I was lucky to visit the exclusion zone during a trip to Kyiv in August of this year. Trips are remarkably easy to book through accredited travel agencies such as ChornobylTour. It does involve some reading up on the risks, and some thorough preparation. I was glad I booked a few months before we went to Ukraine. This year is really busy. The 30th anniversary of the disaster makes Chornobyl really popular with journalists. A lot of tours would be booked by camera crews, eager to show how brave they are. Thankfully, none of those were on our tour.
The minivans leave from Kyiv central station early in the morning. I expected much bigger groups, but in the end all people easily fit in the 5 minivans. Each minivan had its own tour guide, and followed its own route. In total there were probably no more than 60 tourists in the exclusion zone for the whole day.
Mostly, the exclusion zone is safe. Background radiation is much higher than elsewhere on the globe, but you don’t get a higher dose than you would get on an intercontinental flight. There are however numerous scattered hot spots (especially inside forests and buildings) of very highly concentrated radiation. We were issued a Geiger counter so we could check for those. The idea is to stay clear of them. Also we had to wear long sleeves and no shorts during our time in the zone, to limit the possibility of irradiated dust coming into contact with our skin.
After waiting for our papers to clear we entered the exclusion zone, an area covering roughly 30km around the power plant. No one is allowed to enter without special permission. That means only tours, security officials and people working on the powerplant.
Driving on the decaying roads with not a soul in sight is a little creepy, and gives you a very real idea of what a post apocalyptic landscape looks like. For 30 years, no person has lived here.
Our first stop was at the former Zalissya village. It was completely overgrown. Nature has won this battle. It is good to note that nature deals very well with the disappearance of people. Even though the place was teeming with wildlife, it was very very quiet.
The next stop was the village of Chornobyl itself. Interestingly, this is not where the power plant is located. That was, during planning, named after the then closest town. Then Prýp’jat was built closer to the plant, to contain the support workforce. Now Chornobyl is inhabited by plant workers, who work in shifts for three weeks, then have to get out.
A very interesting stop was the old Duga-1 radar station. The soviet union needed an early warning system for ballistic missile launches. Lacking satellites, they opted for this experimental Over The Horizon radar array. One of these transmitted a very powerful signal, which then bounced around the globe and was received by a second array. The 10mw signal became known as the “Russian Woodpecker”. It disrupted civilian frequencies. The system was taken offline when Ukraine became independent; the system’s maintenance wasn’t part of the negotiations.
We walked around the Cold War relic, and had a look inside; seeing the old server spaces and instruction rooms.
A favourite of all the tourists and Urbex photographers is the dilapidated children daycare center. Littered with weathered belongings, dolls and other children’s toys, it gives a very haunting image. Things are always creepier when small children are involved.
And then we arrived at the Chornobyl power plant itself. The nuclear power plant site is to be cleaned by 2065. The plant is being decommissioned. The place was very active, as workers were finalising the new Safe Confinement construction. Three months later it would be moved over Reactor number 4, finally creating a safe environment for cleaning up the reactor. It is decidedly weird to stand 100m from this reactor, A place I only knew from tv and books.
After this we had some time for reflection at the canteen. After going through a monstrous radiation detector we enjoyed a hearty Ukrainian lunch. Then we moved on to our final stop: The city of Prýp’jat.
Prýp’jat was designed as a closed city, to serve the power plant. On the day of the disaster it had grown to almost 50.000 inhabitants. It was a model city for the Soviets, the leadership often used it as a model of the glorious soviet state.
After the reactor exploded, it took authorities 40 hours to decide on full evacuation.
Walking around Prýp’jat is not exactly safe. The years have taken their toll on the buildings. It’s hard to see where you are walking; nature has mostly taken over. There are holes in the road, buildings are collapsing, and radiation hot spots are everywhere. Yet it was totally worth it. Very rarely the opportunity presents itself to visit an abandoned city. It was already quite hard to visualise what the city looked like in the eighties. You’re walking through a huge forest, over cracked concrete sidewalks and roads. Between the trees loom apartment buildings. We went into a supermarket, the swimming pool, the famous school with all the gas masks for civil defence drills. And finally we climbed 14 flights of stairs in one of the apartment blocks to take in the view of the surrounding area.
