Italy Highlights

I just got back from an epic two week trip in Italy.  It was absolutely amazing, but it will be awhile before I can get through all the pictures.  For now, here are some of the highlights.

Here we have Ponte Sant’Angelo, a bridge spanning the Tiber river, with Castel Sant’Angelo on the left.  This was an unplanned shot in that I didn’t set out to get it.  We were walking across an adjacent bridge, and I looked over to see this.  It’s an often-photographed scene, so I was lucky the sun and, especially, the clouds played nice and gave me a great view.

Next we’ve got one of my photographic white whales – the Bramante staircase in the gift shop of the Vatican Museums.  This is the modern Bramante staircase, as opposed to the ancient one.  Many thanks go out to Scott Kelby, who unselfishly shared 1) Where this is located, 2) When to photograph it with no people on it, and 3) How to be there at that time.  None of those things are obvious.  Would you expect that a fantastic work of art like this would be in the gift shop?  And this is the exit to the Vatican Museums, so it’s normally got lots of people on it.  We signed up to get into the museums early and, instead of the Sistine Chapel, I went straight to the exit to get this shot.

Our adventure in Italy wasn’t just in Rome.  We started with 5 days there and then spent 3 days in the Tuscan countryside, 3 days in Assisi, and then 3 days on the Amalfi Coast.  All this with two kiddos in car seats and diapers, plus all the baby accouterments.  Just in case we weren’t totally wiped out after all that, we swept through Paris on the way home, spending just 20 hours there.

There were lots of side trips along the way.  Driving from Rome to Buoncovento in Tuscany, we stopped and spent the day in Orvieto.  Here is the facade of the Duomo di Orvieto.

From our home base in Tuscany, one of our day trips was to Siena.  Of course I had to climb the almost-500 steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia to see how the world looked from there.  It looked pretty good.

The main feature you see is the Duomo di Siena (the Siena Cathedral).  More facades there, of course.

Assisi is yet another fabulous hill town.  Although the whole place is interesting, and there are several major features, you can’t help but be drawn to the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi (St. Francis of Assisi).  We were there toward the end of the special Jubilee year of Mercy, so there were a lot of people on pilgrimages in addition to the tourists.  The only way to get a shot of this basilica without a bunch of people in it was to show up at dawn.

At this point, it’s still hard for me to get my head around everything we did and saw and experienced.  It’s overwhelming in a good way.  I even started taking notes to keep track of everything.  If you’re curious about some of the details, you can take a look at this:

italy-tour.txt

Those are the running notes I’ve been taking and adding to.  It’s definitely a work-in-progress but gives you some idea of how epic this trip really was.  Time-permitting, I’m planning of putting together a full write-up of all the adventures.  And there were lots of adventures – Very few people speak English there, so I had to learn some Italian; I got stopped by the Carabinieri one night outside of Buoncovento; driving in Italy is totally insane, and I had to do it in a huge 9-passenger van.  Also, in Amalfi, this happened:

Oh yeah – While we were in Rome, we attended a Papal Audience.  This happens every Wednesday while the Pope is staying at the Vatican.  We did everything we could to receive a blessing from Pope Francis for our baby girl Claire and, well . . .

20161026-_dsc5731

. . . that’s our girl.  So I’d have to say that out of all the incredible things we saw and photographed, this one is my favorite.

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Accepting the Realities of Flash Photography

It’s been a long, sometimes painful, oftentimes disappointing, journey, but I wasn’t expecting to be an expert overnight.

Not all that long ago, when someone would ask me what I shoot, I’d always respond the same.  “Anything without people in it.”  To some degree that is still true.  I will always love shooting travel and landscape photography.  To me, capturing the beauty of the places I’m lucky enough to visit makes the memories more tangible and lasting.  Don’t tell my loved ones, but shooting pictures where people are the main subject used to seem like something I kind of had to do.  It’s not that I didn’t want to see friends and family in my pictures; it’s just that, well, I was a little unsure of my abilities to capture them in a good, shall we say, light.

