. Utterly disappointing.
I like to sit on images for some time after I come from trips, absorb them and work on them at a rather slow pace. I do so as I learnt over years that I need some emotional distance if I want to process more 'objectively', without panting of impressions from places. This time, it took even longer to finalise imagery from my two travels to Baikal. I think it is because I got disappointed on my second trip earlier this year, for a lot of snow on ice that destroyed all my plans...
Nevertheless, with a distance, I found a beauty and satisfaction with Baikal that differed from how I visualised it after my first visit. I'm actually glad with the results as it forced me to change my goals and be way more creative. I remember how amazed I was by the lake's simultaneous immensity and subtleness when I saw it first time. By its enormous space and by its tiny little details. The sceneries were pretty obvious and results generally depended on quality of light, which was not spectacular. With that in mind, I went there again and you know the result.
I have been back from (South) Korea for a few days now, but postcards always arrive with delays. The business that feeds me brought me to Seoul and I could not miss the opportunity to see Korean nature and experience a bit of its culture. It has been a very short trip – 5 days of wandering through the country without any plan. Although usually I like to take a hippie approach and instantly react to opportunities, not having a plan proved to be a problem this time when it came to photographing. Together with the weather – even when I got to a nice place, there were no clouds, no colors and only blue skies.
Crowds of tourists enjoying Seoraksan Mountain
Korea is beautiful and picturesque, especially in autumn, but also highly populous and urbanized. There are more than 50 million people living on the land area that is smaller than Czechia and Slovakia together; and I always thought that my former mother country is way too densely populated with 11 million inhabitants (only). By another measure, roughly the same population as in South Korea enjoys 5 times larger land in Spain. It might have been a perception problem of the man from a small place, but what looked like a village on the map was actually pretty sizeable town, which was devastating to all my pre-visualisations. On the other hand, I could at least be sure that there is going to be a decent Korean barbecue or fish restaurant anywhere I went to. As for the infrastructure, including highways and roads, it is just perfect.
Due to limited time, I only picked a few places to go to. I started at Seoraksan National Park in hope for mountain vistas, but the weather was too ideal for any adventures off the beaten tracks and thus for any meaningful photography. The tourists enjoyed it though and I did with them.
I then moved to the seaside on the east with no particular success either.
I decided to go deeper inland for the last two days. A few hotels I checked were sold out even in November (Koreans seem to really like traveling their country) so I virtually let booking.com choose a place for me. I ended up near Chungju, the largest dam in Korea. This is where I got lucky on my last morning before returning to Seoul.
Caption: Once in a Long While, Camera: Linhof Techno, Lens: Schneider 47mm, Digital Back: Phase One IQ150, Exposure: 1/30s, Aperture: f/11, ISO: 100, Filters: Lee ND Graduated 0.45S
There was a gentle mist above the water, calming down the surroundings. Initially, I was shooting long exposures of this rock formation from a different angle. Soon after the clouds disappeared and the mist started to raise. The sun went up and back lit the rocks nicely. I tried few images against it, but the reflection was ugly enough due to the wind causing ripples. I packed my stuff and was on my way out when the wind suddenly ceased. I could do this picture that I perhaps like the most of the series. In the post-process, I only moved the temperature to a warmer rendition to add the mood and tonality.
South Korea is an amazing country for food and shopping tourism, but also full of cultural monuments, nice people and landscape beauties. I'm only sorry I did not have more time and a bit of more luck. Plenty of reasons to come back one day.
I purchased my first large format camera Ebony RSW 45 in 2011, and I have been using it with more or less success for my landscape photography since then. I even traveled with this camera to Iceland, to discover that it is not so difficult to use this cumbersome equipment in rather challenging weather conditions. I regularly take it with me to the mountains and also around the lake here in Geneva. At the end it is not so heavy, so I can carry it everywhere I want. However, to set up camera properly can be sometimes quite challenging. Especially when it is windy or cold, but it is getting easier with practice.
Three years back I got brand new Ebony SW 45 camera as birthday present form my wife and kids. It was such a nice surprise, I still remember the moment when I opened the box. This camera is beautiful piece of art on its own. Ebony wood with titanium parts looks absolutely amazing, and it is hand made in Japan with ultimate precision.
The SW 45 version offers more movements possibilities and therefore more creativity, but I have to say that both cameras are suitable for landscape photography. It is pleasure to work with both of them, as they equally provide the main benefits of large format photography. The size of negative is the first obvious advantage, but I also appreciate the entire workflow, which slows me down and let me to focus on one particular photo at a time. With this camera I am not in rush. I do observe the landscape around me for long time before I take the camera out of my backpack. I look for special objects to place into my photograph, for interesting compositions, and when I am sure that I have all elements aline, I can start to set up the camera.
