Adventures of a father and a photographer. Tales about the mystery and excitement of family travel.

maanantai 25. syyskuuta 2017

Flying Saucers Over Tampere

Tampere is one of the largest cities in Finland. It's not a big city in the world standard, but it's very city-like in the Finnish standard. The town has a wonderful amusement park called Särkänniemi and a tall observation tower called Näsinneula. If you're not a Finn, you probably don't want to try to pronounce the names.

A few years back me and my family were visiting Tampere. We bought a some kind of family pass allowing us to access all the attractions the town had to offer. We had a lovely day at the fun park and we even saw the dolphins they still had there. Nowadays the dolphins have been moved to a more animal friendly place.

After a long day at the parks, museums and planetariums we arrived to our hotel. Everybody was so tired we just wanted to get something to eat and lay in our comfortable beds watching TV. At some point my wife noticed that our passes allowed us to enter the observation tower, too. We hadn't been there, but nobody had any energy for another sight. Nobody but me!

I suddenly saw this as an opportunity to get some wonderful photos from above. After all, the tower is very high and I thought there would be quite a view to the city. If I wanted to see the tower, I was free to go. No one else wanted to join me.

I grabbed my camera bag and drove to the tower. The place seemed to be empty, but there was a tiny light above the entrance. I walked in and noticed there actually was somebody there. The receptionist smiled to me wearily and asked if wanted to go up. I showed her my pass and she pointed to the elevators.

When I got up, I noticed there was nobody there either. I had the tower for myself! I set up the tripod and started to take photos of the night lights of the city. I must say the view was absolutely wonderful. I had all the time in the world to concentrate on photography.

After a few shots, I took a closer look at the results. To my shock, I noticed there were flying saucers all over the city. The lights of the observation deck were reflecting from the windows and formed light round shapes in the photos. In the next shots, I tried to point the lens so that the reflections wouldn't show. It was pretty pointless, because there were lights everywhere.

This was my Joe McNally moment. I you haven't read his book 'Sketching Light', read it immediately. Especially the chapter 'I thought the lights would be on'.

Unlike Mr McNally, I walked out the tower with photos that would have been awesome if only the lights wouldn't be on. When I got back to the hotel, I suddenly realized: Why didn't I ask the receptionist if she could turn the lights off for ten minutes. She looked so bored she might have done it. There was nobody but me there, no harm done, and I would have had the photos I wanted.

The lesson to be learned: Always ask! What's the worst that can happen? Somebody will say no to you. But at least you asked. The chances are somebody will say yes and you won't regret that you never asked.

Lowepro Nova 180 AW

Lowepro Nova has been my loyal camera bag for years. It's a perfect bag for a travel photographer. Despite of it's relatively small size it can hold my camera body, two to three lenses, a small video camera, a flash and a terrible amount of little things you need with cameras (memory cards, cords, chargers, adapters, batteries, wipes, lens caps and so on).

The bag is probably not the best one for a street photographer or if you walk all day in an amusement park. But, if you leave some of your gear (mainly the cords, chargers, adapters, batteries, wipes and so on) to your hotel room, the bag works perfectly.

At least my bag has seen a lot. I've been carrying it around in many places. To me, it's an excellent companion to my camera gear.

You can read more about the bag here.

torstai 21. syyskuuta 2017

The Great White Photographer

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a very interesting city. For example, it's one of the safest capitals in the world. You can walk on the streets at night with your valuables and feel completely safe. The city has many interesting sights like the medieval old town. However, my favorite place there is the Tallinn Zoo.

The zoo is quite small, but it has some very exotic animals like polar bears and an Amur tiger. Unfortunately, some of the buildings are from the Soviet era and are not that well taken care of. The zoo is not actually bathing in money, but they are doing their best in renovating the place and building new facilities for the animals.

One of the most interesting interesting animals at the zoo are the African elephants and the black rhinos. They have a big yard for them, but it's pretty cold in Tallinn compared to Serengeti. Don't get me wrong, it's not the North Pole, but it does snow in Tallinn in the wintertime. I think the polar bears feel more home there than the African animals.

So, the big animals need a big house for the winter. And there is a big concrete building for them in one of the corners of the park. It's not a palace, but it works. And of course there need to be big barriers between the animals and the public.

The elephants have their own shelter on the other side of the building with huge bars, logs and a pond of water between them and the people watching them. The rhinos are on the other side and one of the walls of their shelter is made of thick glass. The audience gets to see the animals really well and even get pretty close to them.

On one of our visits to the zoo I got to try out my brand new Canon 100mm f2.0 lens. Of course we went to see the elephants and the rhinos. The elephants were outdoors and I got some pretty interesting photos of them. I was very pleased with myself.

Then we got indoors to see the rhinos. I don't know why they were in, but I thought that would be a wonderful opportunity to get some intimate pictures of the huge rhino bull. Well, I don't know about you, but being from Finland, I haven't encountered rhinos very often. Although the thick glass wall was between us, the rhino was a very, very impressive animal.

