ENOUGH about arcane experiments with old cameras! Well, enough for now, anyway. It’s time to get up-to-date and throw in some shameless self-promotion.
So, today: Greece.
I’ve just come back after 10 days wandering through the delightful Argo-Saronic Gulf, the bit of sea due south of Athens that borders the Peloponnese. Here you can skip from island to island in hours or less, and across 2,600 years of history in a matter of moments.
My first stop, dictated by the flight and ferry timetables more than anything else, was Aegina, a large, triangular island an hour or so by one of several ferries from the main Greek port of Piraeus.
Aegina is supposedly the homeland of the Achilles’ Myrmidons, the fiercest warriors in all of Greece and – those who’ve seen the film will recall – the first to storm the beach at Troy from their black-sailed ships. This piece of literary history seems to have passed over the heads of the local tourist board, and I could not find a single thing celebrating Achilles, the Myrmidons and the old stories.
However, the physical legacy of the ancient world has proved more enduring on Aegina than its literary counterpart, and there are two important temple sites. The easiest to reach is the Temple of Apollo, within a few minutes walk of the ferry terminal at the centre of Aegina Town. As the ferry approaches the harbour, the lone pillar that still stands from this 2,600-year-old temple thrusts skyward like an admonishing finger warning newcomers to behave.
The temple stands on the site of ancient Aegina town and long centuries of occupation have left a jumble of walls criss-crossing the site – and each other – that are not likely to make much sense to anybody but a trained archaeologist. The last surviving pillar of the Greek Sun god’s temple, its steps and the terrace of great stones around it are really all that impress with anything other than their antiquity.
Apollo’s Temple was built just a couple of hundred years after Homer penned the Iliad and the Odyssey.
More recent and considerably more impressive is the other major site: the Temple of Aphaia. This building, from the 5th Century BC, celebrates the island’s own goddess, though she has been linked with the Minoan nymph Britomartis, from Crete, and later was identified with Athena.
This temple is regarded as one of the finest in Greece, along with the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis and the temple to Poseidon at Cape Sounion. It has been claimed that the ancients constructed these to form a perfect equilateral triangle, though it seems unlikely to me. In any case, Aphaia’s temple predates the Parthenon and is believed to have provided part of the inspiration for it.
The site is on a hill on the north-west side of Aegina, and has regular buses during the summer season or can be reached in about 20 minutes by taxi from Aegina Town.
Other photos of Aegina I have for sale as prints can be seen here http://paul-cowan.artistwebsites.com/art/all/aegina/all and a more complete collection for commercial use is available from Art of Travel at Alamy.com http://tinyurl.com/c5gf2gr
That’s the advert over, now for the photography.
Subjects like these temples, which have an expanse of softly coloured stone, need to be approached with sympathy. The automatic white balance on your camera is likely to want to kill the colour and treat the stones as if they were grey. In addition, the in-camera “styles”, such as landscape or standard, will distort the contrast and brightness of different parts of the image, destroying all the subtlety. You only need to search of “Temple of Aphaia” on Google Images to see how nasty the result can be.
So how should this be handled?
I shot with my Canon 5D MkII in RAW mode, with the “faithful” picture style. In the RAW processor, I selected a white balance of 5,500, which seemed closest to reality, pushed up the sharpness to 3 and converted to a TIFF. In photoshop I very slightly increased the saturation and vibrance and equally gently adjusted the contrast – I certainly didn’t want harsh shadows.
I think the result is pleasing to the eye and close to reality. I was undoubtedly helped by the slight cloud and the fact that the sun in Autumn is lower in the sky and less harsh than at the height of the summer season.
The lesson here is that to get the best results, it is often necessary to over-ride all the auto settings and styles and make the decisions yourself. And, of course, to do that you need the RAW file.