Category Archives: Sightseeing

The Blue Lagoon by Day

During the Sunset at the Blue Lagoon, I of course also took some photos that weren’t shot into the sun and as a result didn’t require as much post-processing. Before entering the actual geothermal spa that the Blue Lagoon is famous for, I took a left and landed on a little footpath that lead around some very shallow pools in the very dark lava rock landscape. The water, being very rich in minerals, had left a white residue on the ground of the pools and on the black rocks that had contact with the water, allowing the sun to be reflected from the ground better and making the blue water appear even more blue.

Little Rock Islands

Throughout the pools, some patches of rock were still sticking up, forming little islands in the pool. The walkway is built across a few of the natural islands and connected with a bridge. At night, it is illuminated by some tiny spotlights, making it at least possible to figure out where you have to go. Ultimately, the main purpose of the path is to connect the geothermal spa with the Blue Lagoon Clinic, a private clinic specialized in treating various skin diseases with the mud and water from the Blue Lagoon. From the Clinic’s parking lot, a regular road leads to the Svartsengi power plant.

Path along the Lagoon

After I felt I had taken enough photos of the Blue Lagoon, I still had about two hours before it would be dark enough for taking some night shots at the same place. The spa was a nice option to spend the time relaxing while drifting through the lagoon’s 40°C hot thermal water. I’m not normally much into wellness, but hey, vacations are always a great chance to try all the things you never do in your ordinary life. I don’t know the regular prices for a visit to the spa, but here, the basic entrance fee was around 35 euros and you get to use as much of their magic skin healing mud as you like. To my surprise it actually worked and made me look a lot better.
Until it all washed of again.
He. He. He.

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

Before taking night shots of Svartsengi power station, I walked around for a bit at the Blue Lagoon. It is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destination, both for Icelanders and foreign visitors. The water pumped up for the geothermal power plant is collected in some outdoor pools that have naturally formed in the rough lava rock landscape. The water is rich in minerals and some algae, which give it a distinctly blue color.

The wind was causing many small waves to appear on the surface of the water and some low hanging clouds were moving past the sun really fast. I walked around one of the easier accessible pools, just letting the different directions of the light inspire me. While I was still fine tuning from which place and at what height to take a photo, another photographer approached me, noting that the angle I had selected looked very interesting indeed. That’s of course photographer code for “I’m totally going to take the same shot as soon as you leave” and it is something I have gotten used to. I replied that you’d have to shoot directly into the sun though, and configured auto bracketing.

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

This is not the first photo I post that was shot directly into the sun, but this time I used a more wide angle lens and also needed parts of the foreground to be visible. With several photos, bracketed at different exposure times and later combined into a high dynamic range image, this is not difficult, only a lot of work in post processing. To make it even harder, I had left the tripod in the car and had to shoot handheld, which resulted in images that weren’t properly aligned.

To get the image you see above, I had to run my five different photos through many different pieces of software. After learning that for some reason, neither Luminance HDR, nor Picturenaut could properly align the images, I had to figure out something else. After a while, I got Hugin, originally a panorama creation program, to align and crop the individual exposures, but only after I had developed the raw files with RawTherapee. Then, I could turn them into a single HDR file, tone-map it and load it into The GIMP, along with some of the aligned and cropped versions. From there, it was the usual spiel of experimenting with different layer modes, meticulously painting layer masks and enhancing the final result with some G’MIC magic.

So yes, six different pieces of software to produce a single image. And in the end, only the output of four of them is used in the image. Fortunately, all of these programs are free and what’s even more important, I got to play around with a lot of new techniques and learned some new tricks. Nowadays, all the things the old masters did in their laboratories and dark rooms can be done on the computer. As long as you’re not opposed to heavily processed pictures.

Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña

When driving through Mijas in the evening, looking for a place to park, I noticed this little chapel that looked like a cave on a little ledge near the center of the city. I decided to take a closer look during my morning walk.

The Chapel is called the Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña and was caved into a natural rock formation by a Carmelite Monk in the 17th century. A few years later, a belfry and a room next to it were added, but built out of natural bricks outside the cave. Above the entrance, there is a statue of the Virgin de la Peña. I took a look inside, and it really did look like a chapel in a cave. And it was full of the only types of people you would expect at a historical site in rural Spain at 10 in the morning – Japanese tourists. So I skipped taking photos of the inside. Also because my camera didn’t perform well in low light situations.

Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña

Taking photos of the outside, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go ultra wide angle, use a normal lens or do a detail shot with a telephoto lens. I ended up taking all three shots so I could decide later which one I liked best. However, I still cannot decide which one I like most, they all show different aspects of the chapel in their own way. I guess I like the middle one most because it shows the statue, the old belfry and a little bit of the cave without any distractions in the frame.

Virgin and Belfry gable

For the last shot, I wanted the sun to look like it was the statue’s halo, so I had to shoot with a telephoto lens directly into the sun. This is something you should never do! Most of the optical elements inside a camera lens are magnifying glasses, perfectly tuned and adjusted to collect a large amount of light and focus it on a tiny area. When looking through the optical viewfinder of a camera, this tiny area would be your eye, which might get severely burnt or otherwise damaged.

La Virgen de la Peña

Instead, I used my camera’s live view function. Probably not the best for the camera sensor either, but unlike my eye, it has a heat sensor and shuts down before burning up. The downside is that I can’t press the camera to my face when using live view which makes it harder to hold it perfectly steady. With a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second, this is not necessary to prevent motion blur, but I had to keep the camera perfectly aligned in the shadow of the statue’s head to avoid a bright spot next to the head as well as lens flares. It took ten attempts to finally get the photo right.

Sightseeing in Brussels

I arrived in Brussels in the morning of New Year’s Eve 2010 and decided to walk around a bit. I stayed in a hotel very close to the Brussels South Station from where the Thalys or the ICE (I don’t remember) would take me back to Cologne the next day in less than 2 hours. Brussels is a beautiful city, it has a lot of historic buildings but also very modern architecture and high rise office blocks. And it has that kind of big city atmosphere you would expect from the capital of Europe, unlike anything I have ever experienced in Germany; although Berlin was close. I highly recommend visiting it, especially if you live in or near Cologne because with the short train travel times, it is very easy to stay for a weekend or even just a single day. Now that I think about it, I haven’t been there for quite some time now…

Mont des Arts

A good starting point for sightseeing is the Mont des Arts, or Kunstberg in Dutch (and German). It is possible to walk there from the Station and then it is easy to walk around and explore the old town and see some of the beautiful parks and palaces in central Brussels. On the Mont des Arts itself, preparations for the public New Year’s Eve fireworks display were in progress. Unfortunately though, a thick fog descended on the city that night so all that the people got to see of the fireworks were faint glows of colors above the fog.

Manneken Pis

The Manneken Pis is another extremely popular tourist attraction in Brussels. It is easy to find because every other tourist eventually walks there. And if it weren’t for the tourists, it could be easily overlooked. Even though it is surrounded by blinking lights. The Manneken Pis is an actual size bronze statue of a baby that is urinating into a fountain. It has been around for a few hundred years, but that’s pretty much all there is to it.