The three principals

On our recent trip to the Balkans, by far one of our favorite stops was the little walled town of Korćula in Croatia. Good food, friendly people, and some wonderful cultural sights — for instance, the ancient sword dance known as the Moreška.

The story behind the dance is timeless — there are good guys, and bad guys, and a young maiden caught in the middle.  In this case, the good guys are the White King and his troops (once symbolic of Christians, later representing the Turks), and the bad guys are the Black King and his supporters (who have always represented the Moors).

The three principals

In this scene, you see the White King (Osman, dressed in red) and the Black King (Moro) facing off — with the maiden Bula trying to stop the fighting.  Bula is the white king’s fiancee, and the black king has kidnapped her, leading to a series of battles finally culminating in the white king’s victory and Bula’s happy return to her love.

The dance has roots dating back to conflict between Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain, and quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean.  For centuries, many towns staged their own version of the Moreška — but usually just once every few years, and then on the given town’s patronal feast day.  Over the years, the tradition disappeared from town after town until now, only Korćula stages it with any regularity.  But the good news for visitors is that the town stages the dance every week, year ’round (and twice a week during the summer).  The performers are all natives of Korćula, some with long and proud family histories of participation.

Should you ever get a chance to watch the show in person, I’ve got some tips for you:

  1. Don’t use a flash
  2. Sit in the seats opposite to the musicians, preferably on the center aisle, definitely near the front
  3. Be prepared for low-light photography — I took this shot at 1/80 sec. to freeze any motion, which meant ISO 4000 and f/2.8

The ghosts of Dubrovnik

A long duration (3.2 seconds) shot along the main street (Stradun) of the old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia:

Ghosts of Dubrovnik

One of the reasons for our recent trip to eastern Europe was the desire to see some still less-visited places before they’re “discovered” by tourist mania.  Dubrovnik was the one spot on our route that we knew in advance was definitely “discovered” already, yet it still didn’t disappoint.

OK, the prices there are accordingly a bit high.  But the old town’s got scenery in spades, the people are wonderful, and there’s a wealth of history to explore (its more-recent history being more than a little sad).  And as you can guess from this shot, it’s got some pretty good nightlife.  The two figures in yellow over black, BTW, really were two young women — identically dressed.

The Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens on the road

I recently returned from a trip to the Yucatán peninsula — fortunately I’d received my pre-ordered E-M1 body and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens before we left for the trip (the lens’ arrival preceding my departure by all of two days), so thought I’d write up some quick thoughts on how the combination behaved for me in real-world travel.

The E-M1, de-blinged
The E-M1, de-blinged in Belize

First off, I like to take the shine off my camera gear before travel in the 3rd world (on the assumption that this will make it a bit less attractive to the average petty thief). Both the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens have quite a bit of flashy trim and lettering on them, so it took me longer than usual to “de-bling” them for travel. Still, at least they both have a black finish, so a 3rd party lens cap and about 20 minutes’ work with black gaffer tape did the trick.

You’ll also notice in the above image that I’ve set up my E-M1 with a Peak Design “Cuff” — I’ll write up a full review of this item later, but it proved to be a very helpful ally as well.

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The Tower

Probably one of the most-photographed sights at the ancient Maya ruins of Palenque, it’s the Palace’s tower:

The Tower

On the days we visited Palenque, we had to deal with pretty persistent clouds — not a huge deal, if you have a few ways to handle them.  In this case, I used NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 to avoid losing the shadowed parts of the tower and get a little drama in the otherwise-featureless clouds.  It’s on the edge of looking “over-cooked,” but I think it works for this image.

The funny thing in retrospect is that in order to get this shot, I had to stand on what once were the Palace’s toilets.  Good thing they haven’t been used for a thousand years.

If you’re planning on travel to Palenque in the near future, I’m doing final edits to my “Photographer’s Guide” eBook for the ruins at Palenque.  Should hit the (metaphorical) streets by Wednesday.  Stay tuned…

Fall colors

A little scene, captured along highway 82 in Colorado, west of Twin Lakes on the road to Aspen:

Fall colors

A fun little story goes along with this shot. The landowner where I spotted this scene has the cleared part of his / her land set up picture-perfect, almost as if to invite photography. Old barn, old windmill, old tractor — it’s all there just waiting for a “calendar shot.” When we slowed down so I could grab a few shots, someone was already parked in the driveway. I pulled alongside him, and he left — to be replaced about 30 seconds later by another visitor. After I was done shooting, yet another photog took my place.

If the landowner set out a tip jar, they could collect some serious cash (more if they had pre-signed property release forms)!

Temple of the Frescoes

Seen from the southeast, this is the Temple of the Frescoes in the ancient Maya ruins of Tulúm, México:

Temple of the Frescoes

Sadly, the frescoes this structure draws its name from are inside, and unreachable by visitors. Still, there are some impressive stucco sculptures in the niches on the outside of the building.

Tulúm shoreline

Looking north along the shoreline at the ancient Maya ruins of Tulúm in Quintana Roo, Mexico:

Tulum shoreline

Tulúm may not have the best architecture compared to other Maya sites, but you’ve got to admit that its location can’t be beat for photography! And if you’re lucky enough to show up at low tide, the beach in this picture is open to swimmers and sunbathers.