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Sandcastles and Lakes

by Tara

Today, we left Helsinki and headed into the Finnish countryside. It was a relief to leave the expensive city behind, watching metallic cityscapes transition into woods and forest. For our route, Tyler found several driving itineraries from a Scandanavian travel agency called Runic Travels.

With names like "The Best of Finland" and "Experience the Midnight Sun", they outlined cities to visit, the distances between them, and sights to see along the way. So, we created an amalgamation of the various loops and headed to our first stop: the town of Kotka, reported to be interesting because of its port.

Finland Fields

For the first few hours, we motored along happily, feeling quiet and introspective, content to watch the scenery fly by.

Clover in Finland

Arriving in Kotka, we drove around expectantly. If it was in a tourist itinerary, it had to be good, right? Wrong, of course. After realizing there wasn't much to see, we promptly drove out, back into the hills and forests we cared about.

As we drove, it occurred to us (for the hundredth time) that following a planned route was not quite our style. Still, we had high hopes for our next destination: Lapeenranta, famous for its fortress. On the way, we drove past tons of little red barns, thinking of Tyler's mom Sarah (she loves them) each time we saw one.

Finland Road

Passing this cool old tractor, Tyler stopped to take some bracketed shots, looking forward to trying his hand at HDR photography. We're not sure if we like it, but Tyler is obsessed with learning new things, so he plans to keep at it for awhile. For a technical explanation of what is going on here, read this.

Finland Tractor (HDR)

Apart from being so expensive, we love Finland, and our little red car too:

Finland From Our LRC Finland From Our LRC

Eventually, we arrived in Lapeenranta and drove around looking for the town's famous fortress. We quickly abandoned the search and pulled sharply off the road into a parking lot when we saw this!

Lappeenranta Sand Sculptures

Whoa! Apparently this attraction opens every summer, providing kids (and people like us) with gigantic sand sculptures to ogle, candy stalls to patronize, and a huge sandbox filled with toys to play with. As we wandered around in the hot sun admiring the skill it surely requires to render such intricate details with grains of sand, Tyler bracketed several more shots for later HDR twiddling.

With HDR:

T-Rex Sand Sculpture (HDR) Dinosaur Sand Sculpture (HDR)


Dinosaur Sand Sculpture Lappeenranta Sand Sculptures

This probably wasn't a good scene for HDR, as the results aren't all that impressive. Either that or we just don't know how to do it properly yet.

Once we'd seen all the sculptures, we resumed our search for the town's fortress. Looking at our route, we can't help but laugh at the huge circles we did outside of town, paying too much attention to our GPS and not enough to common sense (we're nowhere near the town!).

Tyler in an Orb

We did manage to find it eventually. We think the word fortress is a little strong for the location. It was more like a small hill with some crumbling walls around it. Maybe at one time it was a daunting stronghold, though. The "fortress" contained a few museums, which were closed, a cafe that was closed, and some normal looking houses as well. After a stroll through the streets, we headed back to the car. As we left, this friendly kitty said hello:

Lappeenranta Cat

On our way, we came upon a lakeside concert. While people were buying cherries and peas from the market nearby, and licking icecreams in front of antique tourist dinner cruise boats, the Piraters were on stage playing fun surf music. Tyler stopped to take a recording while I took pictures.

The Piraters The Piraters The Piraters

After a few songs, we walked back to the car, fired it up, and pointed ourselves north. Throwing away any ideas of following a set route, we headed into the land of lakes. Not far from town we crossed a bridge which had a nicely secluded pull off on one side. It was a picture perfect free-camp, so we decided to call it a day.

Across the bridge, a group of teenagers were hanging out, jumping off the cliffs into the water. A kind of bungee or rope-swing hung from the bars of the bridge as well. We weren't quite sure how it could be safe to use, but we did see someone, swinging from it just as we arrived. Our curiosity about it was never sated, as nobody used it again for the rest of the night.

Bridge Near Lappeenranta

I set up camp while Tyler took pictures of our surroundings, crouched on the edge of the cliff face with our telephoto zoom.

Seagull in Flight Water Skier in Finland

Free camping in Finland is going to rule!

Bridge Near Lappeenranta (HDR)

The end.

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Dear lord, that HDR article you linked to reads like a textbook! Try this if you'd like something a bit less robotic: http://www.stuckincustoms.com/hdr-photography/

We've also found HDR doesn't always enhance an image. It's handy for when there are extreme differences in light - such as a night time shot in a city, inside a building with bright light coming through the window, or a landscape with a bright sky but dark shadows on land, such as a wood.

Also, if you don't like the "painterly feel" of HDR photography you can keep your photos realistic looking and still get the benefits of capturing extreme differences in light.

Hope that helps :)
Posted by Katherine on July 15th, 2010 at 10:27 AM
Oh, you should also watch this google talk by the same photographer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yuffashm32s
Posted by Katherine on July 15th, 2010 at 10:30 AM
Hi Katherine!

We linked to that very same (excellent) article just above the super technical one :D

We'll check that video out the next time we have a good connection.

One question: Do you use a tripod, or do handheld bracketing until you get a good series without shake? Or something entirely different?
Posted by Tyler on July 15th, 2010 at 11:07 AM
I want more pictures of old tractors! I love them! ALSO.. if you find any mailboxes in shapes of things, other than standard mailboxes, take pictures! We'll add them to my (future) MAILBOXES Calendar! :D (Though, I don't need more of ones that are a bass fish! Yuck!)
Posted by Bobbi on July 15th, 2010 at 6:08 PM
Wow, that sand sculpture park is insane! Very, very impressive. Great tractor picture!

Allow me to field that one - we actually just shoot handheld; the software we use to stitch it all together (photomatix) does the alignment fairly well - usually the problem is things like leaves moving, rather than movement of the camera between frames!
But yeah, as Katherine said, it's definitely not for every scene, as we're increasingly discovering. It's awesome for indoor scenes with artificial light - it makes light really glow, it can look amazing - and of course high-contrast scenes. Man-made stuff usually works really well, natural stuff usually less well. Very cool to see you're playing with HDR too!

PS. If you ever have an idle moment when you're feeling creative, you should implement an email comment notification thing so we can get notifications for comment replies! (I totally ripped off your photo display ideas, by the way, on my blog - sorry about that, but it looks awesome ;-) )
Posted by Michael on July 17th, 2010 at 2:19 PM