Rome, Italy – The Vatican Stairs

Vatican Stairs

NIKON D300, Nikon 12-24

Here is one of my favorite pictures…the Vatican Stairs in Rome.  I flew into Rome last year for business and typically get in on a Sunday AM.  I was to make my way up Italy on Monday and leave Rome the next day.  As it is Sunday the Vatican is closed.  So I had never had a chance to see it!  Luckily (I guess) my luggage was lost and I had to stay in Rome an additional day.  I thought it was a great time to take the tour of the Vatican! Finally!

It was a Monday morning around 9 AM…I took a taxi to the Vatican and the lines were long!  As I got into the line…the traditional tour people asked me if I wanted to skip the line and join a personal tour.  I looked ahead at the line and agreed.  Sometimes you feel as though you are getting ripped off…but this actually turned out to be a great tour!  It was 3 1/2 hours long and they took you everywhere!  I had in my pocket a picture of this shot I had found one day and always wanted to take it!  My goal was to find this spot.

As our group gathered at the Vatican Museum back entrance…I took a seat and prepared my camera.  We began the tour and I eagerly looked for this location.  The tour was just about complete and we were finishing up at the entrance to St. Peter’s square.  I was sad…I had not seen the stairs.  I took out my picture and showed the guide.  She told me it was all the way at the beginning of the tour!  Yikes!  She said I could try and go backwards to find it.  I used my noggin and told every security guard on the way…I lost my tour and showed them the picture – can you point me in the direction of the stairs – this is where they are located.  I was stopped 4 times and one time had to show my ticket.  The guards were all very nice and helpful! 

I finally got to the location and had a good laugh.  When I first sat down at the beginning of the tour…the steps were right there over the edge…because I sat down I did not see them.  Too funny!  But I made it back and took this picture.  It was a fun tour indeed.  I knew I wanted to capture the whole stairs…so a wide angle lens was needed!  I opened up the aperature as light was needed also.  I took about 20 shots hand held and this was the best!  I tried an HDR…but it didnt look correct.   Definately on of my favs…it is mounted in our family room along with the view looking up the stairs (I’ll post it tomorrow).  I was proud to work for this picture…it was worth the effort. 

After this day…before my trips – now I make a list of pictures at the location I am visiting  that are priorities to shoot.   Then I try to complete my task list.  Gives you focus.  It works wonders!  I’ll tell you more about the Vatican and Rome tomorrow.  Have fun!

Water Lily

Water Lily

NIKON D300, Nikon 105 VR

As it is spring time…I wanted to post one of my favorite shots from last year.  I took this shot here in Austin at the Zilker Botonical Garden.  This water lily was so beautiful…it kinda looks like the middle is on fire!  Such great colors!  This photograph was recently published in Hill Country magazine (Spring 2009 issue) …here is the link for the magazine site…  

One of my favorite times of the year in Texas is spring!  I am getting ready in the next few weeks to take tons of flower pics.  We have a few road trips set up already.   Here in TX sometimes all you need to do is pull over roadside and you can get some great wildflower photos!!   I’m sure I will have lots to post in the next month or so.  My macro lens is ready to go!  And per my post below..Im gonna try a few flower IR shots as well.  Hope the weather is warming up where you are!

IR (Infrared) Las Vegas – Paris Hotel

IR Las Vegas

NIKON D70S, (Modified IR by Life Pixel) Nikon 18-70, Photoshop

Finally got to go through all my IR shots from the trip.  I took about 50 photos.  The Palm Springs shot in my other post was the best.  This style of photogrpahy is very new to me…so I have tons to learn.  After I post processed this picture…I thought it came out pretty cool.  The key is the composition.  The angle and the palm trees help out.  Beforehand I was curious to see if buildings in IR looked ok?  After seeing this…I say yes…..but buildings need help.  Any trees or clouds will be advantageous.  I do wish I has some clouds in this picture….would make it even better. 

As it is springtime….my next attempt on IR will be flowers.   I’ll post one soon!

If you are going to convert a camera to IR….go to Life Pixel They are the leaders!  I am working on a coupon code with them…let you know soon.  Tell them Peter Talke sent you!  Dont forget…any IR questions you may have…feel free to ask anytime!

