A Reflection on Chess – Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Mirror Images or Reflections

This is my entry in Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Mirror Images or Reflections.

A Reflection on Chess


Smoke Photography with a Vietnamese Dragon

Our travels often take us to countries with developing tourist infrastructures. There are few days when our guide fails to give us a tour in “a very special shop.” We generally see things we don’t need and really don’t want to carry for the next few weeks but we try to buy interesting things as long as they are small, light, and difficult to break.

One place we actually wanted to shop is Hội An in Vietnam. Even if you haven’t heard of it, if you are in Vietnam and have a couple extra days, you want to go there. You can have bespoke shoes, clothing, and purses of high quality made overnight and delivered to your hotel.

One of the shops our guide took us to made incense and burners. We found the little carved dragon incense burner there (we checked the bottom to make sure it wasn’t simply imported from China) and  small boxes of agarwood incense cones we saw being made on site.

Vietnamese Dragon Incense Burner

Once we got home, the dragon sat on a table along with similar items from other trips. We thought we’d never use it until we decided to try smoke photography as an experiment for a photo class we have been taking.

We placed the dragon in front of a sheet of black velvet we use as a small backdrop and ignited the incense. A speedlight was placed parallel to the backdrop and a tube (i.e., a snoot) was used to send the flash through the smoke without spilling onto the backdrop. The smoke rose in a smooth column for about six inches and then began to twist and turn in wild patterns as the column cooled and reacted to small air currents in the room. The photos below show the results. The color was created by setting the camera’s color correction to tungsten.

Hội An Dragon Smoke
Hội An Dragon Smoke


Hội An Dragon Smoke


Hội An Dragon Smoke

Halong Bay Horizon

This vista of Halong Bay, just over 100 miles northeast of Hanoi (Ha Noi), Vietnam, is but one of many possible views of the limestone pillars, islands, and islets covering more than 100,000 acres in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The photograph was taken from the deck of the small cruise ship Glory Legend in February, 2016.

Halong Bay

This photo is published in response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon.


Crystal Ball Poinsettia

Here is a poinsettia captured in a crystal ball. The original plant, which shows the typical red-colored bracts, is seen in the background.  This photograph was taken in the Glass House of Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia.

Crystal Ball Poinsettia

This image is in response to Cee’s Flower of the Day – December 9, 2016 – Poinsettia.



Small Worlds: Polar Panoramas of Green Spring Gardens

One of our favorite local places is Green Spring Gardens, a free public park in Alexandria, Virginia (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/). We had a sunny day and decided to try to take panorama shots of the main areas in the gardens. To make the panoramas a little more interesting, we decided to process them in polar form. We used the polar coordinates filter of Photoshop (Filter->Distort->Polar Coordinates) to create a circular image that seems to wrap around like a planet.  We have included four images we made from photos of the garden. After looking at the first, the photographic considerations and processing steps are described.

This is the main lawn of Green Spring Gardens. The visitors’ center is seen at about 10 o’clock and a gazebo (sometimes used for weddings) is seen at 2 o’clock.

Green Spring Gardens: Main Lawn

One key to a good polar panorama is to find an area where there is some symmetry, as was the case in the photo of the main lawn. We took this photo by standing in the center of the lawn and mounting the camera on a tripod in portrait mode with a wide angle lens. We needed to scan the 360 degree circle of the panorama through the viewfinder to make sure there was clear sky above the trees at every angle.  (A branch touching the top of the photo would ruin the panorama.)  We then rotated the camera to take pictures every 30 degrees, taking 12 shots. It is best to do this in manual mode including manual focus to maintain consistency between the shots.

(Even More Technical Note: In landscape mode, the field of view [FOV] for this camera  [APS-C 1.6x crop factor sensor] with the 10 mm focal length lens that we used is 97 degrees horizontal and 76 degrees vertical. Since the camera was tilted into portrait mode, the FOV angles were reversed, resulting in 76 degrees horizontal and 97 degrees vertical. This gave us more sky per image at the cost of less horizontal overlap between images.)

