Category: Bulgaria (page 1 of 5)

Light and shadow

On the corner of Tsar Osvoboditel and Vasil Levski the entrance to the Sofia University metro leads to an open air concourse before disappearing from view under the road. From ground level a wide angle lens results in a nicely layered image. The light and shadow of the concourse leads into the bright band of sun illuminated cladding of the station wall and then the curved facade of Sofia University, topped off by a spring blue sky.

Walking past a few days ago I was drawn to the hard contrast between the sunlight reflecting off the light coloured stone of the concourse and the dark shadows of the interior. This is another one of those situations where, having found a good spot to shoot from, it’s good to hang around for a while watching scenes unfold. So after taking the initial wide angle shot I waited by the same spot for a while watching people come and go and trying to catch them as they moved between the darkness and the light, or were illuminated by the sun against the background shadows. Sometimes it’s a waste of 30 minutes, often you will get a few decent shots, occasionally you might come away with a gem. No gems this time, but I did get a few decent shots.

As with most of my recent photography I used my Panasonic LX5 with its small and, in digital years, ancient sensor. So given the very extreme contrast of light and dark I was not at all confident about how they would turn out. So when I saw the pictures in Lightroom I was very pleased with the outcome. While the unprocessed RAW files often looked like the highlights were blown, one click of the auto tone button transformed most of the images, not only retrieving detail from the highlights but also pulling detail out of the shadows, as you can see from the comparison below.

Lightroom auto exposure adjustment – before and after

In fact, in most cases the camera performed so well in retaining detail in the shadows that I had to darken blacks and shadows to get the effect I wanted. Here are a few that I liked.

Vitosha Boulevard

Vitosha Boulevard is a pedestrianised zone in downtown Sofia lined with shops and restaurants which spill out onto the street. On the weekends it’s packed and probably the busiest street in the country. Despite this I find it hard to photograph since visually it is chaotic. On Saturday past while walking down Vitosha I noticed these two plant holders in the shape of stylised human heads.

I had noticed them before without really noticing them, if that makes sense, and thought they might give a little shape to the chaos of the street. The opposite side of the street where I’m shooting from has the same raised flowerbed and lamppost design that you can see here. So I sat down on the edge of the flowerbed where I was slightly hidden by the lamppost and waited for the passing stream of people to walk into my frame. Most of the shots I got were down to luck. It was too bright to see clearly who was coming before they entered the frame, and the slight delay in focus and shutter release with my LX5 makes the timing of shots difficult. Here are a few of the shots I most liked.

Even though this last shot totally overwhelmed the little sensor in my LX5 with the direct sun on those spectacular orange trousers, I liked the way this turned out. The bright colours of the two nearest the camera and that tattooed arm give it a real punch despite the technical flaws.

I think I took about 40 shots in total and deleted most of them, but here are the rest of the ones I kept.

Talk Talk

I’m too eclectic of a photographer to have a style, but there are certain practices that I return to regularly. Probably the most common of these is to find an interesting backdrop and take up a position nearby where I can photograph people as they enter into the frame. This brightly painted complex of electricity distribution boxes, overlaid with graffiti and old posters, worked well with the vivid red wall in the background. I took a few shots and this was the best of them.

I took this with my Panasonic Lumix LX5, my current representative of a camera range I’ve always liked ever since I picked up the earlier LX3 in 2009. Using it a lot over the last few days I have begun to wonder if I really need anything bigger. There are some constraints of course. Despite the little sensor performing well most of the time it is limited in difficult lighting situations (though Lightroom can compensate for a lot.) The biggest issue is speed – both the slow autofocus and shutter lag make it very challenging to take this kind of picture if the subject moving into the frame is moving at anything more than walking pace. I tried a few shots against this backdrop with cyclists, trams, and electric scooters moving into the frame but never got the timing right and ended up with the subject either too far into the frame or already leaving the frame.

It’s a shame Panasonic never consistently followed up the small sensor LX range. The LX10/15 looked like a potentially viable update at one point but it seems that Sony owns this market with the RX100. I did have one of the original RX100s but eventually sold it primarily because of the slow lens. I’m occasionally tempted by the RX100 Va but that near $1,000 price tag holds me back.

The Imperial Gastrohub

Like many places Bulgaria has gone through a cycle of shutting down, opening up, shutting down again in response to COVID-19. The restaurants and cafes, after a long period of being shut down, were allowed to reopen at the beginning of March only to be shut down again three weeks later. At the beginning of April they were allowed to reopen outdoor areas. These folks were taking advantage of the fine weather on a weekday evening to have a drink and a snack at the Imperial Gastrohub on Graf Ignatiev Street.

Martenitsi

March 1 is Baba Marta day in Bulgaria – ‘Grandma March’. Baba Marta brings the end of the cold weather and the beginning of spring. On Baba Marta, martenitsi – made of red and white yarn – are given as gifts to family, friends, neigbours, and colleagues and worn on the wrist, or pinned to a coat, until the first sighting of a stork, a swallow or the first blossom on a tree. At that point people tie their martentsi to a tree, usually blossoming trees like these ones. For some reason certain trees are very popular and both of these were covered in dozens of martenitsi, even as other flowering trees nearby had very few.

Seen Better Days

I saw this car a few weeks ago while out for a walk. It sits in the grounds of a small art gallery, ‘Artur’, on Journalist Square in Sofia. I’ve no idea of the story behind it or even if there is one but it is intriguing. A little digging revealed that this is a Vauxhall Velux PA-S. Vauxhall is a long established British car maker and the Velux PA-S was made between 1957 and 1959. How a British made car from the 1950’s ended up in communist Bulgaria is a mystery, as is how it ended up quietly decaying in this garden in Journalist Square.

Forest Snow

It’s been a strange winter in Sofia. We had one day of snow back in December which disappeared after a couple of days and that was it until this week when it snowed on Monday with a little more on Tuesday. That snow is melting away and the temperature is rising again. So on Tuesday I took a lunchtime walk through a nearby forest with my camera before the snow is gone.

These were the first pictures I’ve taken in a long time. I was out for a walk in November with my F2 but in the end I didn’t bother developing the film because I didn’t think there was much on it. Before that I took some pictures in September. Even then it felt like I was forcing myself to shoot, so it was good to get out because I wanted to rather than because I felt I should.

I left the film cameras and my X-T2 on the shelf and took my ten year old Panasonic Lumix LX5. The more I use this little camera, the more I like it. I bought it a couple of years ago second hand, having good memories – and a lot of good pictures – from its predecessor, the LX3, which I had for quite a few years. It’s a shame Panasonic appears to have given up on the LX line, though I understand this isn’t a strong market segment any more and it’s hard to compete against the Sony RX100.

Here are a few pictures from my walk.