Posts tagged “travel

European Vacation 2015

Will it be shocking to admit I’m a uni-dimensional photographer? Yeah, I can hear you all gasping and muttering that it can’t be so.

It’s not as if I don’t admire or appreciate other forms of photography, like the shots below, but that I really don’t enjoy cities. They’re loud, crowded and smell awful. Lots of people thrive on the possibility of the unexpected you can have in a city, like some jerk on a bicycle almost running you down and then yelling expletives when you stepped into the bike lane to go around parked car (thanks Amsterdam!), but it’s the kind of stuff I just hate and can do without.

So what possessed us to go on vacation in three different European cities? Well, partially it was a great fare to Brussels. Partially it was the fact that we never leave the country. As great as the US is for its diversity of landscape, ecological environments and weather, we felt a bit insular about just traveling here. So off to Europe it was. And for the most part we enjoyed ourselves. We had good weather (damn was it ever hot – over 90 degrees F on several days), saw interesting sights and ate in some really good restaurants.

Photographically speaking, it took me a while to feel at all connected and in tune with what surrounded me. Mostly lots of other tourists, canals, bicyclists and tiny cars. I totally embraced the tourist thing, too, btw. No being coy with a camera, pretending to be unimpressed. No hiding my joy and amazement over something we’d never see in the US and hadn’t seen before. Nope, I went with it and took the camera almost everywhere.

When I first saw the bike and the fountain it was blocked by a parked car and then, when I was at the end of the street I noticed the car moving away and so pretty much ran back to get the shot before anyone else could park. Spaces in Brussels are coveted and really hard to get sometimes and competition is fierce. The space wasn’t vacant long.

That’s an underlying theme of my photographs – the bicycle. European cities are, by and large, not suited to cars, buses or trucks. Bikes are much more practical and nimble for the crowded streets. Cheaper, too.

Although there were scads of bikes for rent, we didn’t dare. Everyone is in a hurry, the streets are unfamiliar and we needed to really look at signs to translate them for meaning. Walking was enough. lol.

But then there’s the architecture and it is too captivating to zip by on a bike.

Brussels

Bruges

Amsterdam

Bruges

 

Bruges

As you can see, I had to work with some intense light since we were out in the daytime. Because my husband has to put up with enough of my camera, I don’t go out a lot at night and I don’t interrupt dinner time even though it usually occurs during the best light. Call me lazy, but it isn’t that much of a sacrifice. We have so much fun wandering and exploring.

Bruges alley

Bruges window

Two Fiats in Bruges

Bruges

One of our favorite habits we picked up was going for afternoon frites. This was our favorite shop. It’s in Brussels near our hotel.

Oh are the fries good in Europe. So much better than here, where we fry them in rancid industrial oils instead of beef tallow.

On the whole, I think I could have done better with the camera. I wasn’t as able to adapt to new surroundings as I wanted to be. I’m used to being able to control the shot and take my time with set-up. With urban or street photography you have to be fast. The chaos was a bit overwhelming for us, too. A few times in Amsterdam I got really overstimulated and had to shut down…read, head back to the hotel for a glass of wine! It wasn’t so horrible that I wouldn’t repeat it though. I’d even go back to Brussels and Bruges one day, and not just for the fries!


Beyond Human Scale

One of the big reasons I wanted to go to Northern California is to experience the redwoods. Sure, I’d been in forests in Big Sur. Alfred Molera and Garapatta State Parks, but those groves, while precious, are small and made up of all new growth. I wanted the big forests and if I got lucky, a few older growth groves. Trunks so big you could live inside one. Canopies that soar and soar out of sight and out of human scope. And fog. I envisioned fog. Boy, did I get my wish. If only I had gotten a few more days.

All the foggy shots were taken in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove which was dedicated by the First Lady in 1968 making it one of the first preserved redwood forests in all of California. People were slow to protect these amazing trees, but now there are large, interconnected tracts that you can get lost in.

In the beginning

Cast your mind back

Even though this was the most crowded forest we visited, the fog just made it so special that I could ignore the traffic. Coastal fog is essential to redwoods’ survival. Not only does it help create a more temperate environment with stable temperatures, but in summer when there is reduced rainfall, the fog helps bring water to the canopy and protects against moisture loss in the massive surface area these trees have. As the fog condenses on the vegetation, it drips and flows into the bark, moss, lichens and eventually the forest floor itself.

If you could take a moment

Just come this way

Even when the fog lifted, there was beauty so rich and otherworldly that I stopped about every 20 feet for another shot. This one has the camera off the tripod and me leaning on one of these massive beauties for support.

