Karsten reviews photo sharing sites: ViewBug

This is a new series where I will talk about the various photo sharing communities I participate in. Most of all, I will probably be whining about how stupid computer algorithms and conspiracies against my person prevent my genius as a photographer to be recognized, but I hope to also present some facts and information that may be of help if you are unsure of what photo community suits you best.

I will start by talking about one of the latest sites I joined: ViewBug. Which is also, in fact, my favorite. ViewBug is all about the contests. Every day new photo contests and challenges are added, such as “Pets in Black and White”, “People in Landscapes” or “Cities and the Rule of Thirds”. You can win cash prizes or camera equipment and other neat things.

Now, the chances of someone like me winning a contest is pretty slim. Each one has thousands and thousands of entries, and many of them are pretty mindblowing.  But at least you have a hope that it could happen. Because unlike most of the other photo communities I’ve tried, with ViewBug it seems everybody has the same chance of faring well. On other sites – some of which I will review later – it seems to matter more how many followers you have than how good your pictures are.

On ViewBug, on the other hand, once the voting starts, it’s all about who has shot the best picture. When you vote in a contest – and everybody can do that – you are presented with four random images and can vote for your favorite and your second favorite before you are presented with another set of four. This goes on for as long as you feel like it, because as mentioned above, each contest has way more entries than you’ll ever want to see.

So, after the public voting is over, the photos with the most votes enter a final round where human expert judges have their say. Their favorite becomes the final winner, but a “people’s choice” award is also given, one must assume for the picture with the most public votes.

All of this gives you the feeling that justice is, for the most part, served. Sure, I’ve been wondering about some of the winners and finalists and in some cases how badly I have fared myself with what I thought was a pretty decent picture, but overall, ViewBug blows away the competition when it comes to fairness. My pictures often end up in the best 10-50% segment, and that’s probably what they deserve.

The notable exception to my usual performance was the very first picture I submitted to ViewBug. The picture of my wife’s daughter Jen chilling at a waterfall in Alberta, Canada, entered the final in a contest called “People and Waterfalls”. Now, entering a final on ViewBug is a pretty big deal. Of course, my picture didn’t win, but just being in the final brought me more exposure than I’d received on any other photo site. Before I knew it, I had 200+ followers and tons of “peer awards”.

Probably my best picture... ever. At least according to ViewBug.
Probably my best picture… ever. At least according to ViewBug.

And here’s the problem with ViewBug: the 200+ followers don’t really translate to much of anything. Every picture I have submitted since the waterfall one, has gone all but unnoticed in terms of likes and “awards”. Where, on 500px (another site I will review in the future), I will, within the first two hours, receive 15-30 likes for any decent picture I submit, I’m lucky to get five views and three likes on ViewBug.

So I guess so far that makes me sort of a one-hit-wonder on ViewBug. No matter how many other pictures I submit, it’s always “Waterfall Vegging”, as I titled it, that gets the attention. But I haven’t given up. Every time I upload a new picture, I’m sure that that’s the one that will bring me fame and fortune.

There’s a lot more to ViewBug, of course. They are masters at awarding you badges for everything from giving peer awards to getting certain amounts of followers. This along with interesting stats about your pictures makes ViewBug the champions at motivating their members.

My conclusion is that ViewBug is the best site if you are genuinely interested in having your pictures judged fairly and getting motivated. There’s not much of the instant gratification that you find on other sites. But if you are patient and can wait several weeks  – sometimes months – before contests and challenges are decided, you will be rewarded with a realistic idea of where you stand as a photographer. And get lots of inspiration as to what you need to work on in order to be a winner or a finalist.

Check out ViewBug.

Sunset magic on Strødam

I haven’t been doing a lot of serious picture taking so far this summer. It’s been a combination of bad weather and good weather. Good weather meaning clear blue sky, which equals uninteresting backgrounds in general and sunsets in particular.

But last Sunday evening the perfect conditions were suddenly present. Lots of clouds, but also lots of sun in between the clouds, promising a beautiful sunset. Additionally, there was absolutely no wind. This is important when shooting in low-light conditions when you need exposures of maybe up to 1/2 second and you don’t want wavy grass or moving leaves turning into blurry spots.

So off I went, over to a location I’ve gone to many times before: the Strødam area. Despite its beautiful lake and green surroundings, it’s not the easiest place to shoot. Most of it is fenced off. You have to stick to a path, and in most places, dense vegetation prevents you from accessing the lake shore. So most of my pictures in the past were kind of blah.

