Sunday, September 29, 2013

Looking for treasure - Part 1

            As promised in my last post, this week I went in search of Sofia's forgotten architectural treasures. I started at Macedonia square and immediately found something interesting.

1/60s  f/4 at ISO640

               I am fascinated by old doors, and I like taking pictures of them wherever I go. There is always something beautiful and different in every one of them. This one has the Cyrillic letters "Г"(G) and "Х"(H) in the bars protecting the windows, meaning that those were the initials of the person for whom this house was built in the beginning of the 20th century.

1/80s  f/5.6 at ISO400
            I like passing by this house a lot, but sadly it has received some new additions with time. A concrete balcony and a satellite dish...Leading me to concentrate more on the street number than the house itself.

1/125s  f/4 at ISO400
            On the other side of the street I found this one peaking through the curtain of leaves.

1/160s  f/5.6 at ISO400
            Further down the street I saw this old beauty, and I just fell in love with the attic window and its wooden decorations. It was difficult to find a good point of view because of the fence in front of the house, luckily the Fuji x100s has a small lens...

1/60s  f/4 at ISO400
                                In front of another entrance - the letters "В"(V) and "Ч"(CH).

1/60s  f/4 at ISO640
1/80s  f/5.6 at ISO400
           Solunska str. has many beautiful buildings, but I think that these columns are it's most well kept secret. If you are just walking on the street without looking up you will never see it. I can't remember how many times in  I've crossed this street in my life, and I think I saw those columns only 4-5 years ago.

1/30s  f/2.8 at ISO1000
            I found another interesting door and while I was taking this picture, an old guy came out of the building and asked me if I wanted to buy the house! "1000 leva (500Euro) deposit and we can talk about sale" he said. I replied that I would absolutely love to buy it and restore it, but sadly I am missing a few millions to invest in it...

1/60s  f/1.8 at ISO1000
1/60s  f/4 at ISO1250
          This workshop was in the basement of the building, quiet 50's music and a soft warm light was coming out of the small window at street level.

1/125s  f/4 at ISO800
1/125s  f/4 at ISO640
         Squeezed by two socialist style apartment blocks and surrounded by glass, steel and a bunch of shops, it's  unclear how long this house is going to last...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A short walk

             First on the list for my walk this morning was the building of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Build in the 1920's and designed by prominent Bulgarian architect Nikola Lazarov.

1/250s  f/16 at ISO250
                It was build on the site of the former Christian and Jewish cemetery, which was moved to the Orlandovtzi cemetery before the construction began. In the beginning of the 20th century the building was playing host to the District Court and later tо the Court of Auditors. After 1944, the Ministry of Agriculture was moved there. It's one of my favourite buildings in Sofia, sadly it is mostly obscured by trees and you cannot see the whole building.

1/60s  f/4 at ISO320
              An old booth that used to sell magazines and newspapers more than 20 years ago.

1/250s  f/11 at ISO320
             Continuing on Alabin street you can see the contrast between this gorgeous building from the early 20th century and the dull apartment building next to it with an advertisement for a company that probably disappeared long ago, but nobody bothered to remove it.

1/250s  f/16 at ISO320
One of the lions in front of the Palace of Justice standing guard and looking towards the Saint Sunday church.

1/500s  f/16 at ISO200

      The Palace of Justice itself, a very imposing building that you cannot miss in the center of Sofia. The first design that was chosen was again of architect Nikola Lazarov, but after the Balkan War, it was decided that the priorities for the nation have changed, and the current project was not to be realized. Instead they chose architect Pencho Koychev, who was later fired and retired.

