Why am I posting images in 2012 of a vacation we took in 2008? What the hell took so long? Well, it was one of those personal projects that got shelved when other priorities in life or business took precedence. This project along with a couple others have always on my bucket list of things to do but the problem is my bucket has holes in it. I am glad I waited though; I have gotten considerably better/faster with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe CS series software. For me personally, I like the look of an image with strong contrast and vibrancy when shooting automobiles, landscapes or structures. It’s important to start with a good image and enhance it by using post processing software to bring it to the next level but there is a fine line between what looks artistic and intentional versus being heavy handed and overworked resulting in something that looks tortured.
In this Blog post I am going to talk about things from two perspectives, one as a vacationer providing miscellaneous details about the fun stuff we experienced and two as a photographer explaining the thought process, perspective or technical info about the images.
*** HDR Warning *** For those that are not fans of High Dynamic Range post processing I have used HDR and Tone Mapping and are annotated as such in the captions. Personally, I like the HDR or Tone Mapping look for some images but it’s not for everyone and not for every image.
THE VACATIONER: My family and I took our very first family vacation in Cancun, Mexico for 2 weeks in March/April of 2000. We booked it through Apple Vacations the first time, which is how we found the Crown Paradise Club, an “All Inclusive” family resort. The resort features 9 restaurants and snack bars, 4 pools, 6 bars, a min golf course, tennis courts, a children’s water park, a teen age water park and nightly shows 7 days a week. We have been back there many times and it suits us perfectly, sure there are resorts that feature more glitz and high end comforts but those lack the personal touch in my opinion; it’s pretty cool when you come back and staff members remember you by name. Bottom line, if you are bored here there is no helping you.
THE PHOTOGRPAHER: I wanted to capture different looks of the property at Crown Paradise, something a little edgy in some cases but I wanted to stay away from your typical brochure style stock images. Using my trusty Canon 5D body, Canon TC-80N3 Remote Timer/Controller and Manfrotto 190X tripod. I used the Sigma 15mm fisheye a lot because of the size of the property and the perspective fisheye lenses provide when shooting large scenes. I also used a Sigma 28mm prime, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L Series zoom but it all depended on what I was concentrating on or the look I was going for.
THE VACATIONER: The sunrises in Cancun are awesome if you are up early enough to watch the sun come up, if you stay up too late doing tequila shots you will probably sleep right through them and miss out. It’s well worth it to get up extra early and watch Cancun come alive in the morning, something about that morning ocean air does a body good. The resort puts out some continental breakfast treats and some much needed coffee at the Midway Stop snack bar in the main lobby for the early risers until the La Palapa Restaurant opens at 7am.
THE PHOTOGRPAHER: Maria and I planned on getting up extra early several mornings to capture to sunrises, I stayed back from the oceans edge enough as not to get my camera equipment wet but also to get the beach itself, the waters edge, the horizon and colors in the sky and clouds. The cool thing about shooting the waves on a beach is each shot is different because of the movement of the water. I don’t recommend getting too close though, waves come in real quick and are deceiving; they’ll take you by surprise and salt water will ruin your equipment. Mother nature has a sick sense of humor sometimes. Since the sun doesn’t stay still and rises faster than you think, you have a limited amount of time before the light becomes too harsh; you lose details and rich colors in the sky. I meter on the horizon just as the sun pops up and adjust from there accordingly.
THE VACATIONER: Going downtown for shopping, nightlife or themed restaurants is an absolute must if for nothing else just to experience the hard-core public bus ride that takes you there. Be advised, if you are the last to get on the bus, immediately after you pay your fare, the driver nails the gas and you are off so make sure you have a seat picked. We have a blast on those busses, you’ll have to see for yourself but just remember you’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Our two favorite places to go is Plaza Forum Mall which has The Hard Rock Café-Cancun, Rainforest Café and Carlos and Charlie’s, the mall is open air and sits right on the beach. They even have a breezeway bar to relax in while you wait for your wife in the shops. The La Isla Mall is also open air; it’s full of your typical shiny, ultra-trendy and expensive touristy stuff. The vendors will haggle a little but not much, heck they wanted to charge me for taking pictures.
THE PHOTOGRPAHER: You could make a whole Blog post about the interesting structures and scenes in the downtown area if you wanted to and I may very well do just that next time we go down. The afternoon we went down was rainy and heavy clouds so we didn’t walk the streets much and the camera stayed in the bag.
THE VACATIONER: If you choose Cancun, Playa, Del Carmen or Cozumel as a vacation spot, one thing you really need to see is the Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico. The Kukulkan Pyramid also known as “El Castillo” (the castle) was voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and was officially elected on 7-7-2007. We highly recommend Cancun Valet as we used them for both our airport transfers and private van tour which is a lot better than the typical 90 passenger bus stuffing you’ll get with a big tour bus. We paid for a private tour guide in the park but having our own driver was cool because he took us where other tourists weren’t. Each time we have come here, we’ve climbed the stair-stepped profile to the top platform and I am not crazy about height. I am glad we did because I have learned you cannot climb to the top anymore due to vandalism, not sure if it’s been reopened to climb up anymore or not. Bring water and comfortable shoes, it’s hot and you are on your feet for a while. On the way back to the resort, our driver took us through a little Colonial Town of Valladolid, Mexico; the cool thing about this town was it has not been redesigned for tourists and kept true to it’s own.