But on this evening I was determined to crack the nut called Strødam and get some quality sunset shots. I quickly realized, however, that that wasn’t going to happen sticking to the official path. So I did what all serious photographers have to do once in a while: I trespassed. I jumped the fence, determined to chase the sunset, which I could tell would be on the other side of a ridge in the middle of the fenced area.

The fence that had to be jumped is in itself worthy of a picture.

So into the fenced area I went. No one came out of the woods to yell at me, and I was not attacked by angry wildlife. Still, I felt brave as a Navy Seal.

Fortunately, my bravery was rewarded. Reaching the top of the ridge, a  dream scenery manifested itself below me: a herd of cows peacefully grazing on a meadow, a calm lake, and all of it shrouded in a purple and orange sunset with the sun having almost disappeared behind a tree line.

Over the next 30 minutes I took dozens of pictures of varying exposures, ISO and f-values. I moved closer a few times to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I was certain this scenery was a slam-dunk and that I was shooting the pictures of my life!

And, well, it’s not that I’m unhappy with the result, but I’m just not completely happy either.  A better foreground would have been nice for starters, but the main problem is that it’s just not as sharp as I would have liked it to be. I don’t know if it’s my camera, my lens, or my skills that leave something to be desired, but those cows should have had a lot more details.

A dream scenery, but is it a dream shot?

One of the best pictures was taken as I was leaving the area. A few cows had moved over to where I had been moments before, so I stopped and got a few shots off before I retreated, afraid the cows might start chasing me (so much for being a Navy Seal). Again, it should have been sharper, but the motif is kind of pretty.

Last cow shot of the evening.

In the end, my own favorite shots of the night were not of cows or lakes. I really like this one of the purple flowers under a purple sky. Sure, the purple has been enhanced, but it really was an absolutely gorgeous scene.

Purple on purple.

Finally, just before I left the area, it was time for a self-congratulating selfie. It might have been better without the chubby fellow awkwardly embodying the rule of thirds, but there he is.

I’m not a man of the church, but…

As a non-religious person my interest in churches has always been… hmm… how shall I put it? … rather limited. But since my photography hobby got the best of me in the last few years, I have come to appreciate them more… if only as photo subjects.

So the other day when my wife and I went on a weekend excursion to Roskilde, one of the things I was looking forward to the most was to explore Roskilde Cathedral with my camera. Now, Roskilde Cathedral is one of the largest and oldest churches in Denmark where many important people from Danish history are buried, including kings and queens.

Roskilde Cathedral was built during the 12th and 13th century (according to Wikipedia), and while it may not compare with famous cathedrals of Rome or London, it’s plenty impressive and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We were a little late in getting there so we only had about 30 minutes inside the church before they closed for the day. As we entered, one of the elderly ladies at the ticket desk told me to take my hat off. I obliged, of course, but immediately felt unwelcome and out of place. At first, I was afraid to even get my camera out and get on with the shooting, but when I did, no verger tackled me or grabbed my collar, so I started to relax a bit.

And relaxing was necessary, because I did not bring either my tripod or monopod, and like most churches this one was not well lit, requiring fairly long exposures for hand-held shots of about 1/5 second.

So first we have some indoor shots. The first one is actually not hand-held. I put the camera on the stairs leading up to the chapel and set it to a 2-second time delay.

The second shot is purely hand-held and shows the beautiful chapel.

The next one is a panorama made with my beloved cell phone camera. Normally you wouldn’t want people in a church shot, but I think this father and his child grace the image and add just the right amount of disturbance in an otherwise very clean shot.

Another cell phone panorama. I can’t get tired of those. Google+ made an automatic version of it that I kind of like, but of course it’s a bit too outrageous to put on a serious photo site like this!

The below picture is an HDR shot using three exposures and denoised with Topaz Denoise, which I’m still learning to use. This part of the church is where the famous King Christian IV is buried.

Moving outside the church presented the opposite lighting problem: too much light. The sun was still high in a blue sky and created some harsh shadows that had to be fixed in post-processing.

Even my wide-angle lens wasn’t quite wide enough to get the whole church in one shot, so the two first images were stitched together from two images that were shot top-down.

The below image was perhaps my favorite of the day, shot just as the sun disappeared behind that little dome.

Altogether, I was very happy with my output from that day. Still, we returned the next day because of some clouds that were hovering over Roskilde that I thought would add a little extra drama. The last one is another cell phone panorama.

An urban exploration by a non-self-respecting photographer

My photographer guru Scott Kelby has written something to the effect that no self-respecting photographer will shoot outdoor pictures in the middle of the day. The blue hour and altogether the light around sunrise and sunset is the only light worth using.

