The following post comes from Massimo Strazzeri, who was Photography Bay’s winner for the Sony Twilight Football Contest. Sony flew Massimo to Argentina for what turned out to be an amazing sight-seeing adventure, soccer match and some hands-on time with Sony’s new A550.
I am very happy that Photography Bay could be a part of this great adventure for Massimo. Additionally, I am very grateful that Massimo has taken the time and effort to share his story and images with the rest of us.
Enjoy Massimo’s story and photography below. You can find out how to connect with him at the end of this post. -Eric
Argentina, here I come!
A lush sub-tropical forest, deep red clay soil, melodious chirps from birds whose appearance I couldn’t even imagine… these are the very first images of Iguazu that my brain registers after 18 hours of continuous traveling. Finding out that I won the contest organized by Photography Bay, learning that my destination was Argentina, receiving my eTicket with itinerary: it all happened so fast!
Only when I arrived in the Buenos Aires airport, it all came together. I won the Photography Bay Sony Twilight Football contest and Sony sent me to Argentina to do what I love: to take pictures! My level of excitement skyrocketed!
Sony put great efforts in guaranteeing the best transportation and lodging. Connecting from on airport to another was easy because we had private vans with guides speaking our native languages waiting for us. The hotel was an amazing 5 star facility in the middle of the subtropical forest and next to the Iguazu River.
When we got to the hotel, the Sony team explained us the program of the event and gave us a schedule for the next few days, including all waterfall activities. I also found out that soccer match in Iguazu would be played by Team Spain and Team France!
The Sony Alpha 550
After checking in with Sony, we photographers were given the Sony Alpha 550 (with a 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 Lens) to document the event. Since it was a pre-production camera, we weren’t allowed to keep it: we were going to return it before leaving but of course we could keep the memory stick with the photos we took.
It did take a bit to get used to the camera interface and how the dial and buttons are positioned on the body. Having shot with Nikons for many years, I had to re-learn how to shoot without having to look at the camera body after every shot. I knew that would be very important if I wanted to capture well the fast actions of a soccer match.
To test the image stabilization and quality of the images with relatively high ISO (the whole event would be held at twilight in low light), I shot few images around the hotel at ISO 800 and 1600 with various shutter speed and aperture combinations. After having loaded the photos on my laptop, I noticed that images shot ISO 800 were great. At ISO 1600, I started to see some chromatic noise in the shadows but the photos were still very usable. As for the lens, it yielded sharp images in the 30-55mm range at f/8 and f/11 but it was a bit soft in the 17-30 range, especially wide open.
The image stabilization seemed to work quite well and, from what I could tell from such a quick test, it looked like I could gain at least 1 full stop from it. The best aspect of the camera was the swiveling LCD and the way it worked with the Liveview feature. They both worked great! Overall I was pleased and I had a decent idea what to expect from the camera. The next step was to spend some time with the Image Data Converter software that came with the camera.
I typically shoot in RAW with my Nikon D3 so I wanted to do the same with the Alpha. For anybody familiar with it, this software acts like Camera Raw in Photoshop and performs similar functions. It gave me a good impression but I did have a couple of complaints: on my laptop it was running pretty slow and some of the automatic settings (like Noise Reduction and the Dynamic Range Optimizer) were too aggressive. Noise Reduction, especially, was softening the image a bit too much in my opinion, therefore losing sharpness. Once I got a good familiarity with the software, I was basically good to go!
The next morning, after 3 hours of sleep, we left the hotel at 4am to go and shoot the Iguazu waterfalls at sunrise! This activity was specially organized for us since the park doesn’t open until 8am. It was AMAZING! The views were breathtaking and the power of the water was so incredible that the whole trail was under constant misting… it felt almost like it was raining!
When the sun was finally out and shining directly on the water, it created beautiful rainbows over the falls. The geology was also very interesting and the network of waterfalls created all sorts of interesting shapes and patterns in the rocks.
