A Taste of Islamic Cairo

A Taste of Islamic Cairo-Al Azhar Park | Photography Behind the Scenes and Tips |

I’ve spent the past few months getting ready for an international move, doing the move, and then settling in to our new home in Cairo, Egypt. But now I should be posting much more frequently again.

The above photo is from Al-Azhar Park in Islamic Cairo. This was taken on the Western end of the park by the Ayyubid Wall that was discovered during the excavation and creation of the park (open to the public in 2005). The Ayyubid Dynasty began in 1171 AD by Salah al-Din. He expanded Cairo’s fortifications, started the Citadel, and built the Ayyubid Wall between 1176 and 1183 AD.  The goal of the wall was to create a fortification as protection against invaders. However, over the centuries, the city expanded outside of the walls.

Back to the photo, one thing I like about this one in particular are the leading lines made by the path and the wall. It guides the eye to look at all the buildings. When you take photos, think about how lines can help guide your eye throughout the image.


A House Boat Ride in Kerala


While in Fort Kochi, Kerala, we took a day trip over to Alleppey and did a house boat ride for the day. With a not-quite-2 year old, we declined to do an overnight ride.

Also called Allapuzha, Alleppey is the oldest planned town in the region and the 6th largest in Kerala. Its backwaters are very popular with tourists and they have a big boat racing festival each year. It is covered in lagoons, rivers, canals, and lakes. Water plays a very big role in this region! 

It was very pleasant watching the other boats and people on the shore. Boats provide most of the transportation here—you had school kids using boats as school buses, boats taking people from one side to the other, boats transporting goods, and of course, houseboats with tourists. Much of what we saw were narrow strips of land with houses right up against the rivers or canals or lakes with watery rice paddies behind them. There were roads and bridges in a long strip by the houses, but I didn’t see many cars. Most used boats, or perhaps bikes.

Every house had steps leading down from the wall to the water. People went in the water to bathe (women fully clothed, men were shirtless) and do laundry. Kids splashed and played in the water. We also saw a lot of people fishing from shore.

We also saw a massive school structure and churches and temples. Some buildings were obviously shops, including one where we stopped at to buy the most massive Tiger prawns I have ever seen. Three prawns were 1 kg (about 2.2 lbs)!!


Black and White vs Color


One decision you need to make when editing is whether the image works better in color or black and white. This is mostly a personal preference and not everyone will pick the same option. In the shot above from a house boat ride near Alleppey, Kerala, India I prefer the black and white version. The trees stand out against a pale sky and draw attention to themselves. High contrast photos tend to work well as black and white. If you find that a photo has too much noise or grain in it, it might work better as black and white. I also will convert to black and white if I ended up with too many blown highlights (aka the light or white parts of the image got too bright to fix as the details are lost and you see pure white). Blown highlights don’t stand out as much in a black and white image.

So which image do you prefer above? The black and white or the color? Do you ever convert to black and white?


Chinese Fishing Nets of Kerala


These are the Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Kochi, Kerala, India. They are massive nets that are lowered into the water and brought up several minutes later, hopefully with fish. They use massive poles (traditionally wood, but now metal is used more often) and a rope/rock pulley system. It takes about 5-6 men to operate the net. They divvy up 60-70% of the profits and the remaining goes to the owner of the net. The ones we went to are mainly operated for the tourists now, as there are not many fish. But they let us come out on the pier, take photos, watch them pull up the net, and then we get to try it ourselves. I then paid a tip (rs 100-or about $1.50) for the experience.

Kerala likes to call itself “God’s Own Country” and you see it on signs all over the place. Kerala is a state in the southwest part of India. Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu border it, along with the Arabian Sea. The people there speak Malayalam and most speak English as well. Hindi is not used in Southern India—people generally learn their local language and possibly English. Kerala has a 91% literacy rate (highest in India) and the lowest rate of population growth. It also has done a lot to eradicate some of the issues of lower castes and women historically have had more rights and access to more things, like education.

Kerala’s coastline is 371 miles long-it is a long, skinny state. You have the coast on one side and green hills on the other. There are hundreds of streams and several large rivers, which makes water a very important part of Kerala’s life and makes the state very green. The Western Ghats have a lot of biodiversity. Kerala has three climate regions—rugged and cool mountains, rolling hills, and coastal plains.


White Balance or Is the Color Right?


I was editing some recent snow photos and noticed the blue tint on all of them. This is a common issue with snow pictures and one I wanted to correct so the snow looked more white than blue-grey. Luckily it was a minor color cast and one I could fix quickly.

White balance is something you can play around with in editing to adjust the mood of the photo, especially if no people are in the shot. If you have people, you don’t want to veer too far from a correct white balance or skin looks off and weird. But if you don’t have people, you can make photos warmer or cooler to change the mood. It’s also a way to make sunsets warmer.

So how can you correct white balance?

If you’ve already taken the photo, all editing software has options to fix white balance, though how you get to it varies. I find the editing software built into Photos on a Mac works well. You go to “adjust” then “add” then “white balance.” From there you can adjust based on a neutral grey or skin tone. Use the dropper to pick the neutral grey or the skin and it adjusts from there. You can always keep selecting to get it perfect.

If you don’t have software, then I find PicMonkey does a good job. It’s a free online site for editing. White balance is under their “color” option.

There are many ways to adjust white balance in camera, which of course saves time in post processing. This article discusses some of those.


Whimsical Pottery Turtles


Most of what the potters made in their village near New Delhi, India was practical or religious (about 85% according to my guide). However, the remaining items were whimsical, fun, decorative, or impractical items. These turtles caught my eye as cute little additions for a shelf.

Bonus photography tip: Notice how the turtles are not centered in the frame? Picture a grid with four lines-two horizontal and two vertical. It is often ideal to place the most important part of an image at the intersection of two of those lines-or slightly off center.


A Pottery Assembly Line


I recently posted about a pottery village I visited on the outskirts of Delhi, India. In this village, most of the pottery for the city and elsewhere was made. We got to see a number of potters working. They go so fast! At one stop (pictured above), one worker started with the lump of clay and got the base made and then passed it on to the next potter who did the upper half work on it. It was a fast assembly line. They worked in a very small, dark room, surrounded by clay and lit only by the light coming in the doors.

We also got to try our hand at the potter’s wheel and it was a good thing we had help! Clay went flying, pots got misshapen and none of them turned out high quality. It was fun though.


How Zooming Changes Shots


You can get two very different shots by zooming in. That really isn’t a surprise as zooming gives you a more narrow angle of view. But, did you know that the simple act of zooming can also blur the background? In the two photos above, the settings are almost identical and I’m standing in the same spot. The only thing that changes is how much I zoomed. The background in the photo on the left is nice, but if there was something there you didn’t want showing up, the simple act of zooming in would blur it.