Another Beautiful California Pacific Sunset Tonight – January 7 2011

I went down to the Oceanside Pier again tonight and using an improved technique again took several 3 image HDR image sequences. Generally speaking they were +/-1 f-stop images and I tried to keep the tone-mapping to a very natural look. These are sharper than the ones from yesterday (but the sunset was not as spectacular).

Beautiful Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Oceanside CA Pier January 7 2011

The images are in my Southern California image album page 6.

Beautiful California Pacific Sunset Tonight – January 6 2011

I went down to the Oceanside Pier tonight because the cloud pattern looked promising for a spectacular sunset and took several 3 image HDR image sequences. Generally speaking they were +/-1 f-stop images and I tried to keep the tone-mapping to a very natural look. I learned a few things tonight about my technique and will apply them next time.

Beautiful Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Oceanside CA Pier January 6 2011

The images are in my Southern California image album page 5 and Southern California image album page 6.

The History of Rome: The Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica

Introduction – The History of Rome: St Peter’s in the Vatican (San Pietro in Vaticano)

St Peter in the Vatican Panorama

St Peter in the Vatican Panorama

The history of Rome is fascinating and is occasionally the subject of posts here such as the history of the Colosseum and the history of the Pantheon. I have been to Rome many times and consider it my second home. The area we call the Vatican was in ancient Roman times a suburban area of Rome and included a Circus (horse chariot racing track). The circus was called by various names including Circus Vaticanus, the Circus of Nero and the Circus of Caligula and is the site of St Peter’s upside down crucifixion. The church you see today is the second such structure on this spot and is sometimes called “New St Peter’s.” It has almost nothing in common with Old St Peter’s, the first church built here (by Constantine’s decree) in 321 CE.

The Ancient Topography and Architecture of the Vatican Area

The original structure here, the circus, is now buried well below the current level of Piazza San Pietro – St Peter’s Square – and is the bottom most of three layers. The topmost layer is New St Peter’s, next is Old St Peter’s and the lowest is the aforementioned Circus Vaticanus. The spina (the long narrow center divider) of the Circus is used to line up a pair of Imperial mausoleums intended for Theodosius from Old St Peter’s which were built over or near the traditional spot of Peter’s crucifixion. His tomb is located in a spot that both churches use(d) as their centerpiece; the high altar. Assuming you approached St Peter’s Square from the typical direction (walking westward from Castel Sant Angelo or southward from the metro station), you are at the eastern edge of Piazza San Pietro, looking at the church façade. What you see in front of you is a vast flat area with the largest church in Christendom as the centerpiece.

Approach to St Peter's Square

The approach to St Peter's Square

This area did not always look like this; in ancient times the area where the church is now was a hill; the original architects of Old St Peter’s carted off part of the hill to make room for the church; the architects for New St Peter’s carted off more to make room for the bigger project. The spot you are currently standing on marks the corner of the north side of the track and the carcere (car CHAY ray), the starting gates. A slight turn to your left (counter or anti-clockwise) and you face down the northern edge of the track. The spina, the central divide of the track, began at a point about a third of the way down the straight structure on the left that connects the ellipse with the front of the church. The far end terminated well beyond the back of the current basilica, but the spina ended at a point perpendicular to the current church’s outer apse wall. The obelisk in the center of the square was originally placed on the center point of the spina in Nero’s time. Peter was crucified upside down on that spina in 64 CE. The legend is that Nero himself rode a chariot around the track as Peter was dying on his inverted crucifix. There’s nothing left of the stadium above ground, but a palazzo to your left apparently has some carcere remnants in it’s basement.

