Monday, November 21, 2011

Gateaway in El Gouna, Egypt

Given how much there is to see and how much little time we have, I've always believed I'd never go back to the same holiday destination.  It appears I was wrong big time, as last summer, I went back to El Gouna, Egypt for the second consecutive year. To tell the truth, a big factor in it is the relative proximity to Switzerland, the very affordable accommodation rates and most and foremost, the awesome kitesurfing conditions it offers!  This time around we stayed at the Movenpick hotel, whereas last year, we stayed at the Ali Pasha, a small hotel in the Marina.  A huge plus regarding the Movenpick hotel is the proximity to the kitesurf spot and school literally next door, 100 meters from our room to be precise.  From our bedroom window, we could check the wind conditions without moving a finger. Quite awesome for the holiday bum I am, especially when I feel too lazy to move a finger ;)

Anyway, enough chitchat it's now time for some testimony photos!

This is what our bathroom looked like... Taking a shower was quite technical ;)

The kitesurfing school, literally 100 meters from our room.

A few shots of Kathy kitesurfing. I managed to injure myself pretty badly in the reef.  I under-estimated the lack of water in the lagoon at low tide and got dragged through the reef and corals.  I had almost reached the deep water when I realized there was no water left in the area near the exit of the lagoon. I tried to jump over the reef, but I messed up and ended up in the reef with my 12 meter kite dragging me all over the spiky corals (all this over-powered of course).... A very pleasant experience, especially the itch that followed and lasted for more than two weeks afterwards!  Next time, I'll use the few brain cells I have left... Ugh.

And now a few shots taken during sunset.  The colors were amazing!

Unfortunately, we happened to be unlucky as the wind wasn't as consistent as it should have been this time of the year (July). Therefore, during the down wind times, we would go snorkeling instead.

View of the beach in the front of the hotel.

This mini "island" was a floating platform quite far from the shore where people were sunbathing at.

That particular evening, the moon was incredibly bright and the sunset featured fantastic colors.

Here is how it looked much later. It was really purple like that.

Facing the sun, the colors were very different, much more intense and orange.  I liked the bokeh in that shot.

This is how the shore and horizon looked like from the water. Quite amazing, isn't it?

When the wind wouldn't cooperate, I had a great excuse to take some portrait/model shots ;) eheheh!
A candid one.

How about some fun and playing with the umbrellas?

Wide angle lenses are not exactly meant for portraits, but it can be fun regardless! The Pentax DA 15mm limited lens is such a joy to use anyway :)

Now, how about a black and white head shot?

For the riders at heart it was also possible to ride camels. Retrospectively, I should have given it a try, just for the sake of "having done it" although I suppose it's not exactly as glamorous as riding camels in the Sahara.

Finally, an obligatory shot taken in the old town of El Gouna.

If you're a kitesurfer, you should seriously consider El Gouna as a destination, as it offers great  conditions (except at low tide during a full moon), warm water (28 degres), excellent food, cheap accommodation and tons of sun of course :)

Thanks for looking!

Friday, October 21, 2011

ND Filters

ND Filters can be very useful for many things, but they are mostly used to reduce the amount of light, for instance when photographing waterfalls or seascapes.  I have been owning a ND 4 filter for quite some time now, but I find it still lets too much light go through.  The obvious choice to change that would be to purchase the famous Lee Big Stopper which is basically a 10 stop ND filter!  Yes, you read correctly:10 stops...! However, I wasn't able to find a store that was actually carrying it. Apparently, Lee is not producing enough of them and the demand is higher than the rate of production therefore nearly all stores are sold out. I decided to settle for the latest version of the HiTech 10 Stops, which is supposed to be very close in performances to the Lee Big Stopper. If you're interested in a real life comparison between these two filters, check this link:

In the meantime, I received my HiTech filter, but unfortunately I still haven't had enough time to test it.  Perhaps this coming weekend? I should take advantage of the last remaining autumn colors... before it gets too cold to get out and everything is dead and colorless.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Exploring Le Châtelard in the middle of the Swiss Alps

Less than 2 weeks ago, was my Dad's birthday.  As he really enjoys hiking and nature, we decided to surprise him with a trip to le Châtelard.  It's a small village in Valais, in the middle of the Swiss Alps very close to France and Italy. In Geneva, the weather was very foggy and one could barely see further than 10 meters away!