This was a once in a life time trip in many ways. 2016 was the last time the old sarcophagus over the reactor was visible. After the Safe Confinement is in place, all is covered until it’s removed. The state of the buildings will make it impossible to enter them in the coming decade. And with the Safe Confinement in place, cleanup will speed up. It will be many years before the whole area is fully habitable, yet we will see a decrease in interest as more and more of the area gets cleaned up.
We enjoyed our easy flight from Amsterdam to Edinburgh, as our discomfort was limited. I prefer to book flights with KLM, as I like to have some legroom on airplanes. There were lots of cheaper flights, but they tend to be very painful for my long legs. Edinburgh airport was nice and small. We didn’t have to wait much for our luggage, and the city was reached easily by the brand new light rail train.
Our primary reason for coming to Edinburgh was Zuzana’s Open University graduation ceremony. The event was held at the beautiful Usher Hall in proper Scottish fashion. After the ceremony we went to the little French restaurant ‘Petit Paris‘ to have a wonderful celebratory dinner.
What should you be doing when in Edinburgh? Apart from having a great time, here are a few things I enjoyed.
A bus tour is a great way to start any city trip. All cities have them. And they take you around the most interesting sights. We actually took one on the day we were leaving, but it served as a reminder that we didn’t miss anything.
The Scott Monument is a massive Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. After passing this massive monument for the fourth time (it was between our hotel and the city centre), we discovered we could actually climb to the top. It’s well worth the expense. The views from the top a really amazing. Just make sure you’re not claustrophobic, or that it’s not too busy. The stairwells are extremely cramped, with no space to let anyone pass. You might have to go back up a few times.
Instead of spending our money seeing the inside of the Castle, a wise person suggested we go to the Whisky experience instead. It’s right next door, and more fun. It sure was. After having a fun discussing with the shop staff whether a certain Wisky glass was really crystal, or just glass (lots of confusion ensued), we entered the Whisky experience. It’s a lovely litle attraction, where you travel in a little barrel shaped train and see the process of how Whisky is made. At the end there was an explanation of how to spot different whisky’s , and we took a stroll around the world’s largest Whisky collection (whilst consuming our chosen tasty beverage, in a free glass/crystal cup).
Most of the higher end shops were situated in George street, which was a convenient 2 minute walk from our hotel. We didn’t really care for those shops though, as we made a beeline for the bookshop. I love English book shops, and really miss the very limited selection of English books in the Netherlands. Everytime I come to the UK, I make sure I have a list.
Admission to Museums in Great Britain tends to be free. A fact the Dutchman in me enjoys immensely. It does make it easier to just visit any, or museums that you normally wouldn’t enter. We visited the Scottish National Gallery and saw some great Scottish paintings (You had to look around the Dutch masters though. They occupied half the building).
You can let yourself go in the fancier restaurants, or just go for the proper pub experience off the royal mile. It’s all good. Or perhaps, take a side street and end up in a tiny tiny pub and have some Whisky. I’m a fan of British pub food, and Edinburgh is the place to be if you enjoy that sort of thing. We tried the haggis too, and it was surprisingly palatable.
There’s no way I wouldn’t enjoy a visit to England, but Edinburgh is an absolute gem. It’s a very tourist-friendly place, and there’s lots to explore.]]>
Our flight was somewhat surprising. I have bad experiences with intercontinental flights, them being overcrowded, and being 188cm tall, I don’t fit in the current seats on planes any more. But booking economy plus on KLM, I was pleasantly surprised by that the legroom increase was substantial, actually allowing me to move and stretch my feet. Another surprise was that this was one of the last flights of this particular aircraft. The MD-11 was one of the oldest serving planes of KLM. The one we flew in was the last of the commercial flying ones. It would make one trip back to Schiphol, and then be carted of to the junk yard. At first the prospect of flying in this old rust bucket made me feel apprehensive, but the pilot and flight crew were surprisingly upbeat about this all, and assured us that this was one of the most reliable and fun to fly air planes out there. I took the rust holes and outdated systems for granted, and enjoyed the flight reading and resting.
Ottawa doesn’t have a direct connection to any Dutch airport, so that left us to fly to Montreal. Our landing was eventful. It looked really rainy as we landed, but rolling on, it wasn’t actually rain, but a festive arch of water, created by two Montreal airport fire engines. “OMG they made it”, must’ve been their thought.
A bus then picked us up, and took us to the Ottawa train station. A two hour trip later, we took a taxi to the hotel in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa.
