Today’s images

The theme for these photographs is day and night — more precisely, the night that followed that day, which was a beautiful spring day by the way, as you’ll see here. That night I tried capturing star trails for the first time. My PEN-F has a feature called Live Composite, which takes a series of short exposures and stacks them together in the camera, combining only the areas that contain changes in light and displaying the progress as it goes. This means that once you get it going, you can let it capture the star trails by itself, checking in every once in a while to see its progress on the display, which will also show you the histogram. This information updates with each new image, allowing you to get exactly the amount of exposure and star trails you like. It’s a very cool feature, which Olympus launched on their top cameras four years ago. Since I just bought my PEN-F, I only got to use it now, and it’s so cool!


We had a beautiful night snowfall recently and even though it was after midnight, Ligia and I went out to walk through the garden. You may know these nights well if you live in a temperate climate. They tend to stick in your memory. Everything is quiet, eerily quiet. Even the sound of your own voice is muffled by the falling snow. If you’re in a town, the ambient light from houses and streetlights reflects off the blanket of white snow and shines right up to the clouds, which are near to the ground, weighed down by the water droplets that will become snow as they fall to the ground. So the whole sky typically shines a tint of yellow from the town lights, and it also reflects that light down onto the snow, lighting everything up even though there’s no moon in sight.

It was that kind of a night when we stepped out. Thick, well-defined snowflakes were slowly making their way down, stopping on branches, building up into impossible mounds on the thinnest of twigs. In the absence of a breeze, everything was frozen as if in awe, admiring the falling snow in concert. We walked through our garden, wading through the powdery white blanket, stopping to breathe the cold, refreshing winter air and to give thanks for the beauty before us.

I hope the photos reflect the atmosphere of that night. They were taken handheld with a 35mm lens at its widest aperture (f1.8) and at at a fairly high ISO (as high as 10000). That means not everything is going to be in focus and there is going to be plenty of grain. But that’s how I typically shoot: handheld, even in low light. I’m more interested in capturing the mood, the moment, than in having everything tack sharp or in setting up a tripod shot.


A winter night


A walk through town before daybreak

To celebrate the acquisition of a new camera (well, the acquisition is new, the camera isn’t), I took a pre-dawn walk through town. It was cold and somewhat rainy. Water got on my lens a couple of times and I’d forgotten to bring a lens cloth, so you’ll see some weird light artifacts on some of the photos. That’s from the partially wiped lens… I was hoping dawn would come soon and I’d get some nice photos of the “blue hour”. As it turned out, my battery ran out of juice and I got pretty cold before that happened. But it was really nice to walk through town with few to no people around me. I am after all an introvert, so the more time I spend alone, the better I feel.

I am quite pleased with my acquisition. It’s a camera I used and reviewed in the past (eight years ago, actually): the Olympus PEN E-P2. I loved that little camera and I should have bought it back then. After quietly pining for it all this time, I found it online a few days ago at an unbeatable price, second-hand, in great condition: about 100 euros for the body, plus another 100 euros for the viewfinder (yes, I got the VF-2!) and about 200 euros for a wonderful little lens for it, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ (it’s a 2x crop factor so a 24-100mm 35mm equivalent).

Now I have the E-P2 and the E-PL1, which I bought several years ago with the two kit lenses offered at the time, the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm. Yay!

I took the photos without a tripod, relying on the camera’s optical image stabilization technology, which shifts the sensor on a 3-way axis in order to keep the shot steady. I shot at 1/10, 1/15 and 1/20, keeping the ISO at 1600 and the aperture wide open. Given that the lens goes from f/3.5 to f/6.3 when it’s at its longest focal length, that means some of the photos are darker. I squeezed every bit of light out of them in post processing, but having shot both RAW and JPG simultaneously, I can tell you the camera’s built-in noise reduction and image processing is so good (for its time), I could have just shot directly in JPG and uploaded them SOOC (straight out of the camera). Enjoy the photos!


North Bethesda and Rockville at night

Here are cityscapes of North Bethesda and Rockville at night. Most are taken from a vantage point in Grosvenor Park while some are taken from the walkway above the I-270. I do love it when cities and architects take the time to think about color casts and the impact they will have on the way their places are seen at night. The right lighting can make a place look magical at night. And let’s not forget about incidental light from cars and other road vehicles, which has its own amazing charm in long exposure photographs.

There are more photos in the gallery below. Click on each thumbnail to view the images in full-screen mode. Enjoy!


Crossing the Danube at night

Selected photos taken at the Galati ferryboat crossing over the Danube River, in Romania. The atmosphere, the lights, the machinery, it all makes it look and feel like an otherworldly experience — a sensation which is all the more pressing if you’ve just been driving all day and you are exhausted.

While it’s interesting to ride on ferryboats every once in a while, it’s not fun to arrive at the crossing point and to find out they’ve closed for the night, or to pay ever-increasing fees so you can cross. This is not a comment on the Galati ferryboat crossing in particular, but a general observation on the nature of the ferryboat business. If you want reliable travel, you need a bridge, period. You may not be able to stop and take in the sights and sounds of the river, but you’ll get home on time.


We stopped at Pizzeria New Croco in Cluj-Napoca last night, around midnight. Among other things, I ordered my usual espresso. It had a strong taste, the right aroma, a bit on the bitter side, but it was what I needed to keep me awake for a night trip that would last another few hours.

Taste-wise, this espresso ranks right up there with some of the best I’ve had in recent years. It may have been a little bitter, but it was its strong character that set it apart from some of the swill I’ve tasted at times.

Here’s a map of the restaurant’s location. They have a website as well, but it’s done in Flash, it takes forever to load, and you can’t shut off the annoying music that starts playing as soon as the site opens up.

Espresso at Pizzeria New Croco