Walking amongst Angels

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It was a Tuesday morning, 6 am in Brno, Czech Republic, and I sat in the car and went to Schwechat airport in Wien. I checked in the baggage and kept my camera backpack as a carry-on. It was one of these easygoing days. The day when you board the plane and everything goes smoothly. The plane took off, and another journey began. Destination, the city of Angeles.

Are you ready to discover the whole story? Check the photos From LA, or jump to photos from San Diego, and then continue to the rest of the article.

The Angels of Los Angeles

Wildlife photography / Zoo photography

Are you ready for more? Check the San Diego gallery

A little of the story, a peek into the past

I have been visiting the city of Angeles since 2017 when I went on my first trans-Atlantic flight. It was a rough ride in Economy with Delta airlines. All I took was literary a notebook and clothes. I remember that time I snapped only 1 picture in the whole 3-week business trip. A selfie while visiting the Griffith observatory. Even so, I enjoyed the trip and met a fantastic angel – a friendly Colombian math teacher Alex, our landlord. Alex showed us all around LA.

After this, my little daughter was born, and I waited until 2019 to revisit LA, which started the regular 2-times 3 to 4 weeks in Los Angeles per year. It happened so that it corresponded to when I started focusing more on photography and camera shooting. But the best snaps happened in February and October 2022. So, believe me when I say this: “going to the U.S. is terrific, but packing the gear requires sacrifice.”

Having the opportunity to pack my 24mm, 90mm macro, 50mm, 70-200mm, and 200-600mm would be sick! Too bad! Lenses, camera, notebook. All are considered valuables. You are obliged to take these on board in your carry-on baggage.

Flying to Los Angeles

Finally, I arrived at Wein airport and was ready to check-in. After all the covid restrictions, it felt great. No test is needed, just proof of vaccine. Bam. So I handed the passport to the lady behind the counter, and she asked me, do you have the eTA? I responded swiftly. I am flying on ESTA. Well,… I am not. So transiting through Canada, you need to apply for eTA. The great part is when you have a phone with data, you can do it on-site, and the approval arrives in a few minutes.

I have a boarding pass, my luggage is checked-in, and I am ready to go. Walking through security, I pull out my MacBook, camera, lenses, and medication. Ho, ho, ho! Stop there. Come here, what are these lenses for? Why are you going to the US? Ok, we will do the tests. So, I received my first test for explosives. The results are negative; I can pack the whole backpack again. All good. I am heading to the business lounge, taking a sip of Martini, and getting breakfast. Two hours later, I boarded the plane and headed to Toronto.

I enjoyed the time on the plane, watched the “Uncharted” movie, drank some California wine, and slept for almost 6 hours. I landed in Toronto nine hours later and went for another security check. Surprisingly, I received another explosives test and questioning. Re-packed my gear again and went to border security. All went well. The connecting flight is leaving in 2 hours… Well, 9 hours later, the flight was canceled, and I had an opportunity to spend a night in Toronto. I met a few talkative and nice people in the hotel bar.

At 6 am morning, I am heading to the airport again to get another explosives test. Re-packing the backpack again, and I am hoping I have everything. Fortunately, all went great, and after breakfast, I headed to Los Angeles.

Hey Angels, it took me 40 hours to get here, so be nice.

My favorite places in LA

There are many places I have visited over the years in Los Angeles. The most favorite ones are Redondo beach pier, Hermosa beach, Santa Monica, and Griffith Observatory.

I work Mon to Fri, 7 to 5, on projects in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, the Czech Republic, France, and Hong Kong. It takes me almost 24/7, but I still found some extra time.

First trip? Los Angeles Zoo, let’s go.

First, I ordered tickets online, and my payment was declined (8 days later, I am still waiting for a refund). I departed around 11 am and arrive at 11:50 am at the zoo parking lot. I entered the zoo buying the ticket at the counter. Ok, let’s go.

Wait, something is not right! I am switching on the camera and… nothing. The battery is drained out. Somehow, my camera switched on in the backpack and drained the battery. I am feeling a bit desperate. Fortunately, I have a spare one. Let’s hope it’s gonna be enough (it was, I ended the tour with 8%).

LA Zoo was very nice. They had amazing expositions for pelicans, gorillas, chimpanzees, cassowary, koala bears, and more. I could take most snaps with my 200-600mm lens using the Av priority mode, modifying the exposure. Yet, I love the full manual mode the most. So I often switched to get the best shots. I spent 5 hours in the zoo and headed straight to the hotel room.

Going to San Diego

For the next weekend, I have decided to visit San Diego Zoo. It was a great trip just 2 hours from LA. The zoo is much bigger than LA Zoo and has more to offer, but I loved LA Zoo more. Mostly because in SD, they love wire, cages, fences, and glass too much. Even though I had an amazing opportunity to see a lot of different species.

So, as you can see, SD Zoo was great; I spent a whole day, from 9 am to 6 pm, and then headed back to Los Angeles. What a long but gifting Saturday. On Sunday, I downloaded photos from my camera, polished lenses, charged batteries, and sorted out 799 photos taken into a final selection of 97. After post-processing, 47 images remained.

I am still in LA, with ten days remaining before I can return to my lovely wife and great kid,… it is a bit challenging, but also it gives me time to sort and post-process all the current and previous images.

Post-processing & publishing

I am still quite new to wildlife photography. I am not even sure I should call it that way, as most animals are not living in free nature, but I love this hobby. So I have the pictures. What to do now?

1. I am using Lightroom CC to sort out pictures

I load all the images to a new album, then review each and keep the ones with the right focus. If unsure, I use the auto-optimize feature to check the details and go back and keep or remove the image. Once the selection is made, I export the originals into a new folder.

2. Denoise, Sharpen, and Upscale

I always wondered how it is possible that my photos are nice, but those I admire have it sharp and without noise. I used the same ISO, similar light conditions, the same shutter speed, etc. Simply said, they knew how to post-process.

I have found an amazing bunch of tools from TopazLabs, and the day I decided to try and buy them, they released their new tool Topaz Photo AI, combining the previous three tools. So Topaz is my second step. It takes time and computing power.

The secret?
– Upscale 1 – 2 times
– Raw remove noise
– Sharpen (mostly in Lens blur mode for animals)
– Enhance (in natural mode)

Oh, I almost forgot. Always shoot in RAW!!!

3. Color grading

Once images are sharp and ready (exported to TIFF), I load them into Lightroom CC. Now, the process is more subjective. I like to use my presets or browse the presents of others as a starting point. Once I find the best preset, I choose it and stick with it for the same animal.

I change the settings to get the best shot I like, playing with masks to achieve the best result. The goal is to make the subject stand out a little. I use a healing patch for small corrections and move back and forth to Photoshop for bigger corrections in case the image needs it.

4. Publishing

Well, I am a newbie here. So I publish mostly on Instagram. Some pictures I share on Unsplash and Vero. But that’s it for now. Let’s see in the future.

Trip Update

So, I did not plan to post any more images, but I had some additional opportunities to snap nice pictures of LA Angels,… both people and animals. So let me share them with you.

If you have reached this point, thank you for reading, and feel free to connect with me on socials.
Martin

Last Update: October 17, 2022