Category Archives: winter

Under a Blood-Red Sky

Not kidding:

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This is the sky this morning, 8.30 am. No filter, no mumbo-jumbo. Just a crisp, cold winter morning in the city centre of Dublin. We are back to the time where I just about finish my morning work and get up from the desk – to notice the colour of the sky outside. (In deeper, darker winter the sun has not yet risen when I take my breakfast break.)

The image comes with a reminder for all Dublin readers that the annual Turner show is on in the National Gallery of Ireland. I make my pilgrimage to the exhibition every year. It is all the more special because the Turner watercolours are only ever shown in the month of January (as stipulated in the Vaughan Bequest from 1900 that stated the Turner watercolours were to be shown every year in the month of January – as the light was least damaging in the muddy grey of the Irish winter… too right). They match the sunrise in their pinks, reds and oranges – although Turner does not paint with a wide, wet brush or however else we usually see watercolours. There is an amazing amount of detail in the vague, the occasional stronger brushstrokes and the carefully unpainted parts of the images. I find these paintings so un-watercolour-ish, I am astounded every time I see them.

My photo does not reach the lofty heights of artistic expression that Turner perfected. But the view of the sky certainly connects me with him. The beauty of colour. Amazing.

Candlelight Photography

I love candlelight. It is the one thing I really love about the dark season when you can light candles at 5 pm and enjoy the warmth and coziness it spreads. Maybe there’s something primeval about it – instinctively reminding us of the cave days? In any case, I love it and I like photographing it, too, but that has its challenges. That you need to turn off the flash and use a tripod goes without saying – you need to avoid drowning out the lovely yellow glow while also shooting as slow as possible.
Opening the aperture as wide as possible is probably the way to go. A fast lens would be ideal – anyone got a nice f1.4 prime? No, I don’t either. 

So other tips and tricks are needed. Here’s the obvious one: have more than one candle in the shot. That’s what I did when I produced this Xmas pic years ago. To be honest, it was a bit of a fluke – I just shot and the outcome was better than I had thought. Not ideal, though, because some of the challenges of candlelight photography were not met: the image is blurry. The meta data tells me (early on-set Alzheimer – I can’t remember any of this. Thank Canon for meta data) that I shot this at aperture priority with a shutter spead of 1/3 of a second (hence the blurrrrrrrrr) and an aperture of f 4.5 (as wide as my  Canon 350d would allow me) at 200 ISO. This was in 2005 – just before I copped on to manually setting the camera. *blushes* 

Purely by chance I worked out a couple of other tricks that help when shooting candles or candle- lit scenes. On a mission to produce a self-portrait for college I deliberately made the whole project harder for myself by deciding to picture myself in candlelight. (Underlying reason being, of course, that candlelight is supposed to be kinder to women if my age… Well, kindness doesn’t help much when you are working with an ugly mug, but anyway…) It just wouldn’t work, if I didn’t want to crank up the ISO to sky-high 25 million. Mind you, the resulting grain would probably also have been quite kind to my crows feet… Anyhow, turning around in my location I eventually figured that I could get twice the amount of candlelight in if I posed with le candle in front of a mirror. Tada!

Likewise, tip number 2 happened on the same occasion when I realized that even bare (pale) skin reflected more light into the camera than my usual artsy-fartsy black attire. Off it came and yes, it eventually worked (after about 500 unusable mugshots…). I suspect, the clever use of a white tablecloth or a reflector somewhere near would have done the trick, too.

So there you are. With the festive season soon upon us, it is the right moment to experiment with candle-lit photography. But remember kids: Don’t play with fire!

Pantone Eat Your Heart Out

There is only one reason why I am consoled with the fact that the nights are getting longer: I get to see the most gorgeous sunrises when I work on my early morning shift every day.


Ireland has the most fabulous morning skies! It must be the proximity to the sea – with the air cooling in the sunless night, the night sky is often without clouds. As the sun rises and the air is being warmed, clouds form where the sea hits the land and in the warm glow of the morning sun, the sky sparkles in all shades from bright pink to burning orange with patches of vibrant blue. 

It is a sight I never tire of – despite knowing the bad rap that sunrises and sunsets get from people. Tacky. Picture postcard kitsch. Well, stuff that. *I* am in total awe of the colour feast that nature provides for me every morning. And I cannot help but record the ever changing variety of hues. Pantone eat your heart out! 

I am reminded of the almost excessive description of the Atlantic skies in “The Boat”. Lothar Günther Buchheim’s anti-war novel is one of my favourite books of all time (first read at age 14 – take that for a geeky girl! – and read for the second time immediately after finishing it for the first time *haha*) and to this day I love the dichotomy of the book: the hard, unsentimental account of u-boat warfare contrasted with the poetic description of beautiful, sun-painted Atlantic skies. I feel vindicated in my love for sunrise photography. Sure, if a macho war correspondent can write about them with lyric tenderness, a soppy woman may do so, too…

Happy Christmas, Everyone!