St Peter's Square and the Vatican at Night

St Peter's Square and the Vatican at Night

Old St Peter’s in the Vatican

After Peter’s martyrdom, his followers buried him next to the circus, in a tomb that at the time was set into the bluff of the Vatican Hill. His was not the only tomb there, though. The necropolis was already well established, with a mixture of both pagan and Christian tomb sites. Constantine ordered a large church be built on the site to commemorate Peter’s martyrdom and to encourage the growth of the religion. The area was leveled and the church’s altar center built directly over the tomb. Construction was started in 321 and completed 8 years later. The original church’s design included a large atrium in the front surrounded by porticoes. In the center of the atrium was a fountain called the Fountain of Symmachus whose centerpiece was a large bronze pine cone. This pine cone still exists and can be seen in one of the courtyards of the Vatican Museum today. To help orient yourself; the actual entrance to the old church was pretty much in the same location as the entrance to the current church is. To get a very good idea of what Old St Peter’s looked like inside, we just need to visit San Paulo Fuori le Mura, a large basilica built next to the Ostiense Road south of the city. The layout and the style were very similar; both are and were five nave churches.

New St Peter’s in the Vatican

Eventually Old St Peter’s began to feel its age; the walls were threatening to collapse inward and destroy the church. A new church was decreed by Pope Julius II in 1505, construction began the next year and the project was completed in 1626, 120 years and 19 Popes later. Pope Julius II held a design competition and the winner was Donatello Bramante. Many of the entries can still be seen at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Michelangelo was given the title of capomaestro (literally “headmaster”) in 1547 and was able to ensure the completion of the project with his vision of the design nearly intact. It was during his time that the dome was begun to his design, an ovoid shape with two shells, an inner one and an outer one. The dome was completed in 1590 under the supervision of Giacomo della Porta. Standing above the altar under the dome is the 4 story high bronze baldacchino, created from the confiscation and melting of the bronze roofing tiles from the Pantheon. Designed by Bernini, this huge free-standing bronze altar cover and free-standing piece was started in 1623 and completed in 1634.

St Peter's Baldacchino

St Peter's Baldacchino

The final work in the area was to create the space of St Peter’s Square. The colonnade that surrounds the square was built to emulate the welcoming arms of the Church, with a trapezoidal area near the building that gives the illusion of the church being close than it is, and the second area further out, ellipsoidal in shape and surrounded by the almost but not quite enclosing colonnade.

St Peter's Square from the Dome

St Peter's Square from the Dome

If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.

Full Lunar Eclipse Tonight in North America

Tonight, December 21, 2010, which is also the winter solstice, we in North America will be treated to a full lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, no-one in Southern California will be able to see it unless they are in an aircraft; the weather has a near 100% rain forecast for us. It’s even raining in Death Valley right now. I was looking forward to a series of gorgeous blood-red moon images but it is not to be.

Sedona and the Grand Canyon, Arizona

I spent a few days in Sedona and took a day trip to the Grand Canyon (Sedona and Grand Canyon photo album). I was very lucky in that one night the weather cleared completely and I was able to experiment with long exposure imagery using only the light of the full moon.

Sedona Red Rock In Full Moonlight

Sedona Red Rock In Full Moonlight

Sedona Red Rock In Full Moonlight

I also experimented with HDR a little more.

HDR Image of Sedona Red Rocks

HDR Image of Sedona Red Rocks

HDR Image of Sedona Arizona Red Rocks

The daytrip to the Grand Canyon was also great; the day was cold but clear and beautiful.

Grand Canyon and Colorado River

Grand Canyon and Colorado River

Grand Canyon and Colorado River

Here is a 6 image panorama of the Grand Canyon South Rim from Yavapai Point.

Grand Canyon Panorama from Yavapai Point

Grand Canyon Panorama from Yavapai Point

Panorama of the Grand Canyon South Rim from Yavapai Point

The Problem With Pay Photo Sites

I have several photo storage and display sites; I have a Pbase account and a Flickr account. Until recently I had a Photoshelter account, too. I’ve had my PBase account for years now; they charge a very reasonable $25 a year. I have the free Flickr account, mostly because I took a strobe lighting class at UCSD Extension earlier this year and Flickr was how we communicated and turned in our work. In my opinion Pbase is a much nicer looking site and gives the impression of having many more true professionals and highly skilled semi-pros and amateurs on it. Flickr is snapshot heaven and has more of the bullshit “social media” stuff that people seem to think is so very important. I will not be paying for the advanced Flickr features. Pbase has several different templates to give galleries different looks, they have links for buying images, a comment system and forums to discuss photography and the site. They also have a Google Analytics feature, which is very important these days.

