The Four Springs

Somewhere along the Transfagarasan Road in the Southern Carpathian Mountains is a wonderful place I call the “Four Springs” (La Patru Izvoare). A crystal-clear pond near a bend in the road is the home of four mountain springs whose water has an amazingly fresh taste. After filling up the pond, their collected volume pours into a larger brook that flows down to Lake Vidraru.

I hope you enjoy this short video clip I filmed there!

Slopes and peaks from the Southern Carpathian Mountains

There’s a majestic beauty in these mountains that’s much more appreciated if you walk on them, rather than drive through on the Transfagarasan or the Transalpina. Their scale is easily underestimated from the car, until you step outside and size yourself next to a peak that seemed small just a minute ago, or you start climbing it and quickly run out of breath. Physical fitness aside, the overwhelming feeling when you’ve immersed yourself in their environment is one of awe and respect.

An afternoon on the Transfagarasan Road

This weekend, we spent an afternoon on the Transfăgărășan Road, in the Făgăraș Mountains of Romania. (Trans-faragarasan → “Trans” = across and “Fagarasan” = the specific mountains which it crosses.) I enjoyed driving its challenging curves (Ligia not so much) and later we both enjoyed walking and meditating in the mountains. I also took photos (naturally) and I hope you’ll enjoy them.

This is how the mountains look as you approach them from E68, after you pass through a village called Cartisoara.

As we started to climb, these are the sorts of views we started to get. Hold on, the best stuff is yet to come.

At the top, it was fairly crowded. I tried to avoid the crowds as I took my photos. Some people were hiking, others were stuffing their faces. Not sure what it is about the top of a mountain that makes people so hungry. It’s not as if they climbed it — they drove it. There were loads of cars in the parking lot.

This is what the slopes to the top peaks looked like. Although it’s summer, we were fairly high up (above 2,000 meters in altitude) so the weather was foggy and fairly cold (10-15 degrees Celsius).

Since it was too crowded and noisy at the top, and the smell of cooking pervaded the air, Ligia and I decided to drive on past the main peaks and we stopped further down the road, where it was nice and quiet. That’s Ligia hiking toward me.

The views only got better as we went higher up. The black dot in the center of the photo is Ligia.

I’ll let this three-photo panorama show you what I mean. I left the white space unmasked on purpose, to show you everything the camera captured.

Here’s a close-up of the left side of that pano, showing the twists and turns of this picturesque mountain road.

We stopped to meditate and enjoy the tremendous beauty before us where the rock face turned sharply upward and climbing by foot became dangerous (we had no climbing gear with us). As we sat there, fog from the valley rose up alongside the cliff, joining with the clouds.

We climbed down refreshed and clear-headed, and as evening drew near, we wound our way down toward Sibiu and home, but not before taking another panorama of the Transfagarasan.

Here’s another photograph that shows the spread of the road in the valley below.

As usual, if you’ll go through gallery below, you’ll find photos that I haven’t shown here. Enjoy!

Lacul Oasa and Transalpina

The second leg of our trip through the Southern Carpathian Mountains, whose first leg took us through Obarsia Lotrului and Lacul Vidra, now took us by Lacul Oasa and the Northern portion of the Transalpina, a high-altitude road which offers unsurpassed vistas and which I documented through photos in late fall of last year.

This picturesque, unpaved portion of the Transalpina Road is also quite dangerous. The rocky cliffs you see hanging above it are eager to hurl rocks at passersby. It’s a situation made worse by man’s presence there. They blasted through the rock to make the road (a necessary evil) but they also set up a temporary concrete factory there and chewed through yet more rock to make the stuff. Until vegetation grows back on that slope to hold together the rocks, or measures are taken to reduce the rock falls, it’s a dangerous section of the road. Rocks were falling right by us as we drove through.

Be sure to view the full gallery posted below for more photos.

Lacul Vidra and Obarsia Lotrului

We drove into Lacul Vidra and Obarsia Lotrului this past weekend. The approximate location we visited is this one.

It’s a wonderful drive that offers gorgeous vistas (as most roads in Romania do), and because it’s not summer yet, the roads are relatively empty, meaning we were able to take our time and stop wherever we liked to take photos.

I’m going to publish the first group of photos today and the rest tomorrow, because there are quite a few of them and I’d rather not overwhelm you.

On the way, we found a grotto formed of ice and snow at the foot of a forest, right over the bed of a brook. The snow had been insulated by a thick leaf cover, and that’s why it had kept so far, but in 75-degree (Fahrenheit) late spring weather, I doubt it will keep for much longer. It was a remarkable sight for the middle of May, particularly since we weren’t at a high altitude (about 400-500 meters).