The rhino was stomping around in his shelter. I raised my camera and had a look through the viewfinder. All of a sudden the rhino was even bigger and seemed to be extremely close to me. I tried to think rationally: there was the glass wall and I was using a relatively long lens. Objects seen through it look bigger than they actually are.

The rational thoughts didn't do a very good job calming me down. I felt my knees shaking a little when I took the photos of the bull. Somehow I managed to get some decent pictures. You hardly can see that they are taken through a glass wall. Unfortunately, my knees were so shaky that the photos are not tack sharp.

And by the way, there was a rhino baby born at the zoo on the 3rd of June 2017. I saw the baby playing on the yard and he wasn't half as scary as the rhino daddy.

Canon EF 100mm f2.0 USM

I just love the prime lenses. I had been using the short 24mm and 40mm lenses for a while, but sometimes they are just too short. I got the 100mm lens and all my prayers were answered. The lens is very sharp and light, very easy to carry with you. It's a perfect lens for discreet street photography and a great companion on a zoo trip.

The model is pretty old and it's not the L series, but for the price it's an excellent lens.

You can read more about the lens here.


maanantai 18. syyskuuta 2017

Knives, swords, sabers and a zoom lens

Back in the 80s the home computers were not all-round tools but mainly for game purposes. I had a Spectravideo SVI-728 back in those days, the dawn of the home computing era. It had even an external floppy disc drive which was a huge improvement to the tape recorders everybody else was using.

However, I wanted to be a serious nerd and wanted to buy an IBM PC clone, a sleek Atari PC. So, I needed to get rid of the game machine to get the money. Ebay wasn't invented yet, so I put an ad to the local newspaper.

After a few days of frustration, somebody finally called about the computer. He wanted to know if he could attach the machine to a thermal printer. I had no idea about that, but I knew the connectivity of the little computer was better than average. I told the caller what I knew, he pondered for a while and told me he wanted to see the computer for himself. I asked him to come over and he promised to arrive in half an hour.

The guy came by and I noticed he was a bit older than me. He certainly was no teenager, a typical game computer user. He had a greasy hair and a messy beard. I showed him the machine and he seemed to be very interested. I showed him the game cartridges I had, but he didn't care about them. He kept asking about the printer connectivity. I couldn't be sure if the printer could be connected to the computer, so he asked if I could come to his place to see the printer.

He also mentioned that he had could not pay for the device, but he had an SLR camera he could give me for it. I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to buy a new computer, not a camera. On the other hand, SLR cameras were very expensive and I only had my dad's old camera to take photos with.

The offer was so tempting I decided to take the computer gear with me and go to his place. The house was a dark place at the outskirts of the town. He showed me in and asked to be quiet because his father was watching TV in the living room. A flickering light showed me that there seemed to be somebody sitting on an armchair in the dark room. The buyer asked me to come to his room.

In his room there truly was a surprise for me. The room was decorated with all kinds of blade weapons. There were knives, swords, sabers, bayonets, the lot! I think there wasn't a square inch of the walls not covered with these horrifying things. I was looking at the blades and started to sweat heavily. When I turned around I saw him standing beside me with a camera in his hands.

The camera seemed to be the Olympus OM-10. It even had a long zoom lens attached to it. The guy told me the lens was excellent if you wanted to spy on your neighbor or take photos of the chicks on the beach. I felt very, very uncomfortable but forced a smile on my face.

Then he showed me the printer. He told me he needed the computer for a little program. The program should make the printer to print out the following sentence in an endless loop: Thank God for the mental illness medication.

At that point I thought the camera for the computer was an excellent deal. I told the guy the computer could easily do what he wanted. Here you are, the computer is yours, just give me the camera and the deal is done. I ran out of the house with the camera as fast as I could, but very quietly, because I really didn't want to disturb dad watching TV in the dark. His room might be decorated with firearms.

Vivitar 100-300mm F5

The zoom lens appeared to be a 100-300mm Vivitar. I didn't know much about the cameras or lenses back then, but the lens was an excellent companion to the OM-10. It's very sharp and 300mm is quite impressive, don't you think? And the aperture is the same at the both ends of the zoom! F5 is not bad for a long lens like this.

The only problem with the lens was, that it was my only lens. It's really not an all-round lens at all. Now that I had an expensive camera, everybody was asking me to take photos at the family parties. I had to go to the other side of the street to get the photos.

You can read more about the lens here.

And, you can read about my adventures with the lens here.

torstai 14. syyskuuta 2017

How to shoot a nuclear submarine

This is one of those sad stories when the human mind works in a way you are not able to comprehend later.

I was staying with my family in Caloundra, Queensland, Australia. We were on a holiday. Everything was as smooth as it can be in Queensland. The day was warm and sunny and we had nothing special planned.

