Sunday, February 05, 2006

A few more pictures from Egypt

Sunrise at Sharm El Sheikh

Kom-Ombo Temple

Lone tree hill - St. Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai peninsula

The Moonhouse

Fresh Indigo - I don't recommend mixing this with your saffron

Friday, February 03, 2006

Egypt - In Summary

I'm going to add some more pictures and maybe a bit more detail to the Egypt posts but now that I'm home it's time to summarize the trip. In a word: Fantastic.

The folks at American Photo's Mentor Series did a great job of keeping everything moving along which is particularly difficult given that Egypt is far from Switzerland in terms of efficiency. The people running the show, the mentors, Bob and Pat and the other trekkers were all a lot of fun and it was great to get to know them all. I definitely would like to do some more treks in the future.

To make one stop shopping easier, here are links to each of my posts about the trip in chronological order.

Made it to Egypt!
Greetings from Egypt
Another day at the pyramids
Camel shopping
Hello Bakh Shish?
Flying high again
Oh look! More hieroglyphics
I miss ice
Where was I?
A few more pictures from Egypt

Also, if you want more detail, David did a great job of blow by blow for each of the days we were there on his blog.

Where Was I?

Home again. Yay!

The Egypt trip was really fantastic. I met some really great people took a ton of pictures (over 2700 raw files in case you're keeping score but only about 10% have been processed so far) and saw some absolutely amazing sights.

One of the big surprises was how interested everyone was in the technical sessions that Josh, David and I did. It really drove home that digital photography is not just about framing great shots or just knowing how to manipulate them in Photoshop (or Digital Image Suite ;) ) but to be really successful as a digital photographer you need to have a broad knowledge of both the technical and artistic aspects and the three of us provided insight in ways that really complemented the professional mentors on the tour. We had a couple of sessions covering things like workflow, organization, backup and color management and as much as possible we covered both Windows and Mac solutions. The feedback was really positive so we will definitely be looking into doing this again in the future, particularly for some of the shorter domestic workshops with the Mentor Series.

When we were out shooting, Josh had a GPS unit hooked up to his Nikon D2X that would embed the GPS information into each photo so that we could later go back and map these photos to where we were when we took them. Canon does not yet have this functionality (though I hope they do soon) so David and I were out of luck -- until I fired up Visual Studio and wrote a cool little app that will pull the GPS info out of Josh's files and map them onto my files based on the date taken properties in both files. Since we were all reasonably close to each other while we were out shooting the locations will be close enough as long as the date taken properties are within a few minutes (30 at the moment) of each other.

The application is working now and it covers most of my pictures. It also allows Josh to fill in holes in his coverage where he couldn't get enough satellite coverage like when he was indoors or in some of the temples with lots of obstructed views of the sky. It does point out some interesting problems though. First, even though we tried to sync our clocks on our cameras when we got there, Josh's pictures are all offset by 2 hours - possibly because the date time was set to the GPS time which was GMT. Second, I borrowed Adam's 5D for a few shots with my memory card and his clock was off by 5 hours in the opposite direction so I need to correct each of those before I can get good GPS values. The good news is that once we have good GPS capabilities in cameras, it should be easy to start to get cameras to automatically set their own clock since the GPS satellites broadcast this information. We'll just need to make sure the time zone is correct and that can be determined by the location info.

So now I can really tell where I was when I was taking the pictures even though I didn't have a GPS unit strapped to my camera and the accuracy is certainly good enough to be able to tell if a picture was taken at Edfu or Kom-Ombo or Karnak. This is a good thing because after a while, the hieroglyphics start to all look the same to me.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I Miss Ice

One of the things about travelling in Egypt is that you really can't trust the water. If it comes in a bottle then it is fine to drink but anything with water from the tap is a big risk of picking up some sort of water borne illness. The tour guides told us repeatedly about people on previous trips who brushed their teeth with the water from the tap in the hotel room and were incapacitated for days. Not being able to trust the water, though, means more than just drinking from the bottle instead of the tap. It means that you can't eat fresh vegetables that may have been washed using that same water unless they have been cooked. It also means no ice. Fortunately, the drinks are usually refrigerated but there is something unnerving about needing to make sure that drinks do not come with ice or that you avoid that piece of tomato on the falafel or pretty much the entire salad area at meal time.

