Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ikaros 2014

Finally done. One more objective is off the list: A visit to Failaka (Ikaros) island. To avoid any rush, I had to book a ticket almost one week earlier and I was lucky to make it in the middle of the week; as the ferry schedules are becoming more congested in weekends. My travel set off on Wednesday, and I came back on Thursday after spending one night there.
Luckily this time the reception in Ikaros hotel didn't make a big deal of me being a single occupier. There are certain laws here that I just don't quite understand, but anyway, what to understand nowadays with many other laws?
The quantity of photography this year from the island wasn't as much as before, mainly because I was busy exploring rather than getting inspired; specially with me having a new car better acquainted for desert and rough conditions. There were some nice geographical features but artistically, they won't have much value in the eye of the camera, but they were something for the eyes to please.


The first day wasn't full of activities in fact. As I've stated above, I was mainly busy exploring. I've found the idea of recording some videos a fancy idea to include more about the atmosphere on the island - specially with some spooky sense at some specific places!
I won't be placing all the eggs in one basket for this post, since I'm still working on sorting out the images and trying to fix some of the images (specifically for the noise problem). Summer is coming, and my chances for a good long exposure are diminishing slowly as well...

The video you see above was taken in the court of an old mosque (now just ruins as you can see). These banging sounds prevented me from going further deeper inside, but I had the chance (and courage!) to climb up the narrow minaret(1). The bad thing is, I didn't have any shotgun mic, because the wind was blowing up there and my voice was barely apparent...

Though I had an idea to take a panorama up there from the top of the minaret, but the conditions were bad and dangerous. In fact, I couldn't even climb up to the top of the minaret with my gear, and I barely made it out with my backpack only on my back and the camera dangling from my neck. Up there, I knew there is no place to place my tripod and VR-head, specially that the location was not central. Since a panorama up there would (and should) be handheld and merely few shots to be stitched, I've decided it's not a big deal make the troubles for and a video up there is enough.

I had some troubles fixing the exposure in the video. As you can see, I had to stop every few steps to adjust the "shutter" of the video. I'm not a videographer, thus such concepts are somehow beyond my understanding. Probably because the lens here is Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens, which is completely manual, the camera didn't adjust to the lighting conditions automatically. Just a speculation!

I've left the mosque after taking one shot only (before doing these videos) and still till this very moment I'm wondering what was that banging sound that was coming from inside. The sound in the video isn't as loud as it was in reality (mainly because of the limitations of the camera's mic). I'm pretty sure, it wasn't the wind. The loud noises made by these bangs point to a staggering wind, yet it was breezy with a nice atmosphere - only up in the minaret, the breeze become a bit faster (but recorded in the camera loudly!).

As I've stated before, I won't be putting all the eggs in one basket; otherwise it would be a pretty long, thus I will just state the activities of the first day on Failaka. I'll leave the next post (hopefully) to discuss more thoroughly some of the panorama work and panaglyphs.
In the first day I've went deeper into the desert land, far away from the urban (uninhabited) side of the island. Lot of geographical features and nice green spaces because of spring, and lot of troubles too as my car got stuck at some point but I was lucky to pick it out! At the end of this journey I decided to take a shot of a lonely tree, with a twist...

Canon EF 50mm, f/1.4, ISO100.

This tree, for some reason I'm not quite aware of, attracted me for its simplicity and loneliness. I tried to add some twist to it by shooting with infrared filter and in HDR bracketing. I've used here the 50mm lens with f/1.4 (widest aperture) which enabled me to work fast even with an infrared filter - helped by the sun in the middle of the sky as you can see from the shadow of the tree. In processing this image, I had to process each RAW file for infrared as I usually do with infrared images, and then convert the shots to TIFF. and only then HDR was merged from these files. Merging infrared RAW files is somehow, senseless. The surprise here is to see that the image retained its greens on the leaves of the trees after being relatively lowly saturated or almost black and white when processed in RAW! The rest was a job of fixing the vignetting and the saturation of colors, and of course, noise reduction.

