Category - photography

Scotland Day 8: Eilean Donan

Returning now to the 10,000+ photos we brought back from Scotland…in October…

Day 8 found us saying goodbye to Castle Stuart after a three night stay. We then drove down the east shore of Loch Ness – most of the traffic is on the west shore, which we’d explored on Day 6, via three wheeled motorcycle.

From Loch Ness we headed north and west toward the Isle of Skye, following the road that took us to Eilean Donan Castle.

Yes, Eilean Donan is probably the most recognizable edifice in all of Scotland, and maybe all of Britain next to Big Ben and the Tower of London. Given its location among the mountains, at the intersection of three lochs, it’s understandable.

What we did not fully realize until we got inside is that Eilean Donan is a restoration. The castle lay in ruins for nearly 200 years after the Jacobite Rising of 1719. In 1911, the heirs of the clan MacRae acquired the island and its rubble and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory – largely following plans drawn from a dream that occurred to the new owner, Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap. After 20 years and the modern equivalent of some $20-million pounds, Eilean Donan was re-opened in 1932 and has since become one of Scotland’s primary tourist destinations.

We were fortunate to be there at a time of year when there was not much visitor traffic. I shudder to think what it’s like in August…

Anyway, here’s the video; if you want to see the individual images, find them here.

A Tale of Two Cameras: #DSLR -v- #Micro4/3 Shootout

(Click here to cut to the chase. Otherwise, here’s some deep background:)

The Nikon v- The Olympus

Nikon -v- Olympus. Which would you rather carry? The answer may not be so obvious.

As many in my Vast Legion of Followers and Readers know by now, I have been in the midst of a migration in my camera preferences for the past half-year or so – from the “DSLR” format to a newer format called Micro 4/3rds.

I started using a DSLR with the purchase of a Nikon D100 in the summer of 2003. I selected Nikon because that’s what I’ve been using in the 35mm SLR realm since I got a Nikon F2 back in 1974.

The DSLR format has always frustrated me slightly, due to what is known as the “crop factor” with most “35mm” DSLRs – because they are not, in fact, actually “35mm.” The sensors in the early (and now most but not all) DSLRs were smaller than a typical 35mm film frame by about 1/3rd. This means that a “crop factor” of 1.5 is applied to whatever lens you’re using – so a 100mm lens on a “crop factor” camera yields a frame sized as though the lens were actually 150mm.

Since my earliest days of shooting with the Nikon F2, I have always been enamored of the perspective and ultra-wide angle afforded by a 24mm lens. But when the crop factor is applied to a 24mm on a typical DSLR, you wind up with a frame more like what you would get from a 36mm lens, which is a fairly standard wide-angle. In order to get the perspective of a 24mm on a crop-factor DLSR, you’d have to get a 16mm lens (the cropfactor is 1.5, so 1.5×16=24).

With the D100, I used a Sigma 17-35 wide-angle zoom, which at it’s shortest focal length worked out to ~26 or 27mm, which was close enough – well, no, not really. In 2006, before Ann and I went to Ireland, I got the then new Nikon D80, which offered a noticeable improvement in image quality over the prior models (particularly in low light settings) but still had the smaller sensor. With the D80 I often used a Nikon 18-200 f/3.5-5.6, which is a great all-purpose lens, but again, with the crop factor, it translates to 28-300mm. Same with the Nikon D300s that I have been shooting with since the summer of 2009. Still no 24mm without going to pricey 16mm fisheye lenses. and even then, it’s still not the same as my cherished 24mm.

There are now what are called “full frame” DSLRs, with a frame that is equal to the frame of the old 35mm film cameras, so a 24mm lens = 24mm. But the full frame models tend to be a full third more costly than the crop-factor models. I’ve never quite been able to justify the cost.

As Ann and I got close to our trip to Scotland in the fall of 2012, I started giving serious thought to buying a “full-frame” DSLR, either the older Nikon D700 – which is the essentially the same technology as my D300s in a “full frame” sensor, or the newer Nikon D800, which offers the next generation of sensor and camera technology. A used D700 I might have been able to score for well under $2K; the D800 would have set me back $3K. I wavered… and started thinking seriously about switching altogether to the new Micro 4/3 format.

I’d learned about the Micro 4/3 in the summer of 2012 by attended a seminar hosted by Will Crockett that extolled the virtues of the new “mirrorless” format.

Yes, the sensors are even smaller than the sensors in a typical DSLR. But sensor technology has come a long way in the three years since I purchased my D300s.

This is the sort of perspective you get with a 12mm lens on an M4/3 body - the equivalent of 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.