And then there’s Photoshelter. Photoshelter was recommended to us in another class I took at UCSD, a business of photography class. The pro-photographer instructor had a pro-photographer pal on the site but he himself did not know all that much about it. I saw that it was $30 a month and asked him “So, will I get $30 a month in sales if I open an account there?” He didn’t know but I pretty much did. Nonetheless I opened an account and promised myself I’d give them one year. If I hadn’t gotten significant traffic and sales after that one year I’d quit. I lasted 6 months and then I dumped my ISP, found new web hosting with unlimited storage and bandwidth for $3.50 a month, set up a WordPress blog and a Coppermine photo gallery and suddenly had everything but a cart (which I can also add to my site free) PLUS all the Search Engine Optimization advantages for my images that Photoshelter offered (IPTC, key words, headlines, etc) at about 1/10th the price. I can afford to have Photoshelter-like sales, interest and web presence for 10 times as long.

I don’t know; a site like Photoshelter on the surface seems to be a good idea; leverage the web (and more specifically Google’s view of the web) to raise photographer profiles in search engines and thereby drive potential customers straight to photographers and create sales this new-fangled way seems on the surface to have potential. But it also seems to me that the art world is very slow to change and also highly protective of their processes and talent. Using Google to search for something is probably only going to happen when there is a highly specific topic they need an image for. For example, I have a lot of images of Rome and Italy. Many of my images I take for myself without a motivation to get a sale. I want MY photo of the Colosseum or the Pantheon. I’m not going to pay for an image of something I can get just as good myself. But, my largest sale ever was from Pbase. I had an image of the interior of an obscure church in Rome that an art book author wanted to use, so, we connected. I assume he Googled the name of the church and found me, or maybe he went straight to Pbase and did a term search there, I don’t really know.

Ultimately I could tell that I was expected to be at Photoshelter for a year or even 2 while my SEO “juice” was built up and all the while I was also supposed to Twitter, Facebook and blog endlessly with no one actually, you know, reading any of it to continue to build in-bound links that Google likes to see. That’s $720 after 2 years with the silent but still real caveat that no sale is guaranteed and I will be almost 100% guaranteed to never make my investment back at all.

But, I have knowledge that Google does not in fact require a lot of new activity to rank someone high in something; my Rome Restaurants page is my most popular page and that hasn’t been updated in many years now.

So, what’s my recommendation? Honestly, the old fashioned way is probably still best; getting your work out in public in those horrible tacky “art fairs” that cities like to put on in the Spring or Summer, trying to get sales through word of mouth, advertising, local photographer groups and yes, the web. For several years I had a local surfing museum as a customer for my picture postcards of the local pier and surfing landmarks. I got that gig by joining the museum and then schmoozing the director. Learn some web administration techniques and you can host your own site for far less than any photo service will charge and maybe – maybe – some day you’ll be discovered in your own version of Schwab’s Drug Store’s soda fountain counter.

Arch of Septimus Severus

Arch of Septimus Severus in the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The History of Rome: The Pantheon

In keeping with a previous post about another Rome monument, this entry will be about the Pantheon. Built in the early 2nd century, designed by Hadrian and a temple dedicated to all the gods, the Pantheon is truly one of the great buildings of the world.

Rome, Italy's Pantheon at midnight under a full moon

It is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world and is 43 m across and from the top of the drum to the ceiling center it is also 43 m; a perfect hemisphere.