The night hovered over Failaka and I was reluctant to go out in the pitch darkness on the island; there is no electricity except in few buildings in the periphery of the hotel. No street lights. Anyway, I decided to head out not far from the hotel and try some long exposures. The disappointment is, to find the sky out of any significant features; and needless to say that the periphery of the hotel wasn't much in features that help formulating a foreground to the images - the only thing I could think of is the ruins of some old clay house which I've taken shots of before several times.

Εδώ Είναι ο Ίκαρος
Canon EF 100mm macro, f/11, 18m, ISO100)

Surprisingly, one of the first problems was, what lens I should use? The 50mm made the features of the ruins somehow far away. I didn't want to use the sigma 70-300mm here simply because I was hoping that a prime lens would the image better - I'm expecting a load of noise already as the weather wasn't cold enough! Thus, my only choice as it seems was the 100mm macro lens (of course I can use it as a telephoto lens!), besides, the proportions when applying the law of thirds looked appropriate. To focus here, I had to keep my car's light on and pointing to the wall, then turn them off after auto-focusing was done. Several test shots in ISO12800 were due of course and then the work began with a 18 minutes exposure. However, before starting with the exposure, I had to do some testing for the White Balance. Even though at night times, the Tungsten WB is my usual choice, here I've decided to sway a bit from the typical and headed to Fluorescent WB (which I typically choose for dusk and dawn times). I didn't regret this choice afterward when the file was processed and gave out an astonishing blend of yellows, and blues! The only bad point here, the sky was featureless (not even clouds were present till next morning).

Canon EF 50mm, f/11, 9m, ISO100.

Just to show how much dark it was even near by the hotel, the other portion of the ruin was not visible until I took the previous shot and started to move backward with my car, when the car lights fell upon this feature, and thus decided to stop and do something about it. Because the focal length here is smaller and more landscape is included originally, the exposure time became almost half of what it was before, rounding to 9 minutes. Since the general atmosphere is not complex in terms of composition and quite normal, I've thought that the only way to get something interesting out of such settings is to produce unnatural colors, and here, again, I had to bet on the white balance change. This time though, it was set to Shade WB. This white balance made the image in general quite yellowish with a golden theme. Something magical a bit. The car's and my shadows were present in the foreground because of the lights not far away from some building - the shadows can be faint on location but they persist with a long exposure; something that you MUST be careful from. When processing the image, the noise level was hard to fix; the general noisy population on the image was reduced, but many hot pixels or hard spots remained. As for the shadows, I tried to clone them out but I chose the easy way out: crop the image into a square. A small sized image like Υπήρχε above, can be easy to look at and pleasant to see, but I wouldn't risk printing it on some large prints! Probably a canvas would be fitted the most for such printing method to suck in the noisy appearance as much as possible.
(1) Despite the fact that the word minaret is used now mainly to note the tower of the mosque, in most of English speaking word, the word itself is a misnomer. The word "minaret" is derived from the Arabic word Manárah [منارة] which means "the place of light" and used for the lighthouse. The proper name for the mosque's tower is Mi`thanah [مئذنة] in Arabic which means "the place of the prayer-call". It is probably one of these words and concepts that got lost in translation over time.


This is part one of Failaka's print, and hopefully more to come next week with more discussion about panaglyphs, anaglyphs and panoramas and some fixes to the ghosting problem (more like reduction in the fact).
I've started as well posting in Arabic in another blog. The blog is mainly for beginners in photography in hope that the language would make things easier for some people to understand and comprehend the photographic concepts. With this in mind, my schedule might be busier than it is already.
Trying now to enjoy what's left of days in my short vacation before I head back to work next Sunday. Just remembering this day makes me shiver with anger... Seriously, if only young people know what does it mean to be an adult, they would have probably ended their lives before reaching 25...

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