Aruba 4/09

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Caribbean foto phantasy...

Angry red sunset: 18mm, .6ND grad filter

Back in 2008, I picked up a new hobby - photography. Since then, I've been reading, talking to experts and practicing. In conjunction with a business trip to Chicago and Pittsburgh, I decided to burn some frequent flyer miles and hotel points to take a five day "sanity vacation" to Aruba. I'd been to Aruba in 2004 and done all the sightseeing I cared to do, so on this trip I instead set out on a right brain adventure to improve my technique in photographic composition, using depth of field and applying filters to control light.

Saturday April 25th

I arrived at 12:30pm AST and taxied over to the Aruba Marriott on Palm Beach. I had a nice northwest view room to begin my photo adventures (first picture below: 170mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO200). I unpacked my photo gear which consisted of two cameras (Nikon D300 and Canon SD870), three lenses (Nikkor 18-200mm, Nikkor 35mm f1.8, Sigma 10-20mm), two filters (Hoya HD digital circular polarizer and Tiffen graduated .6 neutral density), an underwater enclosure for the Canon, a Vanguard Tourist 5 tripod and a Think Tank Speed Demon camera fanny pack to carry it all around. Whew!

Sittin on the dock of the bay: 18mm, cir polar filter

Room with a view

Calm waters at dusk

Morning beach light

Afternoon "On Desire"

Walking south about a mile along the beach I found a good wine shop that provided basic snack and soft drink supplies as well as guidance on a couple of outstanding South American reds. I grabbed dinner at the new Hard Rock Cafe nearby and then took another beach walk at dusk. The sunset was calm, cloudless and clear (second picture above: 95mm, f/7.1, 1/200s, ISO200, .6 ND grad filter). I used the graduated neutral density filter to bring up the light of the foreground ocean. I applied the "rule of thirds" in composing this and many other shots on this page. I can't imagine why this simple composition principle isn't printed on the first page of every point and shoot camera users manual.

 

Sunday April 26th

I started the day with an ocean swim and then quickly returned to snap the vivid morning light on Palm Beach in the third shot above (18mm, f/11, 1/500s, ISO200). I did another long walk south on an inland pathway practicing the use of a circular polarizing filter to bring out or suppress reflections. I stopped for a Sunday afternoon tapas brunch at Chino Latino before heading back. I shot the large picture at the top of the page right - "Sitiin on the dock of the bay" as the afternoon sun began to fade using the circular polarizing filter to cut out reflections on the water. I spent some time on my balcony reading my first book of the trip, "On Desire - Why we want what we want" by William Irvine (highly recommended). The fourth picture above was taken from the tripod at 18mm, f/22, 1/250s, ISO200.

Ocean lookin back

Pool cues

Behind the waterfall

North coast splash

Monday April 27th

I hit the beach early armed with snorkel gear and my Canon SD870 in its underwater enclosure. The water wasn't clear enough for good underwater pictures, but the perspective from the water was interesting (first picture above). I took a lot of shots in the ocean before heading to the pool. The second and third pictures above were taken using manual settings on the Canon SD870 to hike up the vibrance by one tick. After a quick lunch on my balcony, I headed north for a long walk along the rugged shoreline north of Palm Beach (fourth picture above taken with the Canon) to the California Lighthouse. Monday's sunset gave me another opportunity to use the neutral density graduated filter. By playing with the exposure and aperture a bit, I shot the first picture below (200mm, f/9, 1/320s, ISO200) highlighting some solar flares. I later brought out an eerie blue in the ocean foreground in Photoshop by adjusting the color temperature. In the second picture below, taken a few minutes later, I kept the high telephoto setting and increased the aperture farther to collapse the near and far fields (200mm, f/7.1, 1/200s, ISO200).

Tuesday April 28th

I did my longest hike of the trip on Tuesday, roughly 10 miles south to Eagle Beach and back. Eagle Beach is at the "low-rise" hotel area of Aruba's west coast. I found it to be less crowded, but with fewer photo opportunities. The third picture below (36mm, f/13, 1/640s, ISO200) is of one of many windswept Divi trees that pop up all over the beach there. After a late lunch at Palm Beach's iconic Salt & Pepper, I walked back to the hotel and relaxed until just before sunset. Tuesday's sunset was the best of the trip, lighting up first in brilliant blues and then turning to an angry red. The fourth picture below was shot as the sky turned colors casting an interesting tone on the boat tied to its dock (18mm, f/3.5, 1/60s, ISO200, .6 ND grad filter). The large picture, top of page left, "Angry red sunset", was shot from the beach after the sun was down and the sky was red. My last shot, "Blues and reds sailing on the horizon" below was taken without the filter from the sand level looking up, then cropped vertically to the panorama.

Solar flares over deep blue

Near/far, new/old

Eagle Beach Divi

Pullin ropes

Blues and reds sailing on the horizon: 18mm, f/3.5, 1/80s, ISO200

Wednesday April 29th

Wednesday was my last morning in Aruba before heading home. I spent the time swimming and relaxing. In closing, I thought I'd share some of what I learned photographically. The first two pictures below illustrate the difference that proper depth of field makes. The first picture highlights the subject well with a low depth of field while the second picture shows the clutter that happens with a normal depth of field. Both shots were taken with my 35mm f/1.8 primary lens in aperture priority mode, dialing in the f stop. The third and fourth pictures below show the effect of a circular polarizing filter. While it's not clear which shot is better, it is clear that they are very different shots. Finally, using the .6 neutral density graduated filter was tricky, but allowed for much better foreground lighting in sunset shots.

Low depth of field: f/1.8

High depth of field: f/22

Circular polarizer filter

Unpolarized

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