From the photographic point of view, the energy and the power of the falls were so great that I decided not to blur the water with a long exposure but instead to try to capture its movement, its explosions and its force. It’s far from what I typically do when I shoot waterfalls but here I couldn’t help it: I had to try to capture the scene as close as possible to what my eyes were seeing.
I used this approach also when, in the afternoon, we went to shoot in the upper part of the falls, specifically the “Garganta del Diablo” (Devil’s Throat). This waterfall (U-shaped and 82 meters high and 150 meters wide) is the most impressive of all the falls that compose the Iguazu system.
A long exposure would have never showed the intensity and strength of the falling water, especially given the incredible amount of spray and vapor in the air: it was so high that you couldn’t tell where the mist was ending and where the white clouds in the blue sky were beginning.
When using the Sony Alpha 550, I was shooting relatively wide scenes (given that the longest focal length I had was 55mm). However, I used my personal Nikon D3 to zoom in various parts of the falls since I brought with me a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR and a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC AF. These lenses allowed me to isolate and focus on specific areas. Furthermore, I used the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S to capture a few scenes that were too wide for the Alpha 550 (the D3 is full format so 17 is pretty wide).
The Guaranì village
After the waterfall, it was finally time to go and see the football pitch where the match was going to be played on the next day. This was also the first time that the players of both teams had the chance to train and get a feel for the field.
The original location was supposed to be on the beach of an island (Isla San Martin) located at the bottom of the Iguazu waterfalls. Unfortunately that location was under 9 meters of water because of the heavy rains of in previous weeks. Therefore Sony decided to move the match to the Guaranì village of Mborore. Guaranì are the indigenous people of that part of Argentina so I was really excited when I found out about this change. I never had the chance to interact with any native South Americans before and I was really excited of having the possibility of observing where and how they lived. As a photographer, it really sounded like a great opportunity!
All my expectations were more than exceeded because it was an incredible cultural experience.
The village was literally next to the pitch so I had the possibility of wandering around together with a few other photographers. My spoken Spanish is far from being great but it was enough to get across. Where my broken Spanish couldn’t go, a smile would usually help me to go the rest of way. In the short amount of time I could spend with them, I learned from the villagers how they use chamomile for medicinal purposes and a few things about their school system. But, above all, I could see very clearly the pride that they have in their own culture and heritage. For western standards, they don’t have much and the village was very poor, but we were welcomed with open arms. The children were ecstatic in having us around and loved to be photographed (of course, after permission from their parents.. we absolutely wanted to avoid intruding in their lives, especially being guests).
I had a great time in taking pictures there: the Guaranì intensity and genuine expressions were really visible in almost every shot. After having processed the photos, I am pretty please how they turned out: my only complaint is that I wish I could have diffused the on-camera flash when I used it.
(all photos below with Sony Alpha 550)
With a spectacular sunset in the sky, I felt a bit sad when we left the village: there was so much more I would have liked to see and learn.. but there was not enough time.
The Day of the Match
The day of the main event was again packed with things to do. To begin with, the Argentinian Sony representatives brought us some professional grade lenses to use during the match. We could choose from one Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8, three G-Series SAL-70200G 70-200mm f/2.8 and one SAL50F18 50mm f/1.8. I decided to take the 24-70 and all the photographers agreed to swap the lenses during the game.
The main activity of the morning was a boat ride under the waterfalls. We had two boats for our group: one was for everyone who really wanted to go extremely close to the falls and the other one was for more “cautious” passengers who weren’t ready to end up being completely soaked. After a long thoughtful processes that lasted half a second, I chose the first boat. Since we were explicitly told we would not come back dry on that boat, I asked the Sony people if I could bring the Alpha with me and take pictures. To my great pleasure, I got a positive answer!
I was really curious to see how the falls would look like from the bottom. Could they been even more impressive than from up higher?