On the heels of a dream

Of course, when you’re in a redwood forest, you spend a lot of time doing this –

The Heights

That was the Stout Grove which is in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Forest. There is the most amazing road snaking its way to this grove. We came in on the long side so got to wind through and around the tremendous trees. The light was very different and I did my best to emphasize how gorgeous it is in the canopy.

Presence

One thing you may notice is the difference in the undergrowth from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove and here in Stout Grove. It’s much shorter and less dense. The sword ferns in most of the forests really dominate the lower landscape as well as rhododendrons. In Stout grove it’s less of a factor and instead it seemed there were more downed trees than anywhere else. I was fascinated with how they decay and lose their bark and their round shapes, becoming square and lying there like enormous Lincoln Logs.

Fallen brothers

Is everlasting

In addition to being fun to explore and great subjects to shoot, they made handy camera supports as well.

The work of a moment

Oh for a time machine so I could go back and be present during the storm that brought these elders crashing down. The noise. The power. The earth-shattering impact. Oh that would be something to behold.

So if I haven’t convinced you that you should go witness these incredible trees firsthand, I don’t know what will. They are majestic beyond all human expression. So massive that you feel a similar humility as you do when next to whales. There isn’t that same sense of communication that I felt with whales, but there is an antiquity and a timelessness that only an ancient ecosystem can make you feel. These trees were alive long before my birth and they will remain alive long after my death. Their timescale as well as they physicality is outside of humanity in almost every way, except in the connection we have to the earth and the cycles of the sun.


Crater Lake National Park

In September, my husband and I headed to southern Oregon on vacation. We’d never been there before and our modus operandi is to find an area that interests us and find out what we can see and do in that area. Southern Oregon has a lot to do and see and I think we tried to cram too much in. We ended up doing A LOT of driving – over 1200 miles! Phew. Our first destination was Crater Lake. It’s tourist central, yeah, but worth seeing and even though the light wasn’t especially good, I shot anyway. Dealing with harsh light on vacation is something I’m used to and on this trip I was especially glad for my new Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 lens. Instead of big vistas full of flat colors, harsh shadows and blown highlights, I decided to slice the landscape into smaller shots. The  light still is what it is, but I tried to use it to bring up textures and geometry. Not sure if it’s a success or not, but here goes.

On the way from our hotel, we followed route 62 which runs close to the Rogue river and through a douglas fir forest. After a couple hours in the car, I was ready for a break so we stopped at this little park featuring some really great gorge formations on the Rogue River. The sun being high, it wasn’t suitable light for my normal river work, so I put the longer lens on and hunted for something interesting in the shade. To my delight I found these maiden hair ferns. I love maiden hair fern and had never seen it before outside of cultivation. I like the geometry in this shot and I think the square crop gives it some emphasis.

Maiden hair fern on the Rogue River gorge

Finally we got to the park proper. The sun was still at an angle, but was heading for straight overhead soon. Glad I was able to catch these trees backlit with just a touch of mist. They’re on the rim of the crater left behind by an ancient volcano that holds the lake water. 

Douglas firs backlit by morning sun

Since my husband was sick, we didn’t do a lot of hiking. We followed the rim road and stopped fairly frequently to take in the views. Occasionally we got away from the parking areas where everyone else gathered to take pictures. Granted, there aren’t a lot of ways to shoot Crater Lake and this next shot is practically identical to the first picture ever taken of this majestic lake.

The Wizard Walks By

The island is called Wizard Island so what else can a Black Sabbath fan do? The crater that forms the lake was once a volcano. Oregon is home to a lot of ancient volcanic activity along the Cascade mountain range. Before it erupted, Mount Mazama was probably 12,000 feet high, the remaining caldera not so much, it collapsed and the  lake is 1943 feet deep. The most powerful eruption was probably 7200 years ago. The rising magma and exploding gases caused the mountain to collapse, creating the crater that holds centuries of rainwater. Surprisingly, Mt. Mazama is not an extinct volcano and much like Mt. St. Helens, it could erupt again someday.

Sonic Boom

I couldn’t resist playing with the intense blue color of the water.

Another slice –

Jagged slant

Of course as soon as I noticed Pumice Desert on the map, I knew we’d go check it out. Not much to explore, but I waited out the traffic for this shot. Thanks to Mt. Theilsen for adding terrific drama to my shot. And pointy-ness.

