Agnes Caruso Photography

Photography


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Cherry Blossom Festival – Washington DC

Cherry Blossom Festival last week was spectacular. The cold snap a week before did not seem to stop the flowers. The weather this spring though is very variable. Saturday was sunny but Sunday turned out to be overcast. While many photographers do not like bright sunlight for taking the pictures, in case of the cherry blossoms it is nice to have just a little sunlight. The contrast you can get between beautifully blue sky and white or lightly pink flowers does not have to be super sharp. Hiding under the trees when taking photos makes them lit up very gently, just like those pictures taken in 2009.
 

One unbelievable part of the Cherry Blossom Festival is the number of people coming. Everyone taking pictures with whatever tool they have, mobile phones, iPads, compact cameras, SLR cameras, or professional cameras. There were tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, the trick was to not bump into anyone or hit anyone with your gear.

 

As it was quite warm and calm, people were on the water enjoying the views, taking pictures and getting tangled up in blossoms.

The main question is: in how many ways can you photograph the blossoms and Washington landmarks, how many shapes do the trees have? I would say as many as there are people looking at them. Everyone will take different pictures and have a different point of view. Here are some of mine:
Cherry blossoms

Washington monument

There were not just cherry blossoms, there were also beautiful tulips and kids as well as adults hiding between them. There were also some magnolias still in bloom.

Tulips

 

Some people came all dressed up in beautiful outfits, kimonos, colorful dresses like the lady in a picture above. There was lots of color contrasting with the white and pink flowers present everywhere. Girls in white dresses, colorful dresses, boys in black suits. Everyone wanted to take a memorable image to take home.

Cherry Blossom Festival is a great time to spend outdoors with your family or friends. Just be prepared for crowds, relax and take it easy.

 

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World Cancer Day

Pink carpet of flowersToday was World Cancer Day. What is that all about? It is about a lot of things: people we knew and lost to cancer, those who survived the fight with the disease and raising number of people who are diagnosed with it. We can make it about the things most important to us, whatever they are: life, friendship, love, courage…

The first time cancer touched my life was still in primary school, one of our classmates got sick with bone cancer. He fought bravely but unfortunately died at the age of 11. This was a shock to us all, there was nobody there to help us cope with it, we just had to get over it or not on our own.  A few years later my Mum’s friend was loosing her son to a brain tumor over a couple of years. The sad part was there was no way to operate and other treatments were very limited. The young man was a gifted musician. Then my friend’s father suddenly got diagnosed completely by chance and very quickly lost his battle even without realizing what was happening. There was so much sadness and suffering. Those who were left behind were wandering if this could have been prevented, could have someone help to stop the disease. I think that we were all praying for a miracle.

I wanted to help and studied cancer for my degree, but the more I studied the less clear things were.It seemed like cancer was getting more complicated the more we discovered about it. Today we know a lot but in many cases we are still powerless to stop it doing the damage. There are so many factors that can cause cancer and the disease does not differentiate between young and old. It is often a brutal disease killing you slowly for years before it shows up and gives you visible trouble. In Australia and especially in Queensland, we are very well aware of dangers of skin cancer, so we cover up and put on sunscreen. I am still amazed how many people risk their health by sunbathing for hours on beaches around the world.

Susan

However, it was not skin cancer but breast cancer that attacked two of my friends with a very different outcomes. One beat the disease, while the other unfortunately died. Susan got diagnosed suddenly with an aggressive form of disease. Despite it, the initial treatment seemed to have worked, she was slowly recovering, started coming back to the gym and we were running together one more time. She felt optimistic despite the toll the treatment was taking on her. However, it did not last long, a sudden turn and she was not there anymore…

There are many more people who died of cancer, but we are now fighting back and more people have a chance to survive and live longer than ever before. Let’s fight it together and support those who get sick and those who care for those that are sick.

 

 

 


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My best images of 2015

I decided to look back at 2015 and try to pick a few favorite images. While doing that I realized that I am not sure which images should I be showing, those I find the most amazing or those which gathered the most response on various social media? So I decided to include a selection in a few categories. All of the images can be found on my Flickr site as I used BigHugeLabs to create the mosaics you see here. Their mosaic tool is easy to use and great fun.

Flickr Favorites of images taken in 2015:

The images were chosen based on number of views and number of favorites.

Flickr Explore, images posted in 2015:

This is a funny category, as the images are chosen by a computer algorithm, however, as you can see some are consistent with some of the other categories.

