La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, Barcelona

La Pedrera. Barcelona, Catalunya, 2013
La Pedrera. Barcelona, Catalunya, 2013

Antoni Gaudí’s La Pedrera (officially, La Casa Milà) and La Casa Batlló on the elegant Passeig de Gràcia boulevard are probably the most visited buildings in Barcelona–after Sagrada Familia and the airport, of course. The question is how to photograph these places in a way that hasn’t been done already by millions of gawking tourists (and I are one!) with their iPhones, pro DSLRs, Brownies, Dianas, and Leicas.

The key is to pay attention to where your artist’s eye is leading you–and it will lead you if you let it! The good news is that each photographer will necessarily see these places differently because we are all distinct and different individuals. The hard part is listening to yourself.

Follow your instincts, don’t copy the tourist brochure images, and try to pay very close attention to what your eye is telling you.

La Casa Batlló #3. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #3. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #4. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #4. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #15. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #15. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #16. Barcelona, 2013
La Casa Batlló #16. Barcelona, 2013

Nikon D800 in low light

Cathedral Interior #5. Barcelona, 2013
Cathedral Interior #5. Barcelona, 2013

I bought this camera for the dynamic range and the resolution, but I find I am also loving this camera in low light. Matched with the 24-70 f/2.8 lens, this is a combination I find works well when I am indoors, can’t use a tripod, or whenever the lighting is a bit iffy. I have no problem pushing the ISO up to 3200 if necessary (as in the above image)…or just to the 400 to 800 range if I want faster shutter speeds during my hand-held daytime photo explorations.

Up to 800 ISO I don’t really notice the noise much if I expose properly, and at 3200 ISO a little noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw does the trick pretty well. Yes, you won’t get the full dynamic range of the camera at high ISOs, and you aren’t completely maximizing the D800’s clean, noise-free, image-making potential, but I’d rather get things sharp when that is what is called for.

This ability to push the ISO up is really handy when you least think about it–say, when it is daytime and you are walking the city streets or mountain trails with your camera literally in hand. Normally, they say that 1/focal length is a good formula for a shutter speed that will keep things reasonably sharp, assuming a stationary subject. That is, at least 1/70 of a second when at 70mm; 1/24 of a second at 24mm (round to the next fastest shutter speed on your dial). With the D800 I like to double that, and also take two or three shots, just to be sure I get one good image. That is where the higher ISO really helps–during the day you can easily get those shutter speeds if you have 800 ISO set. Of course, a lens with Vibration Reduction (VR) will make things even easier.

It is not just the Nikon D800 that can do this by the way. Most of the better digital cameras of this latest generation have good low light capability–even the crop sensor and mirrorless types.

Here are another couple of higher ISO images from the Barcelona Cathedral:

Cathedral Interior #6. Barcelona, 2013 (Metadata: f/4.5, 1/250, 27mm, ISO 3200)
Cathedral Interior #6. Barcelona, 2013 (Metadata: f/4.5, 1/250, 27mm, ISO 3200)
Cathedral Interior #7. Barcelona, 2013  (Metadata: f/8 for more depth of field, 1/15 but supported against the wall, 24mm, ISO 3200)
Cathedral Interior #7. Barcelona, 2013 (Metadata: f/8 for more depth of field, 1/15 but supported against the wall, 24mm, ISO 3200)

Montjuic, the torch tower & Olympic cauldron

Olympic Torch Sculpture #4. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Olympic Torch Sculpture #4. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013

I spent a good hour here, just after sunrise, playing with the form of the giant white Olympic torch, an abstract sculpture depicting an athlete holding a torch (actually a 446-foot tall telecommunications tower). It was built for the 1992 Olympic Games and is visible for miles around, planted as it is on the heights of Montjuic.The actual torch that held the Olympic flame is much smaller and just up the hill a bit from the big sculpture. You’ll find it stuck to the street side of the stadium and it looks something like this:

Olympic Cauldron. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Olympic Cauldron. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013

Now it is trivia time…If you remember the opening ceremonies of those Olympic Games, an archer shot a flaming arrow into the Olympic torch cauldron itself to light the flame–at least that is what it looked like on TV.

Here is the best information I could find on this incredible shot…In reality, the para-Olympic archer, Antonio Rebollo, shot slightly over the torch and extra gas was released at the same time, so the arrow apparently did light the Olympic flame, but only because it passed through a large cloud of gas above the cauldron. He was capable of hitting the torch itself–and it is said he did it in practice–but there was fear that he would damage the structure in some way (worst case: hit a gas line). Googling around, I could find no formal confirmation of this story–it would be nice to know the actual, official details. (There is, though, an official 1992 Olympic Games report I am trying to peruse for this info.)

