Monday, January 30, 2012

Rusting away

An old hay rake, a hay tedder and mower (background) sit atop a spot in the hayfield where the old farmhouse used to stand and where the grass doesn't grow very well. These machines are no longer in use and the mower, which has lain there untouched since the 1960s, is completely covered in rust. I expect the rake will soon be rusted over as well. The north face of Spákonufellsborg looks rather ominous in the background.

I couldn't make up my mind which I prefer: the colour or the black-and-white version. They both have their merits, but seem to say different things.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The lava settlement , part I

Drive past Straumur and continue along the narrow gravel road into the lava field beyond and you enter a crumbling but rather charming tiny settlement of little houses spread over a considerable area. Some are the long-abandoned abodes of small-scale tenant farmers and fishermen, while others are summer houses, some of them once farm houses.

I don't know the name of this place is (or was), but it is the largest house I saw in the area. It looks like a barn, but but a peep inside revealed that it appears to have been lived in.

Here the sun glints off a remaining shard of glass in a window frame:

Coming up the slope towards the house, it looks quite imposing. 
When I looked at this photo I immediately decided that I would have to come back some day when there are brooding clouds in the sky and take some photos for an HDR treatment.

Seen from the south side:

A look inside reveals what must have been the living room:

This rusty old radiator would make a excellent focus point for an HDR photo:

Both the toilet and the piece of children's furniture look too modern to belong in this place, so I am guessing it may have been used as a summer house at some point, or possibly someone disposed of these things in there:

Outside this old chassis, probably of a lorry or a small truck, with engine still attached, lies rusting into the ground:

Series continues next Friday.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Straumur artist residence in winter

Straumur means "stream" in Icelandic, in the meaning of "flow". It can also refer to an electrical current, a large river, or a large moving group of people, animals or vehicles, but the meaning in this case probably refers to the tides. The beautiful old house, which dates back to 1927 or 28, was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same architect who designed the Hallgrímskirkja, the National Theatre, main university building and any number of churches, lighthouses and other buildings around Iceland.

The inlet the house stands by, Straumsvík, is beautiful and unique. The ponds or pools in the lava are full of fresh water which floats on top of a layer of salt water. The surface of the ponds rises and falls with the tides, but the surface water stays fresh.

Some of the lava ponds with Straumur in the background:

Below: An old hut that stands by the road down to the aluminium smelter. What it was originally, I don't know, possibly a fisherman's hut, but when I peeped inside it contained a couple of rows of what could have been shoe shelves or wooden seating on the wall, a couple of rusted lockers and a mattress. Possibly a dressing room for bathers?

Straumur was once a working farm, but now belongs to the city of Hafnarfjörður and is an art centre and artist residence.Coming from Keflavík, you can see it on the left hand side just before you get to the aluminium smelter.

The house with surroundings:

The house reflected in the nearest pond:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sunset clouds

The setting sun gilding the clouds. 
I snapped this in Kópavogur one afternoon while waiting for the traffic light to turn green.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Photo rescue, or what to do when the white balance fails you

The weekend before last I went on a photography expedition. I had meant to make a day of it and go out to Reykjanes, but I ended up a fairly short way from Reykjavík, on the outer edge of Hafnarfjörður where there are lots of abandoned farms near the aluminium smelter in Straumsvík.

I was shooting using several different settings, but mostly I was using the shutter priority program. Which, it turned out, had the white balance setting on manual, set to balance the light for incandescent bulbs. This, in simpler terms, means the camera automatically adds a blue cast to all the photos to compensate for the warm yellow of the artificial light. As there was a blue sky, and the shadows were blue, it made the photos very, very blue. I though the photos looked a bit blue when I looked at the camera screen on the spot, but then I though maybe it just looked that way because after all it was sunny and you can't see too well on the screen in the sun. When I got home and uploaded the photos to the camera I saw different.