Kinloss Abbey in Scotland: The sort of perspective you get with a 12mm lens on an M4/3 body – the equivalent of 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.

M4/3 is really a whole new ball of wax. It’s greatest virtue – aside from image quality that is virtually indistinguishable from the costlier DSLRs – is the compact size and negligible weight. And there is no crop factor, only a new kind of math. To get the angle and perspective that a 24mm lens would provide on a full frame DSLR, you use a 12mm lens on an M4/3 camera body.

Long story short (hah!): for what it would have cost to take one full-frame DSLR to Scotland, I could purchase TWO Olympus OM-D EM5s, one for each of us (yes, the lenses cost more, but who’s counting?) The OMDs were perfect for the trip and we’re immensely satisfied with the images we brought back.

But there was one aspect of my photo work where I had reservations about the compact cameras and lenses: shooting live club/concert stills – where the light is dim and the action is pretty relentless. Last week I finally had a chance to borrow suitable lenses and run some (very unscientific tests) tests, and I’ve compiled the results on a separate page with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one.

Click here to see how the compact, lightweight Olympus OMD compares to a big, bulky and heavy Nikon D300 when shooting in clubs and concert halls.

If you have any comments, corrections, or feedback to offer on what you see on that page, please share them in the comments section below.


–Paul Schatzkin
February 14, 2013


Here’s A Surprise: Amazing Young Talent Descends on #Nashville!

at The Basement in Nashville February 5, 2013First, imagine it’s 1940-whatever and you’re hearing Chet Atkins when he first showed up in Nashville.

Then imagine it’s 1980-something and you’re hearing Harry Connick, Jr. for the first time.

Now imagine that you’re hearing BOTH of these amazing talents early in their careers in the same venue, on the same night, and even playing a couple of tunes together.

That’s what it was like this evening as stellar young “Chet-style” guitarist Jonathan Brown and torch singer/keyboardist Andrew Walesch opened the “New Artists” night at The Basement in Nashville.

Here are some photos from tonight’s show. Sorry, no recorded music to go with it yet (yeah, I know, sorta defeats the purpose…)

A few notes on these photos: I borrowed a couple of high-end lenses to use on my Olympus OM-D for this shoot – the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 and the Panasonic 37-100 f/2.8. The latter is the equivalent of the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 that I have been using in situations like this (with a Nikon D300s) for the past two years. The difference is the OM-D/Panasonic f2.8 combination weighs in at a fraction of the Nikon assembly — which rig is convenient combination camera and anvil.

But I have to say, on first glance, that I’m not altogether thrilled with the results I got from this rig.

Going in, I was a bit concerned about the likely responsiveness of the OM-D in this situation, compared to the Nikon. It took a little getting used to the different form factor, but once I did I was pleased to see that the shutter lag and auto-focus were not a problem.

Still, once I got the files loaded into Lightroom, I have to say they just don’t compare to the results I get from the Nikon rig. Compared to what I get from the Nikon, these files were soft and noisy. In club/concert settings I usually have to push the ISO to 3200; These days, between the advanced sensors and a little bit of noise reduction in Lightroom, that’s not an issue. And while these images are entirely useable in the format you see them in here, I don’t think they would hold up if I tried to make decent sized prints of them.

I’m going to shoot another show Wednesday night; this time I’m going to bring the Nikon, too – so that I’ll be able to see exactly how the two setups compare.

Stay tuned…

What Is It With The Brits, Burials – And Parking Lots ?

king-richard-iii-1-sizedNo doubt you have all heard by now that the long-lost remains of Richard ‘My Kingdom for Horse’ III – the last of the England’s Plantagenet kings the final loser in the Wars of the Roses (and the last English king killed in battle) – have been positively identified. The bones were found last summer – underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England.

LONDON—Researchers on Monday said the long-lost remains of King Richard III have been found and identified—after sitting under what is now a parking lot in the English Midlands for more than 500 years.

The findings appear to solve a centuries-old mystery involving one of England’s most-storied rulers, who has remained in the public fascination through a Shakespeare play and Hollywood movies.

Which story I found rather amusing, because of this detail that we were shown in the course of a Mercat Tour of “The Secrets of The Royal Mile” during our second day in Edinburgh:

That yellow marker in the middle of car-park space #23? That marks the final resting place of no less a Scottish luminary than John Locke, one of the leading proponents of the Scottish Enlightenment (and, thus, also among the early inventors of the whole modern world).

Apparently they are reserving space 23 – much observant Jews save a seat for Elijah at the Passover Seder.

I wonder what he’ll be driving…??

You can see the rest of our second day in Scotland here; or the video slideshow here.