To get to the centre of Ottawa, we had to cross the river , a walk that took around half an hour. I took my winter clothes, and was glad I did. Temperatures were roughly half of what they were in The Netherlands, and the wind blowing across the massive bridge didn’t really help.
I had never been in a proper north american city, so this was quite a fascinating experience . There was a little bit of the city that looks like a European city, a small leftover from British Colonial times. The parliament building and the adjacent Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel were particularly striking. Most of the city though, is a standard North-American grid. No old architecture, impressive buildings or anything you see in old cities.
One of the most impressive places was the Canadian War Memorial. It was only three days after the terrible events where a soldier guarding it was shot, and the tension was noticeable. There was a lot of armed police around, and many emotional people, laying flowers and notes for the deceased. The whole week we were there, we could see the signs of the event. From constant media coverage, to the motorcade carrying US Secretary of State John Kerry, who came to offer his condolences. Also notable was the prevalence of the remembrance day poppies on people’s coats , a week before the were supposed to be worn.
Surprisingly, the Parliament building where the perpetrator was finally shot, was open for business. The only difference being a more visible police force  and lots of media, asking visitors what they thought of the police presence. It was quite funny seeing a camera crew interviewing some tourists on if the extra police had made them think twice about coming. Well, obviously not eh?
We were late for the tour, that would pass by the bullet hole-riddled walls, but we went up to the clock tower anyway, and enjoyed some stunning views of the city.
We had the privilege to arrive during Ottawa’s annual Poutine festival. Slightly less than impressive, this amounted to about a dozen food trucks parked along Sparks Street, serving the mix of fries, gravy and cheese curds to anyone interested. This seemed to be the only real Canadian food on offer in Ottawa. Fortunately there was also the more generic North American food, and we enjoyed some lovely barbecue meals and hamburgers.
Although Ottawa is a lovely city to explore, it’s not that big and doesn’t have as much features as an European city. My week would’ve been better spent had it been the tourist season, all attractions and sights, except the museums, already having closed for the winter. Still it was a great way to get a taste of Canadian/North American culture.
I was very much interested in history, and delighted to find out they were starting to build an archeological theme park, on cycling distance from my home. The aim of the park was to be as historically accurate as possible. All the buildings that needed to be built, would be built by the tools of the era. For all this hand work they needed a lot of muscle. I applied to be a member of the supporting volunteer organisation, and helped  build several houses during 1994. This work was mainly building walls; using loam  to fill in panels between the woodwork of the 14th century and bronze age houses. The construction was quite simple: branches were woven in a rudimentary wall, then the loam would be smeared across the woodwork until it filled up the panel. In this way we helped build the blacksmith’s house, the fisherman’s house and a bronze age long house.
The park was very big, leaving a lot of room to just wander through the nature, and to stumble upon little details and vignettes in the landscape. When it opened in the same year, I visited the park quite often. The next year I was encouraged to join Archeon again, as now my school mate was working in the park as a volunteer in the medieval time period, as a shoemaker’s apprentice. This sounded great, and I joined him as an apprentice.
The whole summer, every Sunday morning, I would get on my bike, and cycle to Archeon. There, I would go to the changing room above the medieval bakery to get my shoes, and dress up in my home made medieval outfit. Our job was simple; we had to walk around the medieval section, make it look like we belonged there, and basically do whatever we wanted. This usually meant taking the fishing boat out, chopping wood for lunch, shooting bows, showing people how leatherworking was done and help out in other ways, as medieval boys would.
In 1996 it was going downhill for Archeon. The upkeep of the huge park grounds and main pavillion was becoming a problem, as was the mismanagement. I had to fight to be allowed back as a volunteer, the organisation didn’t seem interested anymore. Finally it was agreed that I could be a helper on the Roman river boat that ferried visitors between the Roman and Medieval time periods . Even if this was harder work, it was fun and still allowed for lots of time to walk around the park.
Unfortunately, this was also the year that Archeon went bankrupt. The park got new management, and around two thirds of the grounds were sold off. Even the main building, containing the gift shops and time machine  was sold, cut up, and shipped out.
In its slimmed down form the park survived. A more commercially oriented manager was installed, who found a commercially sustainable baseline for the park. I never went back as a volunteer, but kept visiting the park now and then when events were organised. As local media it was fun to walk around the park and take pictures or shoot video. The park is doing well now. It recently built a replica of a Roman villa, and there are vague plans to start a sister open air museum in Britain.