All of a sudden my friend calls me and tells, that there is an American nuclear submarine coming to Brisbane and it's going to pass the beaches of Caloundra pretty soon. So, he said, if you guys have nothing planned, go to the beach and have a look at it.

Well, how often can you see a nuclear submarine passing by? We took a quick look at the local newspaper if they said anything about the timetable. We weren't going to spend the whole day on the beach waiting for a submarine which had already gone by.

Luckily, we saw the news on the paper and found out we had a little time before the great event. So, we packed everything we would need on a warm day at the beach very carefully: hats, drinks, snacks, sun tan lotion and so on.

Off we went to the beach. There were a few other people there too. They had binoculars and cameras with long zoom lenses. They all were very well prepared and they didn't want to miss the big war machine.

And what did I take with me? Did I take my DSLR (Canon EOS 350D) with multiple lenses? Did I take the super zoom lens (Tamron 28-200) I had with me in Australia? Did I take the binoculars my friend had borrowed me? After all, we had all the time in the world to prepare ourselves to the event.

What did I take? I took a tiny point-and-shoot camera with me. I had an enormous 4x zoom lens. It's a good travel camera, but if you want to take pictures of nuclear submarines sailing in the horizon, that's probably the worst choice you could make.

To this day, I haven't figured out what made me make that kind of decision. Maybe the warm sun of Queensland had burned my Scandinavian brain.

Canon Powershot A3100 IS

The point-and-shoot camera I had with me that day was one of the Canon's Powershot series. A nice camera, I admit. I actually bought it for my wife, but guess who's using it most of the time.

Anyway, the camera has 12 megapixel sensor and 4x optical zoom. The size of it is very handy and you can carry it around in your pocket very easily. It's very easy to use and has even a program mode.

I have no bad things to say about the little devil. I just made a wrong decision that day.

You can read more about the Canon here.


torstai 7. syyskuuta 2017

Always, always take your camera with you

I've been a Disney fan all my life. I just love the movies, the comics and the theme parks! Our little kids are a perfect excuse to visit the parks

So, we went for a family holiday to Disneyland Paris years ago, because the kids wanted to see the 'Mickey Mouse Land'. Daddy didn't say no. Let's go! As quick as possible!

The kids were just tiny back then and we couldn't take the early morning flights unless we stayed in a hotel nearby the airport. We stayed at a hotel in Oulu for a night before flying to Paris via Helsinki.

I'm not mentioning any hotel names, but that wasn't the best night we've spent in a hotel. My wife is a light sleeper and we asked for a very quiet room as usual. They gave us a nice suite in the top floor. The room had a private sauna and all. Everybody was very happy and ready for the soft bed, eagerly waiting for the flight to Paris tomorrow.

The hotel happened to have a night club in the ground floor. Back at those days there was an interesting peace of music popular in Finland: Pensselisetä! And the night club had a karaoke set. It seems that the customers of the night club wanted the whole city of Oulu to hear how beautifully they could interpret the bloody song.

So, none of us could get much sleep that night. Early in the morning we flew to Helsinki and from there to Paris. From the Charles de Gaulle airport we took the TGV to the Disneyland. The train took only eight for the trip. How fast is that!

But, when we finally got to the hotel, everybody was exhausted. My wife wanted to have a nap with the baby. So, I took the older ones for a walk in the park area. To add to the mood, the weather was grey and very moist. I was so tired I thought I couldn't take any photos in that weather and left my camera at the hotel.

When we walked in the Fantasyland I noticed the park was almost empty. To get cheap tickets, we went there off-season, but I never thought there wouldn't be anybody there. We had the park for ourselves!

All of a sudden, Mickey Mouse walks towards us from the Fantasyland railroad station. The kids jumped in the air and ran to him. They hugged him and Mickey was making gestures at me: Take a photo! Daddy, take a photo!

What are the chances that you go to Disneyland, the park is empty, Mickey Mouse comes to you and hugs your kids. There's no one else there, just Mickey and your kids posing beautifully. Perfect Kodak moment! And you don't have your camera with you!

To make Mickey happy, I took my phone from the pocket and took a couple of photos with it. Back at those days, the cameras on the phones were just about as good as toys. So, of this perfect photographic moment I got a bunch of blurry pixels on my phone.
Lesson to be learned: Always, always take your camera with you. You'll never know where Mickey pops out.

Panasonic DMC-LC20 

Before my first DSLR, my faithful companion was the Panasonic point-and-shoot wonder, the DMC-LC20. It had only 2 megapixel sensor, but the Leica lens was awesome!

The camera was my first digital camera bought for me by my wife as a wedding present. I could choose the model. There were cameras on the market with more megapixels, but I thought the Leica lens would be more important than the megapixels. And it sure was. It was amazing!

I used the camera on many of our trips. It was compact, relatively fast and as I already mentioned, the image quality was superb! Unfortunately, I dropped the little miracle one day and the zoom lens stopped working.

I might get another Panasonic with a Leica lens some day.

You can read more about my treasure here.


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