photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Zürich Zoo

in Photography , Sunday, November 13, 2005

Finally got around to visiting Zürich Zoo today. I'm not totally sure if I approve of zoos. The good ones do a very good conservation and education work, although it would be disingenuous to pretend that their main role is not entertainment. Zürich Zoo has good points and bad points as far as animal welfare is concerned. We saw some pretty depressed looking king penguins, who most certainly do not have sufficient swimming space. Places like the Genova Aquarium are much better in this regard. Large mammals such as elephants seem too crowded together. However, some of the habitats, like the one for the red pandas, seem quite good. zurich_zoo_131105-004448.jpg Zoos are undeniably a good place to practice wildlife photography. However today was challenging. Overcast and foggy, and late afternoon light, made conditions quite difficult. This photo was taken using the Olympus E-1 and the 50-200mm lens, wide open (f2.9), at 800 ISO and semi-supported by a monopod. Although you can't really judge here, it rather belies the accepted knowledge that the E-1 isn't much good at 800 ISO. Here, I've applied light noise reduction (colour noise in CaptureOne, luminance noise in Noise Ninja), and used PhotoKit Sharpener's Creative Sharpener to recover some detail in the panda's face (the photo was not perfectly sharp, but since I was at 1/90sec, semi hand-held, that is hardly surprising). I do sometimes wonder how it would be to have a top end Canon, or even a Leica R9 digital, but then again, both are far heavier and bulkier that the E-1, and I'm not so sure that their best respective lenses are that much better than the mid range E-System ones.

The Lower Engadine

in Photography , Monday, November 07, 2005

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Lower Engadine region of the canton Graubunden. One of the wildest and least developed parts of Switzerland, the area was recently in the news as the stamping ground of the first wild bear to be found in Swiss territory for over 100 years. Despite the name, there is nothing low about this region, a system of isolated valleys surrounded by towering mountains, some of which, on the south side,form Switzerland's only national park. The Lower Engadine is located in the extreme south east of Switzerland, bordered by Italy and Austria. Until recently, the only way to get there from the rest of the country was over the high Flüelapass pass, which even in summer cn be more entertaining than one would like. Now, a year round alternative exists in the Vereina railcar tunnel.

Guarda, detail The isolation of the Lower Engadine has helped it to preserve its unique character. To me it is more reminiscent of Transylvania than Switzerland, with wonderfully preserved colorful vernacular architecture, and a fascinating history. The largest village, Scuol, famed for its thermal baths, has lost some charm through development, but other villages, such as Guarda, feel like being in another time altogether. When the weather is good, as it was for us, it is nearly magical. Isolation has also preserved the region's language, Rhaeto-Rumantsch, which, like Romanian, traces its root directly to Latin. This is not some quaint semi artificial language revived for tourists, but genuinely the native language of the region. Different dialects of Romantsch are also spoken in other areas of Graubunden. This is one of the things about Switzerland that keeps surprising me - such diversity over such a small area.

Piz Linard from Chamanna Linard hut We stayed in the village of Lavin, from where various hiking trails extend all over the mountains. We headed up towards Piz Linard, which we got close to, but eventually turned back. As well as being weighed down by far too much camera gear, I was suffering from bad back pains, as well as being hopelessly out of practice. But the beautiful weather, and the turning autumn leaves combined to create a wonderful atmosphere, and the effort was well worth it. The Lower Engadine is a great place for hiking, for nature photography, for relaxing and for just getting away from it all...all at the same time.