I’ll remember Archeon as the place where I started my career, and had lots of fun being a medieval person. I’ve always listed it on my resumé, as it gave me a valuable experience in unique circumstances.
The Roman section refers to a period ranging from 53BC, The end of Julius Caesar’s Gallic campaigns and the fixation of the northern Roman border along the Rhine river, to roughly 270AD. The Romans developed small border towns and forts along this northern border , as seen on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 13th century replica of a map of the Roman road network in the 3rd century BC. This road map lists 13 different Roman settlements in the Netherlands. One of them is Albaniana, a small border fort . Archeological digs have turned up evidence Albaniana was located where the city of Alphen a/d Rijn now lies.
270AD is the time when continued Frankish aggression prompted the Roman military to withdraw their cohorts from the most northern borders. Their forts were possibly inhabited by auxiliary troops, until they were overrun by the Franks, as happened in other places along the border.
The small Roman town created in Archeon contains mostly civilian buildings dating from this time. The chances are slim that they actually existed at the time of Castellum Albaniana, as a small border lookout post probably didn’t warrant the construction of temples and bathhouses. Regardless, it gives a nice feel of how it is to walk around a Roman town, and it provides a great backdrop for Roman re-enactments.
Legio Secunda Augusta is a British Roman Re-enactment group. They have people recreating how it is to live in Roman times, with military personnel from the era, as well as civilians showing the various crafts and arts they used to employ. Every year, the Legio comes to Archeon to liven up the park in a Roman festival.
After Octavian came to power in 27BC the senate granted Octavian unprecedented civil and military powers, and bestowed on him the title Augustus. Following this, one of his first thoughts was to the composition of his army, which had been in disarray since the Civil Wars. He substantially reformed the legions, by disbanding those whose previous loyalties had brought them under suspect, creating colonies for the veteran soldiers and forming new legions loyal to himself. The three imperial legions II, III and VIII, which are all entitled Augusta or ‘Augustan’, specifically identify them as formations during his principate .
The legion participated in the Roman conquest of Britain in 43AD. Future emperor Vespasian was the legion’s commander at the time. The Legion proved to be one of the best, even after its disgrace during the uprising of queen Boudica. After the defeat of Boudica, the legion was dispersed over several bases in Britain, most of them in Wales.
In 402BC the continued pressure on the Roman heartland by the Gothic tribes prompted the emperor to withdraw a lot of troops from Britain and other outlying areas of the empire. This led to the northern tribes crossing the Rhine in the Netherlands and Germany in 406AD, killing and pillaging along the way. Fears of being cut off of the empire led the armies in Britain to leave, returning to the mainland. The Roman empire fell in 410 with the sack of Rome.
The members of Legion Secunda Augusta had brought lots of equipment and clothing, and were happy to demonstrate how everything worked. This leads to interesting insights , and great pictures of details and uniforms. The day ended with a demonstration of military tactics, and how to use artillery.
I shot everything with the 70-200 lens. The amount of detail, and the great freedom of movement made this the perfect lens for this situation.
We spent a lot of time walking through the city, seeing the sights, and actually for the first time ever, took a bus tour of the city. The bus tour was a surprisingly good decision, as it finally tied all the landmarks together in such a way that you actually get an idea of how the city is put together. A view usually lacking when visiting everything by tube.
At my brothers suggestion we spent one day going to the Harry Potter experience. I wasn’t a fan of the Harry Potter movies, but I am a fan of great setbuilding. And I wasn’t disappointed. The experience consists mainly of a museum of all the set pieces and props used in the movies. It’s great to see them up close, and to a surprisingly high degree, hold up to scrutiny. It’s all incredibly detailed.
Getting home turned out to be a bit of an issue; there was a general public transport strike on the day we left. Keeping a watchful eye on events as they unfolded over a few days, we finally decided to just book a taxi in advance, and take enough time to get out of the city, which was predicted to be completely gridlocked. Driving through the city of London in a taxi is an experience in itself. Dodging tourists and weaving the car through tiny streets, the good man managed to get us to the airport, somehow.]]>
Ah, that question. Yes, I used to own a fabulous 60mm macro lens. And I used it happily for many years. It wasn’t really the quality of that lens that made me want to replace it. After a long period of not shooting so much, I became interested in photography yet again. Mainly by watching lots of tutorials on Youtube, I got intrigued by the properties of prime-lenses. Prime lenses are lenses with a single focal length, so you can’t zoom with them. This makes them a lot sharper and more precise than a zoom-lens could ever be. I bought a 35mm 1.8 to test it out. Liking the results, I started contemplating a prime-lens kit, existing of 3-4 lenses that would be light to carry, and have lots of creative options.
