Bucks County Covered Bridges

I spent some time this morning visiting a few of the covered bridges that can be found in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  The three bridges I checked out were near Lake Nockamixon and these were Sheards Mill, Frankenfield, and Loux.  There are a total of 12 covered bridges in Bucks County, 10 of which are still actively in use for road traffic.  The other 2 are in parks.

Photographing covered bridges can be quite challenging. The biggest issue is that some of these bridges are located along narrow backroads, surrounded by private property.  The result is that there is no room at all to park near the bridges.  I am personally not one to park improperly on private property, so in these case I just take a pass.

There are other challenges as well, even if you can find a place to park.  If the area is mostly private property then it is hard to get a good angle to make a great composition.  Also there are usually lots of shadows, unless the day is overcast.  Traffic can also be a concern.

One solution to the issue of lighting and shadows is the use of HDR.  I am using this technique more often now, in order to create photos that would normally be too shadowy and/or blown-out.  When I use my HDR software (Photomatix) I try to produce the most realistic output image, one that doesn’t look too cartoonish.  Usually the image coming out of Photomatix is not good enough to be a final image, since the software is designed to use rules to operate on the whole image without knowing the contents, so I perform further processing in Photoshop to get the photo to the point where I really like it.

I created a map in Google Maps to identify the location of the covered bridges.  Here is a screen-shot of the map:

The public link to the map is here:

Here are a couple of photos from today’s outing:

Frankenfield Covered Bridge


Frankenfield Covered Bridge

Loux Covered Bridge

Main Website: Photography by Matt Schrier

Philly Art Museum in Black and White

Last year I took a walk around the Philly Art Museum area and took some shots that I thought had some potential.  While processing them recently I found that they worked much better in B&W format.  My general rule of thumb is to experiment with B&W on images that have very strong visual elements, and little contribution by the color of the subject matter.  These images of the art museum fit the criteria to a “T”.  Below are two of my favorites from this day, and I’ll post more in following posts.

Philly Art Museum

“Art Museum Design”

Philly Art Museum

“Art Museum with Moon”

Visit my Philly Photography Gallery

Female Cardinal Study

It snowed in the northeastern U.S. yesterday, and we received only a moderate amount of snow – about 2 inches in total.  But the conditions were very good for photographing birds at my local nature center (Churchville Nature Center) since there was little wind and it was not too cold.  I wait all year for these conditions to occur since I know the birds flock (no pun intended) to the feeders at the nature center whenever it snows.

There are usually only a few species of birds in quantity at this nature center: Cardinals (both male and female), sparrows, chickadees, titmouse (titmice?), and bluejays.  There are one or two others that I don’t know the name of.  Female cardinals are one of my favorites to photograph.  Their colors are fairly soft and even. Their feathers are light enough to show great detail. They sit long enough in one place to actually compose a photo. And they often exhibit interesting expressions – at least it seems they do.

Below are four photos that I made during my visit yesterday.  I only spent about 45 minutes there, interrupted by a short visit by a talkative 3-year old, but I came away with a bunch of very nice photos.

Female Cardinal #1

Female Cardinal #2

Female Cardinal #3

Female Cardinal #4

Full Website: Photography by Matt Schrier
Bird Gallery: Bird Photos


Our Europe Photobook

This is something that I don’t do nearly as often as I should.  Ever since digital photography won me over about eight years ago I have been very resistant to going the traditional route of printing out a bunch of 4×6 prints from a trip and sticking them in a photo album.  Traditional photo albums do serve various purposes. They are a way of storing lots of images from a trip or period in your life.  Many different compositions, poses, groups of people, etc. can be included.  But the trouble I have is that they don’t do justice to the really great pictures you take.  The semi-boring (or totally boring) photos, which are often included because you feel obligated, are presented right next to the fantastic ones, all in the same tiny 4×6 format.

These days the best option is to create a photobook that represents a theme: An individual trip; a certain time period; a particular event; a person or group of people, especially family. You have all the flexibility in the world to arrange the photos in the order and size that YOU want.  Small obligatory photos can be included along with your full-page breathtaking shots.