Pumice Desert

I really debated going to this little waterfall because of the light, but it was only a 2-mile hike on nice flat paths and when I got there I figured ‘what the heck’. I couldn’t get a really long exposure even though I used a neutral density filter and low ISO. Knowing to crank down the lens aperture results in image softness, I kept it within the sweet spot. It came out ok after a bit of Lightroom adjustment.

Plaikni Falls

I also had a mini-panic that I’d left a lens cap here. Jogged back and checked. No lens cap. It was back in the car in a jacket pocket. Doh!

Anyway, our last stop at Crater Lake was Pinnacle Valley. It was really interesting and inspiring to see this formation. I love looking at examples of geologic time and how vast that is and how almost incomprehensible it is to us since we don’t live that long. These spires are called fossil fumaroles where volcanic gasses rose through a layer of ash, hardening the ash into rock. Weather, water and wind sweeps away the loose ash leaving these chimneys behind. I love how their shapes mimic the trees (mostly douglas fir). Again, the light was pretty harsh, but honestly, I’m not sure if any light would show these well. I tried to get some good shadows, texture and separation, but again, I don’t know if they convey the specialness of this location.

Pinnacle Valley

Fossil fumaroles

Some of these pointy bits are 100 feet high and Sand Creek, the waterway to cut the valley, hundreds further down. Sometimes getting too close to the edge was scary. Very steep. I loved looking out into the tops of the trees though. Monster douglas firs. Of course, as soon as we got into the redwoods, they didn’t seem so monstrous anymore, but damn, they were plenty big.

Anyway, that’s it for Crater Lake. I enjoyed my time there, but it wasn’t my favorite place we visited. More on that coming up as I process shots from more parks later in our week.


I’m Back

Didja miss me?

Yes it’s true.

I’m a bad blogger.

Autumn is almost over (well photographically speaking) and I haven’t posted ONE shot yet. Haven’t even posted anything from my California trip either. Considering I was inspirationally and creatively pooped out was part of the problem. Several times I didn’t even bother taking the camera out of the bag. Just didn’t want to be that person, you know, the one with the camera. The one who doesn’t really experience where she is, just documents it. I did shoot though, in the one place I can never resist – the forest. And what a forest. Even though it isn’t terribly huge, the redwood grove at Garrapata State Park on US 1 in Big Sur is still pretty amazing. I haven’t spent a lot of time in redwood forests, but every time I do I’m stunned at how different they are from eastern forests. Not only in the size of the trees, but in the undergrowth, right down to the mushrooms (I saw exactly ONE). It even smells different. As fate would have it, I forgot my tripod in the hotel in Monterey and had to improvise like mad. Lots of camera on rock and camera on backpack and leaning on trees. In a way it was liberating; forcing me out of the normal shot and into something different.

Bracing myself and the camera against a tree –

Land of Giants

Modified Weaver stance –

Path to Glory

Camera on bit of rock sticking out of steep embankment –

Gold in the Valley

Camera on backpack which was on a slope steep enough that I had to stand on one of its straps to keep it from sliding into the drink –

Soberanes Creek

Surprisingly, even though it was so late in the season, I found a few lupines were still blooming. Their color is a bit different from the ones we have here, but the biggest difference is the leaves. Big Sur lupines have tiny leaves and the shade of green is much, much cooler. I couldn’t resist the contrast or the dew.

Late lupines

Even though the light was harsh and the wind wicked strong and relentless, I ventured over to the coastal side of US 1. I’m not thrilled with this shot, but at least I found something to put in the foreground besides scrubby bushes. The birds were a bonus. Couldn’t see them when I shot. Damn the wind though. I had to take my sunglasses off and put them in my pocket because I was afraid they’d blow off. Haven’t been in wind like that since the last time I was in California only that time it was in Mono Lake basin by the Sierras. Phew.

Big Sur

Another reason for no posts is that WordPress stymied me with picture editing. Normally I resize them slightly once I load them, but the icon didn’t appear. I searched the help forum to no avail and so just gave up. Hoping that things would be back to normal I tried again, looking in vain for the picture editor. Visiting the forum did turn up an answer this time and I got things to work. Roundabout way though and I’d have never thought of it so I’m glad to be back.


Ohio Weekend

Hey all.  I haven’t posted in a while, but today I’m back with some shots from last weekend when my husband and I flew to Ohio to spend a weekend with some friends.  It wasn’t a photography trip per se, but I did shoot a little bit.  We visited Killbuck Marsh which is a very large floodplain surrounded by farms.  We didn’t spend a lot of time there though.  We spent a bit more time at our friend’s ranch and so I’ve got a few shots of his neighbor’s ranch at sundown.  Enjoy!