At first the 60mm fit perfectly in that image. However I soon learned I wanted more out of a lens. I wanted a lens with more reach, and a lens that could combine several functions. Also 60mm was way to short for a tele. The 105 was the lens I was looking for. It has a nice short tele, does great macro shots, and even has fast autofocus. Autofocus was a bit of an issue with the 60mm; it was the old version, without the built-in focus motor. Another innovation was the Vibration reduction in the lens. I wasn’t used to hand holding lenses for slow shots (journalistic work seemed to be more about freezing the moment, so slow shutterspeeds were never a thing). But shooting video I started to understand its use better. The 105mm allows for more distance between the subject and the lens, making it suitable for more than just studio shooting . In an uncontrolled environment (outside), with low light or other constraints it became a very interesting addition to the lens.
It really feels like a proper lens. It is built like a tank, as is to be expected of a professional piece of glass. It has a nice weighty feel to it  It is also comfortably big in my hands, yet still compact in storage. Shooting with it is a great experience. Autofocus is quick for normal shooting, and even usable with macro shoots. At first I was quite uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to zoom. Then I just set myself the task of not changing the lens, and just sticking with it for a while, and I learned to deal with it quickly. It delivers wonderful contrasty images. The bokeh  looks nice and creamy. I even shot a few portraits with it. It’s truly a very versatile lens.
I shot a lot of images with the lens already, and you can have a look at the gallery below for some examples. The images in this set were all taken with the 105. The pictures were taken on a sunny day, in the nearby archaeological theme park ‘Archeon‘. The park is a nice place to test out gear, with many different subjects to shoot, ranging from nature close-ups to fast-paced gladiatorial combat.
Over the years the system evolved to suit my needs. Features appeared and disappeared, but it always seemed to just be able to do what I wanted
As time progressed, it became clear that the arrival of the first blog systems and other content management systems heralded easier ways to manage a website. Yet as I started searching for the system that suited my needs, it became very clear that none of them really did. Time and time again I was halted by some technical limitation that made it impossible to do something in a certain system. Or I had to build the feature myself. Which made no sense as I already had a working website. Why change if it works?
The last few years it became increasingly difficult to keep my website standing. I had some features that were falling apart, and maintenance was increasingly hard. My knowledge of programming or PHP was insufficient to properly fix the system, so I went out looking again.
WordPress is now a mature system. For years it was just plain bad. It bred an industry of incompetent marketeers who claim to be webdesigners because they are able to install a standard theme in a standard wordpress system. They are an unending source of contempt for me. Yet a system so prolific and so mature, surely there must be a way to build a proper website in it? I set out to learn the system and see if I could make a properly performing conversion of my own website.
As it turns out, if you know what you’re doing, you can make something proper with WordPress. You need to select only necessary plugins (caching plugins for instance, WordPress is very slow). Then you need to write your own template from scratch. If you want clean code, you have to rewrite some of the plugins and be really clever about which WordPress tags to use and which to avoid like the plague.
After three weeks of tinkering and migrating data, I feel I’ve finally succeeded in taming a CMS, in a way I feel comfortable looking at the code. It’s now clean and futureproof; A result I’m very happy with.]]>
The Netherlands have always been plagued by flooding . The low lying river delta and its reclaimed land relied on dikes to keep our feed dry. In 1953 particular nasty storm  led to the flooding of most of Zeeland and parts of Zuid-Holland. It resulted in the deaths of 1836 Dutchmen and the loss of 47300 homes. Coming at a time of optimism after the Second World War, politicians decided “No more!”, and so they begun researching the possibilities of controlling the flood waters.
The aim of the Delta works was, through the use of the dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers, to shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. In total, the Delta Works are the largest storm barrier in the world and have served as an example to many similar projects all over the world. In itself this plan wasn’t new. But in 1953 the technological means, the will and the reasons all coalesced to get the project off the ground.