Title: Winter Flow, Camera: Ebony RSW 45, Lens: Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 45 mm, Filter: Lee Big Stopper, Film: Kodak T-Max 100, Exposure: 400″ , f 16, Jokulsarlon, Iceland, 2012
From the moment the camera is firmly attached to a tripod, the magic part begins. I am lost in darkness, and totally isolated from all surroundings by dark cloth. The only thing I can see is the small portion of landscape I decided to capture. This isolation together with the fact that what I see on ground glass is upside down and side reverse, makes me to fully focus on what is in front of me. It helps me to eliminate small disruptive elements from the frame. I can pay attention to every little detail. After I am happy with final composition, it comes the technical part of this workflow like: focusing, setting up aperture and shutter, attaching filters and cable release, inserting film holder, closing lens, removing dark slide and finely capture the photo.
Title: Angel, Camera: Ebony RSW 45, Lens: Schneider 90 mm, Filter: Red, Film: Kodak T-Max 100, Exposure: 1/30 , f 16, Col Des Aravis, France, 2016
Overall, if I am fast this whole process takes me at least 5-10 minutes, but in some cases it can take even longer. It is also not unusual that the weather conditions, or light change during the set up time, and I have to wait and wait until the conditions are perfect again. That is why no one wants come with to my trips:)
So I have exposed the negative, did some bracketing, just to be sure and I can go home. Luckily for me the process does not end here. I still have to develop the negatives and take them to darkroom to make the final photographs. (I will write more about these stages in my future posts) Sometimes there are couple of months between these stages, which gives me the joy of rediscovering one particular again and again.
I tis not easy workflow, but definitely very rewarding, and I can recommend it to all photographers. Recently I have also seen couple of new affordable large format cameras to come to market soon, so it can be your chance.
Col des Aravis is very nice and easily accessible area close to the mountain town called La Clusaz in France (my favorite skiing resort). It is known for its countless outdoor possibilities from hiking to ski touring. To me it also provides interesting but challenging opportunity to pursue my photography. It is relatively small place with two dominate mountains on both side of the pass. When you arrive from La Clusaz, there is mountain L’Etale on your right hand side. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful mountains in the chain of Aravis.
Title: Col des Aravis, Camera: Mamiya RB 67 Pro SD, Lens: Sekor 50 mm, Film: Kodak T-Max 100, Exposure: 180", f 16, La Clusaz, France, 2017
I have been exploring this part on many occasions and all the time I was facing the same challenge. How to create something new and interesting? The weather conditions play critical role in the appearance and mood of final image, but I am always trying to find new view, new composition, new stones, new something.
To be locked on small place, it is quite good exercise how to improve creativity, and I am very surprised that I still have many images on my mind, which I have not been able to create yet. I have been photographing this place only in winter time, but this year I would also like to venture there during summer and fall to see if something new pops up.
I can only recommend this exercise to all of you! Go and find some small area near where you live and go there when you have time and mood for photography. Discover and rediscover this place in different weather conditions, with different cameras, lenses, films etc. You will be surprised how creative you will be in the place you know inside out.
Have fun and let me know, how you progress and if you send me your images I will publish them here on our blog.
As a hobby photographer I cannot choose to go out when the conditions are perfect. I have to squeeze my photo adventures to couple of weekends a year. When I am not outside making pictures I do think about what kind pf photographs I would like to make next time, and I usually set high expectations for the next trip. But as I cannot choose the perfect moment I am heavily relaying on given weather conditions on one specific weekend.
Last summer was especially hard on me, high pressure dominated weather was very well set up for most the time here in the Alps. As you know me these are not weather conditions for me. I really like when it rains, when it is foggy, windy and the clouds moving over the sky. I really mentally struggle with blue sky conditions, and I was probably the only hiker who was not happy, under the sunshine and blue sky☺
I was heading towards Chamonix one late summer Saturday morning, and I wanted to try new hike route close to Aiguille du Midi. I parked the car and started ascent when it was still dark. Sky was full of starts and I knew that I will not be able to make any of earlier previsualized photographs I was hoping for. So I was going through the forest when the light was slowly becoming stronger and I started to discover some interesting details, and as I was not in hurry I started to photograph them.
Title: Birch Detail, Camera: Mamiya RB 67 Pro SD, Lens: Sekor 50 mm, Film: Kodak T-Max 100, Exposure: 1", f 16, Chamonix, France, 2016
It took me some time to get above the tree line. My mind was finely in peace and I was enjoying the quiet mountain landscape. Suddenly my lazy rhythm had changed dramatically as I noticed appearing rays of light over the Mont Blanc massive. Promptly I was in rush to find some nice view point, set up the camera correctly, measure the exposure, decide whether to use ND filter and capture the amazing light show. It was bit tight, but I did manage at the end, despite the fact I had not much room for error as the sun was moving quickly.
Here is the final photograph I made that day. Totally unexpected, and I would say it is one of my favorite from last year. What I have learned from that experience? It is good to have some ideas and expectations what and how to photograph, but I should never limit my mind to one specific vision. I should have my eyes and mind always open for new things. I should be able to improvise and change plans, take another route, and most importantly expect something unexpected to happen. At the end, it is great to be just out there and it is not mandatory to bring home some new photographs from every single trip. Sometimes it is good to just observe end enjoy the nature without the pressure of beeing creativ.