Poros, Greece

Poros, Greece

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

I’ll take a break on the pics from my last trip and share one of my favorite shots and Places 2 Explore!  Greece!  We took a trip last May to Europe for 18 days.  The first 3 days were in Greece.  The first day we recovered from jet lag and relaxed as we arrived into Athens late in the day.   The next day we took a guided tour of Athens.   A dream of mine was to visit the Parthenon…so I was excited.  The tour was fun…about 5 hours.  We saw all the sights and got to get off the bus and enjoyed taking pictures.  When we arrived at the Acropolis…anticipation grew for me to see one of the great wonders of the world.  It was amazing…but the only downfall is that its on a 10(?) year refurbishing plan.  Scafolding and workers are there while you visit.    So if you plan to visit…check when it will be complete. 

At nite we took a taxi to Lycabettis Hill….you take a tram up to the top and there is a nice restaurant on top with a small church.  From here you can view all of Athens and enjoy the sunset while eating outside….the food was decent and the sights are amazing!  On our taxi rides, it seemed as though all the taxi drivers at one time lived in New York!   They all spoke great English and we very fun to talk to!

We then had one last day in Greece before leaving for Bulgaria.  My wife had suggested a 10 hour day cruise that we saw advertised at the hotel. …so we went for it!  The bus picks you up at the hotel and bring syou to the service center to buy tickets and then onto the port of departure.  The cruise lasted 10 hours.  We were to visit Poros, Aegina and Hydra.   We arrived at the port and was amazed at how many people were on the boat…estimated 400?  It was a beautiful day as well! 

I can go on and on about this day…as it was unforgetable and amazing!  …but I will keep it short.   Each island had its own specialties.  As we docked we only had about 45 minutes at each stop.  So we had a chance to take a short walk around window shop.  Just a perfect amount of time.   Then we would depart to the next island.  Just sitting on the deck in the sun and watching the tranquil blue water travel by was very sureal.  A permanant smile were on our faces the whole day!   If you have traveled to any Greek islands…then you know well!  

One of our favorite stops on the trip was a little island called Poros.  It was very cute and small.  We walked down some alleys and took pictures and stopped for some souveniers.   When we retruend to the boat we grabbed a seat on the outside back deck.  The boat took off slowly as we pulled away from the island.  I stood up to get a bunch of pictures of Poros.  This picture is the view we had!  Fantastic!   A perfect postcard for a wonderful day!  I used the railing to brace my arm and took it hand held.  After 10 hours..of course you are tired and ready to go back to the hotel.   After this day…I am eager to go back to Greece to see more islands!!   If you enjoy traveling…Greece is a must visit!

I am not sure when we will go back…but we will make it back again one day!   The big islands suchs as Santorini, Crete, Mykonos…are on the list!

Indian Wells, CA – HDR

Indian Wells HDR

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR, HDR in Photomatix

Here is another lovely picture from our trip to Palm Springs.  Indian Wells is a small town next to Palm Springs.  This is actually the town that holds the tennis tournament we visit.  So we decided this past trip to stay at the hotel that has shuttle service to the tournament….Marriott Esmeralda….that way we do not have to worry about parking.   We were there 3 nights.  It is a nice hotel…not too expensive.  Many of the European tennis players that were at the tournament were staying there also due to the close proximity to the courts.   At nite it was fun to walk around with the tennis pros!  Some were even on our AM elevator rides, walking by us at the pool…you would look over and say to yourself…isnt that ????   And it was!  Made the trip fun!

While walking around poolside that afternoon…I wanted to capture some photos of the surrounding landscape.   I took some shots of flowers, palm trees…and this shot.   I saw the colors, afternoon sun and shadows…and luckily some puffy clouds in the distance.  I thought HDR!  This was made with 5 exposures, then processed in Photomatix….touch up in Lightroom 2.0.  My usual method.   For HDR’s you can use 3 exposures or 5.  I have found that 5 exposures gives you that more realistic shot.   This picture was taken also hand held.  It was about 85 degrees that day…I figured the sunbathers poolside didnt want to see my tripod block any sunlight! 

We really enojoy Palm Springs.  Its a great place to relax and enjoy.  You can play golf, tennis, relax and enjoy the wonderful restaurants at nite in the surrounding towns.  Visit if you can!

Fractalius Flower Fun

Fractalius Flower Fun

NIKON D300, NIKON 105 VR, Photoshop – Fractalius

Here is a picture I took at the Bellagio Hotel 2 weeks ago.  You may ask how it was done?  Easy!   Fractalius.  Its a plug in for many of the post processing software used for photographs.  I use Photoshop CS3.   Plug ins are filter additions to your current software.  You can purchase them and add them into your workflow.   I saw this plug in one day on a friends web site…I was amazed!   I wanted to get it!  You can also… is the website.  $39.90 for the program.  Easy download and install. 