Between the islands Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland, still lies the largest of the 13 ambitious projects. The nine-kilometre-long Oosterscheldekering (kering meaning barrier) was initially designed, and partly built, as a closed dam, but after public protest, huge sluice-gate-type doors were installed in the remaining four kilometres. These doors are normally open, but can be closed under adverse weather conditions. In this way, the salt water marine life behind the dam is preserved and fishing can continue, while the land behind the dam is safe from the water.
The Oosterscheldekering was the most difficult to build and most expensive part of the Delta works. Work on the dam took more than a decade. To facilitate the building, an artificial island Neeltje-Jans was created in the middle of the estuary. When the construction was finished, the island was rebuilt to be used as education centre for visitors and as a base for maintenance works. The dam is based on 65 concrete pillars with 62 steel doors, each 42 metres wide. The parts were constructed in a dry dock. The area was flooded and a small fleet of special construction ships lifted the pillars and placed them in their final positions. Each pillar is between 35 and 38.75 metres high and weighs 18000 tonnes. The dam is designed to last more than 200 years.
So as you see, It’s worthwhile to see it up close. Our trip took us from The Hague, through Rotterdam , over the various dams, across the Oosterscheldekering, and finally through the Westerscheldetunnel to the most western tip of the Netherlands, to our destination in a run down beach hotel .
The artificial island is still there, and now contains sort of a theme park. We had hoped to find a lot of interesting information, but alas. The park had been bought by a Spanish water park giant some years previous. The neglect was visible. The admission was outrageously expensive. We got to see a movie about the disaster, which looked like it was made in the 1970’s. Then we saw a movie about the building projects. Which was made in the 1980’s. The barren island contained little but rusted metal, and a few closed buildings for animal performances. We did get to go into the insides of the Oosterscheldekering, which was kinda cool. We were quite depressed by the state of the whole park, and surprised that the Dutch government would allow one of its main cultural treasures to go to waste like this.
Our trip concluded in the most south-western part of the Netherlands, where we enjoyed the quiet beauty of an off-season beach. The next morning we drove back to the Hague, taking in the flat landscape, knitted together by bridges and dams. A highly recommended road-trip for anyone vaguely interested in this intriguing bit of Dutch history.
One of the first inventions of the firm, which is still known today, was the roll film SLR camera in 1936. In the Eastern bloc countries, the firm's products were more known than in the western world.
This specific camera, the Super TL, was especially handy at the time, as it allowed metering of light through the lens. So no more tables and guesstimation, just try to get the dials to line up.
Praktica was also one of the cheaper brands of the day. Call it soviet style mass production, at least it made the Single lens reflex camera affordable for regular consumers. Mechanically this meant the camera wasn’t up to the standards of Nikon and the other big names. This probably explains why my dad owned three other broken Praktica’s.
My dad was an enthusiastic amateur-photographer. I can vividly remember his bellows-camera. I think it was an Agfa Isolette. When you pressed a button, a hatch opened and the lens slid out. He used it to create black and white photographs. For quite a long while he actually developed his own rolls of film, and had a little darkroom at home for this purpose. Sometimes he created colour pictures as well. Not with special film though. He used ecoline ink to colour them by hand.
I used a his camera for a while. But it was a lot harder than photography nowadays. There was no way of measuring the light in the camera. So I used a separate light meter to calculate my exposures. After some time I switched to the Praktica.– Jelke Bethlehem
Jelke kept using various Praktica’s until the nineties, adding to a vast collection of slides and other pictures. I recently started digitising them. Have a look at the growing collection on flickr here. When unearthing the most recent Praktica, I decided to give it a shot. We went out and bought a battery and rolls of film. I spend an afternoon getting used to the manual settings, but after 20 shots the shutter mechanism collapsed.
It’s always nice to discover old technology, and play around with it. Photography has come a long way since the sixties!
In the future I will try to make a videoblog as we try to get the old slide projector up and running again.]]>
It was surprisingly easy to get tickets for this event. It was all in the organisation. The event was attended by the full Royal family and a lot of dignitaries. Being not such a big country, that left for the second ring of the Circustheater to be filled with the little people. Looks better on camera, you see? Every province of the Netherlands was allowed to send 50 people. And what do you do when you need to find people? You announce it on Twitter. Apparently I was the first one to apply, so there you go. What can I say. I love a spectacle.