THE PHOTOGRPAHER: Being the second most visited archeological site in Mexico, there are literally 100’s of 1000’s of pictures taken of this property so it’s a challenge to shoot the same subject that everyone else has but create an image that no one has seen before. You could start by changing the perspective of the subject by using different angles or create something with post processing to make it yours but no matter how you do it make the image stand out so it impacts the viewer. I used HDR post processing in several of these images to make them unique. The cool thing was, this particular day had real puffy, dark under-sided clouds, with light leaking out every so often that provided something extra to the images. I mainly metered off the structures but was careful to keep detail in the clouds as well but had HDR in mind the whole way. I did not want to oversaturate the colors too much as done in your typical HDR Tone Mapping nor did I want the glows and halos, I wanted a result that is unmistakably HDR but toned down just a bit on overall contrast. *NOTE*: Be prepared to pay a permit fee for taking still or videos, it was less than $10 USD so no big deal really, just something to keep in mind.
THE VACATIONER: After a long day visiting Chichen Itza and traveling back and forth, we got back to the Crown Paradise Club in time for supper and a couple tasty adult beverages. Not sure if it was the Cervesa Corona and tequila or not but I still had a lot of energy so we spent some relaxing time late at night near the infinity pool and down on the beach, enjoying the property at night. There wasn’t a soul around outside but you could hear them enjoying themselves in the lobby bar, music playing on one side, the other side you could hear the calmer ocean waves hitting the beach. I just stood there for a few minutes thinking how lucky I was to be there.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Using my Canon TC-80N3 Remote Timer/Controller and Manfrotto 190X tripod, I went to a few locations I had previously scouted and took some long exposure night shots. The cool thing about long exposures at night unexpected treasures being colors or clouds that are hidden from the night skies not seen with the naked eye. Another thing you’ll notice when shooting long exposures are the starring effects you’ll pull in from lights sometimes, they are directly effected by the length of time you hold your shutter open so if you don’t want them as profound, reduce the amount of time you hold the shutter open. In post processing, I chose to create a few HDR like presets in Lightroom to a single image that concentrates on clarity, saturation, blacks and whites etc. I found I like doing this in Lightroom in RAW a lot better than a bracketed shot in CS5 for this application, I had more creative control over the effect in some cases and enjoyed the overall look. The intent was to create something that was closer to a photorealistic effect verses the post atomic exaggerated saturation and contrast look. When I exported into CS5, I created a layer and used a high pass filter in overlay for sharpening.
VACATIONER: Weather seemed to be the theme today as it was the past few days. It remind us of our 2005 vacation when we were slammed by the largest CAT 5 hurricane ever to take place in the Atlantic basin, Hurricane Wilma. We talked about the experience we had spending 6 days in a shelter and how helpful and attentive the Crown Paradise Staff was during that experience. Although we were not in any danger of that during this trip, seeing dark clouds and angry seas certainly reminded us of it. As fast as the little storm cells moved in, they moved out just as quickly and we were met again with the sunshine we came for. Nobody seemed to be affected by it though, I didn’t notice anyone running and ducking for cover, people just carried on about their day.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Clouds are natures best for of diffusers and reflectors of light, in one area it could be dark or shaded and the next bright or controlled; use it to your advantage. I kept my bag and a beach towel handy to protect my equipment from the rain when it came but I wasn’t about to let a little weather stop me. I noticed the rains were in relatively thin sheets, sun in front of me and behind the ribbons of the storm cells. At first I metered off the bright part of the scene and then back the exposure off a 1/3rd to get some details of the rain but what I found worked the best for me was to use a Cokin .6 Gradient Filter which allowed me to expose the sunny part of the scene properly and enhanced the details of the clouds at the same time.
VACATIONER: Of all the years we have vacationed in Cancun, we always see something new and have fun in different ways. When we leave we always think of ways to make the trip better and see something new the next trip. There is always a feeling of sadness as time grows short and even though it feels good to be home, we always experience of feeling of homesickness after vacation is over. From our first trip in 2000, to living through the devastation of Mother Nature’s wrath being Hurricane Wilma that destroyed our piece of paradise then coming back seeing it all rebuilt and restored; Yeah, Crown Paradise Club and Cancun, Mexico is a very special place to us and we miss it all the time.
PHOTOGRAPHER: On the last morning of vacation, I got up early one last time to get a sunrise shot before I packed up the equipment for the trip home. Using my Cokin .6 Gradient and red filter, I headed down to the beach. The gradient filter was used to tone down the sky enough for me to meter off the beach, boosting the blacks, vibrance and high pass is all I did to these images. The red filter is 100% fantasy using it like this and is not realistic but I like the result for what it is, I slid the filter halfway down the holder to manipulate the color of the sky leaving a natural color to the balcony; high pass was used for sharpening.
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