Ohio Pastoral

Killbuck marsh

All life flows back

Anglers and Gigglers

Ohio sundown

Sunset in Ohio

 

 

 

 

 


It’s the little differences

Ah that famous scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent enumerates the little differences between the US and Amsterdam.  I had a similar experience recently and no, it didn’t involve Burger King either.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I practically live in the woods. It started when I was a kid.  No amount of fairy tales would keep me out.  (what was it with making the woods scary or having scary things happen in the woods all the time?   Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, even the Three Pigs had a rough time of it there.)  Anyway…I love the woods and so when I tagged along on one of my husband’s most recent business trips I knew that’s where I’d go on my day alone while he went to his meeting.

I decided to go to the Long Hunter State park just outside of Nashville.  The trail I picked was called the Day Loop Trail and I thought it would be long enough to take up a few hours.  Also I thought it would be interesting enough with parts overlooking the reservoir itself and the rest in the forest.  After getting turned around a bit and taking a while to find the trailhead which isn’t in the main part of the park, I set off on my hike.

Timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  First – the foliage was at its peak, second – the temperature and humidity were ideal, and third – I was basically alone. While hiking this 5-mile loop I only saw 3 other people. Perfect!

The first thing that struck me as different was the rocks. Well, duh.  I’m used to granite.  They don’t call NH the Granite State for nothing.  The stuff is everywhere.  Most mountain trails wind through long strings of boulders. Huge granite ledges and outcrops give the land its uneven character.  In TN that granite is replaced by limestone.  It is just as ubiquitous, but looks much different.  A lot of it is carved by ancient winds and water and there are strange holes in some of it.  The way it is worn away at the surface and can sometimes run in shelves and seams was different, too.  After a while though, it was eerie not having miles and miles of stonewall accompanying me through the forest.  In New England you can’t go ten feet without tripping over one.  While our soils are fertile, the land is so strewn with boulders it has to be cleared before it can be tilled.  Rock walls not only got the stupid things out of the way, but they also helped establish boundaries for land owners. A lot of land now set aside for conservation was once farmland so the walls are everywhere.  Not so in this part of Tennessee.

The second thing that struck me was the undergrowth, or rather the lack of it (at least in this section of the park).  I don’t say that there was NO undergrowth, but sometimes it seemed that way.  I’m used to ferns by the thousands. Hobble bush.  Blueberries and raspberries.  Laurels of several varieties.  Maple leaf viburnum.  Witch hazel.  All kinds of undergrowth make up the NH forest.  So when I’d come across patches like these, it startled me –

Tennessee Morning

Progenitor

Like I said, not all of it was bare, I found this glorious swath of vinca minor which must be amazing in the spring when it blooms –

Yellow above, green below

So no ferns to photograph and weirdly, no mushrooms either.  Plenty of trees though and while most of them were yellow, some weren’t –

Heavenward

Sherbet surprise

Speaking of trees.  Here’s the last thing that kind of freaked me out a bit.  All through this part of the woods there wasn’t a single pine tree.  Not one.  No firs.  No hemlocks.  No pines.  No spruces.  No cedars.  Well, ok, red cedar, but it’s really a mis-identified juniper so doesn’t really count.  I didn’t see a single pinecone.  Very, very strange for this northerner.  Lots of deciduous like maple, oak, shagbark hickory and sycamore, but strangely no birches, aspens, poplars or beeches.  Again, odd for this little gray duck.

Unfortunately, the light wasn’t great for views of the lake, but I did like the way some folks had tipped up these slabs of limestone –

what is it with people and rocks?

In New England we stack up rocks along the trail (and especially on mountaintops) to make little cairns.  People just love rocks and piling them up on each other.  Funny.

Oh and here’s someone I ran into…well almost ran into on the trail.

Southern Belle

She was so different from the orb weavers we have up here that I wished I could have photographed her closely and better, but the wind was relentless and so I had to go for a wide open, high-speed silhouette instead.  I do wicked love that her jaws are silhouetted as well.  Pure luck.

And so ends my wonderful, magical and eye-opening hike through some of Tennessee’s beautiful forests.  Oh wait, let’s take one look back –

Headrush


Ghost Train of Versailles

Phew.

It’s been a “rough” four days.  Rough only in a strict first world sort of way.  I was without the internet at home for four days.

Oh noes!