FineArtAmerica Favorites:

My Favorites:

This is the category, where picking the images is really hard to do. You tend to love all of your pictures or most of them. How to pick just a few? It was not easy.

There is a story behind everyone of those images you see here. Fog in Savannah was just a few minutes when it looked amazing. The three night images all taken with the same camera but only two of them on a tripod and I had a lot of time when shooting just one of them in St. Louis. Portraits shown here are all posed except the last. The little princess shot was just one of the candid moments.

This year, I traveled to some of the most amazing places last year and picking just 4 pictures was hard but decided on the four you see. Why? A sunrise hike to Delicate Arch and being lucky for some 2 minutes was priceless, Sunset at the Windows in Arches was a game of patience till the sun goes low and comes out from behind the clouds so the colors change. This is one of the images while the sun was still high and I took this image lying on the ground. My beautiful panoramic shot would not appear nicely in the mosaic so it is not shown here, but you can see it on my website or Flickr.  Bryce Canyon – a great place to visit, but poor weather can make your plans of taking pictures go out the window. Here is a moment of sunshine caught on the rocks just before it started drizzling.

I am fascinated by bees and this little one was, I think, the best capture this year. They are fast and unpredictable, but really beautiful. Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, MD, was my first. I like shooting action and this was yes, you can guess my first fast action set of pictures at the jousting arena. Then we come to the end of the year, autumn or fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year with colors and light being quite stunning. I picked the picture which showcases the gold color of the fall. Why? I like it but also I set out on a day trip to take some images of fall,, however, the weather decided that rain is the most appropriate thing in the fall. Therefore, when sun was poking through the golden leaves I was quick to take some pictures.

All this brings us to the end of the year and Christmas. The beautiful cards that we used to get at Christmas time long time ago always made me want to create an image as beautiful as they were. Not sure if I succeeded by your standards but I love this golden ball in the tree.

What is coming in the New Year? We will see. My camera is ready and already working hard this year. I hope to see more of you visiting my blog and connecting with me on Instagram, Flickr and Twitter this year. Have a great New Year!


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Adopting Windows 10 for a photography workflow

IMG_9094-Edit_pp-1Changes of computer platforms or even system upgrades can be daunting and I do not think that we are really feeling adventurous when our workflow is working. However, what to do when your process is not quite perfect or you have to make a change? Have many of you thought about upgrading to or changing to Windows 10? Probably not many. So I just want to show you a few tricks that seem to have worked for me and how I went about the change.

My existing workflow was working but getting a little tired and with two upgrades of the MacOS in short succession I was starting to get a little edgy with my once powerful MacBookPro. The time has come to do something to improve things. What were the factors that I took into account before making a decision how to go forward?

The most important point was what we all call a “pain point” so how much effort I am willing to put into the change. Do I really want to switch from a Mac, what are my needs going forward? Another obvious factor was value for money not just price. What would make the new computer or system valuable?

To start off, the new computer has to be able to do what I am already doing and have room to grow with my needs, and the system has to support all of the applications and tools I have and need or may need. Processing photos is not a simple task that any computer can do, at least not when you are dealing with large number of photos in RAW format. I knew I needed some serious power, so dual core and fast processor was critical. The next thing was RAM, which needs to be at least 8GB, so you can fly through the processing steps. When you browsing for actual computer make sure to look at the RAM and if it can be expanded if it comes with a lower number such as 4GB. A large hard drive is always good to have, but do not go crazy, remember – “value for money”, 1TB drives are pretty common, although 500GB are even more common. It is pretty common sense that you want to have a few USB ports, potentially some extension ports. One thing that seems to be getting out of style, but can still be needed is a DVD/CD drive. Yes, just in case you have some old fashioned disc copies of your software or images, it could be a critical part of your new gear. And finally, a graphics card. Yup, it needs to be good or your images are going to look like they need a lot of help and computer is still going to struggle if you are processing videos in particular. There are many choices, the type and version of the card makes a difference. The top card in 2015 is Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, followed by Nvidia GeForce  GTX 970 and AMD Radeon R9 290X. So here is your top three, but unless you are a video editor, play lots of games or a bit of a geek, it is not really going to help you much. My suggestion is read a bit more, and make a list of what your processing needs are, if you will be editing videos, it has to be a bit better than what you need for just images. Now if you thought I was finished on this topic, not yet. There is one critical issue, a backup drive! Yes, you need one and there is even more choice, My Book, My Cloud and variations on the theme from WD, SATA, Toshiba… and some more companies. I used both WD and SATA before, they both work fine, you can also back up to a cloud storage if you buy one of the Cloud Drives and use it to merge all your files from different sources. Choice of one over another is a personal and subjective decision, choose what you know if you are not sure. You may want to get some more in depth technical aspects of choosing an actual computer, then checkout ShutterBug, it is definitely a helpful resource.

