Posts Tagged ‘palace’

The Fort & Palace

August 22nd, 2010

Some time back, I offered up my two cents on the HDR debate, featuring shots from the Al Jahili Fort and the late Sheikh Zayed’s Palace in Al Ain.

Today, I wish to share with you two more shots from those two places (minus debate, this time).

Above is a shot of the main tower of the fort. Below is one of one of the wings of the Palace.

More coming soon!

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Traditional Damascene Houses

July 22nd, 2010

Within the walls of the old city of Damascus you can find peppered here and there examples of beautiful Damascene houses.

A typical Damascene house is built on two storeys, with all rooms looking out onto a spacious courtyard. Trees are generally planted there and a water basin or fountain usually adorns the center. Often, a reception area (called an Ewaan) opens out onto the courtyard. These typically consist of a U-shaped hall and seating area with

decorated

high ceilings.

During my half-day visit to Damascus, I had the chance to visit a number of these houses. Their proprietors were generous enough to allow us to visit them. Below are a selection of pictures from three of them.

One has been converted into a small boutique hotel (we got a guided tour of the place – wonderful!), another was unfortunately in ruin (but the owners are in the process of trying to restore it – the caretaker invited us in to visit it), and the third, Kasr Na’asan (Na’asan Palace), was the biggest surprise.

We’d spoken to a number of people who told us of it, so when we eventually came across it and found the door open, we entered. We met a number of people going to and fro across the courtyard, who hailed us in a friendly manner and then carried on their business. I wandered about taking in the extraordinary beauty of the place, and snapping the occasional picture. Finally, we ventured into one of the rooms to speak to a young man who was at desk working on his computer.

Turns out it wasn’t a museum or a hotel, as we’d been speculating: it was still being used as a residence by it’s owners. Oops. In testament to the extraordinary hospitality of the residents of Damascus, t

he owners had no problems with us coming in unannounced to wander about their home. They chatted with us pleasantly for a while and even offered us coffee.

Gotta love Arab hospitality.

I didn’t unfortunately get to visit one of the biggest, and perhaps best known of these small palaces – the Azm Palace. But I look forward to revisiting Damascus at some point again soon and will hope to correct that oversight then.

More coming soon!

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A Traditional Dance

June 15th, 2010

These shots were taken on a day trip to Al Ain at the late Sheikh Zayed’s Palace, which is now a museum and open to the public.

I’d been wandering around the old oasis in the centre of town for a while, and every so often I would dimly hear traditional Emirati music and song. My first thought was that there must be a wedding some place nearby.

Once I had my fill of the oasis, I chose to visit the Palace before I made my way home. When I arrived and walked into the courtyard I realised that the music and song had been coming from here.

This was a rare privilege for me – it’s not every day you get to enjoy one of these beautiful traditional Emirati dances. To my chagrin, I only caught the last minutes of the very last performance before the traditional singers, musicians and dancers disbanded for the day.

It was a treat to watch as the musicians danced in time to the beat of the drums, jumping and twirling as they went, and the wall of singers on either side of the musicians swung their canes in unison to and fro as they sang, swaying.

It was a challenge to shoot as the light was fading fast. I ended up shooting at the widest aperture my lens would allow (3.5 at 24mm and 5.6 at 135mm), increasing ISO (to 640 from 200 as the light faded) and slowing the shutter speed as much as I could without losing (too much) sharpness (to 1/60sec). The low shutter speed also allowed me to get some movement blur as the musicians danced and beat their drums, and the singers swung their canes. These pictures are some of the shots I took in those few short minutes.

More coming soon!

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The HDR Debate

April 10th, 2010

Before I disappeared, a debate seemed to be raging online regarding the value of HDR imaging and techniques (or lack thereof, depending on which side of the debate you stand on).

It started with Dave Cross’s post called “The Debate Over HDR” and was soon followed by a response to one of the comments on that post by Scott Kelby (here’s the link to Kelby’s post). The various views and commentary were very interesting to me and led me to re-examine the reasons why I now enjoy HDR imagery.