I recorded a short video of it as well.

We found a beautiful meadow on the top of a mountain, where we relaxed and breathed in the fresh air.

In case you’re wondering what I look like these days, here’s a portrait of me taken by Ligia.

Make sure to go through the full gallery posted below for more photos.

Winter in Poiana Brasov and Brasov

Ligia and I got to spend a bit of time in Poiana Brasov recently. Following are a few photos I took as we visited the mountain resort after some significant snowfall. Naturally, everything was blanketed in the smooth, powdery white stuff, and the light just happened to be perfect.

Incidentally, these are some of the first photos I edited with the new Lightroom 4. Enjoy!

Compare these photos with these, taken a few months ago in the same approximate locations.

The Paltinis mountains in autumn

We visited the mountain resort of Paltinis today. It’s about 25-30 km from Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Romania, and the road to it is in pretty good shape. The views are wonderful, so if you’re in the area, drive on over.

Funny thing about Paltinis… It’s the place where I almost wasn’t… My mom was skiing on their bunny slope when she was pregnant with me, and she had a bad fall which could have resulted in a spontaneous abortion. Thank goodness it didn’t, or I wouldn’t be around today.

Here are a few photos I took there, which I shot with an iPhone. I used a “pre-filter” for some of the photos — my driving sunglasses! It’s a neat little trick you can do if the lens of your camera is small enough to be masked completely by the lens of your sunglasses, and it works particularly well if they’re polarized. You simply hold the camera right next to your glasses and shoot through the lens. You can compare the resulting effect below. Another thing I should mention is the panoramic-sized photos were stitched together in Photoshop, they’re not single exposures cropped to look like panoramic shots. Click through to view them large.

First snow on the Transalpina Road

Transalpina is the highest road in Romania. It’s also quite possibly its most picturesque; it certainly offers the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Romania so far. It connects Transilvania to Oltenia, and the official length of the entire road is 148 km from Novaci to Sebes, although only a stretch of 30-40 km travels atop the Parang Mountains (part of the Carpathians), reaching an altitude of 2145 meters at its highest point.

The road was built by the Romans, as they traveled north toward Sarmisegetusa and then used by them as they carted off thousands of tons of gold and silver from Dacia’s rich mines. (You might want to read through this post for the background info.)

According to this website, the road was paved with rocks by King Carol I in the 1930s, maintained by the Nazis during WWII, then forgotten. Work to repave its entire length began in 2009 and it still goes on, though large portions of the road, including its most beautiful sections, are now ready to be used.

We visited Transalpina twice this year, most recently during this past weekend, and we were awestruck by the beauty of the vistas you can see as you travel along its length. We had the good fortune to drive through right after first snow had fallen on the peaks, draping them in a light blanket of pure white snow. Moreover, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunset that colored everything in sight in a golden orange hue. It was heavenly.

We’d have loved to spend more time atop the mountains but night was falling quickly, the temperature was dropping, and we had hundreds of “miles to go” before we could sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost.

We drove on, descending into the valley below and into thick fog, then wound our way through the mountains toward Sibiu, passing through such interesting places as Jina and Poiana Sibiului.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos from the trip.

A drive through the Carpathian Mountains in early spring

In March, we crossed the Carpathian Mountains in the county of Harghita, Romania, as we drove from the city of Bacau to Medias. The route was scenic and there were lots of beautiful places to stop and admire the view. Snow still covered the mountain peaks, and it covered the ground as well at higher altitudes. The roads got pretty bad at times, as is quite often the case in Romania, but they were fairly decent about half the time, which is something — for Romania. At any rate, the places we saw are among the more beautiful in the country.

I recorded a short video clip as we drove through the high peaks of the Harghita Mountains, and stopped in various places to take photographs. The video clip is embedded below. If you’re reading this on my feed and it doesn’t show up, then you can see it in my Video Log set.

Pin the tree on the mountain slope

The white line you see at the top of the abrupt mountain slope above isn’t a lens aberration. It’s snow. It covers the other side of the mountain. The visible slope is too abrupt and windswept for the snow to keep, so all that’s left is some dry brush and a few trees.

High altitude

Here we begin to approach the tops of the peaks, and snow is more abundant.

Zig zag patterns

The road hugs the mountain side closely as it curves upward. I love the wooden fence alongside the road, it’s so well suited to the place.

Lonely at the top

A small mountain cabin holds onto the top. It leans to the left, either because of the settling of its foundation over the time, or because of the strong winds at that altitude.

This is the road where I recorded the video clip you see below.

Iron ore

This mountain brook wound its way through a conifer forest. I think its color is either given by the mud in that region, or by iron ore deposits in the brook bed.