While we're on the topic of food, I have to say that I have been pretty disappointed with the food in Egypt. The limits set on what you can eat based on the water problems was a big part of the issue and perhaps the places we stayed were another part but each meal was remarkably similar to every other meal. It got to the point that when we arrived at St. Catherine and got to our dinner buffet, David and I were able to accurately guess every single one of the 6 covered dishes without first peeking. Beef, Chicken, Fish, Rice, Potatoes, Pasta. By the time we got to Sharm El Sheikh we were seriously jonesing for a pizza or anything different from what we had been having so we went looking and found a felafel restaurant.

After a couple of weeks of being extra cautious I was feeling pretty safe. We ordered lots of felafel at the restaurant in Sharm El Sheikh but the without any vegetables they were pretty dry so I added a tomato slice and a few bits of onion to one of them. David gave me a "are you really sure you want to do that?" look but I thought "feh - it's just one slice and some of the other folks are doing it so it should be safe." It certainly tasted better.

Now you probably know I wouldn't be writing about this if everything was just fine and dandy. Around 3 am I woke up with that uh-oh feeling. Sure enough, a few minutes later I was on my knees in the bathroom dealing with my own attack of the killer tomatoes. The good news was that shortly afterwards I felt much better and that was the extent of my incapacitation. Three hours later I was up and out on the beach shooting the sunrise over the Red Sea. Another lesson learned in Egypt though I'm glad it waited until the very end.

Now we're getting ready to fly home and I am surprisingly excited to get to Amsterdam and have some ice in my drink and maybe have a salad.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Oh Look! More Hieroglyphics!

We've been visiting lots of temples since we left Cairo. Philae, Kom-Ombo, Edfu, Karnak, Luxor and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Each of these are covered in hieroglyphics telling stories and proclaiming the greatness of Egypt and its rulers. At first, these are amazing things to see. They have been there for thousands of years and in many cases are spectacularly sharp as if they were just cut today. Some of the temples still have original paint on them and you can just start to get a sense of how awesome the original temples must have been. After a couple of days of seeing so many sites rich in these hieroglyphics you can become numb to them. Just like when we were toodling around Germany after Photokina a couple of years ago and the numerous castles dotting the countryside first made us stop each time we saw one and later we would zip past them with a brief "Oh look - another castle... Yup."

Many of the temples create some unique challenges for photography. The sun and shadows intermingle on walls, pillars and the floors creating very compelling scenes but there is so much dynamic range that it is nearly impossible to capture what you see. If you expose for the sunlit parts, then the shadows will be too dark and you won't see any detail in there. If you expose for the shadows, then the sunlit areas will be blown out and again you lose the details. Shooting raw helps because at least you can play around with some of the exposure settings when processing the image but often it is not enough. We've been playing around with high dynamic range images where you take anywhere between 2 and 7 pictures at different exposures and they merge them together to create single image that can selectively render the detail in different parts of the image. The result can be pretty flat but with some work in Photoshop you can start to get pretty good results. I'm still working on a bunch of those shots.

Again it is Bob and Pat who made the temples and their inscriptions come alive. I am typically running from place to place trying to get a unique view on the ruins but when I see them standing by some wall full of writing I usually stop just to listen to his storied of the events that unfolded nearby or how the priests or pharoahs or just about anyone else lived. Bob is himself a bundle of energy -- rushing from spot to spot saying things like "Oh! This is interesting..." or "There's a really great shot over here - this is the only place you'll see this..." It's really too bad that I can't keep all of the annotations of what Bob and Pat shared with us during the tour.

One interesting tidbit. When later civilizations came upon the temples, they would often co-opt them for their own use. The early Christians (the Copts) would often chisel out the faces of the Egyptian gods and pharoahs and add their own coptic crosses on the temples. It is from this practice that the word "defacing" is derived.

Hieroglypics from the Temple of Edfu

An obelisk at Karnac meets the lens baby

Hieroglyphs at Philae

A coptic cross at the Temple of Philae