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In November I went on a city break to Berlin with some old school friends. We only had a couple of days but managed to cram in culture and hedonism in fairly large measures – it seems Berlin is pretty good for both of these. First up is the gang outside Berlin Cathedral:

Next we have Brandenberg Gate. We just missed him, but new F1 world champ Sebastian Vettel had just had some kind of celebratory doughnut session right next door and had left his skid marks all over the place.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or Holocaust Memorial, is a striking and somber reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. It consists of a 19,000 square metre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. There is a museum underneath the memorial.

Next we headed to an exhibition about Hitler at the German Historic Museum. Here’s the equirectangular panorama. I made the planet from it using Mathmap. Reminiscent of the Great Court in the British Museum.


So that was Saturday afternoon. Saturday night we headed to Berghain, “quite possibly the current world capital of techno”. Highly recommended but strictly no cameras.

One of my photographic passions other than creating planets and panoramas is underwater photography. Unfortunately it’s a pricey game – underwater camera gear is very expensive, as are flights and dive trips to tropical destinations where all the good fish hang out. At the moment I use my trusty Canon G7 in an Ikelite housing, with Inon wide angle and macros lenses, and an Inon z240 strobe. This kit has served me very well so far and I’ve been pleased enough with the results to get a few shots printed on canvas. The setup does have its limitations though. The Ikelite housing is robust but it’s certainly not particularly ergonomic – it is essentially an expensive perspex box. And while the G7 is a great camera in bright conditions, like most compacts with small sensors, noise becomes a problem in the depths where light struggles to reach. Shutter delay is a problem too, as it is for all types of nature photography. Compacts do have their advantages underwater though – in particular, wet lenses that you can swap on or off mid-dive. The G7 also has a great macro capability which you can enhance further with an Inon macro lens. In the future I hope to purchase a housing for my Nikon D90, with an Aquatica or Hugyfot looking like good (although eye-wateringly expensive) options. Here are a few of my favourite shots from my recent trip to the Similan islands. You can see the rest of them on Flickr.

Unfortunately the conditions in the Similan islands weren’t great for taking panoramics or planets. Above land, photographers always talk of the need to rotate the camera around the nodal point in order to minimise parallax errors. Underwater in a strong current this can be a real challenge! Ok true, parallax errors are less of a problem here where there are rarely straight lines about, but if you end up 5 or 6 meters away from where you took the first shot of a pano, the end result might not be so good. That’s what happened here but luckily a bit of clone tool on the coral saved the day (click for a bigger version).

In addition to light currents, to make a good pano underwater you need a combination of a shallow dive with attractive topology, and good natural light. Unfortunately this combination was somewhat elusive so the colours in the pano above weren’t great, even though I shot RAW and fixed the white balance afterwards. The colours in these panos from Sipadan off the coast of Malaysian Borneo I took a few years ago came out much better (click for big).

The one above is taken as Barracuda point, the one below was on the West ridge. Both are about 6 photos. With an SLR and fisheye with a dome port I could probably have done them in 3.

Last year I went on a liveaboard trip around the southern Red sea. We were mostly diving around offshore reefs, looking for sharks, so we were quite deep in strong currents and there wasn’t much coral. So again, not great conditions for panos. One of the islands we dived around looking for hammerheads, Big Brother island, did have a lighthouse which provided a great backdrop for this rather desolate planet.

I’ve just returned from a fantastic two week trip to Thailand. The highlight was eight days diving from a liveaboard around the Similan Island (I’ll write a separate post about this later), but I spent some time before and afterwards relaxing in Phuket and Bangkok. The day after I arrived we headed to Pantip Plaza, a huge 5-storey IT shopping mall in the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok. I spent a few hours checking out prices and tapping on all the different netbooks. I was considering buying a new lens for my D90 but prices were much higher than I expected; I think you could get better deal from UK suppliers over the internet. The same could be said for netbooks, though to be honest I’m going to wait until specs are a little higher before buying one. So I came away with a 100 baht (£2) torch containing 16 super bright LEDs, and this planet.

Pantip Plaza

A few days later we caught an Air Asia flight down to Phuket and headed out for the dive trip. This was great fun, but exhausting, so on our return we spent a few days exploring Phuket’s beaches. I’m not sure what this one’s called, but it was just south of Kata Noi on the west coast, and there’s a wind turbine on the hill at the south end. The sun was hot and the sand was nice, but for snorkelling give this one a miss.

phuket_beach_planet_800_85

The next day we headed to Patong beach. Patong is the main tourist beach in Phuket and has everything that you probably want to avoid when you’re on holiday – 24 hour McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks etc.. you get the picture. Just as we parked up it started raining so we didn’t stay long, which was no bad thing. If you visit Phuket I’d recommend giving this one a miss. The planet came out pretty well though, I do like a nice thick atmosphere.

patong_planet_800_85

Later that evening I flew back to Bangkok for a night of partying in the RCA district. I got to the airport pretty bleary eyed the following morning and managed to take a few more shots before I caught my flight home. The new Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok is impressive; a mixture of glass, steel and and lots of curves make it well suited to a fisheye lens. I grabbed one more planet before getting on my plane; this one probably took longest to stitch and it’s not quite perfect but I’m glad I put the effort in as I think it came out pretty well. The abstract swirls do however bring memories of my hangover flooding back!