I’ve tried it on many photographs….seems as though flowers and animals are the best!    Here is a bird you can see for reference on my web site…  Its very cool!    A dream shot for me one day would be to get a closeup of an american eagle…then use Fractalius. 

As for this shot….you can play around with the settings on Fractalius and get many different versions/styles.  I loved the composition of this shot.  The flower all by itself, and the deep green background (looks like green flames) creates a wonderful color flow!    With this software you can have lots of fun.  Hope you enjoy!

Las Vegas, Nevada NYNY Hotel HDR

NY NY Hotel Vegas

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR, HDR in Photomatix

Here is another shot of the New York NY Hotel that came out decent.  I’m getting through more of my pics every day.   Yesterday was process HDR day for my Vegas section of the trip.  

I set this one up also accross the street at the Tropicana at sunset.  I used a tripod and shutter release with 5 exposures.  Then converted in Photomatix.  Its shots like this that really get me thinking that HDR’s are amazing!   I will assume that in the future of cameras you will have a button marked HDR on the camera.   Its real easy now…but why not make it simple for everyone!   The future of HDR’ing will grow tremendously in the next 5 years…in my opinion.

I cant go on enough about Photomatix.  They are the leader in HDR processing.  The software is so easy and in 3-5 mins…your HDR is done.  For this shot I used Lightroom 2.0 to post process….just only a little was needed.   I was invited to submit a gallery to Photomatix this past week.  So I will soon have my photos on their website…a great honor.   I’ll let ya know when it gets posted with a link.  I may add this shot to the gallery?

Working through my HDR’s after a trip is lots of fun.  I took about 25 different pics in Vegas this past trip…as they get processed I eagerly await the outcome when tone mapping is complete.  I’d say my ratio is about 3 out of 10 that work well and 1 out of eevery ten is solid.  I try different settings and angles to try to find the right light and shadows.   If you have never tried it before, it is fairly easy as long as you have an decent Digital SLR….most cameras are set up for bracketing.  Feel free to ask me any questions.  I prefer to process so the outcome is a  realistic HDR, but occassionally an artistic HDR can be fun also.   Its what you prefer. Enjoy!

Laguna Beach, California

Laguna Beach

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

While on our trip last week to Southern California…we always take an afternoon to go visit one of our favorite places…Laguna Beach.    We lived inland 10 mins away for many years in Orange County.  There are many great places to see…but this is a must visit!   Its a hotel/spa located on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna called the Montage.  I have never stayed there….as its expensive..about $500+/nite.   But have had a chance to enjoy the spa….wonderful!!   It is located right on the cliffs and beach of Laguna.  The views from inside the hotel or outside on the walkways/beach are amazing!   Arrive just before sunset and you will be glad you visited.

We usually pull up around 3-4 PM to the hotel…you can valet for $5!  Cheap!  One nice thing is that you have a chance to see some Hollywood stars!  We have seen a few in trips there.  Just treat them like regular folk and they may walk by and say hello!  After you valet your car to get to the beach we walk through the hotel and take the elevator down to the pool area.  There you can catch a walkway to the cliff views and steps going down to the beach!   Its never crowded…you may see some photographers taking family portraits or a few locals surfing.  There are nice rock formations and wonderful views!  We were lucky this day…about 100 yards out we saw a school of dolphins making their way south!

I took this shot this past week….not bad for early spring.   In the summer, the flowers are in full bloom and your pictures will come out much better!   After the sun sets…make your way to one of my favorite restaurants….Javier’s for some Mexican food that is amazing!    If you are in the Laguna area…stop by the Montage and you will be glad you did!

Rafael Nadal, Indian Wells, California

Rafa 01

NIKON D300, Nikon 70-200 VR f/2.8, Nikon TC14IIE

I am a big sports fan…basically any sport is ok with me!   Tennis is one of my favorites to play and to watch.  This was taken at the BNP Paribas tennis tournament in Palm Springs, CA this past week.  We have attended many tournaments through the years and this is the best tournament to go to for tennis!   It is about 80-85 degrees and sunny everyday in Palm Springs in March…one day we even had a cool breeze!   The stadiums are well spread out and food and drinks are located perfectly.  As you walk into the event there are about 10-15 practice courts next to the stadiums.   We attend the early rounds in order to see all the players.  But another advantage in this tournament is that most all players practice in front of the fans.  You are basically 10 feet away from your favorite players.  If you are lucky…autographs are not too hard to get!  We met Maria Sharapova…she is of my favs….got a few autographs…my daughter gave her a red flower she was holding and Maria thanked her kindly!  Thanks Maria for being so nice!   I’m sure its hard being famous.