The debate may have died down since the above-mentioned posts were published, but I thought I would share my two cents with you anyway.

Some time ago I really disliked the idea of HDR. I felt, like some commentators, that HDR was perhaps a way of rendering an otherwise uninteresting image interesting. In some cases I still say it may serve that way. However on the whole, as I’ve come to learn to use the effect and it’s uses and limitations, I’ve come around to changing my views. My friend Dan and his work gave the first push that got me on the way to converting. He was a big proponent of HDR way before I ever was.

I now sometimes do shoot something with the express purpose of creating an HDR image. And I occasionally even feel that some images work better in HDR; Sometimes, there’s no way to light a scene the way I would like to capture the image I have in my mind, and HDR is often of help to me there. In those cases particularly, it may give me a certain flexibility that could only be rivalled by an army of assistants and an inconceivable (for me) collection of speedlights and gels. That last is perhaps not a very practical option. Especially considering I’m mostly a shooter out on his own, with (maybe) one speedlight (and at most two) and no assistants.

That said, HDR and other tools at the disposal of the modern photographer are methods of expressing a certain vision of the world around us. So, is HDR less challenging? Yes, almost certainly. But does that make HDR less worthy? In this photographer’s eye – not always. Scott Kelby put it very nicely “HDR is an effect like any other effect”.

My two cents now spent, I propose to share with you images of two different subjects. Each subject has both an HDR image (created from 7 different exposures) and a “standard” variant. The aim being to showcase the large difference between the two styles as I’ve experienced them (and the different visions of a same subject that can thus be expressed).

The first two images below are of a tower of the Hili Fort in Al Ain. I prefer the subtler tones and shades of the “standard” photograph, but enjoy the striking quality the tone mapping has given the clouds in the HDR image, as well as the detail brought out in the walls of the tower. Those friends of mine I’ve asked have come back fairly equally divided as to their preference on this one.

The second set of images below is of one of the towers at the late Sheikh Zayed’s Palace, also in Al Ain.

In the “standard” photograph, to achieve the effect you see here I exposed for the sky and lit the foreground with an SB900 speedlight. Some of the light bounced onto the wall of the palace and its tower, giving it some detail instead of making it some sharp shadow against the twilight sky.

I very much enjoy both images, but my favourite is by far the “standard” image. That’s partly due to the colour of the sky, but it may also be a measure of pride – I used the limited gear I had at my disposal to get precisely the image I was aiming for.

The challenge of it, and the satisfaction of having achieved marks the “standard” image as special to me. By comparison, the HDR variant was not as big a challenge as it’s a significantly more forgiving and much more flexible process.

Your thoughts and comments welcome, as always.

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A South-Indian Wedding

December 8th, 2009

Entrance to Bangalore Palace (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f5.6, ISO200, 1/800sec)

Quite a few of you have been waiting for the Bangalore Wedding pictures.

So here they are!

As one of my fellow guests said: “Our eyes were full of colour”. I think the pictures speak for themselves so I’ll be keeping comments to a minimum.

I may just give some context - shamelessly lifted from a card we were given at one of the events which explained the festivities, rituals and their significance in brief.

The wedding ceremony starts with the bride being escorted in a procession to the Mantapam (the decorated stage on which the ceremony is to take place). Friends and family take part. The procession is led by bridesmaids carrying brass pots filled with rice and coconut on the left and bridesmen carrying ceremonial umbrellas on the right. I understand that generally, they are dressed in all manner of colours, but this time was different – the bridesmaids were in beautiful green saris, and the men in white silk robes. For the most part, that is. If I’m not mistaken there was one bridemaid alone who hadn’t been issued with her green sari – and wore a beautiful white one instead. The men also had one stand-out: Me. On my arrival, one of the bride’s uncles pulled me aside and handed me a ceremonial umbrella. When I objected, pointing out the red kurtha I wore, he said: “nevermind that, we want you here”. I couldn’t begin to express how touched I was by that gesture – at being asked to participate in, and not simply attend, my friend’s wedding.