airport_planet_800_852

About 10 minutes drive from my house is Richmond Park, London’s largest royal park and home to about 650 free roaming deer (watch out though, the annual cull is about now..). At 2500 acres it really is pretty big; if you’re standing by Pen ponds as in this planet below, it’s easy to imagine you’ve escaped the big city and are somewhere in the English countryside.

pen ponds planet

Like the countryside, there are dangers here: while I was taking this shot, Darwin was lucky not to get a good pecking from a couple swans that were hissing at him very loudly. I’ve told him before, if you try and steal the bread that’s been thrown to them then you’re asking for trouble.. While trying to haul your dog away from angry swans with a camera and tripod in one arm is difficult, a more serious challenge is trying to catch him when he decides to have a go at deer herding. Unfortunately I wasn’t up to it, but as he’s a beagle and only has short legs, neither was he.

oak tree planet

Deeper into the park is my favourite tree. It’s an Oak tree that looks like it’s been struck by lightning. There’s a huge crack in it through which you can actually get inside the trunk, and then climb right to the top emerging amongst the branches. Despite his best efforts Darwin couldn’t manage the ascent, though he was more than happy to roll around in the leaves and have a chew on some of the fallen branches.

autumn planet

As we were on our way out, we encountered this golden sunset which turned everything in sight a fantastic red-brown. Sensing I was in no hurry to leave, Darwin just sat and watched it for a minute or two, so I took the opportunity to snap a quick autumnal planet. Given the weather today and the forecast, it could be the last of the season.

A few hundred metres south of St. Paul’s Cathedral is the Millennium footbridge, a pedestrian-only steel suspension bridge spanning the river Thames. Disaster struck a few days after it opened when it was found to wobble dangerously when too many people crossing at once. The introduction of some dampers solved this problem, and you can now cross it without fear of it self-destructing.

under_the_bridge_planet_800x779_85

From the middle of the bridge you get a great view of London: to the north there’s the huge dome of St. Paul’s, and to the south you have the chimney of the Tate Modern gallery. East you can see the Tower 42 and the Gherkin, and west you can just about make out Westminster.

millenium bridge planet

I had a load of problems stitching the second shot. Firstly I had a duplicate of one of the images which caused issues (I still don’t think it should have done); next the control point generator did a really bad job,  the nadir didn’t stitch very well, I forgot to set lens type to fisheye, and there were lots of people crossing when I took it. After setting the control points manually, getting rid of the duplicate and setting it to fisheye, things went ok. And when I HDR-ified it with Dynamic Photo, the anti-ghosting tools worked really well. I left the blurry jogger in though, I think it looks cool.

London is an expensive place to live. As a tourist though, there are a few perks, one of which is free entry into London’s museums. If you’re visiting I’d suggest checking out the British museum, and in particular the Great Court. It’s a quadrangle covered by a vast tessellated glass roof, surrounding the circular reading room, and is supposedly the largest covered square in Europe. It’s a very impressive space so don’t miss it. Luckily for me the British museum is about two minutes from where I work so I often short cut through when I’m grabbing my lunch. The other day I took my camera with me and ended up with one of the most bizarre planets so far.

great hall

Things get even stranger when you pitch it 180 degrees.

great hall inverted

Another place well worth a visit is the Natural History Museum. I’ve been there every year for the past couple of years for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and intend to go pretty soon for this year’s exhibition. There’s another impressive central hall here too; this one contains a large Diplodocus cast which I think would look pretty cool in a little planet.

The week after I got my new camera and Nodal Ninja tripod head, it rained. A lot. By thursday the clouds were still threatening, but I decided taking any more photos of my dog or fishtank wasn’t really justifying the rather large outlay I’d just made. So I took my gear and headed to a few places where I thought I could make some good panos. Being slightly unfamiliar with my camera, I accidentaly set it to shoot RAW only, so after about 5 planets, bracketed x 3, I’d filled up my SD card. As it turned out, the ‘memory card full’ message coincided with the heavens opening up, so I jumped on a train home to fired up Rawstudio, RawTherapee, Dynamic Photo HDR, and of course Hugin. Here’s some of what I came up with.

Hungerford Bridge planet

This is Hungerford bridge which spans the river Thames. After the footbridge was built in 2002, it was lit with fantastic, futuristic, blue lights on top of the pylons. I’ve got a real thing about blue lighting – I even took a soldering iron to my beloved Technics turntables to swap the red LEDs for blue ones. Anyway, I think this shot looks good with the warmth of orange lights, especially against the cold sky. I hope they put the blue ones back on sometime though.

St. Paul's planet

Next stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a little before rush hour so there weren’t too many people about, handy when you’re shooting HDR. Because I was pretty close up to it, you can’t see the huge dome which it’s famous for. I’ll have to get that another time from a different angle. I also missed out on visiting the Golden Gallery; only when I checked out the Wikipedia entry for Hugin did I realised what I’d missed. So two pretty good reasons to go back.