Well, even though he’s my guru, and even though I of course agree that those times of day are the best to shoot in, I have two problems with that: 1) using HDR you can do a lot to compensate for the harsh light of mid-day, and 2) if I could only shoot during those early and late hours, I’d hardly shoot at all. I know that part of it is laziness and unwillingness to get up early enough to catch the sunrise, or lift my butt from the couch in the evening. But when photography is not your main occupation, real life just makes it very difficult to get out there with your camera when you ought to. And even if you do have the opportunity, the weather might be a hindrance, especially in a country such as mine where it seems a thick cloud layer will often block any magical light that the sun might otherwise have served you with.

So, I’m sorry, Mr. Kelby, but I will continue to shoot even when the sun is high in the sky and the shadows are harsh and try to make the best of it. That’s why the other day I ventured into Copenhagen to spend some time doing a little mid-day urban photo exploration -despite a clear blue sky and Scott Kelby’s admonitions – and here’s what happened:

The above is a revisit of a motif I shot months ago with my cell phone: the corner of Danish Industry’s HQ in downtown Copenhagen. The original picture went on to become my most popular submission to YouPic so far, much to my own suprise. Well, I wanted to do it again with my “real” camera and it turned out pretty well too.
This one is my favorite from that day: the underneath of a new elevated bike path among modern glass facades. Conditions were difficult for taking pictures with, indeed, harsh shadows and even harsher sun reflections in the water. This was put together from three different shots.

One of my goals for the day was to take pictures of trains. I did take a bunch, but nothing too spectacular. This one was my favorite. I love the wide railroad area near Copenhagen Central Station.

Another revisit of a scene I took with my cell phone more than a year ago that turned out really well. This isn’t too shabby either. And yes, while I think this mid-day picture is perfectly fine, I can only imagine how gorgeous that glass facade must look in a beautiful, colorful sunset.

A canal in the part of Copenhagen called Christianshavn. The canals were one of my main objectives of the day, too, but I didn’t quite find the right spots. This one turned out okay, but the light definitely was a challenge that again required three different exposures put together to overcome the shadows and the highlights.

One of the things I realized on that day was that urban photography is often made difficult because of all the cars that are everywhere and that just get in the way of all the interesting buildings and other objects. Here I tried to make them work to my advantage in how the shiny metal contrasts the old buildings.

Finally, you may ask, where are all the people? Isn’t that an important part of taking pictures in the city? Well, maybe. But that’s where the landscape photographer in me takes control. In landscape photography, people are usually just in the way. So on that day at least, I avoided places with lots of people. Maybe that will be a challenge for another day.

The night my camera and I rocked

It was just five months after I got my Sony A33 camera (the one I’m still using today). I really had no clue how to use it. Automatic mode was all I knew. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed? Those were all gibberish to me. So were words like composition and RAW.

So up until then my upgrade from a compact camera to a DSLR hadn’t resulted in the expected transformation of my pictures to an array of masterpieces. I probably wouldn’t have admitted that back then, just as I have trouble admitting today that I won’t be the next Ansel Adams (I’m practically there, right?).

Anyway, so when my friend Brian asked if I was interested in going to Tivoli Gardens for an open-air concert with Danish rock star Michael Falch and that cameras were allowed, I of course said yes. I figured it would be great practice for when Bruce Springsteen would call to make me his official tour photographer.

As for Michael Falch, I can sort of take him or leave him. He plays the kind of no-frills rock that I prefer, and he’s made a few pretty decent songs, but not enough to seriously catch my interest. I’m not even going to start talking about how he performed with Bruce Springsteen during the latter’s first visit to Copenhagen in 1981, because then we’d stray too far from the topic.

So, to make a long story even longer, that night we found ourselves in the front row in front of the open-air stage inside Tivoli Gardens; and with cameras being perfectly allowed in Tivoli, we were well-equipped and ready for some music and some shooting.

Now, I don’t remember if I set my camera to “Automatic with no flash” or “Night Scene”. Whatever the case, not even today, with five years of experience, would I have been able to do a manual setting that matched what the camera figured out on its own. And I don’t say that often. I usually find that the automatic settings are lacking in one way or another, usually over-exposing the image. But when it came to this low-light-but-lots-of-artificial-light-up-on-the-stage scene, the camera rocked as much as the band.

That night I took in the neighborhood of 200 pictures, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that every one of them was a keeper from a technical point of view. And what’s more, from an artistic point of view, it may have been 80% of the pictures that were good to excellent. Of course, some of them were very similar, but there was enough variety to make it interesting. It didn’t hurt that the show featured several guest artists and thereby offered new exciting motifs on a regular basis.