This is how thick the fog was
in Geneva the morning we left

What's unique about le Châtelard is that it features the steepest cable-car ride in the world!  At 87 degres in its steepest part, it's almost like going on an elevator ride!  The ride is a unique and truly impressive experience!

Looking down from the cable-car

At the end of the cable-car ride, we reached another station. This time, we had to take a mini-train ride which led us to the Emosson dam.  This little train looked like it was out of Disney Land!  Apparently it's even possible to rent the whole train for parties of 20 or over and enjoy an apéro while ridding the train through the Alps :)  This is certainly an exceptional experience which doesn't happen very often in a life-time for sure ;)

Enjoying the train ride
About to enter a tunnel; check out the
awesome view of the Alps in the distance!

We arrived at the destination at the bottom of the dam.  In order to reach the top of the dam, we had to take some kind of gondola for a few hundred meters.  We were rewarded with the following amazing sights:

View from the top of the Emosson dam

View of the Emosson lake

The view of the valley from the dam was simply astonishing. Unfortunately the photos don't do it justice!
Fall is right around the corner as you can already see from the orange foliage. That's the one great thing about autumn.

View of the valley and the mountain
range on the other side

The sight from a different angle

We crossed the dam to reach the other side.  Unfortunately in this season the days are not nearly as long as summer.  At aroun 16h30, the sun was already quite low, but in counterpart the colors were already quite nice.

Emosson's lake and its amazing autumn colors

Another shot of the same view; I can't decide
which one I like best (what do you think?)

Normally it's too late in the season to still find blueberries, but luckily we still managed to find a few that were quite tasty ;)  Here is another view of the lake from a different view point:

The lighting was fantastic

And then the view from the middle of the dam. We spotted quite a few trouts in the icy waters which were lucky enough to not get caught by a fisherman near by.

View from the center of the dam

Finally, we took the last train back to the cable-car station:

Family shot; unfortunately I didn't bring my tripod :(

Our last cable-car ride down the mountain:

Riding the cable-car back
to the village of Le Châtelard

On our way back, we decided to drive through France instead of Switzerland.  As the village is very close to the border, after a few minutes we were already in France and shortly we arrived in Chamonix where we could admire the famous Mont Blanc's glacier:

View of the Mont Blanc's glacier from Chamonix

I forgot to mention that this time around I didn't have my K5 with me as it was sent to Pentax for AF calibration. Instead, I used my old trusty K10D (from back in 2007 which is an eternity in digital photography time). I have to say the image quality is still very impressive and it remains a fantastic tool for taking landscape shots!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flowers anyone?

It seems time is flying by so quickly that in a blink of an eye I will be 105 years old, bold and toothless!
Darn... so much to do and so little time :(
Recently, I had just enough time to convert these few photographs shot back in May when Spring was showing its magnificent colors and when flowers where blooming everywhere :)


Monday, August 8, 2011

My photo made it to National Geographic's daily dozen!

I just found out today my photo made it to National Geographic's daily dozen, woohoo!  :)
You can see it in week 2 of August, in National Geographic's daily dozen section.

"A day at the market"
An attempt at capturing the daily
life of a mother and her children
at a market in upper Tanzania.

I'm very glad as this is my second photo making it through their daily dozen (the first one can be seen here).

One thing I find annoying is that NG doesn't notify you when they select your shot.  I also wonder if they let you know when they select it to be featured in an issue of the magazine.  I guess I will never know as I don't suscribe to National Geographics nor do I read it :(

Anyway, here are a couple of screens from their site which feature the photo, although the first page will be replaced by the new serie of week 3:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pentax K5 amazing dynamic range

Two days ago, the sky in Geneva was really dramatic and beautiful. I quickly stormed out of the apartment fearing I wouldn't get to the spot I had in mind in time (luckily only about 5 min. drive).
Fortunately I wasn't too too late, although I think it would have been better if I had gotten there earlier.
I used a 4-stop ND grad filter with a Sigma 17-70 at 70mm, but the filter wasn't strong enough (a 8 stops would have been perfect I think).  Therefore, I had to totally under-expose the foreground, but given the K5 amazing dynamic range, I still managed to recover the under-exposed area (+2.7 stops !) without adding too much noise.
Original, totally under-exposed shot:

And the result, after using some fill light on the completely black foreground:

It's very impressive what one can do nowadays.  Even messed up shots can be recovered to be printed at a descent size, something that was not even imaginable a few years ago.
Who knows what the technology is going to achieve in only a few years from now...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why a high quality screen matters

This post stems from an interesting comment I got in my "Colorado Wonders" thread on
I figured what I explain below may be of interest to several of you.
Basically it boils down to this: is a high quality screen really worth it? Does it really make a difference versus a cheap TFT screen?
My answer is: YES, YES and YES!
Here is my story:
I used to have a somewhat cheap LCD screen before (that I had calibrated using a spider 2). I was pleased with the results on screen. However, when I was making prints of my photos what I saw on screen didn't match the output on paper at all. Not in terms of colors, but in terms of brightness: all my shots were at least 1 stop under-exposed on paper and there were much much more contrasty than on screen! Therefore, every time I wanted to print a photo, I would make a "print" version JPG which had +1 EV applied to it and I applied a contrast reduction as well. It really annoyed me.
After some time, I was fed up with this discrepancy, so I decided to invest in some high quality screen. I settled on a Dell U2311H IPS screen (awesome deal for the price - probably the best value at the time!). The difference with my old screen was simply unbelievable! This screen now matches very closely what I see on prints. I noticed that an image that looked right on my new IPS screen looked much more dull and blown out on my old screen. Typically, on the old screen it looked less contrasty and much more washed out!
To give you an idea, something black on my new screen looks more like dark grey on my old screen. The great thing is that now I know what I see on my screen matches closely what I'll obtain in prints.
I suspect some people are experiencing this when looking at my photos on their screens. My wife's laptop has also the same problem. My pics look over exposed on her screen. That sucks.
Before buying this excellent IPS screen, I've never imagined there would be so much difference.
The bottom line is this: if you want to get prints that look closely to what your'e seeing on screen, I encourage you to buy a high quality IPS screen, you won't regret it :)

Colorado Wonders

Last week I was in Denver to attend the ASMS conference, the most important mass spectrometry event of the year.  Each year the conference is held at a different location, therefore it's a great opportunity to see new places and National Parks :)
As I have never visited Colorado before, I made sure to bring some photography gear in order to immortalize some of the great Rocky mountains' sceneries!
Unfortunately, I didn't have very much time to wander around, I had only a single day for my hiking trip, thus I decided to go to Rocky Mountains National Park as it was not too far from Denver and it seemed quite nice.
I had brought my K5 with a DA 12-24, Sigma 17-70, and DA 55-300. I find these 3 lenses to be the perfect travel combo as I am covered from 12 to 300mm with descent quality while still being somewhat light, plus I get a pseudo macro in as a bonus emoticon - smile

I ended up driving to Estes Park and hiked from Sprague lake to Bear lake.  I was suprised to see there was still quite a bit of snow along the way!

Small lake on the way to Bear Lake.

Somewhere north-east of Bear lake.
These sun beams were amazing!

I liked the look of these pine trees contrasting
with the white peaks in the background.

One of the first elk I encountered.  It looked like its
winter fur was being replaced by the summer one.

Another view of the same spot as before,
using a wide-angle this time (12mm).

I love the color of these green trees and
how they stand among the pine trees!

This herd of elks was only about 10m from the road!
I love how animals are not scared of humans in the  US :)

These 2 young elks were fighting.

A waterfall I encountered at the end
of my journey (too much sun though a
polarizer + ND grad weren't sufficient!)

A closer look at the elks on a green tree background.

Somehow I liked the mood of this one in black and white.

I happened to stop at a restaurant that had installed small houses
to feed colibris.  Luckily I managed to shot this guy in flight!

Pretty flowers -Pulsatilla vulgaris- 

No wonder there were quite a few fishermen along this
lake as I saw several trouts swimming near the shore!