When we got home, we converted the photographs to JPEG using Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. We then generated a standard panorama using the File->Automate->Photomerge.. menu (this was in the CC version — for other versions do a web search for “Photoshop Panorama” to find the correct menu item) then adding the twelve files to the list in the dialog box and checking the “Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas Box.” After a moderate delay, a linear panorama was produced. The panorama showed the same objects on the far right and far left because of the overlapping field of view of the lens. We used the crop tool to remove the duplicated portion of the image.

Once the linear panorama had been created and cropped, the conversion to polar form could begin. Selecting Image->Image Size… from the menu opened the resize dialog box. In the dialog box, we set the Height and Width to the same value (the smaller of the two values because the image was now quite large). The result was a square image that was “stretched” in the vertical dimension.

Since Photoshop’s polar distortion wraps an image around the center of a photo at its top, the “ground” of the image needs to be at the top and the sky at the bottom. To do this, we selected the Image->Image Rotation->Flip Canvas Vertical menu items. At this point, we had a vertically-stretched image that was upside down.

The final step is the actual transformation. That’s when we finally used the Filter->Distort->Polar Coordinates command that was mentioned when this (rather long-winded) discussion began. After a wait time that depended on our processor speed, a (hopefully fantastic) polar panorama was displayed.

Here is another photo taken in the gardens while standing in the center of a small bridge crossing a stream. The bridge is in the center.

Green Spring Gardens: Sky View from Woodland Bridge

Another panorama was taken from the same bridge at exactly the same spot. The only difference between the photos is that the camera was pointed down to catch more of the bridge railing. Also, since we could not get clear sky at the top of the photos at that camera angle, we used the repeating patterns of the boards on the bridge as our “sky.” (The real sky is in the circle in the middle of the resulting image.) Since the boards were already at the bottom of the linear panorama, we simply omitted the Image->Image Rotation->Flip Canvas Vertical step in our processing. The stream flowing beneath the bridge can be seen through the railings on either side.

Green Spring Gardens: Railing View from Woodland Bridge

Here is a final image of the park taken while standing on another bridge. The bridge is the “butterfly” in the center of the photo. A careful examination will reveal the two ponds on either side of the bridge, as well as a small gazebo at around seven o’clock.

lake-panoramaGreen Spring Gardens: Sky View from Pond Bridge


Náfplio (also known as Navplion and Nauplia) is located on the Argolic Gulf about two hours drive time southwest of Athens, Greece, in the eastern Peloponnese. The older part of this seaport town is found on a peninsula, while the newer parts climb the surrounding hillside.

Old Town Náfplio at Night


The Palamidi Fortress overlooks the town and harbor from the hilltop, while the island fort Bourtza sits in the middle of the harbor.  Both forts were built by the Venetians.


Palamidi Fortress at Night
Bourtza Fort at Night

The apartment we rented was located at the rooftop level with excellent views of the old town and harbor, as well as spectacular views of sunset and sunrise. The previous three nighttime images and the following sunrise image were taken from this rooftop.

Sunrise over Náfplio

The old town is flat and very walkable, with many interesting shops and restaurants. Children enjoy playing in Constitution Square while their parents chat nearby.

Constitution Square in Old Town Náfplio

We visited the very old and historically important Metropolitan Church of Aghios Georgious, which was built in the early 1500s by the Venetians.

Exterior, Metropolitan Church of Aghios Georgious

A Greek Orthodox church since 1822, it was twice converted into a mosque during Turkish occupations.

Interior, Metropolitan Church of Aghios Georgious
Interior, Metropolitan Church of Aghios Georgious
Interior, Metropolitan Church of Aghios Georgious

One of the most popular shops in Náfplio is the Antica Gelateria di Roma, which serves authentic Italian gelato.  A non-stop line snakes through this shop, and satisfied patrons stand on the small square outside to enjoy this delicious treat.

Antica Gelateria di Roma

While the town itself is popular with tourists and a destination for cruise ships, it is centrally located for visiting several important ruins, including  Mycenae and Epidavros.