They absolutely were! It was like being in front of a huge flowing wall of spraying water! The power I had in front of me was mind boggling! I tried to capture it as well as I could, not an easy task given the rocking boat and the rain hammering us (oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that it poured rain the whole morning!). I was successful in keeping the camera dry because I brought a camera plastic rain cover to protect it as much as possible. However, as the boat was turning to go back, a huge wave climbed over and completely flooded all of us who were sitting on the left rear side of the boat. With my luck, it happened exactly when I was adjusting the rain cover: buckets of water hit the camera, my camera bag and myself! I checked the camera immediately and luckily everything seemed to work. As I discovered later, it didn’t last!
As it continued raining, we return to the hotel to dry out and have a quick meal. I checked again the camera and it still was behaving correctly.
I barely had time to get ready and it was time to leave for the pitch. Match time was approaching fast and we all could see the excitement in the players!
Since it never stopped raining we knew the field would be muddy. Unfortunately, the soil in Iguazu is composed of clay. If you live in a clay soil area (I do and I experienced it first hand multiple times), you already know what I am going to say. Soaked clay becomes this gluey mass of red dirt that sticks to anything and it takes forever to get rid of!
These were the conditions of the field… a vast mess of red mud!
While the match was underway, I started to notice some fogginess in the viewfinder. Given the fact it was still raining and the humidity was 100%, I just thought it was just foggying up. So I ignored it and kept on shooting the match and the surroundings, including some of the Guaranì spectators. I positioned myself behind one of the goals, trying to capture the match from that angle. I was really amazed by the technique of the players, especially in such conditions! It was so muddy that they could barely sprint without losing their footing!
While reviewing the images and the histogram on the LCD, I saw that the photos had a slight “soft focus” effect. Again, I attributed that to the humidity in the air. But a few minutes later I noticed that the viewfinder was getting more and more fogged up.. on top of that, the camera seemed very sluggish when auto focusing. That only got worse!
While France scored their second and third goal (they would end up winning 4-2), I realized that something was seriously wrong: I couldn’t see absolutely anything through the viewfinder anymore, the LCD had obvious water sipping in, the photos were pretty ethereal-looking and it was taking seconds for the auto focus to lock. The last 15 minutes were photographically quite interesting: imagine taking photos without seeing what you are framing, with a camera which doesn’t focus, dwindling light and pouring rain… that was me :>
Because of these issues, I have very few pictures of the final phases of the match, the award ceremony, the group pictures and all the fun muddy mess that was the return to the hotel and the de-muddy-fication process.
At dinner, talking with the other photographers and some of the Sony guys, the consensus was that most likely water/condensation sipped on the mirror, which was the reason why both the viewfinder was fogged up and the camera couldn’t focus. I am not sure if this was the reason or not but it does sound reasonable. For sure I would love to know!
I mentioned previously my other fellow photographers, all winners of Sony contests in other regions of the world. I would like to spend a few words on how great being able to interact with them was for me. Each discussion we had was poignant, full of insightful information and showed a slight different view of photography. Their backgrounds ranged from being a great portrait photographer in the UK to being an amazing photojournalist in Italy who passionately loves film and darkroom. We had fun together, dined and drank together, laughed together (the common language was a bizarre and funny mix of English/Spanish/Italian/French/Portuguese) but we also pondered and reflected on what we were seeing and it would affect our lives from that moment on. I can safely say this event wouldn’t have been the same without them and that I learned a lot of things from each and every of them… and that I can call them “friends”.
The next day was departure day for everybody. As I was waiting for the bus which would take me to the airport, I was reliving the past few days, with images, sounds, smells, laughs, faces flashing in front of my eyes. As I stepped onto the bus, I felt very melancholic in leaving such an incredible place behind but I was also very aware of everything that I learned and how it affected me.
Thank you, Photography Bay and Sony for this amazing experience!
Massimo Strazzeri is an Italian photographer living in North Carolina. If you spend any time on his flickr photostream, you’ll find many more great images. Additionally, you can see his inspiring portfolio on his website – www.massimostrazzeri.com.