1/125s  f/4 at ISO500
I met this nice lady on the other side of the street in front of the Palace of Justice. She was surrounded by more than 20 pigeons who were eating seeds of her lap. In a way she reminded me of the old lady in Central Park from Home Alone 2.  
1/125s  f/8 at ISO500
The hands of a statue in front of the City Art Gallery, I thought that a forced perspective will be more interesting than just a picture of the statue itself. You can see that the color  of the tip of her finger is different because of the many kids, and probably adults that have expressed the desire to hold on to it.
1/160s  f/8 at ISO200
         I am not sure if this statue represents a historical figure or just the author's vision, but I think it's supposed to be somebody important since it's holding the globus-cruciger (symbolises Christ's (the cross) dominion over the world (the orb), literally held in the dominion of an earthly ruler). Most emperors, tzars and kings had one.
1/500s  f/8 at ISO200
        This one I remember from my childhood, growing up near the City Garden where those statues are. My grandma used to tell me that those statues represent peasants in the early 20th century and their reaction when they first saw an airplane. 
1/250s  f/11 at ISO200

1/1000s  f/2 at ISO 200 with a 3 stop ND filter

   Next time I will visit the small backstreets of Sofia in search of forgotten architectural treasures...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Lovely Morning

       I had to drop some documents in the center one morning and I jumped at the opportunity to take some more pictures and continue with my exploration of Sofia. After you get out of the metro on Serdika Station you end up before the Saint Sunday church.

1/250s  f/11 at ISO400
It used to be called Saint King, but after it was blown up by the communists before WWII and its reconstruction was finished it was renamed to Saint Sunday.

1/125s  f/5.6 at ISO400

Passing through one of the side streets behind the Saint Sunday church, I found a dragon on a column! Guess where? On the entrance of another church!

1/500s  f/8 at ISO400
 Sofia's center is a mix of all kinds of architecture and I particularly like the statues carrying the weight of huge decorated balconies on their shoulders. This building has been renovated a few years ago so it's in pretty good condition. Sadly there are many others that are falling apart because the owners of the apartments in the buildings don't have the funds to maintain them, or because they are waiting for it to fall apart so they can demolish it later.

1/125s  f/16 at ISO200
The building of my old middle school, the 127th school. One of the oldest if not the oldest school in Sofia.

1/250s  f/11 at ISO200
The right light can make even the most greyish and neglected buildings look pretty. I am not sure where this kind of design originates but Sofia's center is full of apartment blocks like these.

1/160s  f/11 at ISO200
The colors on the back of this building were a nice refreshment to the greyish monotone of that part of the city, and I don't think that there is another one like it in Sofia.

1/250s  f/11 at ISO200
                    Memories from the socialist years. Smiling and looking towards a bright future.

1/320s  f/11 at ISO200

I loved the light so much this morning but sadly I had to cut it short because it was time for work...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rekindled Fire

        In the year before I found the x100s, I barely took my camera out of the house. Photography was starting to take the back seat, and I really hated that. Somewhere between switching between a few jobs I lost my desire to just get out there and take pictures. I would remember with fond nostanglia when I was walking on the street and my eyes kept on framing different shots. Taking pictures is one of the great joys in my life and I wasn't ready to give it up because of extenuating circumstances. If changing that would take selling all of my lenses then so be it.
        A month later during the first time I got out for a walk in the center with the Fuji, my eyes started darting again, looking for the elusive frame, something nobody else will see. I was starting to feel it again, my love and passion for photography  was back. Now lets see where its going to take me...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

48 Hours with the x100s - Part 2

              Next on the list was a nice 6pm walk in the center of Sofia, and believe it or not my first try at actually taking some pictures of the city I live in. For me Sofia is a very beautiful city, it has all kinds of combinations of architecture, ranging from 4th century churches to classic early 20th century houses to the communist style apartment buildings and monstrosities. The thought of carrying a bunch of lenses and a honking 5kg tripod was a bit offputting, but that is going to change now...

1/125s  f/16 at ISO200
The building of the National Theatre is one of the most beautiful in Sofia, and a trip around the center of the city is never complete without a visit to the City Garden and the Theatre as its centerpiece.