Here’s the video clip, recorded from our car, while driving.

See this video at YouTube or SmugMug.

Further reading

After midnight

A night photograph of the village of Matrei, taken from Hotel Goldried. Various lights in the valley below illuminate the houses and fields, while moonlight casts a white glow behind the mountain in the background.
A night photograph of the village of Matrei, taken from Hotel Goldried. Various lights in the valley below illuminate the houses and fields, while moonlight casts a white glow behind the mountain in the background.

Just give me a good zoom lens, thanks

Greetings from Osttirol! My wife and I have been vacationing in Austria for the past week. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and, needless to say, I took tons of photos here. I’ve been carrying my Canon 5D and my lenses with me everywhere, and let me tell you, I’ve been sorely in need of a good zoom lens.

The lens inventory in my camera bag is woefully short at the moment. I started out with three primes: EF 24mm f/1.4L, EF 50mm f/1.4, and EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro. I sold the 24mm prime with the intention of buying the EF 24-105mm f/4L Zoom, but other circumstances intervened, and now I’ve only got the 50mm and 100mm lenses.

There are some who say it’s better to have prime lenses. I disagree. I’d like to see them carry five or six prime lenses in a backpack up and down a mountain in order to get the range that one or two good zoom lenses would give, and then tell me if they still feel the same way. And by the way, try changing lenses in swift mountain breezes, with insects buzzing around you and just dying to get inside the sensor chamber and leave smudge marks (which happened to me). Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a few other accessories such as polarizers and UV filters of various sizes for the different diameters of each lens, plus one or two water bottles and a fleece jacket plus an umbrella in case the weather goes bad, and then we’ll talk…

In a way, I was glad to only have to carry two lenses; I’d have really felt the weight of a third one. But I felt so limited in the photos I could take, because I could only use the 50mm or the 100mm lens to frame my photos. In some instances, I could walk back and forth to get a better view or angle, but in others, there was no way to get a better photo without also being able to fly — which incidentally, would be very nice, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. And no, I don’t believe in cropping. I only do it when I absolutely have to. I didn’t pay $2,800 for a full-frame sensor that can take 12.8 megapixel photos so I could crop them and get the same resolution I can get from a $500 camera.

To this day, I slap my head when I think that I could have had the 24-105mm zoom lens as a kit lens with my 5D for a little over half its usual price. I was such a fool not to get it! It’s a light and sharp zoom with more range than the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, and you can easily walk around with it for hours without getting too tired.

So far on this trip (which ends very soon, unfortunately) I took 1904 photos with the 50mm prime, and 471 photos with the 100mm prime. If I had had (don’t you just love the English language) the 24-105mm zoom on my trip, it’d have stayed on my camera 95% of the time, because that’s the range I use the most, particularly on the wider end of that focal spectrum, which was not available to me, each and every day, how stupid could I be, ugh…

Look, I’m not knocking the 50mm prime, which is a great prime, and very cost effective given its low light capabilities and sharpness. And I’m definitely not knocking the 100mm prime, which is versatile and a fantastic macro lens with gorgeous bokeh. But I really didn’t need f/1.4 or macro capabilities for landscape photography, which is what I did on this trip. I needed a zoom lens!

So, if you’re not sure what lenses to get, don’t do what I did, or you’ll be frustrated to no end as well. First get a good, lightweight zoom lens, one that won’t kill your wrist as you carry your camera around taking photos. Later, as you find that you need more specific capabilities, such as being able to take handheld photos at dusk or dawn, or more bokeh, or macro photos, then spring for those primes that have the features you need.

Shenandoah Valley panoramas

You are about to see several panoramic photos that have taken me well over 35 hours to create — and I’m not counting travel time, setup time, time it took to take the photos, and the time it took to write this post.

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A couple of weekends ago, Ligia and I got into our MINI and drove up to Shenandoah National Park, for a single purpose: to take a few panoramic photos of the valley from the tops of the Appalachian Mountains. Fortunately, that simply meant driving on beautiful, scenic Skyline Drive and stopping at various points to set up the tripod and take series of shots that would later be stitched together. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t exactly collaborating, in spite of the cheery weather report. The day was neither sunny nor cloudy. The light was diffuse and had that washed, in-between quality that doesn’t really make it good for anything. But, I was there, and if that’s what I had to work with, so be it.

As it turned out, driving out there and taking the photos was the easiest part of the whole thing. Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, putting together the panoramas was by far the longest, most excruciatingly slow stretch of processing work I have ever done. I do not recommend it to anyone, for multiple reasons, which I’ll mention below. If you just want to see the photos, skip ahead.