Many different websites give you the opportunity to make very creative and personal photobooks.  If you are concerned about price you can often buy a discount offer from the likes of Groupon or other services. In fact it was a Groupon offer for Shutterfly.com that got me to create a photobook of our recent trip to Europe.  It was a challenge to complete, mainly because I’m not too adept at putting something like this together.  You literally start with a blank page, and you have to create something interesting on that page and at least 20 more.  If you are not naturally creative you might find this daunting.

Shutterfly has a fairly sophisticated system for creating photobooks.  I am fairly experienced dealing with complicated websites so I did manage it pretty well, but I think this one does a good job in helping a novice user understand what to do and what options are available.  I’m not here to give a detailed tutorial on my Shutterfly experience, but I would definitely recommend that you give it a try at least once.

I would like to offer some pitfalls and challenges that I think you should watch out for. Here they are, in no implied order:

1. The coupon or voucher code.  You may be using a pre-purchased voucher, such as from Groupon, but this requires that you create the EXACT same type of photobook that you purchased, or else the code will not work.  My biggest problem with Shutterfly was that the voucher was for a “hardcover 8×11 photobook”, but although I selected a hardcover book there were a variety of cover types.  ONLY ONE of the available cover types matched the code, and it wasn’t obvious which one it was (hint: it was the basic photo cover). This wasted a lot of my time

2. Don’t wait until the last minute.  This goes for whether you have a time-sensitive voucher code, or just a time sensitive photo project.  Plan to finish your project about a week ahead of time.  This gives you time to go through a few drafts and reviews until you are sure you like what you end up with.  Also, if you wait until your voucher’s expiration date remember that there are hundreds if not thousands of other people doing the same thing, trying to finish their photo books.  This bogs down the servers and makes everything much slower and more frustrating.

3. Selecting and arranging photos.  This is the difficult creative part.  You may be putting dozens of photos onto lots of pages.  You might want to make the book flow chronologically, or by some other method, but this might be difficult due to the orientation of the photos (vertical vs horizontal) and your desire to make some smaller or larger.  You might want to pre-select and upload MORE photos that you plan to use, including some that are similar, and then you can more easily omit some if the arrangement doesn’t work out perfectly.

Most websites will give you plenty of options for placing photos on a page, with a multitude of choices of page layouts for different numbers of photos per page.  Look at all of them – if you’re having trouble you may need to think outside the box and crop some photos more vertically or horizontally than you expected.

4. Think panoramic. Sometimes you have photos that really would look so much better in a narrow horizontal cropping, or panoramic format.  A typical rectangular photobook is oriented horizontally, so two panoramic photos would work very well on the same page.  Give it a try.

5. Save, save, save.  Save often.  You never know when the website is going to hang up or if your browser is going to crash.  Saving every few minutes ensures that you lose very little in case something bad happens.

6. Not photographic.  Be aware that photobooks are not made with high-end printing equipment – this would make your book prohibitively expensive.  It will not look like your store-bought coffee table book.  The photos will be created with small dots that are very noticeable up close.  At typical viewing distances the photos are acceptable, but certainly not with the sharpness of a lab-printed photo.

Step up to the plate and try creating a photobook.  You’ll be happy you did.

The Gondolas

The first word that comes to mind when you hear Venice is “gondola”.  Yes, Venice is known for it’s canals and certainly not to mention St. Mark’s Square and Cathedral, but almost nowhere else on earth will you find gondolas.  A few hundred years back there were over 10,000 gondolas in this small city.  The aristocrats used these watercraft as their primary means of transportation.  Now there are only about 500 gondolas, and most are used for tourist “joyrides” and the remainder are used for quick rides across the Grand Canal and other purposes.

We did not get a chance to ride in a gondola during our short stay in Venice, and if we had I’m not exactly sure where we would have embarked or how much we would have paid.  Many tourists start their rides from the lagoon area near St. Mark’s Square.  These gondolas begin their journey by steering into one of the canals that lead from the lagoon in towards the city, under the heavily traveled arching pedestrian bridges.

