JHP Newsletter - 2005, No. 5, 23 July
Equipment: Sigma 120-300 vs. Canon 28-135
On my recent trip to Norway, I shot architectural subjects for the first time since switching to Canon. I was really disappointed by the performance of the Canon EF 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS USM because of the pincushion distortion, and tried to shoot as much as I could with the Sigma AF 120-300 f2.8 APO EX IF HSM which has no discernable pincushion or barrel distortion. So, I'm starting to like the Sigma 120-300 even more, and starting to really dislike the Canon 28-135, a lens that had been driving me nuts because it feels so chintzy.
Well, the Norway trip didn't go according to plan. The plan was to go on The Polar Bears and Wildlife of Spitsbergen photo trip for ten days to get great shots of polar bears, and then do a self-drive on the mainland for 16 days to get great shots of the fjords, but it turned into a nice vacation and I only got a few great images.
The vacation started when I arrived in Oslo the day before the photo-tour part of the trip. I arrived early to give me time to adjust to the jet lag, and also to make sure that my luggage made it to Norway before I boarded a ship and it wouldn't be able to catch up to me for the photo trip. Oslo, the largest city and also the capitol, is a wonderful place. The very light traffic and pedestrians strolling on the sidewalks provided a great environment to relax and unwind. I was also exposed to two things typically Norwegian. First, wireless credit card processing machines are common, and are particularly useful for dining at sidewalk cafes. When you're ready to pay, the waiter/waitress brings out a small handheld unit with a card reader, keypad, and printer, and the whole transaction is conducted at your table. Second, bathroom facilities are unlike any that I've ever seen before on land. Most bathrooms don't have a tub or shower stall, and instead have a curtain for a shower area, and the whole floor acts as a catch basin for the water. The doors have a lip to keep the water from running out of the bathroom, and some of the places provided a long-handled squeegee to help dry off the floor after showering.
The polar bear photo shoot by Joseph Van Os was a ship-based trip around the Svalbard Islands, of which Spitsbergen is the largest island in the archipelago. They're located between 77 and 80 degrees north, and provided a true arctic experience. It's the furthest north I've been (Deadhorse, AK, on Prudoe Bay is at about 70 degrees north), and the sun won't set there until August! The trip was a bust. While we saw 15 bears altogether, only one mother and two cubs provided some acceptable shots. Most bears were a mile or so away, and some were walking on bare brown earth making them unattractive subjects. I did get to see and shoot for the first time walruses in the wild, and we were able to get some good shots of bearded seals too. However, most of my interesting shots were of landscapes.
The self-drive part of the trip was hindered by generally bad weather for shooting. I picked up a car in Oslo, then headed north to Trondheim (To impress people, pronounce it "Trond-yem" like the locals.), then over to Bergen, down to Stavanger, then back to Oslo, with my time divided between checking out the cities and towns and the fjords and Alpine valleys.
Norway reminded me of several places that I've been before. It reminded me a lot of Switzerland with all of the small farms on the mountainsides and log buildings on stone foundations or short pillars. It reminded me of New Zealand because yield signs were much more common than stop signs. It's a perfect system where the main road doesn't have to stop, and traffic on the secondary roads usually only has to slow to check traffic and make the turn. If both roads had about the same amount of traffic, then a small roundabout was used, reminiscent of the UK. There were also lots of sheep, like in New Zealand, but they had bells on them like the cows in Switzerland. Probably the most unlikely place it reminded me of was South Africa. First, I was astonished to see the Spar grocery store chain! Second, the police use radar guns mounted on tripods while they stand outside their vehicles. Third, the electric trains used the same kind of upper wire supports.
The first big stop was Røros. The town is listed on Unesco's World Heritage List because of all the historic buildings associated with a copper smelting facility located there since the mid 17th century.
1780-84 Stone Church Steeple
A lot of the old churches have very elaborate wrought-iron hardware on the doors, and Dale church in Luster is one example. Many of the old churches had artwork and woodwork from the 17th century, and the style reminded me of work from Germany of that time period.
Picture Frame Detail
Water is everywhere in Norway, a land carved by glaciers. Fjords extend from the ocean, lakes and ponds fill depressions in the valleys and highlands, and streams and waterfalls are plentiful. While taking a sight-seeing cruise on two arms of Sognefjorden, the Arlandsfjorden and Nærøyfjorden ("narrow fjord"), from Flåm to Gudvangen, we stopped at a special waterfall. Legend, or the saga if you'd prefer the Norwegian expression, has it that one will be made younger by drinking the water that flows from the glacier above, and nowdays the falls are jokingly called "Viagra Falls."
Travel: Bay Area
I'll be attending a fine art digital print making workshop in the Bay Area in mid August, and will combine that with some shooting on the way. My route is still TBD, but I'll let you know about it in the next newsletter when I return.
James Hager Photography :: www.jameshagerphoto.com