Learning Photography Basics with Sevilla Photo Tour

How many times have you been on a trip and you hand your camera off to someone, only to get this result?

Dude, I put it on auto for you. How could you have messed that up?

I sadly have pictures of myself in some gorgeous places – Beijing, Romania, Morocco – that have turned out less-than-stellar because asking a stranger to take my photo has resulted in a simple click without considering composition, light or even where my body was in the photo.

And then there’s the traveling-and-not-always-knowing-where-to-look factor. At breakneck speed on trips, I often forget to slow down and seek out details in photos, opting instead for macro shots of famous sites and landscapes.

As a professional photographer, Alberto began Sevilla Photo Tour to help visitors to the Andalusian capital discover the city’s most beautiful rincones, have professional photos taken in such rincones and receive a personalized photo album to take home.

We met Alberto in Plaza de América one sunny October morning – not optimal for photos, perhaps, but one of those mornings where it’s pleasant in the sun, chilly in the shade and the blue hue of the sky still fools you into thinking it’s still summer.

Alberto gave us a mini-tour through María Luisa park, a historic part of the city he jokingly calls “el despacho,” or the office. We sat in a shady plaza dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s literary mastermind, which had ceramic bookshelves with a few tattered paperbacks for loan.

Alberto explained the various parts of the manual functions, something I’d toyed with from time to time before settling on automatic settings for sake of time. I was familiar with all of the terms – f-stop, white balance, aperture – but haven’t quite worked out how to make them all fit to get the result my own two eyes did.

Then, he gave us a series of tasks around the park to practice what we had learned. First up was a formidable challenge: freezing the water of a fountain located in the center of the park while allowing the colors of the blue sky and lush gardens come out.

Easier said that snapped, as it took me three tries to get it kind of right!

I’d considered shutter speed for making the water not blur together, but couldn’t get the aperture, or the amount of like that gets let into the lens, and the ISO to work together. Essentially, the lower the ISO, the clearer your pictures are but the less sensitive they are to the light coming into the camera.

Next, I worked on taking a portrait of Laura on a bright day while experimenting with depth of field. Without Alberto’s help, I fumbled through the settings to be sure Laura’s face was in focus and the backdrop of the Museo de Artes y Costumbre’s mudéjar facade a bit blurred, taking into account all of the light that would be in the frame.

Fail. I’d need to work at this.

Once I’d reset and looked for a place with less light, I snapped another picture of my friend with better results:

The pigeons at the western end of the plaza were our next challenge. I’ve long tried to capture them in flight, but had never gotten the shutter speed fast enough to have their wings fully outstretched. But that had an easy fix: shutter speed. I set my shutter as fast as it would snap – 1/3200 of a second – and waited for the birds to fly.

Even when the pigeons weren’t flying, I experimented with depth of field and closing the aperture to focus the photo.

Alberto then led us through the lush gardens of María Luisa, constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American Fair and full of hidden fountains and busts. Apart from tutorials, Sevilla Photo Tour also takes photos of families (which eliminates the more-than-likely chance that you’ll have a photo like the one above of a rooftop rather than the Giralda).

Like any good tour, we ended with a beer and a few tapas before I jetted off to work. Laura spent a good chunk of her afternoon in the park and Plaza de España testing out her photography skills. When I met her at 10pm that night on a ceramic bench in the picturesque half-moon square, I tried to remember what I’d been taught.

Yeah, add a tripod for Camarón to my registry wish list!

Alberto graciously offered Laura and I the tour free of charge, but all opinions are my own. If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch with Sevilla Photo Tour and tell them that I sent you! 

Have you ever been on a photo tour, or any sort of out-of-the-box tour while traveling?

Tapa Thursdays: The Bar that Never Fails to Impress, La Azotea

I had snagged Lindsay for a rare night out. She strolled into the locale she’d suggested, bright as always and pronounced something to the effect of, “This is the best place I’ve tried lately, and this place is going to be huge.”

And true it was. La Azotea – a venture owned by a Spanish-American couple – has quickly grown from a small place in the Macarena to a four-venue favorite, with a few more concepts in the pipeline.

La Azotea has yet to let me down – not in food, not in service, not in wine list, not in the fact that a few of their waiters at the Mateos Gago location now call me by name, despite only going a few times a year.