IMG_8510-Edit_pp-6So now that we reviewed the needs, what can we buy? A Mac or Windows, so far we are equal, computers with both systems are technically pretty even. Yes, I remember Vista and Windows 8 and a few other things. However, Mac was not that good to me, system upgrade disabled some of my applications permanently and I had to change the photo processing workflow, so I think that we are still equal. The obvious thought was to toss a coin and decide, but obviously that is not the best way to solve the problem. Microsoft just raced through Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and then Windows 10 was coming. Should I switch to Windows 8? The answer was no, by the time I get settled it will be outdated. The new version, Windows 10, was just about to be released so I decided to wait till it comes out.

As you can figure out, I decided that Windows 10 offers a better value for money for me, allows me to run all the applications I use currently and I can establish a workflow that will do what I want and how I want. I am sure I can hear a few “Oh boy! is that going to even work? She must be a geek!”

I am not a geek but know enough about computers to feel comfortable jumping in a little ahead of the curve. So what software do I actually use on Windows 10? Adobe Lightroom is pretty much my workhorse, I use Portrait Studio for some of the work, Hugin – the perfect panorama tool, now supports Windows (Hurray!), Canon camera software (not super useful but has occasional use) and I also decided to test and run Corel PaintShop Pro X8. I know Adobe Photoshop, I used it quite a lot and I still have not made a decision if I want to keep using it or not. In meantime I wanted something close to it that I can have on my desktop, so Corel fits perfectly. I also create books on Blurb and there are two applications for book editing, that I am going to compare, but both work just fine so far. Again InDesign from Adobe is great and would be my choice for professional editing, but I find it a little tiresome when I have to return back to it after a break.

An even more critical question you may have is: how did the file transfer work, all the settings especially in Lightroom supporting processing, export etc.? The transfer and re-establishment of the same version (can call it a clone) took me about an hour. Now my laptop can rest and get upgraded to the newest OS and I can do real and fast work on Windows 10.

How does Windows 10 feel? You get pretty much the features of Windows 7 with the start menu and some of the Windows 8 features such as tiles still available. Touchscreen is a huge advantage, even if you think you may not use it, it comes in handy and on a laptop is it critical, on a desktop it is nice to have it. As to the critical settings menus etc those got moved a bit around so it does take a little time to find what you need. I just had an interesting conversation at a Micro Center store about Windows 10 and how some people feel that it is not ready for prime time. It can definitely do what my old laptop was capable of doing, it feels better than Windows 7 and it is faster. All the standard Office applications can be put on or you can use a cloud solution, there are many choices. New Microsoft Office 2016 is pretty much the same as its previous versions, there are a few new features which I have not yet explored. When it comes to Apps, on a desktop just use online services, Apps are not so useful.

WP_20151031_005 (2)And finally the all important question, how long did the transition take? How long before all was re-established, your settings for online services – Flickr, SmugMug, WordPress etc.? I would say a day, if you want to be conservative, set aside 2 days and take it easy. If you subscribe to Xmarks you can bring in all your bookmarks right across from various platforms and browsers, so that saves you time too. The hardest task you will face is actual computer selection and that is again “VALUE FOR MONEY”, I suggest making a list of must haves and would like to have. Then head to some of the stores to see what is out there. Best place to look in my opinion is B&H store, but as not everyone can get to the NY superstore, you can chat with helpful fellows at B&H online or visit some local stores to get a look at Windows 10. Some of the Microsoft store staff is really good and can take you for a nice tour of the system and they also run classes in case you need them.

In conclusion, it works! If you are still hesitant, reach out to me and I can try and answer your questions or give you some suggestions. Take it easy grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy!


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Renaissance Fair

Soon after the Scottish Games I went to my first Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, Maryland. The Festival is amazing, it allows you to experience something really different from your regular everyday life. As soon as you pass through the gates you become a part of the feast in Revel Grove, a village in Oxfordshire, England. Why? Because, this year’s story line was the Royal visit by King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon in Revel Grove. You can see the King, Queen, the royal court and foreign guests. They are definitely enjoying themselves.

The weekend of 19th and 20th of September was a Pirate weekend, and there were many pirates of all sizes, shapes and forms.