A few thoughts on the whole thing

I will not do panoramas very often in the future, unless I’m commissioned to do specific ones. If and when I do another panorama for myself (not for a client), it will likely only be a 5 to 10 photo image, simply because it takes an enormous amount of time to stitch and process them on the computer if they’re made up of more images than that.

For one thing, you would need a super fast, quad-core or better computer loaded to the gills with RAM to get any sort of decent speed while processing panoramas. A Mac Pro worth about $7,000 or better should do the trick. Seriously, every single simple operation, like cropping or rotating, took at least 10 minutes or more to execute. Sometimes just assembling a single panorama in Photoshop (through the Photomerge feature) took about 45 minutes. I have the latest MacBook Pro laptop (2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 512 MB video card, 4 GB RAM), and it still took what seemed like forever to get through each panorama.

The resolution of the photos also matters. My individual photos are 12-megapixels each, at 240 dpi, made by a Canon 5D. Just imagine how much processing power is needed to put together 20 or 30 of these photos into a single image!

People don’t appreciate panoramas. I bet you most people will skim this post, unimpressed, and move on. You can’t really appreciate panoramic photos unless they’re printed out in their full size and spread out on a wall, right in front of you. You can’t appreciate their size on your computer monitor, no matter how large it might be. The largest single monitors nowadays are 30″ and have a maximum resolution of 2560×1600. That’s equivalent to about 6 megapixels at 72 dpi. You can’t possibly appreciate a 12 megapixel photo at 1:1 size on a current-day monitor, much less a panorama made up of 20 of those photos.

As an aside, don’t confuse monitor size with resolution. There are LCD HDTVs on the market that are 42″, 46″ or more in size, but they can only display up to 1920×1080 pixels, which is much less resolution than a 30″ monitor.

I can’t show you the full panoramas on my site, because of photo theft. Not that I think my panoramas (these ones in particular) are spectacular and would fetch amazing prices, but I know for a fact that if I post my panoramas at full resolution, there will be people who will steal them and try to profit from them.

How does the new Lightroom 2 Beta handle panoramas?

After I processed the photos in Photoshop CS3, which worked without crashing for the whole bunch, although it ate an amazing amount of space on my hard drive for its scratch disk, I imported them into the new Lightroom 2 Beta, to see how it would handle them.

Most of the photos were over 1 GB in size, uncompressed. Because I saved most as TIFs, using ZIP compression, their file size on disk was significantly lower. Lightroom did amazingly well to start with. It created small previews very quickly, and also created the 1:1 previews much quicker than Photoshop would have been able to render them. I was able to use the spot heal brush to remove sensor dust spots, and also used the new selective retouching brushes, without any problems. Lightroom 2 was able to do these things without significant delays, and would show the effects instantaneously.

LR2 only started hiccuping when I started to add some meta-data to the photos. As I went through and added meta-data, then opened them at 1:1 size once more, it would hang, literally forever. I had to keep force quitting it, and had to do that regularly, for each and every photo that I wanted to look at. Interestingly enough, when I wanted to export the panoramas to use them here on my site, it did it without any problems, and without crashing. It’s certainly odd behavior, but it is in Beta after all.

On to the photos

While I cannot post the panoramas at full resolution here, I did post them at higher sizes than I would normally post, in order to give you a better idea of what they look like. I also created 1:1 previews of regions of each photo, to help you realize how big they really are.

If you click on each panorama (not its 1:1 detail), it will take you to its photo page, where it will tell you how large it is (in megapixels), and how many photos went into making it. If you click on it again (on that page), it will take you to its larger size. Sorry for the double-clicking, but that’s how things work in WordPress these days.

First, a panoramic of Skyline Drive itself. This road is amazing, and I’m so glad the US government decided to build it back in the 1930s. It literally hugs the tops of the Appalachian mountains and lets average John and Jane drive on top of the world (as high as possible in this area of the world, anyway).

We stopped along Skyline Drive, parked our car, and took a hike through the forest on one of the paths marked out there. In the middle of nowhere (literally), we found this cabin, called Range View.

It was a darling little place built out of stone and off the grid (in spite of the fact that wires ran right above it). The fireplace was outside the cabin, by the front door. While the place was locked up and the windows equipped with thick wire and netting, Ligia and I could spot beds and various pieces of old furniture inside. Don’t know what it’s used for nowadays, but it is used, because there was an open bottle of wine standing in plain sight near one of the windows, and it was of recent vintage.

The rest of the photos, including the 1:1 previews, are found in the gallery below. Click on each to get to the photo page, then click again to see it in a larger size. Enjoy!