Let’s start with the food.

On my first visit, Lindsay and I went a bit crazy, ordering several raciones as if we hadn’t eaten for days. But it all sounded so good and so fresh. The bar boasts ‘alta cocina’ and it delivers, changing the menu seasonly to reflect what’s in season or what showed up at the market that morning. My picks are the cod flanks with almond sauce served on a bed of pesto or the boiled octopus over mashed potatoes.

Like many bars in the city, you’ll find the traditional dishes, though they hint international or sometimes feature a different ingredient – think mackerel lasagna. 

I’m not one to order dessert while dining out, though I’ve made a few exceptions at La Azotea. While they’re famous for their homemade orange blossom ice cream with mint and raspberry, I’ve also had mini french toasts with spiced honey ice cream.

And now that they’ve opened for breakfast at Mateos Gago, no one will judge you for eating eggs for breakfast.

Then there’s the great wine pairings.

The staff is knowledgable about grapes, seasons and how well they’ll go with whatever you’ve picked out to eat. I’d venture to guess that there are 10-15 wines available on any given day, which include rosés and cavas. 

La Azotea also stocks  more of the hard-to-find wines. Garum and Matsu, my current favorites, can always be found behind the bar.

Above all, the personalized service, to me, sets La Azotea apart. The staff takes it time to explain dishes and suggest wines or desserts, they’re attentive to top off your glass or swipe you a few extra olives. I wouldn’t consider myself a local by any means, but I am usually greeted by name.

I sometimes feel that dining out in Seville can be a bit redundant, that even places that have been staples of the food scene have taken a nosedive in service and quality. But if we measure by sevillano standards, each bar in the La Azotea restaurant group is always buzzing and full – a sign that you’ve made it in a city renowned for its multitude of tapas eateries.

If you go: La Azotea boasts three full service restaurants and one abacería. Only their Mateos Gago location is open daily, open all day and even offers breakfast. Rumor has it this could change, so check their website for details.

Are you disappointed in the tapas scene in Spain, or feel like it fails to impress you? Or is there a bar you absolutely love, every single time?

Tapa Thursdays: La Dalia

I have the secret to getting a table at some of Seville’s hottest dining spots.

Go during a big football match. Really.

I have to admit that I was a bit disheartened when I wound up at La Dalia at 10pm midweek. There was no buzzing chatter or the cacophony of cutlery banging against plates. In fact, the only other people in the restaurant were the two members of the wait staff.

But at least I got a table right away.

La Dalia has received pretty good reviews of late, as the small bar is close to the Alameda and is yet another gastro pub offering spins on Spanish favorites. What I liked about the menu is that it (mostly) strayed from typical offerings in fusion and gastro places – no risotto here, but wild boar, an offering of cheeses and baked fish fashioned with chutneys and beans.

By the time H showed up, I was pretty decided on the few dishes I’d like to try, though many didn’t come in tapas form. We settled on duck and apple croquetas, morcilla de arroz with pisto and a fried quail egg, and a mini ox hamburger with foie gras for each of us, plus our requisite beers.

The croquetas and morcilla came first, and I was already making a mental note to come back and try more. But the hamburgerseso, sí, a gastrobar staple, was topped with cheddar cheese, which effectively killed the flavor of a well-cooked meat.

In lieu of one last tapa, we decided on dessert. In hindsight, we should have chosen another dish. The apple pie was doused in strawberry sauce, which cut the entire flavor of the apple and cake, and the brownie was dry. 

La Dalia wasn’t a total washout, but I won’t be running back there any time soon. I didn’t think the staff was especially friendly, either, but they could have just been bummed that they were missing the big game.

Los detalles: Calle Trajano, 44, right off the Alameda. Tuesday to Saturday 1:30 to 4:00 and 9:00 to 11:30. Closed Sunday and Monday dinner.

Tapa Thursdays: Nazca

We stumbled on Nazca one afternoon when our friend Scott was visiting from Madrid. I’d heard talk of the place – a Japanese and Peruvian fusion restaurant – for ages, and we quite literally stumbled there after spending a sweltering afternoon at the river catching up. Named after the Peruvian Nazca lines, the restaurant is just one of Seville’s gastro pub hotspots these days.