Original, unedited except for a slight crop and decrease in size:

I started by swearing a bit to alleviate my feeling of stupidity and then went googling to find a solution to the problem. I have only very recently begun shooting raw and wasn't really in the mood for a crash course in image correction for that format, so I decided to tackle the .jpgs. I have not taken any courses in digital photo editing, except for a day of Photoshop many years ago which mostly covered layer masks and cloning, and I have always learned to use the software as I went along. White balance was something I had hitherto been able to fix quite well using the colour balance tools, but not in this case. Google brought me to a blog which explained what I wanted to know: there is a white balance correction filter in GIMP. You go to the Color menu, open the Auto sub-menu and choose White Balance. The rest is automatic. I used it on the above photo, reducing the cast considerably, but more was needed, so I started fiddling with the colour balance until I found a solution I could be happy with. It still looks a bit blueish and looking at it on the screen I am using now, it appears that I have added slightly too much red, but it's still much better than the original:

Of course there is a quick and dirty solution that will solve most white balance problems in one fell swoop: Desaturation.
In this case I like the black-and-white rendered image best of the three, although it still needs work - possibly a bit more contrast:

Camera: NIKON D7000
Date/Time: 2012:01:21 13:27:24
Focal Length: 22.0mm (35mm equivalent: 33mm)
Exposure Time: 0.0040 s (1/250)
Aperture: f/22.0
ISO Equiv.: 800
Whitebalance: Manual
Light Source: Incandescent
Metering Mode: matrix
Exposure: shutter priority (semi-auto)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


A redwing (Turdus iliacus) sits atop a fence beside the famous hot dog stand Bæjarins bestu in downtown Reykjavík, pretending not to be interested in the food scraps on the table below. 

The bird was rather dark in the original and the processing it took to lighten him and get his plumage in the right colours created some interesting colour shifts in the sky.

The weather in Reykjavík today, or, My car this morning around 7:30

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. 
I think in this case they're swearwords.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More phone camera experiments: Window shot

I snapped this shot though a window at work yesterday, using the default setting on the phone camera. I tried using some other settings, but they all returned an overexposed sky in which the church was washed out almost completely.

The PicSay app, which I am testing, enabled me to fix the exposure so that the house wasn't as dark, but more was needed. I uploaded it to Pixlr, where I cropped it, sharpened the focus, used the curves tool to lighten the house without washing out the sky and the church, and increased the saturation a little (that can also be done in PicSay, but I wasn't happy with the colour shift it gave me).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Street mood

Looking down Templarasund (Templar Alley) towards the Pond, standing in the street between the Parliament building and the Cathedral. 
The only building a visitor from the 1950s wouldn't recognise is the University's Natural Sciences building in the distance.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On a foggy night

New Year's night, just after midnight. I went down to the harbour to see if I could get fireworks shots from the harbour towards the city centre, but the smoke from the fireworks was so thick that I could hardly see any sparks through the pall. However, I did get these foggy, moody shots of the boats.

The boats in the small boats dock.

Technical details: 
Camera: NIKON D7000 
Date/Time: 2012:01:01 00:09:28 
Focal Length: 18.0mm (35mm equivalent: 27mm) 
Exposure Time: 1.000 s 
Aperture: f/4.0 
ISO Equiv.: 100 
Whitebalance: Auto 
Metering Mode: matrix 
Exposure: Manual 
Post-processing: GIMP. Desaturated, pushed the contrasts, cropped.

The Coast Guard ships with Harpa in the background:

Technical information:

Camera: NIKON D7000
Date/Time: 2012:01:01 00:11:16 
Focal Length: 40.0mm (35mm equivalent: 60mm) 
Exposure Time: 2.000 s
Aperture: f/4.5
ISO Equiv.: 100
Whitebalance: Auto
Metering Mode: Matrix
Exposure: Manual
Post-processing: GIMP. Curves adjusted, contrasts increased, saturation and contrasts increased.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to tie a tie

Just because it's painted on the wall of a house, it doesn't necessarily mean it's graffiti.
This is an imaginative advertisement for a men's clothing shop in the Laugavegur, showing three ways to tie a tie. 
Amazingly, it seems to have been left completely alone by taggers and graffiti artists.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The handout

A considerable number of non-migrating ducks (mostly mallards), geese and swans rely on food handouts by the Pond in downtown Reykjavík during the winter. A lot of people come to feed them in the summer, but there are always a few who give them food in the winter as well. 
Here a swan delicately accepts a piece of bread from a man's hand:

Monday, January 16, 2012

At the drinking hole

The pond in Reykjavík sometimes freezes over in the winter, giving the birds that live there year round a hard time. 
I spotted these geese having a drink near the Town Hall and liked the symmetry of the group:

Technical information:
Camera: NIKON D7000
Date/Time: 2011:11:26 14:15:11
Focal Length: 105.0mm (35mm equivalent: 157 mm)
Exposure Time: 0.013 s (1/80)
Aperture: f/5.6
ISO Equiv.: 100
White balance: Auto
Metering Mode: matrix