Since light is everything in photography (which literally means drawing with light), I needed to harness all the light at my disposal.  This meant crossing into that mysterious and somewhat frightening world of flash photography.  Mysterious (you don’t see the light until the flash fires)?  Frightening (keep reading)?  Let’s take a look at a picture of Tommy out in my backyard.  The sunset light was good, so I wanted some of the ambient light in the scene.  I also wanted Tom to be properly exposed, so I knew I’d have to use a flash.  Here’s what happened:

20160806-_dsc1015

The ambient light is still visible.  There’s a foreground, a middle ground and a background.  You can see that flowers exist.  The horizon could be a little straighter, and Tommy needs a haircut, but all the elements are present for a good image, right?  I don’t think so.  That deer-in-the-headlights look is courtesy of putting the speedlight right on top of the camera and then blasting my subject (poor little guy) with it.  The hard shadows and light falloff did not add to the look I was hoping for.  This was the first of what would end up being many disappointments in my adventure with flash photography.

Just 10 days later, I had the flash off the camera, raised up and over to the side.  Tom was kind enough to give me another shot at it, and we were able to come up with this:

Serious Tom

Whoa, catchlights!  Better, no?  I put myself back into school-mode and read books and blogs.  I watched countless videos and poured over images I liked.  I studied the giants like Joe McNally and David Hobby.  This is the point at which I could show you all of the many disheartening mistakes I made along the way, but this isn’t that kind of a post.  You’ll just have to trust me – I didn’t just read a book, follow instructions and then, bang!, everything was awesome.  Remember when I implied my family would like me to take more pictures of them?  Well, I think I used up my goodwill with them standing in front of my camera.

It took practice, practice and more practice.  Here are some of my favorites so far of Sue, Amber and Gabbie:

Look, no glare in those glasses.  I still have plenty of learning to do and practice to put in, but these are far better than all those mistakes I’m not showing you.  Remember that David Hobby I mentioned earlier.  If you’ve read his Strobist 101 series, then you’ll probably recognize this “dramatic” lighting and pose of my most-patient model Gabbie:

Dramatic Gabbie

The addition of a reflector on the shadow side might have helped a little, but I think that triangle made by the shadows under her left eye legitimately qualifies this as Rembrandt Lighting. She’s patient alright. That Strobist post had us moving around our subject, getting the light at different angles.  Here’s her profile in case you want to pretend she’s looking at something.

Profile Gabbie

There’ve been more, a lot more.  I think I’m having more successes now that failures, but everything is a learning opportunity.  Being willing to incorporate flash into my photography has opened up a whole new world of possibilities.  I never thought of natural light as limiting, but it really was when that was all I had.  Unfortunately for my family, now no time of the day is outside shooting time.  Day or night, I can make good images if I’m willing to experiment.  Still, I’ve got to come out from behind the camera sometimes because I wouldn’t want to neglect this guy.

Big Blue Eyes

(catchlights!)

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The Blue Angels Practicing

Many of you know that I normally travel for a living.  A little over a month ago I was assigned to a local project here in Seattle.  Although I get to spend the night in my own bed at the end of each day and don’t have to worry about airports, there is now a daily commute.  Between the water taxi and the bus, I spend about three hours total commuting every day.  It’s a trade-off.

There is one perk I hadn’t previously considered.  My current job is in the South Lake Union area, which is right next to Lake Washington.  Lake Washington is where Seafair happens each year in Seattle, and there is an airshow that involves the Blue Angels.

I lugged my camera gear from Vashon Island to South Lake Union.  It was hot, and I got sweaty in weird places because of the straps, but I think it was worth the effort.  A couple of us spent our lunch hour on the roof of one of the company buildings.

This was a practice run, so it wasn’t the actual show.  Still, when these F/A-18 Hornets fly around it doesn’t matter if it’s practice or not; it’s really loud and really cool.  And, of course, Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone has been stuck in my head ever since.

Keep in mind that we were on top of a building near Lake Union, and the the jets were mainly flying over neighboring Lake Washington.  We spent a lot of time looking up into a very bright empty sky, wondering when the planes would loop around our area again.  We also spent some time thinking about when we should go back to working.

There were only five planes this year instead of the usual six.  This was because there was a fatal crash recently that is still under investigation.  I think it would be very challenging to go back to doing this intense, dangerous work knowing that one of your comrades recently lost their lives doing it.  Of course, you’d never know that from how awesome the show is.

There was one bit of disappointment for me though.  Towards the end, between runs, I figured it was time to go back to work.  I didn’t know if there would be any more runs out to our area, and we’d been standing up there for some time.  So I headed inside to make my way back to my own building.  As I was waiting for the elevator to come, I heard the roar of the planes going by right next to where we’d been standing.  I rushed back outside, but by the time I got there, all that was left were the smoke trails of a very close fly-by.  These smoke trails went right behind the Space Needle.  I stood there for a moment looking at the scene with a heavy heart.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’d missed the opportunity to capture an iconic shot of the Blue Angles flying around Seattle’s main landmark.  For a time, I felt like I needed to move onto the rooftop and actually live up there until the opportunity came again.  I’m still pretty bummed that I missed it.