   1/60s  f/4 at ISO200
         A roman tablet embeded into the wall of the Archeological Museum.

"Attention Garage!" 1/125s  f/2.8 at ISO200
Most of Sofia's center is covered with layers of graffiti, and it has become the natural background of many streets. This for example is the entrance of an appartment building in one of the most central areas of the city, not a back alley toilet.
1/30s  f/2.8 at ISO500
1/125s  f/2.8 at ISO800
Solunska str. has a lot of second hand book sellers and this one thought he can advertise the qualities of a  "special" mineral water that you can buy only from him. It's a street that connects a lot of big boulevards in Sofia, and it has it's hidden gems. When people are walking in a hurry from point A to B, they never think to look up at the buildings. Many of them have very different third floors, with special ornaments and designs, which I will explore and share with you in the future.

1/250s  f/5.6 at ISO800

I finished my walk by catching the sunset at "Independence" square and a look from the Saint "Petka" chapel  towards the National Assembly.

1/125s  f/16 at ISO400

48 Hours with the x100s - Part 1

            On my way to the farewell party of a friend of mine I stopped by an antique bookshop, where they have piles and piles of books, but its dead quiet, and incredibly tight. I didn't want for the owner of the shop to know that I am taking a picture, and the x100s was there to help me. I would never have taken my DSLR there, and the loud "CLICK" in that bookshop would have sounded like an explosion.

1/100s  f/2.8 at ISO400

It was already 8pm outside so there were a lot of people going through the underpass, and that was another opportunity to try out some low speed handheld shots of the crowds.

1/4s  f/8 at ISO800

There was another "guy" who was looking at the passing people with interest, but he was probably hoping for some food or a good scratch behind the ears.

1/15s  f/2.8 at ISO800

At the party I heard that there going to be fireworks, and I started thinking about the tripod that was sitting at home. But hey, maybe the Fuji is going to surprise me again and deliver some decent shots, after all...why not? It's handheld capabilities have been something that I was quite impressed with so far...

1/15s  f/2.8 at ISO1000
The next day I met with some friends at the Mall. They had their little daughter with them, and as all other kids she loves going to the rides, and since we were there anyway I decided to take some shots (handheld again). This one was my favourite.

1.3s  f/16 at ISO250
to be continued....

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Impressions

I haven't had a lot of time to take pictures since I got the camera a week ago, because I am pretty busy at work, but here the x100s has given me the ability to take pictures of things that I usually walk by since my huge backpack was always at home during the week.

1/30s  f/2.8 at ISO200

I took this one on the way out of the Mall. 1/250s  f/11 at ISO400

One of the many great things about this camera is that I can shoot handheld with it at speeds that before when I was using my DSLR I would have considered impossible. I am still going to use a tripod on occasion but its great to know that you have the ability to lower the shutter speed if you need to.

On my way to the metro station. 1/15s  f/2  at ISO400
More to come soon...

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Billingham Hadley Pro

        I've been a long time user of the Lowepro camera bags, I had a total of 2 backpacks and a shoulder bag. They are pretty durable, although their weather cover is a bit flimsy, and once wet...its very wet. But let's be honest they carried whatever I put in them, and my Flipside 400 AW has been with me all over the world filled with a minimum of 12 kg of camera gear. After I started selling my lenses, and my D700 had taken it's place on the shelf next to my Nikon N90s, I no longer needed a big backpack. Google has been by my side helping me with what decisions to make from the very beginning. The search ended when I came upon a camera bag company from England, named Billingham. For one or another reason (price and availability in BG) I had never heard of them before. I was amazed to find out that there were people out there that had one of those bags for over 20 years, and they were still doing the job. Tradition, high quality, great design, real leather and waterproof canvas/fibernyte and a huge amount of satisfied customers all over the world - my next bag was going to be from Billingham.