For that reason, it’s been really difficult to choose a limited number of pictures to present here. I did pick a few, but as a bonus I created a slideshow video containing a whole bunch more. Sorry about the length of it, but note that it contains music from the actual show during which the pictures were taken.

Michael Falch showing off his Fender.
Michael Falch showing off his Fender.
His Fender.
His Fender.
Mathilde Falch, daughter of Michael Falch.
Mathilde Falch, daughter of Michael Falch.
The power of rock 'n' roll.
The power of rock ‘n’ roll.
Michael Falch working hard.
Michael Falch working hard.

 

The Gate of Sisyphus

I went for another walk yesterday and came across an old favorite subject of mine. That is, I have always seen the photo potential in this old abandoned gate in the middle of the woods, but I never quite got it. Until now. I think.

One of the problems was that it’s actually not easy to get in position to take a picture of the gate. You can’t get far enough away from it to make it fit in a frame, unless you stand in front of it at a straight angle, which makes it visually rather uninteresting.

The solution, it turned out, was my cell phone. I am really impressed with my cell phone camera’s panorama feature that allows you to stitch together nine images on-the-fly to great effect. Still, in order to get a good angle of the gate, I had to back into a bunch of branches, but from there I was able to fire off those nine images, and the phone managed to put hem together seamlessly.

The Gate of Sisyphus
What good is a gate without a fence?

While the above picture is proof to me that it’s not always the most expensive camera that takes the best picture in a given situation, I did also take a couple with my full-frame camera that I was happy with. Here’s one:

Another day of struggle is coming to an end for the gate of Sisyphus.

And with that I left the gate to its hopeless struggle of keeping intruders out of someplace that is no longer there, and my own struggle to take a decent picture of it had come to an end.

New in Collections: Thru the Windshield

Just added a new collection consisting of pictures taken through the windshield of a moving car. Anyone who has seen my travel pictures in the past won’t be surprised. Family and friends have been force-fed these pictures that I took from the passenger seat of various cars dating back to around 2003. Shooting pictures in that way is one of my favorite occupations while cruising through the landscape. There is just something about particularly the American landscape that makes it look great framed by a dashboard and the top edge of a windshield. I guess I have felt that way since I saw the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. In the back of my head that is often the image I have been trying to recreate.

Well, you be the judge of whether I have succeeded. Go to the Collections section and click the Thru the Windshield album.

Last but not least, thank you to my dear wife for driving the car and putting up with my constant picture snapping.

A graveyard, two horses, and a selfie

Whether you live near the Grand Canyon, in a pulsating city, or on the outskirts of a medium sized Danish castle town, if you go for a walk, there are only so many new and interesting things to look at. At some point everything around you just takes on a familiarity that makes you not even see the most attractive features. The gorgeous Frederiksborg Castle in the middle of my town that makes tourists drop their jaw… I often drive by it and don’t even look in its direction.

So last Sunday when I grabbed my camera and went for a much needed walk in the neighborhood, I had more hopes for the spring air than I did for the pictures I would bring home.

But it turns out that if you are really tuned in on your surroundings, it doesn’t matter that you have taken the same walk a dozen times. Suddenly you notice things that you never noticed before, or that you didn’t see the photo potential in. Or maybe the light somehow makes things look different. Or the horses on that pasture suddenly want to come over and pose for you like they never did the other 10 times you walked by.

Burst of clouds and horses

Even a church and a graveyard that I have often passed by without even slowing down, on that Sunday made me stop and see several objects and angles that I just had to go shoot, and with a pretty good result.

Coming out of the shadows

By the end of the walk, I felt so inspired that I even posed for a selfie in that beautiful old alley that I have taken tons of pictures of before, but never quite like this.

Thou shall not pass!

Here are the rest of the pictures from that day that are worth sharing:

First Photo Outing of the Year

The battery ran out after 30 minutes, I couldn’t get my new smartphone controlled remote to work, and the few pictures I took were kind of blah. But… for the first time this year I managed to get out there with my camera and shoot a little bit, and it was great!

Actually, all it was was a walk around my neighborhood and up on a ridge running along a highway on one side and the cluster of houses on the other side that my own place is part of. I have been up there lots of times and taken lots of pictures. There is a pretty good view, and the houses line up in a way that make them suited for pictures. So I keep returning, if nothing else, just for practice or for the exercise.

Here are the three shots that I thought were decent enough to get posted here, including a panorama stitched together of three images, and an HDR image made of three different exposures.

SONY DSC

SONY DSCThis is the HDR picture, in case you were wondering.