Since I had my camera gear with me, I decided to take some shots of the city on my commute home.  Here’s what I see every evening as I leave Pier 50 on the King County Water Taxi.  At least, this is what it looks like in the summer.

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Available for Weddings

I shoot weddings now!

There is no dedicated page up yet for rates and packages, so this will have to serve as the only notification for now.  My rates are very reasonable, so please send me an email at:

steve.tosterud@gmail.com

 . . . for more information.  Please let me know the date, location (indoor, outdoor, both), and any style considerations you may already have in mind.  Schedule permitting, I can be available for rehearsal dinners, parties or any other gatherings in addition to the ceremony and reception.  We can talk about prints, photo albums, keepsakes and owning the digital files.

For now, I’m available on Vashon Island and the greater Seattle area.  We could discuss the rest of Washington state and parts of Oregon as well.

Although I specialize in capturing artistic and almost candid moments, I will certainly document your special day to the fullest.  I understand that this is meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime event that must be captured thoroughly and beautifully during the one opportunity to do so.

I’ll perform all post-processing to ensure everyone in the party looks their best.  Special requests are fine too if you want someone to look a little better than their usual best.  We can style the images any way to like from a vintage look to classic or modern.

Your wedding will be as important to me as if it were my own.  Although I may not know you personally now, I can assure you that creating the images to remember your day will be my only priority at that time.  I will never over-book or otherwise spread myself too thin to deliver you the total attention you deserve.

Please contact me soon so I can take this one detail off your plate and begin planning how I will make your special day beautiful for a lifetime.

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Denver’s RiNo District

A while back I found myself being driven to Mile High Stadium, which is now known as Sports Authority Field, but which I will continue to call Mile High Stadium.  My company had rented out the entire building for the roughly 600 guests of our conference (we barely fit).  It was a wonderful chance to shoot a nearly empty NFL stadium.

You may notice that there are no goal posts in the image above.  Upon further inspection you may notice other details that are inconsistent with an American Football venue.  My opportunity to shoot this came in the off-season, and the field was setup for a lacrosse match.

That aspect was a little disappointing, but still, how many times will a person get to do something like this?  Not many, and the Broncos were even the Super Bowl champs at the time.  In spite of the field setup and the rainy weather, it was still a pretty awesome experience.

But this isn’t a story about getting to shoot Mile High Stadium.  This is about the car ride over there.  We were being driven by the event coordinator, and she knew a few things about the city of Denver.  Admittedly I wasn’t super excited to take pictures around Denver.  We wouldn’t really have time to get out of the city to see the natural wonders, and I didn’t think Denver offered too many things worth taking a picture of.  I asked our driver about photo opportunities and ended up being totally wrong about sites to see within the city.  One of the places she recommended was the RiNo District.

This is the River North Art District, and you can follow the link to read more about it.  What piqued my interest was mention of graffiti.  My buddy Arif and I hopped on a pedi-cab and told our driver, Eden, to take us to the RiNo District graffiti.  She wasn’t sure exactly where we should go and dropped us off in the vicinity of what she thought we wanted.  After just a few minutes of wandering around, we found what we supposed is the main alley for street artwork.

It was incredible.  There was block after block of the most amazing graffiti I’d ever seen.  I’m a little torn about posting these images I made of other people’s artwork because I only took the pictures; I didn’t make the art.  So I hope you visit Denver’s RiNo District some day yourself.  It’s hard for pictures to do it justice.  Here’s Arif trying to get in a scene.

It was a totally immersive experience.  We felt like we were on a different planet while we walked along the alley.

I gather this is some kind of urban revitalization project.  The buildings we walked past were apartments, restaurants, music venues and, of course, art galleries.  We even heard a spin class taking place on the other side of one of the walls.  This wall, as a matter of fact:

And these were tight places.  Without a somewhat wide-angle lens, there’d be absolutely no chance of taking in an entire scene.  Remember, this is an alley, not a street, so there’s very little room to compose.

If you’re not planning a trip to Denver any time soon, I really hope you’ll visit my Urban Decoration gallery and check out more images from this area.  Right now, that gallery is almost entirely made up of pictures from this one place.

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