Picture: Kai Sheng -

        The next question was which one? They have a huge variety of shoulder bags, and for a long period of time I had my heart set on the Hadley Small. Why would I need something bigger? My x100s was so small, and I wanted to be free from all that weight that I carried with me in the past. But literally in the last possible moment before I ordered it from amazon, I decided to get the Hadley Pro, a little bigger + a handle on the top. When it finally arrived I didn't regret my decision, the Hadley Small..would have been too "small", ironic eh? And after all you are paying quite a lot for one of  those bags, you better be able to use it for a longer period of time, and not for just around your city but for travelling as well.
        Speaking about money, we come to the price tag, and it is a shocker for many, at 300$ that's quite a substantial sum of money for an accessory, luckily I funded it's purchase from the sale of my lenses. The combined price tag of all my Lowepro bags is well over 400$, so is it that much really? But anyway you rationalize it, the reason you buy it is because you love it, and you can't put a price on that.

The x100s

       You can shoot in different frame sizes, from 3:2 to 16:9 and 1:1; Then you have "advanced filter" - toy camera (shaded borders and a greenish haze), miniature (top and bottom blur), pop color, high and low key a bunch of partial colors and some more that I don't intend to use. You have the option of choosing signature fuji film colors - astia, velvia and provia. There is also a pretty good macro mode. A thing to mention is the video, in the many reviews I've read of this camera they say its ok-ish and nothing special. But from what I've seen so far at 60fps full HD, the image quality is awesome, and that's a tool that I will definitely explore more in the future.
Picture: Gary Cruz -

       Autofocus is pretty fast, even in the dark it will lock on, but you have to look for contrast in the frame, that's the easiest way to get a lock. And even if you can't do that..then you have the amazing Manual Focus. Equipped with focus peaking and split image, focusing manually is an absolute joy. Don't expect the battery to be as good as on your DSLR, the battery of my Nikon D700 can last for days, and up to 2500 frames or more. Fuji says that you will get around 330 frames out of this battery, but you can probably extend that if the camera is not in high performance mode, you don't use the screen as much and you are taking single images, not bursts. I've solved this problem by buying 2 additional third party batteries for 10$ each instead of paying Fuji 50$ for one. Thats true for other accessories as well, as the third party options are most of the times as good as their Fuji counterparts for a 1/4 of the price, check out JJC photo accessories.

Next stop, the camera bag.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Film meets Digital

           The Fujifilm x100s. First things first, it's gorgeous! The moment I saw it I knew that was the next camera I wanted to have. It looks like it came straight out of the 1960's, and that is no coincidence as its looks are based on the Leica M3. It has goregeous manual controls and an incredible Electronic View Finder (EVF) which gives you the ability to see how the picture looks before you fully press the shutter.
Picture: by the Author

Picture: by the Author

           It's price tag of around 1300$ or 1100£ is a lot for many people, given the fact that you have a fixed lens of 23mm (35mm Full Frame equivalent). But what a lens it is, incredibly sharp and at f/2 it works as a great portrait lens as well. I personally relish the opportunity to get back to the frame itself, rather than wondering about changing lenses, zooming and so on. Going from high quality zoom lenses to a fixed focal lenght lens is a challange, but a challange that I look forward to. I funded the purchase of the camera by selling two of my lenses, and I can say that I don't regret it for a second. I haven't felt the need for them since I got the x100s. Due to the fact that the camera itself is pretty rare, accessories are quite difficult to find, and I had to resort to ordering them from all the way to Bulgaria. The first thing I added to it was the leather strap from an old Zenit M12s film camera, which is one of the lightest and softest straps I've ever used. Next I added to additional batteries and a screen protector. I am still waiting for an adapter ring, lens hood and a leather case from the UK.
          As I mentioned earlier, switching from the familiar DSLR to a new system is a big thing, and you don't really know what to expect. For the first few days it was like starting to get into photography all over again, everything was foreign to me, I had no idea how to set things the way I wanted to, but after a while it all became more familiar and the camera started to do my biding...