Once the bride is settled on the Mantapam, and the groom arrives, he too is escorted along with his friends and family to the Mantapam in a procession led by the same bridesmaids and men. That complete, we were all led onto the Mantapam as well, and sat to the right of the stage to watch the ceremony. The wedding hall was massive, with seating perhaps for thousands in front of the stage, but I felt that it was a cosy ceremony in which there was just us, we few on the Mantapam.

Evidently, I took no pictures of the processions and the initial part of the ceremony as my camera wasn’t with me, and I couldn’t anyway. Ali – am so grateful to him – the fine gent to whom I’d handed the camera for safekeeping – came up to the stage and handed me the camera early on. Thanks to him, I got the chance to take these pictures you see here. And from a different angle to that of the photographers clustered stage front.

I was struck by how similar some of the rituals and concepts evident in this beautiful South Indian wedding are to those in other cultures. For instance – the raining of Akshatha (rice) on the happy couple – common to Christian and Muslim weddings. Also, the three rounds the couple effected around the holy fire during the wedding ceremony proper, which echoes the three rounds around the altar in some Christian (notably Orthodox and Greek Catholic) wedding ceremonies (called the Dance of Isaiah). I understand that this is a ritual that predates Christianity. The various explanations given for the three rounds in each culture and religion may vary, but the symbolism remains the same – the newlyweds taking their firsts steps together as one.

Anyway. Enough talk. Picture time!

Above, the entrance to Bangalore Palace on the morning of the wedding. Below, one of the line of drummers who greeted us at the entrance to the palace.

Drummer Man (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 95mm, f5.6, ISO200, 1/160sec)

Welcome Drummers (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 90mm, f5.6, ISO200, 1/200sec)

This lady’s long hair was bedecked in jasmine. A lovely sight.

Dressed up in Jasmine (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 60mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/30sec)

One of the trumpeteers who preceded the bride.

The Trumpetter Cometh (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f4, ISO1000, 1/160sec)

The lovely bride, looking regal.

The Regal Bride (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/160sec)

The Blessing (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Here, the bride and groom after holy water was poured on their hands during the Dhare. The Dhare is the prayer ritual which follows the wedding ceremony proper. Prayers are offered to Agni, the Lord of Fire, who dispels darkness and leads the way to the light of wisdom and knowledge.

Holy Water (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 85mm, f5.3, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Offering to Agni 1 (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 100mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Offering to Agni 2 (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Colour and Smiles (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Offering to Agni 3 (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 60mm, f4.8, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Offering to Agni 4 (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 100mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

Garlanding the Brother of the Bride (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 105mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

This is one of a series of saffron mounds, seen between the groom and bride. These were crushed by the bride during the ceremony.

Saffron Cone (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

The Groom (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/320sec)

An ecstatic bride and groom during the one of the rounds of the saptapadi (the seven rounds around the holy fire).

A Round Around The Fire (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/320sec)

I loved that although the wedding was such a detail-rich series of rituals and symbolism, steeped in the traditions of a millenia-rich culture, there so much room for joy in it:

Heaping up the Offerings (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO1000, 1/250sec)

I can easily say it was the most beautiful and moving weddings I have yet attended.

In closing, here’s another picture from the Bangalore Palace grounds. Now, this isn’t strictly speaking wedding related – but the cannon was just sitting there outside the Palace gates, looking all cannon-y. Couldn’t resist. Hehe.

The Cannon (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 55mm, f5.6, ISO200, 1/500sec)

More pictures coming soon! Including pictures of my favourite wedding-related event – the giving away ceremony!

P.S. Any errors in the descriptions of the ceremony and rituals are mine own alone. Please do feel free to clarify if you like.

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