The event was a fascinating experience. We started out at Provinciehuis, where the group got on a bus, headed for the Ministry of Foreign affairs. There we had to get out, and go through scanners, whilst the bus got a very thorough bomb sweep. After that, we were running a bit late, so our bus got a full police escort to Scheveningen. It’s quite a sight, these motorcycles in front of the bus, and more of them blocking the roads and traffic lights for us to get through.
After arriving, and bypassing the press pool and the red carpet (wouldn’t want to confuse the paparazzi, eh, oh I mean “The Press”). We were quickly ushered to our seats. The whole thing would be on live television, so I spent the time checking out the massive crane and all the other very expensive video gear. Getting bored with that, there was always the game of spot the well known person.
The concert itself was pretty good. I was quite shocked by the King clapping and singing along with the old Dutch songs at the beginning. Later we were surprised with some very good and diverse acts.
After the concert there was an after party, where everyone could network to their heart’s content with all the forlorn looking notables, or in our case, enjoy the great food and drinks.
The gamble of getting the tickets paid off (I feared it was going to be an evening filled with horrible traditional dutch whining music) and I had a very enjoyable evening. And a very good reason to suit up.]]>
The repairs mentioned in the review didn’t solve all my problems. I continued to experience unsharpness problems, even though the fine technicians put it through every test they could think of. Perhaps it was just a perception problem. Or maybe it was experiencing front- or back-focus issues. Who knows.
Then I noticed a local shop had a great second hand AF-S 70-200 version 1 on offer. A great price, in pristine condition, and affordable, considering I would be trading in my refurbished 80-200. I got a good deal for that, as it is now one of the few 80-200’s out there, which does not have auto-focus issues.
The 70-200 looks a lot sharper to me. The focus is faster. And it has Vibration Reduction. The last is a feature I never considered useful to me (if you use slow shutters speeds, just use a tripod). Shooting video changed my mind. Long lenses have the tendency to vibrate more when attached to a camera. This is not an issue when taking photographs, but you can see everything when shooting video. The tiniest of shakes, the wind hitting the lens, everything is visible. Not so with VR switched on!
The lens is also a lot lighter and smaller. It’s truly a great upgrade, and I’m completely in love with the image quality. I would recommend it over the newer VRII version, because of the price difference. But very few people reading this will probably buy this lens. It’s a specialist device, great for bokeh nerds and journalists. If you want to invest in a 70-200, I would really suggest the F4 model, which is a lot more portable, and does 80% of what this lens does.]]>
I didn’t go to any of the social events (I’m not that social), but decided to spend the time with my wife. We picked out a great hotel, and spent time relaxing in the spa, walking through the lovely city, and visiting the Doctor Who experience.
Cardiff really surprised me as a city. It was absolutely lovely, and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.]]>
After being asked if I would like to do some sports photography for the local American Football team, I started looking for a replacement telelens. The 70-300 just couldn’t cope with that kind of abuse.
Through a local photographer I found a solution. As the 70-200 f2.8 that was just released was way to expensive for me, I started looking for a second-hand lens. I finally found it in the hands of a photo journalist who wanted to replace his 80-200 with the new 70-200. For a very good price, I could take it off his hands. Even though being owned by a journalist usually means it would’ve taken a considerable amount of abuse over the years, I couldn’t resist and went for it.
As it turns out, the lens was in a very good state. It is very fast, and very sharp. It is very heavy as well. But that is something you learn to live with. It’s the second best lens in my arsenal, the first place being taken by the 17-55 f2.8.
Unfortunately, after more then a decade of good service, it started having some problems. As they mostly related to the focus motor and sharpness, these problems took the lens to the closet to collect dust.
A year later I got annoyed by the absence of a good telephoto lens in my lineup. Taken aback by the price of a new one (over 1900 euro) I finally send it back to Nikon to have it repaired. The repair was costly, but totally worth it. I’m happy to have my lens back, equipped with new rubber components, lens mount and AF-S motor.
To me, it feels important to have good glass. I want my lenses to be reliable, so when a picture turns out bad, I know it is because of something I did, and not because of some manufacturing error or weakness in the design of the lens. When you buy into professional lenses, you know that you will be able to use them for 10 years, and be able to have them repaired and survive another 10 years.