It’s the day before the big day. Well, for us of the German persuasion it is the big day tomorrow, with the main present exchange happening on the 24th of December. I have travelled back to the Fazerland to celebrate with my Teutonic family. 
The camera is at the ready – to capture happy children and bewildered grown-ups while unwrapping presents, stuffing their faces with food, rolling going on digestive walks every once in a while and meeting relatives. Will these images ever see the light of day again? I have noticed that my collected Christmas pictures 2007 – 2011 have only once left the digital realm, when I produced a Christmas photo album, in 2008. 
I have the slight little hope that my course in large format photography will already have left a mark on me  in the sense that I am less trigger-happy these days and limit myself to fewer photos than before. Maybe there is the first resolution for 2012: To edit ruthlessly but to print generously. Because photos that only exist virtually are as good bad as unseen photos. 
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas – if you have any hopes, dreams and wishes, I hope they will come true for you.
Lots of love,
S. xxx

Do-Goody

Do you like to see yourself in print? Sure, that is one of the reasons why many of us are photographers: We do not only love taking photographs but we also think that others might like to see what we produce. We “make” photos because we want to communicate something through them. Sometimes we document important events which the public ought to know about. Sometimes something funny and unusual catches our eye and we want to make others laugh. Or we see the beauty in something and capture it on film for other to enjoy as much as we do.
Only few of us are lucky enough to earn our living with photography. Photography is a craft and an art combined. Thus it depends on the tastes of the public and not only the technical skills and aesthetic vision of the photographer whether he or she is commercially successful. For most of us the money does not really come into it. We snap and shoot, anyway. Photography is an obsession, and probably has to be, if it is considered an art…
But to get back to my initial point: Your photos are worth nothing if noone wants to see them. And thus I was incredibly chuffed when I was approached by an Irish charity recently who asked me to contribute one of my images to their annual charity Christmas card project. I was more than happy to hand over an image. Exposure as a photographer and doing good combined – could it get any better?
Irish Deaf Kids is a non-profit organisation that is committed to supporting children with hearing issues in Ireland. IDK provides resources and support to parents of deaf children, with particular focus on inclusive mainstream education. The proceeds of the Christmas card project will fund the charity’s good work in the next year. If you want to do good, you can support IDK by purchasing a pack of Christmas cards. Details are here on the comprehensive IDK website.
Do-goody that I am, I would like to ask you to consider giving away a photo of your own to the charity of your choice, too. Or, as it is almost too late for such a project in conjunction with a charity this year, have you considered printing your own Christmas cards, selling them to friends, family, business partners, colleagues etc. and passing on the proceeds to a charity? It may only be a small project and won’t make you any money, but the gratification is priceless… 

*Ignore*

Self-confessed fan of Christmas that I am, I have completely ignored the same here in this blog. Amazing – could it be that my passion for photography transcends that for all things Christmas?? In any case, you’ll be glad that I will spare you any further reference to Christmas – we are all Christmas-sed out at this stage, I presume. No atmospheric candles, heaps of colourfully wrapped presents, not even a sodding Christmas pudding! I will go on with my ignorance and proceed with a different winter shot.

Yes, that IS winter time. The shot was taken on an early December day. Not this year, I admit. But that is winter in my adopted homeland: The most colourful time of year in Ireland.

Seriously, it is. And even though I love the snow, I also love the mild Irish winters – when I am hiking. Not only because the weather here makes it possible to go hiking any time of year, but also because it is never as  colourful out in the hills as it is now. Just look at the picture: Fitting for the Emerald Isle, the grass is green, even if a bit faded. Weeds and reeds have turned brown and ochre. The fir trees still keep their dark green needles and the bracken has turned a wonderful rusty red colour. In the distance, on the hills, the remains of the heather still appear as a vague purple haze. The rocks in the hills are grey. A powdery blue sky promises a dry hike. And the sheep, dotted in the landscape, appear as white spots here and there.

Talking of sheep – I get slagged all the time by my Irish friends for including sheep in my shots. “Jayus, you really can’t get enough of them, can you? Such a prejudiced view of Ireland you have!” one of them once said to me. I can’t help it, I like those fluffy creatures. Especially in shots of landscapes otherwise totally devoid of signs of life (disregarding plant life), they give a bit of focus and sometimes add a bit of humour to the scene. See the old girl in this shot? She seems to say “Who are you?”. Well, I say: “Move it, baby. Yes, pose a little bit for me. Ah, you are great. Fantastic. That is a really strong look you’ve got, baby. Keep it coming.”

Right, getting ready for New Year’s now. Are you? I am taking myself and the camera off to the fatherland. And I am hoping for some nice camera opportunities over there. Not with snow. I am officially snowed out for this year. But I am thinking of some experiments with fireworks – of which there will be plenty on New Year’s Eve in Germany.

Oh, and yours truly is very close to buying a new camera kit. After-Christmas-Sale is the perfect opportunity for camera shopping in continental Europe. Ok, off now, to do some pre-Sale price-comparing and camera-shop-spotting. Wish me luck!