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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.

Posted in category "Photography" on Monday, November 07, 2005 at 05:49 PM

A wet night in Zürich

in Photography , Sunday, October 09, 2005

Recently I was struck with the idea of photographing Zürich by night in the rain. Since, recently, most nights have been wet and miserable, this wasn't too rash an ambition. The area along Limmatquai (the Limmat is the main river which flows out of the lake) seemed to offer good panoramic potential, so I went there. I was hoping for damp conditions - I got torrential rain. I got very, very wet, as, despite umbrellas etc, did the Xpan, but at least the lenses kept dry. Generally it was quite succesful, especially considering the foul conditions. The shot below was one I had pre-meditated, but it didn't end up quite as I expected. grancafe.jpg

Gran Cafe, Zürich. Hasselblad Xpan, 45mm, Fujichrome 64T, 45 seconds at f11

I think the strange, ghostly "lensbaby" effect is due to a long exposure in heavy rain. It isn't out of focus, and the lens was not misted, or wet - I kept checking. In any case, I was a bit unexpected, but I'm pretty pleased with it. The few customers of the Gran Cafe, and the even fewer passers by, clearly thought I was crazy.
Posted in category "Photography" on Sunday, October 09, 2005 at 08:06 PM

Time of no photography

in Photography , Thursday, May 19, 2005

I haven't written anything here in the last two months basically because I have done practically no photography, and apart from trying to catch up on reading - slowly - Alain Briot's excellent Aesthetics and Photography series (buy the CD!) I haven't really done anything even related. The demands of a new job and moving to a new appartment in an unfamiliar region take their toll. However in the last couple of days I have been going around with my Ricoh GR1, just in case I stumble upon a quick opportunity. I've often considered that the GR1 was highly significant to me, as using it was the first time I really appreciated what a difference a really high quality lens could make. But for some reason it occured to me this morning that there might have been another factor: autofocus. The first autofocus SLR I ever owned was the Olympus E1, and the first thing I did with it was to work out how to enable the manual focus overide. I was quite fixated on the idea that I wanted to be in control. Later - much later - I came to realise that the problem of control was not so much over focus as over autofocus. I assumed, somehow, that autofocus "just works" and if I was getting bad results it was because it wasn't very good, and anyway was somehow cheating. Of course I was wrong, completely wrong. To use autofocus efficiently and creatively you have to understand it and practice, like any other tool. But maybe with the GR1 the fact that autofocus can only really be disabled in favour of "SNAP" mode, which sets up hyperfocal focusing, gave me the benefits of autofocus coupled with the excellent lens. Ironically I did consider buying the GR1v, which includes a kind of manual focus mode. Whatever, it is nice to rediscover this camera. It is the only one I own which can really be taken anywhere for opportunistic shooting. I have an "ancient" Olympus C4040 (ancient despite being 3 or 4 years younger than the GR1), but it is relatively bulky and the handling, especially compared to the GR1, is horrible, So all I need now is to find somewhere I can still get slide film developed. [Posted from the scene with hblogger 2.0]
Posted in category "Photography" on Thursday, May 19, 2005 at 09:51 AM

Coot of the day

in Olympus E-System , Monday, January 17, 2005

Another day, another batch of lake bird photos. Again I used the 50-200mm lens, again with the teleconverter. This time I had little trouble with AF in C-Mode. Today's photo is a close-up of a coot. Trying to optimise the exposure, I used center weighted averaging centered on the head. I also tried using spot metering with AE Lock, which also gave usable results. LagoLugano_050117_59_001.jpg
Posted in category "Olympus E-System" on Monday, January 17, 2005 at 07:57 PM

Fame at last!

, Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I was quite surprised to find that the UK monthly magazine, Practical Photography, chose to publish two photographs I submitted to them in October.

pp-scan.jpg

The photographs were both taken with the Olympus E-1, which shows that 5Mpix is actually quite adequate for publication.

Since this was only my second attempt at getting published, I suppose I'm allowed to feel slightly pleased with myself - especially since my subject, puffins, was hardly original in itself. Now the pressure is on for a follow-up...

Posted in on Wednesday, January 05, 2005 at 09:50 AM

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