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Throwback Thursday – Europe 2006

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Hello, all! I’m embracing the #ThrowbackThursday fad and intend to blog about old photos and experiences on Thursdays. Still trying to find my personal blogging rhythm beyond posting photos to my various social media sites, so I think scheduling out some themed posts should help inspire me to write more.

For today’s Throwback, I’m going over some photos from my 2006 Spring semester in Italy doing a study abroad program in Florence, or Firenze, as I prefer to call it. I was nineteen years old, and had a semester of introductory darkroom photography under my belt, but at the time I still intended to be an illustrator, so my passion was drawing and painting.

Me, during Carnivale in Venezia.

Of course, now that I look back on my time in Italy, I am all too aware that I did not take enough photos. I can’t even say that I spent more time enjoying myself and living life without a camera in my face, as I honestly feel that I did not take full advantage of being in Europe, and instead chose to be the nerd hiding away in the painting studios every weekend.  My final year of teenage angst (before it turned to early-20s angst) combined with my timid nature meant I spent more time absently wandering Firenze alone rather than traveling to other countries with my classmates. Luckily, one of my best friends (who continues to be adventurous and now lives in Munich a few blocks from Oktoberfest!) was studying abroad in Prague the same semester and went with me to Ireland and Switzerland, the only two countries I went to besides Italy.  Thanks to her I got to enjoy a little more of Europe than I would have otherwise, and I’ve been hungry for more ever since.

I went to Italy armed with two cameras – my Canon EOS Digital Rebel (6.0MP) and a Canon PowerShot SD400. However, as you can see in the Lightroom screenshot below, only one of those cameras got any heavy use:

(I think the Kodak camera images are from a friend.)

Take a look at the lenses I had, and you can see why the DSLR didn’t get much playtime. At the time, the kit lens I’d had from my 35mm Canon Rebel K2 was a 35-80mm, which, on a cropped sensor like the Digital Rebel had, left me with no option for a wide-angle shot except for what my SD400 could take. I can only imagine the photos I’d have taken if I’d even had the current 18-55 kit lens on the current consumer DSLRs! I ended up using the SD400 to take several landscapes that I’ve always been proud to say came from a point-and-shoot camera.

However, I had definitely not found my groove as a photographer yet, and looking through the photos I took, I struggled to find a few decent ones to edit for today’s blog post. Did I mention I also shot all in JPG? I didn’t shoot RAW because I didn’t understand it, and because Windows Explorer could not preview RAW files back then, much to my current chagrin.  Also, seeing as I tend to shoot mostly wide and open with a lot of negative space, I felt almost claustrophobic limiting myself to choosing only images taken with the DSLR, unlike the last time I revisited my Italy images in 2009.  The SD400 was a darn good camera, so I may do another Throwback post on photos I took with it later!

I decided include ‘before & after’ screenshots after each final 2012 Lightroom edit to talk about some of my thoughts when editing each image, and each image should lightbox, so please click the horizontal images to view them bigger!

For my first image, I picked one taken during an overcast day in Siena.  There’s an old image taken with the SD400 on this blog, and if you check it out, you can see that my DSLR was just not up for capturing the wide-angle view of the narrow streets.  However, I thought this shot had some decent compression in it, though I wish there was more of a subject in the foreground. It was very under-exposed, so I tried to pull out the warm Tuscan tones to the best of my ability from the JPG file.  Though I tend to shoot dark in RAW now to preserve my highlights, I think this shot was just a poor exposure on my part.

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This image was taken during an early morning in Rome, as us American college kids watched a drunken gladiator street performer make his way down the Spanish Steps in Rome. Unfortunately, the Spanish Steps themselves were surrounded by scaffolding for restoration work, so this guy became our main point of focus on that sightseeing stop. As far as the image went, I felt the light and depth of the image weren’t that interesting, but the textures and negative space of the stairs helped a bit, so I chose to make it black and white and just work on mixing the tones in a pleasing way.  I did crop the composition slightly, but I think the overall weighted original composition is indicative of what my shooting style is today.

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Here is an photo of some of the colorfully painted houses on the island of Burano, off of Venice. The bell tower behind them is actually leaning, and how I wish I’d had a wide-angle shot of the whole scene. For this shot, it was simply a matter of brightening the tones and colors from the original exposure.

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Ahh, the gondola shot in Venice. I remember being very unhappy about my shots from this expensive boat ride around the canals, and in retrospect it was because I was frustrated with myself for not knowing how to get the gear I had to capture the amazing things I was seeing, and again, it came down to not having a wide enough lens. I had much better shots from my SD400 of this boat ride.  As far as the edit goes, it was a matter of recovering the shadow detail and warming up the scene. I suspect I was shooting on Auto, and feel terribly guilty about it.

We were in Venice for the 2006 Carnivale, and it has always been my greatest regret that I did not have the ability at the time to capture how positively amazing the visuals were. Cold weather be damned, I will be back someday, before Venice sinks.

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Next, it’s a shot of Italy winning cross-country skiing at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino! We took an overnight train from Firenze to Torino, got off the train, took another train out to the cross-country skiing site, watched them win just as we arrived at the finish line, then took the small train back to the city center, and took another train home to Firenze. I think we didn’t spend any longer than half an hour not traveling during that entire experience, but it was worth it, and I can say I’ve been to an Olympic event! This shot, which only required some color, contrast, and white balance edits, was taken with my old 75-300mm f5.6 lens, and was before I knew about the strict photography regulations at the Olympcs. I wish the skier somehow stood out more, but overall it’s not too bad.

 

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Up until last year’s trip to Japan, the only homeland of my ancestors I’d visited was Ireland, where I met up with my friend and her mother for the weekend. We only stayed in Dublin, and I was there for just a couple of days, but I automatically fell in love with it. And it was green – so green, in fact, that fiddling with the white balance on these JPGs was actually kind of difficult for me!  For this terribly under-exposed shot of a church, I struggled in brightening the image while not saturating the greens too much.

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This is another under-exposed shot from Ireland where I struggled with the greens.  In fact, much like my recent shots from Midway Atoll, I found that the vibrant colors of the ground were reflected in the clouds!  While the editing for the contrast and exposure in this image was pretty straightforward, achieving a decent color is a question of judgement. I turned down the saturation, and slightly upped the vibrancy, then did some HSL color tweaking after that to get my final image.

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Lake Como, along with Queenstown, New Zealand, is one of my favorite places in the entire world. The first time I went, it was rainy and foggy, with the Italian Alps only visible toward the end of the day as the rain ceased. I loved the fog in the trees, and shot this terribly under-exposed image. Through some intensive use of gradient filters in Lightroom, I managed to bring back some satisfactory detail. Also, there wasn’t enough relevant color data in the original image, so I just turned in black & white anyway.

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This is an image from Lake Como that I have actually been pretty happy with since it was taken! As a painter at the time, the trios in this image really resonated with me – Three fishermen, three strong vertical objects in the foreground, and three layers of mountains in the background. I just slightly enhanced the color and contrast details with this photo, then let it be.

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For my final image, I picked another from Lake Como that I’d originally edited as a high-key black and white image. However, with Lightroom 4, I found that I could have a little more control over the subtle details in this hazy photo. I warmed it up and reduced the blue color from the haze, as well as increasing the contrast to bring out more detail in the villa. I think it almost looks like a hand-colored black and white image now!

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I personally feel that it is a good exercise for a photographer to go back to old images and re-edit them. It’s a great way to see how your style, both in editing and shooting, has changed over the years. Also, my Italy photos are a good example of how the “better” camera won’t necessarily take the better photos. Next week, I will do a post of some of my PowerShot SD400 shots re-edited!

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