It was preserved even through Rome’s darkest hours; even the Popes knew this was a special building. It was dedicated as a Catholic church for all martyrs in the early 7th century and Raphael is buried in it.

The bronze doors you walk through are the originals; nearly 2 000 years old.

Rome, Italy's Pantheon interior

The columns in the portico are granite. The dome was originally roofed with bronze plates but a Barberini Pope had them removed and melted down to make the bronze baldocchino in New St Peter’s basilica in the Vatican.

Rome, Italy's Pantheon with Motorcycle
Easily my favorite place in Rome, the Pantheon remains as beautiful and artful as it was the day it was completed. I have more information about the Pantheon in my Ancient Rome Walking Tour Guide.

If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

Using My iPhone to Document An Oceanside Local Landmark – Lifeguard Tower 9

This summer I have been fairly diligent about swimming at the beach. I go nearly every day, regardless of the weather, the tides, the surf or the water temperature. I also go to the same place every day; Oceanside’s Tower 9, at the end of Oceanside Blvd at Pacific St in Oceanside, CA.

View Larger Map

Oceanside beach’s Tower 9 at Oceanside Blvd and Pacific St is placed there permanently.

I have been taking a photo or 2 (or 3) every time I go down there, just to document the event. Sometimes the sky is blue and the air warm, sometimes it’s not.

Sunny day at Oceanside Tower 9

Tropical cloud day at Oceanside Tower 9 just before a cloudburst.

I don’t always photograph it from the street, sometimes I shoot it from the sand, or the rocks.

The neighbors have their own wishes and prayers for the surfers who come down here to ride the waves.

Surfer’s Prayer on the side of a house near Oceanside Tower 9.


The History of Rome: The Colosseum

Rome was founded in 753 BC and eventually grew to be an ancient city of 2 million people. The Colosseum as we call it but called by the ancient Roman people as The Flavian Amphitheater was built over a period of between 8 and 10 years and completed in 80 AD. It was used continuously for nearly 5 centuries thereafter.

Built by Vespasian, first of the Flavian Emperors (and who came to power after the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, Nero, committed suicide), the Colosseum was meant to be both a huge public work and a propaganda piece as well. It was financed by the spoils of the war that resulted in what we call the Diaspora, the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Israel and the scattering of the Jewish peoples from the Holy Land. It was built on land that under Nero had been the site of his private palace. The architectural design was carefully considered; it mirrors the architecture of a building nearby called the Theater of Marcellus, built by Augustus 80 years earlier. So, by demolishing the hated Nero’s lavish palace and grounds and giving the land back to the people by building this grand amphitheater and by designing it to look like a building by Augustus, Vespasian was making two political statements: 1) The old ways and the old dynasty are no more and 2) the new emperor wants to emulate the first and greatest of all the emperors, Augustus, and will return the Roman people to those times.

It is a favorite place of mine and I have photographed it many times. This photo of the Roman Colosseum at dusk was taken right after sunset in October, 2003.

Rome Colosseum at Twilight

Rome Colosseum at Twilight

I used my then-brand new Canon PowerShot G3 and a small tripod set on the banister next to the sidewalk of Via Colosseo, which runs along the front edge of the Oppian Hill, directly across from the Colosseum itself.

This image of the Roman Colosseum at night is a three image panorama done at the same time and location as the one above.

Rome Italy Colosseum at Night

Rome Italy Colosseum at Night

This interior shot of the Roman Colosseum is a multi-image panorama as well.

Rome Italy Colosseum Interior

Rome Italy Colosseum Interior

All of these are available at my photo gallery here (“Alan Zeleznikar Photo Gallery”) or you can contact me directly about them.

I have also written two walking tour guides about the city of Rome. They are entitled “Rome Explorations: The Ancient Rome Tour” and “Rome Exploration: The Early Christian Tour.” They are available at, Barnes and Noble and my own website – Alan Zeleznikar European Travels, Photography and Books site.

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.