Monday, 9 April 2012

The Three Gringos

A few days ago I set off on CCE's last Study Tour to Cuba accompanied by two of the Cuba group. Getting to Mexico was is a bit of a flog as you cannot transit via the U.S. which is still trying to wipe out the socialist State with Draconian embargoes. So you have to enter the country via Canada or Mexico City. At the planning stage I thought "Mexico sounds like a good idea for a stopover" (especially after 24hours travel) so off we went.
Old theatre in Puebla, two hours south of Mexico City
We arrived at night so got no glimpse of the two huge snow-capped volcanoes that sit south-east of the city, but woke up to a bright day and what felt like a massive hangover. At 7,000ft I guess this was a 'welcome' to the delights of high altitude living, something I was clearly not used to, living in Sydney.

Metropolitano Cathedral, Zocalo
Here are a few hastily put together snaps from day one. We walked through Zona Rosa, where we were staying, to Chapultepec park, then back to the Zocalo, the massive main square in the centre of town. I think we spent about 8 eight hours walking.
Spanish church built on top of an Aztec pyramid, Cholula
Day two we went to Puebla, a largish town two hours drive South-East, past Popocatapetl, at 5200m, which was still shrouded in cloud. Puebla is a more traditional sort of town - it's centre is world heritage and really looks like it has been carefully preserved with a fabulous mix of Spanish, French, Mexican and even Moorish architecture making up most of the historical centre. Even though we only spent the day there, I'd go back like a shot another time and spend a couple of days wandering through the streets, markets, churches and courtyards. I always knew Mexico would be colourful - this town proved me 100% right.
Our main (photographic) challenge was when shooting in churches. No tripods and strictly no flash to be used. There are legions of flash Nazis patrolling the aisles of the big churches watching tourists and locals alike. So, shooting required us to lean, prop, sit and brace against anything rigid to get a half-decent result. ISO went through the roof and nearly everything I shot was done as an HDR (i.e. three bracketed exposures post-processed using Photomatix Pro) to compensate for the intense glare outside and the impossible contrast range inside. Some worked, others didn't. TIP: Shooting in really dark places forces you to raise the ISO and of course, open the aperture to the maximum. Doing this reveals just how good the lens is shooting wide open. Most go soft around the edges. Cheaper kit lenses go soft all over so care must be taken - most lenses have a sweet spot, usually f8, f11 - sometimes f16 - that produces significantly sharper results than at f4 - or f32 for that matter. It's a good idea to test this to see which aperture works best for your lens...
Puebla Church, Santo Domingo and the Capilla del Rosario
Doorway, Puebla old town
Puebla church with Arabic (Moorish tiles and the (Mexican) symbol of the sun

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