Title: Morning Gift, Camera: Mamiya RB 67 Pro SD, Lens: Sekor 90 mm, Film: Kodak T-Max 100, Exposure: 1/30, f 8, Chamonix, France, 2016
At the end I did not use any filters, just measured the exposure from the dark rock massive, put it into zone 3, measured the light and put it to zone 7, and I did some bracketing to make sure i will have at least one good frame. At the end I did take in total 6 photographs, as the light was moving. I used Kodak T-Max 100 negative, developed in Kodak D-76, 1+1 dilution for 12 minutes at 20 degrees Celsius. I only managed to make some contact prints yet, but I am looking forward to take this negative to darkroom in coming weeks and make 40x50 cm photograph for our living room.
Let me know what you think, and what experience you guys have.
Have you ever been frustrated and disappointed on your vacation? This is how I felt for a few days when we arrived to Olkhon this Saturday. The structures of the frozen lake are now covered by snow and there has been very little clouds until now. The warm and windless weather (around zero degrees at noon) transformed a wild and rough beast into a calm and gentle princess, ideal destination for traveling parents with their toddlers.
I guess it would be too harsh to say the place has become uninspiring as its vastness certainly remains, but it does not stand up anymore - it’s considerably muted by its white color and the Caribic-like blue sky.
Beloved snow and skies
Innards of the cave
Classic sunset and the crashed plane
Natural photography string
I guess I struggle more with my own assumptions and visualisations rather than with the conditions themselves. I should have come empty and open, but instead, I brought only ideas that were based on what I was thinking I will see. Everything is different though and I’m in dispute with reality, unable to connect myself with my subject the way one needs to create a meaningful art.
Baikal is teaching me a grand lesson.
It does not mean at all that I don't have fun. Enjoying my new friends (@followourdreams, @jarda.zakravsky) and old buddy Stefan, listening to the drivers’ stories, admiring capabilities of their UAZ 2206, trying new photographic disciplines, testing my iPhone creativity, walking under full moon.
Not long ago, I have come across a striking and a thought provoking meditation by Guy Tal on why we photograph. I have been following and admiring Guy's work and story for many years. I mention the story on purpose as it chiefly exceeds his photography. Together with Guy's writing, it is perhaps the truest and the most elegant photography career out there since it fully blends with the artist's life, to put it much rougher than what it deserves.
I encourage you to read the entire text - it is full of intriguing ideas and in some short fashion, it gives you an ample idea why Guy's fascinating work inspires so many people:
"The inspiration I refer to and that I feel here is not just a general desire to create, but an intense and intoxicating (at times to the point of being emotionally overwhelming) sense of vitality."
Caption: Walking on Glass, Camera: Nikon D810, Lens: Nikkor 16-35mm, Exposure: 164s, Aperture: f/16, ISO: 64, Filters: Lee Big Stopper & Lee Graduated ND 0.6, Photographed: Baikal Lake, Siberia, Russia, March 2016
The article triggers my response as well, although no answer is right at all times. It has been changing over years or months, or even by places I went to. Nowadays, when I feel more mature and settled in life I much more appreciate a genuine experience of the process rather than illusory and relative effects of the results.
For those of us who practice photography as a hobby, no matter how serious, alongside a professional career in another field and alongside family affairs that can get pretty busy, the moments of free time to make images are greatly precious. (The reasons why I chose this life and not another are outside of the scope of this post, but I guess I will stick to it while I feel that I'm remaining true to myself at work and until my children get grown as good people...)
The mere inspiration takes off when dreaming (planning if you wish) where to go next - trip, day or morning. Continued by an untroubled ritual of being out, an act of looking, of seeing, of setting up, then waiting, triggering, downloading, sorting, post-processing, re-thinking, returning.
Looking, seeing, setting up all over again... The repeating routine that is the most pleasing and satisfying of all routines as its elemental content never repeats. :-)
Caption: Walking on Broken Glass, Camera: Linhof Techno, Lens: Rodenstock 23mm, Exposure: 1/4s, Aperture: f/11, ISO: 100, Filters: Lee Graduated ND 0.45, Photographed: Baikal Lake, Siberia, Russia, March 2016
It is the whole process of creating photographs and not so much the photographs themselves that blows me away. As if anything in one's existence that is different from ordinary and that goes beyond bare necessities of life, it has a beneficial effect on all vital functions and human senses. It feels as if the process creates a simulation in my brain that allows me to be someone else (schizophrenic?), placed in a completely different universe, in a dissimilar spell where the time is a non-present dimension. I operate out of any relation to what I do otherwise, and I'm always coming back to reality freshened and recreated.
An accidental experience out there is everything I need to function here.
In my ordinary life, I'm surrounded by a visual smog of large cities and modern office buildings; by the noise of airplanes, traffic and... yes, people. I deliberately choose places to photograph that are visually empty and noise-free. And cold, ideally, as it embraces a solitude. Mountains and forests when I'm in Czech or Slovakia. Iceland, Norway, Scotland when I can travel.
Last year in March, I went to see Baikal. I developed a severe passion for the place that calls for a return now as a part of the above process. Going there next week for my annual dose of inspiration.