In this YouTube video (5:46 run time) you can see for yourself the arrival of the runner, Herminio Menéndez, and Antonio’s famous William Tell imitation, albeit with a longbow rather than a crossbow. Fast forward to about 4:30 if you just want to see the shot.

Catalan literary giants

Salvador i Mercè. Barcelona, 2013
Salvador i Mercè. Barcelona, 2013

They were at least ten feet tall and drawn on the walls…near the intersection of the Diagonal and Carrer de Numància in Barcelona. There you will find Salvador Espriu, a Catalan poet who some say should have won the Nobel Prize for literature, and Mercè Rodoreda, a Catalan novelist, some say the best of the post-war years.

The graffiti is everywhere in Barcelona and much of it is most certainly art…and it often promotes Catalan culture and pride.

A study of cobblestone art (“adoquines”)

The French call it pave (think of the famous bike race Paris-Roubaix). We might say merely “bricks” or “cobblestones”.

It looks like I have the start of yet another photographic essay…here are five images of the very artistic adoquines you might find on the paths of Montjuic:

Adoquines #1. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #1. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #2. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #2. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #3. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #3. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #4. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #4. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #5. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Adoquines #5. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013

Montjuic, Barcelona

Montjuic, the wonderful hill that sits on the southwest edge of Barcelona, is another great sunrise or sunset destination for the photographer (take bus #150 from Plaza Espanya). There are great views to be had of the sea, the port of Barcelona, and of the city itself. The 17th century castle and the 1992 Olympic facilities (including the giant torch itself) are yet other interesting areas to explore.

Be sure to do some online investigation of the various excellent museums of Montjuic. In addition to the Poble Espanyol and the Fundación Joan Miró, I would especially recommend the vast MNAC, or Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, in the Palau Nacional building. To point you to a specific exhibit of interest to photogs, if you are in Barcelona anytime from now through May 25, 2014, don’t miss the Joan Colom photography exhibition here.

From the Montjuic vantage point, you could perhaps try creating something slightly artistic, like this:

Pier, Sea, and Cloud. From Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Pier, Sea, and Cloud. From Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013

Or, you could stick with more conventional panoramas, like this:

Port de Barcelona #3. From Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Port de Barcelona #3. From Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013

Parc del Fòrum, Barcelona

Accordian. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
Accordion. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013

This area along the Barcelona coast would be a great site for a photography workshop. There are all kinds of shapes, forms, textures, unusual architecture, tall buildings, weird benches, giant concrete anti-erosion cubes–and, of course, the sea. It would be interesting to see what a small class of, say, five or six would come up with shooting at the sunrise golden hour. There are plenty of subjects from strange abstracts to cityscapes to seascape panoramas.

[NOTE: As of July, 2014, I have seen signs that say that the Forum Park area is only open from 7:00a.m. to 10:p.m. daily. The gates are shut outside of those hours. This could affect your plans to be there at sunrise during the summer months. Also, during the summer, many special events and concerts can close some of the Forum area to access. Check at a tourist office before you go.]

The main Forum building and the surroundings were put together as part of the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures (which was not without controversy–see the link) and they are currently used for all kinds of cultural, musical, and theatrical events.

Perhaps the most iconic structure in this area is the huge solar panel (or “pergola“) right on the edge of the water, between the sailing school and where the luxury yachts are parked. Built by ISOFOTON, a global (60 countries) solar energy company, this monster structure contains 2,686 photovoltaic modules which give it a capacity of 443 kilowatts. That’s enough for just 40 families, so the effort is largly a symbolic gesture–albeit an important one–in terms of electricity production. For us photographers, though, it is its unusual overall form which attracts.

A few images from a morning at The Forum area of Barcelona…

Taking Refuge. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
Taking Refuge. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
Tu y Yo. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
Tu y Yo. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
Urban Textures. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
Urban Textures. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
The Princess Hotel. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013
The Princess Hotel. The Forum, Barcelona, 2013

Leading lines in Parc Güell

Casa Martí Trias i Domènech. Parc Güell, Barcelona, 2013
Casa Martí Trias i Domènech. Parc Güell, Barcelona, 2013

The bricks worked very nicely to set up some powerful leading lines to help pull you into this image. The low perspective magnified the effect.

This home is the Casa Martí Trias i Domènech, built in 1905 in Parc Güell, and is one of only two mansions actually constructed out of the 60 or so that were planned (the real estate market was pretty slow in this area in the early 1900s). The Park’s famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, wasn’t the designer of this particular house (Juli Batllevell was), but it fits in quite well thematically.

Casa Trias, then, is an example of what Gaudí envisioned to be a neighborhood of such residences on this hillside park.