However, pirates did not completely take over. There was lots of entertainment, with The Sirens, The O’Danny Girls, Cu Dubh to name a few. And music was not the only thing you can enjoy. There were short versions of Shakespeare’s plays, acrobats, juggling, jousting and many other attractions.

Shakespeare would have been proud watching those short versions at the Globe Theater.

A lot of action and entertainment was at The Joust Arena with the Return of the Black Knight Joust. Horses and knights were all action on this hot day in a very dusty arena.

In all the excitement there were moments just worth seeing, here are a few of my favorite moments from the festival.

I enjoyed the time at the Renaissance Festival and if yo have not been to one, go and have fun!  Huzzah!


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Virginia Scottish Games – 2015

Labor Day weekend was the time to go and seen what the Scottish are up to in Virginia. And there was plenty to see at The Plains: athletics, highland dancing, bag pipe bands, clan parade, sheep dog demonstrations and much more.

This was my second time at the games and I enjoyed every moment of them. One of the highlights in my eyes was fencing demonstration from the Virginia Academy of Fencing. As you see, starting early is a key to become a good fencer.

However, you get a bit more fun when you can actually pick up the sword.

Learning to defend yourself can actually take some time. I should know, used to fence a little some time ago. If you never tried it, go for it. Fencing is a cool sport, can leave you with some bruises but it will teach you some valuable lessons. There were also other opportunities to explore sword fighting and get a personal introduction.

Central stage of the games were the athletics events: stone toss, heavy weight toss, hammer throw, caber toss, sheaf toss and weight over bar. The caber toss in amateur competition ended in a tie and had to be broken by attempting to toss the professional caber! It was definitely fun to watch. It takes three men to get this caber upright and only one guy to toss it.

The athletics field became for some time a central stage for the Clan Parade. Capturing the marching clans was an interesting task, as you wanted not to be stepped on while sitting on the grass. Here is a mosaic composed from the parade and a few special shots that seem to warm the heart.

The parade was closed by the pipe bands marching down the center as well. One of the bands turned away from me but the second was heading right for me! So a quick scramble to get away.

As it turned out a photographer needs to watch out or the band is going to walk right over you!

Pipe bands sounded great and created a great atmosphere. Although not everybody agreed with that statement!

It has been very hot over the weekend so being able to rest a little was a good thing. One place where you could rest was under a big tree to see the sheep dog demonstrations. The sheep and dogs did not seem to mind the weather as much as people did. There was plenty of action to watch with amazing explanations as to what is really happening.

If you were tired and thirsty, there was plenty of drinks to enjoy, great lemonade, beer and you could always pick up some tea pots and make your own. Sit back and relax.

Finally, there were some pretty spectacular participants and some famous people, OK not really people, but still famous cut-outs.

I had a great time and hope to see you next year!


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Arches National Park

A long drive from Denver Colorado across the Rockies brought us to Moab, a gateway to Arches National Park. This area is very popular with tourists so make sure you book your accommodation well in advance. There is a lot to see in Arches, including a visitor centre with exhibition on geology of the area. It explains how the arches were and are being formed. You can drive yourself around the park or use a shuttle. In peak season you may find that parking will be a problem. However, driving does allow you to stop whenever you want in many of the pull over spots, overlooks and parking areas.

While the national park is great to visit at any time of the day, sunrise and sunset are the most amazing times provided there are not too many clouds. You will be able to see some areas best at sunrise: e.g. Great Wall, Delicate arch, or at sunset: e.g. Park Avenue or windows.

Hike to Delicate arch is quite long so you have to allow enough time and in some places there is a need to pay attention, so you stay on the path. This hike is worth the effort, especially when it is not cloudy. The morning I was there it was cloudy but we had a moment of light and this is what it looked like.

However, not all mornings were great, the next day sunrise did not really bring the light we were all hoping for, despite that there was still time to take some interesting pictures.

During the day there is plenty to see in the national park, I spend quite some time wandering around the dunes and broken arches.

Colors you will see in Arches are amazing, they will vary depending on the weather and time of the day. The area is quite dry so you will see lots of desert plants, including cacti. In May they were just starting to flower. There are also beautiful textures and occasionally you can see animals hiding in between the rocks or among the plants.

You need to bring food and water with you as there is nowhere to get food, but water can be topped up in some places. Remember that the area is the desert and going out for a hike with no water is not a good idea. While lots of hikes are short, there are quite a few medium and long ones, so pretty much a little bit for everyone.


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Visit to St Augustine in Florida – like being in Spain without flying to Spain

Monument of Juan Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine.

A completely random conversation on a flight to Cleveland with a very nice girl from Florida, led me to visit St Augustine a week later while in Florida.St.