We arrived early enough (around 9pm) to snag a high table with bar stools in a bar that mixes industrial with international with a dash of Spanish (in the tiled floor of course). They were a bit unsteady, which made it difficult to share food once we’d ordered, but the food made up for it.  The menu is a mix of the nigiri and maki you’d expect to find at a Japanese restaurant, along with South American inspired meat dishes.

We settled on niguri topped with presa ibérica, a fresh chopped salad with chicken fingers (my life in Spain is complete!) and potato towers topped with a cherry tomato and some sort of cream sauce. Along with olives and picos, Nazca sets the table with chopsticks and Kikoman’s soy sauce.

Still hungry, we saw a waiter rush by with a hunk of meet. Hayley simply pointed and we soon had the dish at our table, which came with a deep-fried sort of croqueta, a slew of grilled and seasoned vegetables and a creamy, peppery sauce with rock salt.

Hayley says she went back the following week with her visiting parents and literally ordered everything on the menu. Don’t blame her – the food was really good and the presentation was incredible. I probably wouldn’t order the presa nigiri again, but stick to a ceviche or maki. From all accounts, the fish dishes stand out at Nazca.

Los detalles: Nazca is located on Calle Baños at number 32, just west of Plaza de la Gavidia. Open about 1:40 to 5 and 8:30 to midnight or so. They’re closed all day Tuesday and for lunch on Wednesdays. Expect to pay 12€ or more a head, particularly if you order wine.

Seville Snapshots: Costaleros Practicing for Holy Week

The capataz knocks once. As if mechanically, the 40-off men beneath the wooden structure heave together, resting on their heels, hands gripping the wooden beams above their heads.

A second knock, and they launch into the air together.

On the third, the simulation float has rested on their shoulders, and they begin a coordinated dance down the street, walking in sync as they practice for their glorious penitence – Holy Week.

You all know that I paso de pasos (and the crowds, and the brass bands and even the torrijas), but the grueling pilgrimage from one’s church to the Cathedral and back fascinates me. No one bears the brunt more than the costaleros, who must pay for this prestigious position within their brotherhoods and seek penitence through their labor, carrying over 100 pounds for an average of eight hours.

In the weeks leading up to Viernes de Dolores, no less than 60 brotherhoods will crisscross the city to practice, placing cinderblocks on top of the metal float to simulate the large statue, each depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life or of the weeping Virgin Mary. For ten days, Seville is full of religious fervor as the ornate pasos descend on the city center.

For an official route plan with approximate times, check here. You can use this to either catch the processions, or totally avoid them!

What are your Holy Week plans? Have you ever seen Semana Santa in Seville?

El Mercadillo el Jueves

Vengaaa, José, I prefer to lose a little money on a friend than sell it to someone who won’t enjoy it as much for far more.”

Luis sells books every Thursday morning at the Jueves flea market, and I flicked through his offerings on Spanish war planes for the Novio a few weeks ago. José is a repeat customer who bargains him from 20€ to 15€, snagging an EADS-issued encyclopedia on Air Force machines.

I met Raquel at Casa Vizcaíno one Thursday morning to browse the stands at the mercadillo, not having anything in mind to buy but bringing Camarón just in case.

My father would disappear every Sunday morning to swap meets when I was a kid, always looking for a bargain and spare car parts. The first time he took me, promising an elephant ear and new pogs, I was overwhelmed at the amount of stands, spread blankets and objects being sold.

El Jueves gave me the same feelings, just with no fried dough. There’s de todo un poco: old books, a version of my first cell phone, paintings, flamenco dresses and even trajes de luces.

In the end, I bought an old school BINGO game for the academy, bargained down from 5€, and five lapel pins for a euro each. I didn’t sift through much junk or feel pulled towards splurging on any one item (except for maybe a bust of the Virgin Mary), but I think I’ll be back.

As Raquel’s boyfriend said, they find new things to hock every week.

If you go: El Jueves takes over the southern end of Calle Feria between Calle Castelar and Calle Correduría every Thursday morning. Things begin to get started around 10am and last until around 1pm. Be sure to bring small change and watch your belongings.

Have you ever been to el Jueves? Know of other famous swap meets in Spain or beyond?

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