Scotland Day 7: Wester Ross

Still forging my way through the 10,000+ files that Ann and I brought back from Scotland.

The photos in this slide show are from the we spent touring the more remote regions of the Scottish Highlands, from Inverness west and north in to some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve ever seen:

The video is in HD – click “full frame” and give it a moment to settle into the higher resolution to get the full effect. Or click here to see the photos themselves in higher resolution (without the video).

So, let’s see… a two week trip that ended on October 14…I’m halfway through the photos (though I’ve made a first pass at almost all of them, the best of which you can see here) and now it’s February…at this rate I should be done by sometime in May… at which point I might be thinking it’s time to go back…

Inside the Nearly Finished Music City Center


Cut to the chase: Gallery here. Video here.

Despite the snarkiness of some would be (?) architecture critics, it’s really hard to spend any time exploring the cavernous confines of the nearly completed Music City Center in downtown Nashville and not be impressed with the size, scope — and, yes — the design of the place.

What is it they say, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”? Then what is writing about architecture? Dancing about music? At least those two pursuit are compatible.

I think the point is that using one medium to critique another is an excercise in non-sequiturs. Which is not to say that there aren’t some people who can write eloquently and informatively about music, just as I am sure there are plenty who know what they are talking about when they write about architecture. But whoever it was who described Nashville’s new Convention Center as “the Christmas sweater of buildings” either does not have a particularly deep grasp of the subject matter – or has just never been inside the place.

Which I have, twice now. My friend Keith Miles, who is a partner at McNeely Piggot Fox (the PR firm that worked the beginnings of the convention center project) arranged for myself and a few other photographer types to have access to the site, guided by Holly McCall, who handles the PR for the project now.

Our first visit was back in July, when things were still pretty rough. This week we went back and saw that the final touches are being put in place in anticipation of opening the place in the spring.

I’m no authority on architecture, so I’m sure somebody who thinks he/she is will probably find all kinds of fault with my conclusions, but frankly I think the place is damn impressive.

For starters, it’s f’ing HUGE. The main exhibit hall is an expanse of EIGHT ACRES. Just the idea of saying “8 acres – INdoors!) challenges the imagination. Aren’t you glad you’re not the one who has have to vacuum this floor?

But what is most impressive in my eyes is the use of curves and angles throughout the both the interior and exterior of the building. It is stunningly different from Nashville’s present sorry excuse for a convention center, which, aside from being small and closed-in feeling, is simply devoid an any particular spacial originality. The existing convention center is just a stack of rectangular boxes. But here’s a typical hallway in the new building:

That looks to me like one of the decks on the Starship Enterprise.

Now, maybe there’s a case to me made that the “music” theme is a tad over done. For example, I’m hard pressed to see how the interior of the grand ballroom feels like “the interior of an acoustic guitar,” but it is certainly a warmly wooded space, and hopefully the way the ceiling is constructed will minimize the din one typically encounters when a room like this is filled to capacity: Most of you will have to wait until this summer to get inside and judge for yourself. The first big event on the Center’s schedule is Fan Fair (aka “CMA Music Festival) and while that’s not an event I would ordinarily think of attending, I might just buy some cheap seats just to see how the new Music City Center looks in action.

I’ve assemble about 50 photos from yesterday’s tour in this gallery. If you don’t really have the time or patience to poke through them, you can see the entire collection in this 2-1/2 minute video, complete with appropriate music (Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”). But you have to click through the individual slides to read all my clever captions.

Scotland, Day 6:

OK, back to Scotland – to the Highlands around Inverness and Loch Ness.

Day 6 - Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle

Our chariot

We spent three nights at Castle Stuart near Inverness, with two full days in between. The first day, we had arranged to be picked up on a three-passenger, three-wheeled motorcycle (a “trike”) for an extended tour down the coast of Loch Ness, which – apart from its renown as the haunt of a certain “monster” – is also the second largest inland body of water in Scotland.

The highlight of the tour was the hour-plus we spent exploring the ruins of Urquhart (they pronounce it “ur-kit” Castle, a massive 15th/16th century edifice that was destroyed by its own defenders rather than let it fall into the hands of English occupiers.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

sticky = good

After the trike tour, we returned to the Castle Stuart, and then ventured out on our own to the village of Nairn, a few miles to the east, where we found ourselves a lovely little bistro that served what may have been the best sticky toffee pudding we had on the whole trip. And we had a lot of ’em. Like… one every day.

Here’s a video slide show of the day. Find the individual photos here.

View the other video slideshows from our trip to Scotland here and the individual photo galleries here.