Here we are. Winter is at its fullest and probably coldest. Whatever pictures you can take, the color is mostly lacking. Pictures of snow and ice, pictures of a bland sky or perhaps, if we are lucky a nice blue sky. All in all nice pictures, but still… I need some color sometimes. That’s why we have our photo albums,be it the paper ones or the digital ones.

Sometimes nature can give us a surprise. For this picture, my wife nearly kicked me out of bed in the early morning. She yelled at me: “Look in the sky Henk! This is unbelievable!”. So, I got out of bed with a sleepy head and looked out from the balcony in Kiev. And what I saw was  indeed unbelievable, I had never seen it before. This is what is called a “sun pillar”:

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Sun pillar or Light pillar in Kiev

The pillar of light is created by reflection on flat lying ice crystals in the air. It can only happen before sunrise or after sunset and in extreme cold. And since I was called out of bed, I found myself in my underwear by –27C on my balcony… (no comments…)

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Dragonfly on the borders of the Dnepr, Kiev

Summer colors. In summer some sources of color are really unexpected. And rather difficult to catch. With a P&S, the focus is of the matrix type, meaning that the background will always have the preferred focus. So I put my hand behind the insect, let the camera focus on the dragonfly, then remove the hand and shoot. I did need a few shots to get this one, not all dragonflies let me put my hand so close to them. With a DSLR there would have been no problem at all.

I’m a sucker for food. Good food that is. Preferably homemade.

I have lived in different countries: Holland, France, Ukraine, Canada, Martinique… and food has always been some kind of passion. I haven’t always had a camera with me, so some regions will have no pictures.

Homemade food for me is the best. Restaurants always have access to some kind of “secrets” that nobody should know about. Prepared food always makes me think of TV-dinners and already makes me feel strange thinking of them. When you start reading the labels it gets worse. With all the chemicals you are supposed to swallow without knowing about them, it’s a miracle the stomach is still capable of extracting nourishment out of that mixture.

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No, for me, homemade food (and drinks) are the best.

Let’s start with the outdoor food. Simple, cooked/grilled on a wood fire, nothing can beat that. At least outdoors. A simple piece of chicken or fish, some marinade, wood and that’s it.

Outdoor pleasures Tasty fish

But of course, if you live in Ukraine you also have to provide drinks with this. Two options: buy it or make it.

The bought stuff, ok. Wine, beer, lemonade all no problem. But the men will want something stronger like vodka. You can buy this too of course, often just as expensive as a bottle of lemonade, but it’s more interesting to make it yourself.

A few years back, in 2007, I lived in Ukraine. Never more than a few months at a time, law forbid! We were staying in a small village in the north east of Ukraine called Dubinka. Villages in Ukraine are worth visiting, although a full-time life there will seem to be very hard.

In Dubinka, there is only limited electricity, no running water and no gas. If you say no running water, that also means that you have to go to the “outhouse” whenever nature calls…

On one of the mornings we were there, at 6AM, nature called :-( On the first of May, you could expect to have decent temperatures, but this morning the weather gods decided to make a difference. After nature had been taken care of, I was so cold that going back to bed was really not an option. I had to get dressed and do something to get warm. So I went out for a walk, with my camera. The first thing I noticed when I got out the first time, was that it was misty. Perfect for some pictures.

Here is a view of the kitchen garden behind the house:

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The sun was just getting up, it was just after 6AM (didn’t I mention that already?) As a kitchen garden it doesn’t look much, but it feeds the family all year round, believe me.

Near the end of the garden there is a small pond, not very deep and not very large. Looking at the mist over the water, there is no doubt that this can give you nice pictures.

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People telling me that with a P&S camera you cannot take beautiful pictures and that you really need a DSLR to get decent pictures, well, they should be thinking again.

Last month we had 2 full moons during the month. This is a fairly common phenomenon, knowing that the moon has a cycle of 27.5 days and months are in general 30.5 days. A double full moon will so happen every 2.5 years in general. They can happen in any month, except February.

Here is a picture of the second full moon of December 2009. Also the last one, it occurred at 7:23PM here in Winnipeg.

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Now this does not look much like a picture, but taking shots of the full moon is not as simple as it looks.

If we let our cameras do the work, after all we bought them to be intelligent, then we end up with pictures that overexpose the moon. Leaving only a white dot or circle to contemplate.

Even if we try to use spot metering (good choice) then it’s close, but no cigar… The spot in our cameras is about 5 times the size of the full moon and so will still meter too much darkness.

Now let’s try something else. Set the camera to Manual and use a diaphragm of f/11. Set your ISO to 100, shutter speed to 1/100sec and focus. Sometimes the auto-focus will work, better to believe your own eyes here. Now, you will say: “I don’t have 100 ISO on my camera, it starts at 200.” Ok, then use ISO 200 and a shutter speed of 1/200. Same result.

Now press the shutter. Voila! You have a clear picture of the full moon. Now if you want to do the same with half moon or New moon, you will have to adjust your settings a bit but the principle remains the same.

The principle is called the Moony 11, and is a little brother of the old Sunny 16 rule.

Sh** ! Yesterday I went on a shoot and forgot to check the bracketing on my camera. Taking standard pictures (one at a time) I got only one third correctly exposed. And I only noticed it when uploading them to my computer. Bracketing is wonderful, except when it starts to mess up your exposure, like one correct (as metered) then one underexposed then one over exposed. At first I though my lens’s diaphragm got stuck in the cold. After all it was around –20C… Then checking the camera settings at home I found that the bracketing was still set to “on”.

Oh well, I suppose I will never forget this setting again (wishful thinking) Happily Lightroom can correct a lot of things, and I was shooting in RAW. Damage limited but the extra work was a little too much.