As I knew we were going to this tournament…I had been eyeing a new Nikon lens.  The 70-200 VR f/2.8.  I had read all the reviews and wanted to give it a try.  I listen to photogrpahy podcasts as I am always trying to learn everyday and just recently in the TWIP Podcast the mentioned a company called Lens Rentals.  They have a web site you can basically rent any lens you want!  The prices are pretty good!   This lens costs $1700+ dollars if you by it from a store.  To me alot of money to just buy it hope it works for you.   This service was a great opportunity to give it a try and test the performance of the lens.

I rented the lens for 2 weeks….$163.00…including shipping to you and back!  It arrived via Fed Ex in 2 days and my first day with the lens was at my daughters soccer game.  I already had in my possesion a teleconverter…the Nikon TC14IIE. So it added about another 100mm focal length to the lens.    You can get different teleconverters to add distance to your lenses (mostly they only work on the bigger lenses).  But in some cases you may lose quality and performance.   Read up before buying one.   The TC14IIE is one of the best for adding equal quality and barely losing any preformance.   So at the soccer game I took 400 pics that day.  Addded to that it was photo day for the team and I gave the lens a try for portraits as well.  All of my action shots I used the lens hand held.  Its big, but I had no problems with the weight. 

After the first day….one word…AMAZING!  The lens was the best lens I had ever used and seen in action!   The portrait shots had fantastic bokeh (background blur)!!   The action shots with the correct shutter speed were unreal…add the f/2.8 and it adds bokeh even to the action shots.   So with one day of action in my pocket I was ready for the tennis tournament!

It was the second day we were were there…all the favs had practiced…I have lots of pics of Sharapova, Federer, Blake, Ivanovic, Jankovic, Safina, Hewitt, Tsonga, etc…..and I had not seen Nadal yet.  I saw a big crowd gather on one practice court…there he was…Nadal.   He is the mens number one player in the world and could possibly become one of the greatest of all time.   Just watching this guy is unreal.  You get the sense of power, drive and the feeling that even at number one…he is trying to improve his game.  Great characteristics to emulate!

So the crowd was 3-6 people deep…I had to fight in to get about 1 person back…luckily I am somewhat tall…I could stand tippy toe over most peoples heads.  I had the camera, lens and teleconverter all set to go!  I took about 50 shots of Nadal.   I wanted to capture action….to truly test the lens.  Going through the pics…I can easily say…its a must buy!!!   The clarity and quality of my pics are wonderful!   I had some blurry ones (due to hand held and tippy toeing the shots)…but overall most were great…so practice makes perfect…but having a lens ike this definately helps!   The hood of the lens fully extended occasionally bumped a few guys on the head while I was trying to get some shots…sorry dudes!  LOL

The day I sent this lens back, I was a bit sad.  I want this lens surely in my camera bag!   Not only for sports and animal shots….but also portaits!   It may take me week or so…but check my site….I’ll add some more tennis pics from the tournament.  Lens gets my thumbs up!!!   Nikon 70-200 VR f/2.8  …one word…WOW!!!!!!!!!!!

Splash of Color – Las Vegas, Nevada


NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

Just got back from our trip and have tons of photos to download and look at.   I will share a few over the next few days. We were in Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Southern California.  A fun wonderful trip and lots of beautiful weather!    This is one shot I took at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  They had an amazing spring flower exhibit just beyond the registration desk.    If you have a tripod and are willing to set it up in the hotels there… just hope you dont get bumped or knocked over…you can get fantastic shots basically in any of the nice mainstream hotels….with some patience.    Just be careful with your equipment…people drink lots in Vegas.  =)   The best time to shoot is around 7 AM inside the hotels.  Many people are partied out or are stumbling back to their rooms around this time….so it is nice and quiet!

As I walked around with my daughter (at 4 years old she has her own camera also! ) and took pictures of the flowers….this angle caught my eye.  I took about 10 versions of this picture and when I finally got to look at them tonite….this looked liked the best one.  If I find a angle I like alot in any pics I’m taking…I make sure to take 5-10 pics of it from different focal lengths.  That way you have options of which one looks the best.  How many times have we taken a shot and got home and looked at it and said to ourselves…wish I had taken a few more cause this one turned out mediocre.  Thats the fun of digital cameras.  The law of averages will work in your favor…hopefully!   Enjoy the Splash of Color!