There are also a few places within the maze of streets and canals where you can begin your ride.  The photo below shows one of these crowded canal “intersections”.  It was an amazing location bustling with activity, with regular tourists competing against a few hotel guests that were trying to get a short boat ride to their hotel.

As far as pricing we have read that prices can be high, but are flexible depending on your negotiating skills, also taking into account the demand level at the time (e.g. crowd size, time of year, time of day, etc.)  If you want to add a romantic singing accordion player to your trip then it will cost your dearly – up to $100 extra.
Hopefully on our next visit (if there is one) we’ll be sure to make time for a gondola ride, but we’ll probably skip the accordion player.
See more Venice images on my Etsy site:  http://www.etsy.com

Ah Venice!

I am fortunate that I sometimes get to travel to (or near to) interesting destinations through my day-job as an engineer.  My most recent trip took me to Basel, Switzerland, and I was able to combine this business trip with a personal family trip to Italy.  We spent about a day in Verona, followed by a day and a half in Venice.  This is much too short a time to experience all that Venice has to offer.  I would say for a photographer you need about 2 days to see all of the attractions such as museums and churches, if you are so inclined, as well as 2-3 days of walking and photographing the city.

The weather worked in our favor.  The first evening we were there provided some very nice light as well as clouds (cloudless skies are so boring).  In contrast the second day was rainy, so I feel lucky that we had even that short amount of good weather to work with.

I will follow with more detailed posts about our experiences in Venice, and how they relate to the photographs we made. Here is a representative photo from the walkway near St. Mark’s Square, looking across the lagoon towards the San Giorgio Maggiore church.

Lost Hat

I was down at the NJ shore recently and I came across this hat hanging on a fence along the dunes in Sea Isle City.  I could only imagine the parents or the child getting back to their house and wondering what happened to the hat.  It would not take long to find a new one, since the NJ shore towns are packed with stores selling both day-to-day items and vacation-related items.

This is one of (8) new photos I added to my website today.  Link: Photography by Matt Schrier

I also have many images on Etsy that I don’t have on my main website: Link: Etsy Store.

“Lost Hat”

Macro + Flowers

Every once in a while I get the yearning to pull out my macro lens and head to some local spots that are teeming with flowers.  On this day it had rained the night before into the morning, so I wanted to see if I could make use of the raindrops in some compelling flower photos.

After all was said and done the shots that I liked the most did not involve raindrops.  The unique state of the flowers and plants in the late-summer season are what made the more compelling compositions.

The first shot below show a flower shot from the side, in a typically soft macro-lens style.  But the carpels (I think that’s what they’re called) are loosening from the flower and pointing in various directions, creating a little bit of contrast to the smooth petals and background.

In the next series of shots I was shooting the large hibiscus flowers, and after getting some somewhat interesting shots of the stamens I was attracted to the buds.  These buds had all sorts of interesting lines and curves.  This series of three shots shows what drew me to these buds.

We are on the downward curve of summer heading for fall, so I’m going to try to maximize the summer shooting season as long as I can.

See more at Photography by Matt Schrier

Lititz Show 2012

I attended the Lititz Craft Fair last weekend, and good times were had by all.  The weather was great, the crowds were great, and the buying was brisk.  It was my second year at this show, and I was expecting a “sophomore slump”, meaning I thought that this year many of the regular attendees at the show would have already seen my work and my sales would drop a bit because of this.

But this show is so big and pulls in people from all around the Lancaster area there were a lot of new visitors.  I also had a number of new pieces on display and this always draws people’s attention.

One visitor was actually returning from last year, and she walked right up to a framed print of the image below of the purple flowers .  She had seen this print at the last show but I think she decided to wait.  So she was ready, and wanted to buy a matted version as soon as she entered my tent. So of course I obliged.

I will be sending in my renewal form for this show ASAP.

Main website: Photography by Matt Schrier