Now if it would only start raining less (the lens can handle it, I just can’t) I can start shooting with it again.]]>
Some great features I discovered when I started using the D7100:
As you can see on the picture, I also got the battery grip. My issue with the D7000 was that it was hard to hold for me; my hands are too big; the fingers kept slipping off. Even though the Nikon grip is really really expensive, it is very well made. The construction is much stronger compared to the D200, and seems to be made of the same materials as the camera itself.
The D7000 to me was a way to bridge the time until a D400 would turn up. The video and ergonomic features were imperfect, but good enough to get started again. Now the D7100 was announced, I’m really doubting if there will ever be a D400. Regardless, this camera serves all my needs, and the concessions in ergonomics are well worth the other features. This camera will keep me happy for the years to come.]]>
The Torc Waterfall near Killarney in Ireland is situated in an idyllic forest, Close to the holiday home we were staying in, so a nice spot for some experimentation (allowing for some puzzled looks on the faces of various tourists). Shot with the Nikon D7100, using the Nikkor 17-55 AF-S f2.8. Audio comes through a RØDE Videomic Pro. I also used a 7" monitor on top of the camera, to get sharper focus.
It was quite fun shooting in nature like this. It takes a lot of patience, and you have to be quite careful. I almost slipped a few times, not a good thing to do lugging a 10 kilo tripod plus camera on your back. But the results were quite good, and this is actually the first video that got me any likes on Vimeo.]]>
The new reel thus doesn’t show as much local media work, but focuses primarily on these new additions. The video will probably be updated a few times, but I hope you enjoy this already.]]>
The best camera for me would be the D200 body, with the innards of the D7000, or D7100. Yet current market developments seem to make it very doubtful if such a D400 will ever see the light of day. In the mean time I will enjoy my D7000 to the fullest, and try to focus on improving my photographic skills.]]>
The first step was to give my logo style an update. I contacted Anton Peck and asked him if he would like to help me create a style guide and refresh of my style. And he did. He created a marvellous document for me, detailing how to use different colour combinations and fonts. He also did a makeover of the shield logo itself, creating it as a 3d shape, with more realistic details. I think he did great work.
The next step was to apply Anton’s work to my website. A good start makes for easy work. My main goal was to commercialize the look and feel of the website. The previous design was very personal, and as such had very personal appeal. The new design needed to appeal to a wider audience. The key was to simplify and to focus on the content. Readability  and usability became priorities. from there everything came together quite naturally. The colour set proposed by Anton helped a lot with sifting through the possibilities.
The trend of responsive websites is here to stay (for now). Thus I finally buckled under the pressure and adapted my website to be properly usable on touch devices and specifically small-screen phones like the Apple iPhones. This was not a huge thing to build, it meant changing maybe 20 lines of CSS.
I’m always tinkering on the front and the back. Something I needed for the new design was a mechanism of generating multiple images from each image I upload with an article. It took me a while in PHP, but after lots and lots of cursing and sweating  I managed to hack something together that spits out the original image and four different other formats. I even managed to make it easy to change or add the formats.
The final action on any new design for me is to go through the content. Usually this means deleting a lot of old irrelevant posts. Another thing to check is dead links. Over the years I’ve learned linking to outside content is a tricky business: usually the page disappears within 12 months. This time I deleted all the photo albums as well; moving all the content to Flickr. I got a bit tired of updating 800 pictures every time I decided to change the resolution of the images. On Flickr I now have all images in original resolution, so if I decide to integrate them in my website once more, I can do it based on the flexible API’s Flickr makes available.
After working on a corporate website for a while at my current employer, with little useful feedback or focus on quality, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up my enthusiasm for webdesign. Redoing my website gave me a little bit of that energy back. And makes sure that my website stays ready for the future.
We did the trip 1400 kilometre trip in three stages. We had a wonderful stopover in Nürnberg. The city was quite beautiful, and we enjoyed the great beers and sausages.
The second stage took us through the width of Austria, to the capital of Slovakis: Bratislava. Once again many a sight was seen. We went up to the castle and presidential palace and enjoyed lots of great local food.
The last leg was a three hour trip towards the east of the country, to Zuzana’s home town of Liptovský Hrádok. We had a barbecue and then went to a holiday park close by, in Vlachy. From there we went all tourist on the country. After seeing Trencin Castle, Belianska Cave, the Východná folklore festival, enjoying the beautiful nature, marvelling at the hostility towards tourism, and eating more great food, we went back home. This time in one go.]]>