Post-processing: GIMP. I pushed up the saturation and adjusted the contrasts and curves to bring out the colour of the birds' beaks and legs. I considered cropping it to portrait orientation, removing the extra goose and the mallard. (I may still do that).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter mood

Going down to photograph the sheep corral you see in the background and a nearby waterfall, I spotted this massive fencepost, held in place by steel cables, and couldn't resist taking a shot. Icelanders driftwood a lot for building fences and, as in this instance, often leave the wood rough and unfinished.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lambs to the slaughter

While driving home from a visit to my parents a couple of months ago I stopped at a roadside diner/service station to get some coffee, and noticed a lifestock transportation truck in the parking lot. It was probably taking lambs to be slaughtered, or it may have been taking sheep somewhere for restocking. The animals need to be sheltered but still must be able to breathe, and the sides of the truck were covered with plywood with holes cut in it to let in air. Every now and then a muzzle would appear through one of the holes and the animal would sniff the air. It looked rather pathetic, but offered a great photo opportunity:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hallgrímskirkja at night

One night just before Yule I spent a couple of hours out in the frost shooting the festive lights in the centre of Reykjavík (see some of my December shots, e.g. of Austurvöllur). On my way home I decided to snap some photos of Hallgrímskirkja and therefore took a route through the Þingholt neighbourhood that lead straight to the church, and came upon a make-shift police check-point. The police were stopping every car and breathalysing every driver going past the church. I, of course, passed the test and drove into the church parking lot, went out with my gear and started taking photos. However, I got stopped again coming out of the parking lot (no more inebriated than I was going in), and although it was only around 10 p.m., the officer who stopped me told me they had already caught several drunk drivers. What it is that makes people think it's okay to drink and drive is beyond my understanding.

As for the photo, it was taken from the middle of the Skólavörðustígur to get a perfectly centered view, and I therefore had to rely on autofocus for speed, as I didn't want to hold up the traffic while standing and fiddling with the focus ring. As you can see, the AF wasn't quite working due to the darkness. Some night when I can count on there not being much traffic, I'm going back there to try to get a sharply focused shot.

The orange cast in the sky is light pollution - I could Photoshop it away but the church wouldn't look quite as spooky without it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sunset or sunrise (not sure which)

I'm not even sure where this photo was taken, but Skagafjörður is a possibility.
Original on film.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Testing the phone camera

Last Friday I had a chance to test the 'Night' and 'Firework' programs that come with the camera in my new phone, and was rather amazed at the quality of the exposures. Mind you, they aren't great photos by any stretch - you can only do so much, especially at night, at slow speeds with a hand-held camera with fixed focus and no flash  - but they really are better than I expected after my previous experiences of using an early model digital camera with a low megapixel count.The results are wonderfully grungy, reminiscent of what you might get from an old-fashioned point-and-shoot film camera, e.g. a Kodak Brownie, under the same conditions:

Here are some examples. 
First a picture of my friend's daughter playing with a sparkler, followed by a couple of fireworks shots.
All were taken using the Firework program:

Frame added using Snapbucket

This one was taken using the Night program:

Although the focus is (euphemistically) soft, the exposure is pretty good considering the lack of flash

And here is a copy of the same image after I ran it through Snapbucket and added a Lomo filter, purple glitter, a vignette and a frame. Somehow the bad focus doesn't seem to matter any more...

I can see now that the purple glitter was a mistake...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Fern frost

Fern frost on the roof of my car forming lovely patterns, barely glimpsed because of the shallow depth-of-field:

Technical information, all photos:

Camera: NIKON D7000

Date/Time: 2011:12:31 13:44

Focal Length: 105.0mm (35mm equivalent: 157...

Exposure Time: 0.0080 s (1/125)

Aperture: f/7.1

ISO Equiv.: 400

White balance: Auto

Metering Mode: matrix

Adjusted the contrast using GIMP, to bring out the patterns more clearly, and cropped the first photo.

Picturesque ruin

These were taken on Christmas Eve. The snow was beginning to blow off the mountain but the wind had not yet picked up where I was standing.

The shell of an old sheep-house makes a stark contrast with the snowy landscape. Since the photo was more or less monochromatic anyway, I went all the way and converted it to black-and-white and increased the contrasts.