Augustine is the oldest European settlement in the USA. Founded and settled by Spanish in 16th century. It has a number of historical buildings – the Cathedral of St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas or St. Augustine Lighthouse.

The city is beautiful and has a unique character. At every turn you can find a piece of history. In some places it nearly seems like the time has stopped long time ago. So park your car in the central parking garage and walk around, there is no need for a car in town.

 

 

 

I had a very limited time to see St Augustine, however, even that little time was great. If you are driving into the city on the weekend, I would recommend starting early to arrive there early morning, this will give you a chance to enjoy your morning coffee in a few coffee shops around. I picked an Australian one – The Kookaburra . Very friendly, great coffee and scones that actually do resemble those from back home. Overall nice breakfast.

Close by is the Cathedral of St. Augustine. I missed on seeing the interior as there was mass in progress, since it was Sunday.

If you prefer a more American coffee, there is also a coffee shack and you can smell that coffee from far away.

Once I got some food and coffee, I strolled over to Castillo de San Marcos.

Old fortress build in St Augustine is a part of the National Park network, so bring your cards or buy a ticket on-site. There are ranger-led tours as well as you can do a self-guided tour. You should set aside about 2 hours for visiting the site, it allows you to see all at leisurely pace. The best part of the visit is to be able to soak in the atmosphere and imagine yourself a few centuries back. You get nice views of the marina and the city. One of the highlights is firing of the canon just like in the old days done by guys dressed in period costumes. It is loud so be prepared but definitely worth seeing.

There are a number of interiors of the fortress to see, like sleeping quarters, gun powder room, storage rooms.

As most of the San Marco castle is exposed, make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat in summer, raincoat or some warm clothes and a hat in fall and winter.

Once you have seen the fortress, head back into town and the main walking street is closed to traffic, it has quite touristy feel to it but there is a bit of historical feel there too. There are many small little shops, there is a historical tour you can take as well.

That was pretty much all I managed to see in just over 2 hours in St Augustine. If you have a bit more time, take a trip to the Anastasia Island and the lighthouse as well as to the Rattlesnake Island to see Fort Matanzas. Overall, it is a great little town to see with interesting history and well worth visiting if you are nearby, Daytona Beach, or Jacksonville. Thanks to the stranger from the plane I had a great morning.


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Night images of the cities

Night photography is particularly exciting, it produces unforgettable images. However, it is also very challenging type of photography. It requires patience and some additional equipment. At a minimum you will need a tripod, while heave sturdy one is always the best, you can use even a small gorillapod.  One plus of a small tripod is that it allows you to take pictures from a low angle, giving you a very different point of view. One additional feature on a camera, that is very useful is a swivel back screen. Together with live view shooting it is a great tool to properly frame the shot.

Both of those shots are low angles shots. The first one – Koeln Cathedral, with wide angle lens Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens. The second, St.Louis, with the Canon EF15-85mm f/3.5-5.6IS USM. I use this lens not just during the night shooting, but also during the day. This is the lens used in all the pictures shown below.

Having a regular tripod made shooting of the following three images really easy. Keep it steady and expose for as long as you need or want, in order to produce effects you would like to create. Not having a tripod when I was shooting the moving carousel was a big challenge but still produced just the image I wanted.

Another way to shoot is to take picture from above. Here are two examples of those. While neither was taken from a great height, they both look down onto the city. Car lights leave light trails in the picture of Koeln Opera House below. A movement of a carousel also produces light trails in the image above.

Night images are always an adventure, you never quite know how it will look in the final picture. If you come a cross the evening or night fog the light dispersal can also be quite unique producing interesting results. Car lights or reflections are always interesting as well. So feel adventurous and explore night photography.


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Design collections – coffee and pastry collection

I have been working on compiling images which can be used for interior decorations of different rooms in a house. My motivation was ability to help my friends with finding something interesting for the walls of their homes. The collections I created at the moment will be changing over time, they are not set. They are also only a small sample of images that are available and can be customized for your needs.

You can use individual images if you wish to create your own wall decor or many different mosaics can be created from images of your choice, they can be framed in many different ways as well or we can even create a billboard. There is also a possibility of custom photography for a collection you wish to have for your house or business.

Below are the examples of coffee and pastries collection. I picked the most mouth watering images and various coffee drinks. Frames are only examples, but many different options are available.

coffee mat  coffee matte

   matte pastries        mate desert

   coffee pastry mosaic framed   coffee pastry mosaic matte

billboard

A new coffee shop, coming soon.