Here is the same ruin in colour. 
I wanted to show the slate blue shades of the sky contrasted with the snow and dry grass and so kept it in colour.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Dinner service

A herd of Icelandic horses grazing in a pasture near the north end of the Hvalfjörður tunnel.

This photo was taken in the autumn, when there was still just a touch of green left in the grass, but could otherwise easily be a winter shot.

Friday, January 06, 2012

New Year's Eve bonfire

The New Year's Eve bonfire in Garðabær was a success as usual. 
The photo was taken from the top of a building overlooking the scene.
If the weather permits, I'll be going to an Epiphany bonfire and fireworks show tonight.

Technical information:
Camera: NIKON D7000
Date/Time: 2011:12:31 21:29:37
Focal Length: 62.0mm (35mm equivalent: 93mm)
Exposure Time: 0.500 s (1/2)
Aperture: f/5.3
ISO Equiv.: 100
Whitebalance: Auto
Metering Mode: matrix
Exposure: Manual

Snapbucket (testing)

I have a new "toy". Or maybe I should call it a mixture of toy and useful gadget. My old cell phone died just before the holidays and I sat down with the corpse in my hands and had a long think. I have always preferred single-task devices over multi-gadgets - that is, I prefer dedicated tools that perform one particular function really well, rather than multi-tasking gadgets with bells and whistles that do several things but none of them well. I have never bought a TV-video or TV-DVD player combo, never owned a camerahone, never even considered a washer-dryer. The only extras I have ever found remotely useful in my cell phones have been the various chronometric functions (alarm, reminder, countdown, stopwatch) and occasionally the calculator.

However, at some point one has to make an exception to such a rule. I travel a lot, both locally and abroad, or maybe it would be more correct to say that when I travel, I really travel. Although I might enjoy a short city trip, I much prefer road trips of three weeks and upwards, and have plans to visit places where having a navigation system would save a lot of hassles. I had therefore decided to start saving up for a GPS navigation device. Having seen ads for smartphones with GPS navigation and maps installed, I took a closer look, and realised that maybe, for once, having a multi-function gadget wasn't so bad. After all, what is a smartphone, really, other than a miniature computer you can make phone calls from? It was certainly considerably cheaper to buy a smartphone with GPS rather than a regular cell phone and a GPS device. (I realise, of course, that a GPS device is better at navigating than a smartphone, but the GPS function on the phone is good enough for me to begin with).

 So off I went, checked what was available, read the reviews and decided what I wanted. I ended up with a Samsung Galaxy Mini smartphone, and have been getting to know it. Already I can see that I can eliminate from my handbag the book I always carry around to read, my notebook, the spirit level, shopping lists, book wishlist, and small camera, and possibly even the flashlight (although I still need to test that particular app). I have downloaded several apps, including a shopping list/pantry management app that is going to make it very easy to locate my shopping list and book list when I lose them - all I have to do is make a phone call and listen for the ring.

After downloading and testing a couple of camera apps (and discovering that the one I most covet doesn't work with the phone), I ended up installing Snapbucket. I am still learning to use it, but I think it has potential. It doesn't seem to have a sharpening function, which is a pity since the phone camera is a fixed focus device and I still haven't quite gotten the hang of how far from the subject it needs to be for good focus, but so far it hasn't crashed the phone and seems to be fairly quick and the first upload worked seamlessly.

On the left is the first uploaded image. It's out of focus but the effects look okay (bronze tint filter, large black vignette, grunge white frame).

Apparently, the more you use it, the more effects will become available, so there is an incentive to use it. For me - with my big, advanced camera and software like GIMP, Photoshop and Photomatix at my fingertips - it will never be more than a toy, but for some situations a toy camera is all you need. I plan to continue to test camera apps and will post about them when I have explored their possibilities.

Now if only the Blogger app functioned with this phone...

A final Yule photo

Although the holidays are over, it is still technically Christmas/Yule. Today is, in fact, the last day of Christmastide/Yuletide/Twelvetide. Here is a Yule tree I spotted aboard a whale-watching boat in the harbour when I went down there to do a spot of night photography on the night of New Year's Day.

Technical information: 

Camera: NIKON D7000 
Date/Time: 2012:01:01 20:38:27 
Focal Length: 21.0mm (35mm equivalent: 31mm) 
Exposure Time: 2.000 s 
Aperture: f/4.0 
ISO Equiv.: 100 
Whitebalance: Auto 
Metering Mode: matrix 
Exposure: Manual

I used a tripod, and cropped this out of a larger photo using GIMP.