Yeah, we had a wicked noreaster come through and dump a foot or two of snow on us.  Some got more, some got less, but a few million of us lost electricity and cable.  If it happened a month later it wouldn’t have been so bad because more leaves would have dropped.  Since so may were still on trees (especially oaks) we had tons of tree and branch damage to power lines.  Lots of impassable roads and spoiled nature preserves.  Bummer, but no injuries and no deaths except a few by carbon monoxide build up in homes from generator use.  The people I heard about were using them correctly (outdoors, away from the house), but didn’t realize a window in the basement was open.  That stuff is so deadly.

Anyway…I do have a generator wired to the house so I got to watch plenty of movies (all 3 Lord of the Rings which was a treat, I tell you), run the microwave, take hot showers and keep my toes toasty.  Better than most I know, but the no internet thing was killing me at first.  Then I got into a new routine and it wasn’t so bad.  Still, I did miss it.

So here I am with a belated Halloween post for you.  When we left Woodford Reserve in Versailles KY (the pronounce it Ver-sales, btw…oh my the French would be so appalled…it is SO American to do stuff like this…embarrassing, but that’s off topic).  Anyway, when we left the distillery we took some back roads.  We LOVE back roads.  This is why –

Unheeded - I went right past the signs telling me I shouldn't...could you resist this???

I tell you I couldn’t stop and get out of the car fast enough.  A train!!!  Stuff like this just doesn’t exist in New England outside of barricaded train yards.  OMG.  I went right past the notices telling me I had to have a railway agent accompany me to the train and not to approach it at all.  Bah.  Who could keep away?  Certainly not the locals who were wicked creative and put a haunted train together.

Ghost Train Crossing

Not all the cars were dressed up this way, but a few were and we saw lights strung up and even a fog machine.  Oh how I’d have liked to seen it at night.

Standees

Scaring Room Only

Oh it was fun.  And yeah, I had to get up into a couple of the cars.  Obviously others had done so before me and didn’t die…or did they?

Scene of the crime?


Distill My Heart

I was in Kentucky and Tennessee this past weekend.  My husband had a seminar in Nashville on Monday and since he had to go down on Sunday anyway, we decided to go a day early and see what we could see.  Having never been to either state before it was a new experience for both of us and one we’re likely to repeat.  One reason is Kentucky bourbon.  We’re both fans and so some bourbon tasting was definitely on the agenda.  A friend of his suggested we take the back road to Woodford Reserve so we could see some distillery ruins.  Oh how could I refuse?  Unfortunately (or fortunately since they seemed really decrepit and dangerous) we couldn’t get into one and didn’t have time to trespass in the other.  Here’s the one we couldn’t go into –

Old Crow Distillery –

Old Crow - barrel warehouse on left, distillery on right.

To get all of these shots I had to put the camera on top of the chain link fence between strands of barbed wire.  It was well over my head and I was very thankful for my flip and swivel LCD so I could see to compose.

Old Crow bourbon barrel warehouses flank the distillery itself - now well and truly defunct

Bourbon making evolved out of whiskey making pretty soon after it got started in Kentucky.  Every current bourbon producer has its own story as to how bourbon was created but a few things are consistent.  At first whiskey was a clear liquid made simply from corn mash.  It was drunk all through the colonies and also used as a bartering product in Appalachia (leading right to the Whiskey Rebellion under the contentious administration of Jefferson and Hamilton).  I didn’t get a sense of Kentucky’s participation in it, but here is where true American whiskey was born.  Someone, somehow put whiskey in a barrel that had been burned.  Exactly how it was burned is lost to us, but it was probably an accident.  Shipping whiskey down to New Orleans took a long time; 5-6 months on average and by the time it arrived it had taken on the character, color and flavor of the charring inside the barrel.  After a while people began to prefer it, asking for that whiskey from Bourbon county Kentucky, eventually shortening it to bourbon.

Old Crow barrel warehouses falling in on themselves

Just down the road from the ruins of Old Crow are the ruins of the Old Taylor distillery.  In between are barrel houses upon barrel houses, many of which are used today by the Jim Beam company.  When we got to Old Taylor we could hear voices from people trespassing by the barrel house and further up the sound of some power equipment; like a saw.  There was a new, red pick up truck parked just inside the now open gates.  Eventually someone came out and asked what we were doing there.  He warned us that if we were caught inside the complex or even had our car parked near it, we could be ticketed or towed or both.  Playing the tourist angle and introducing ourselves got us an invitation into what turned out to be a woodworking shop, ironically housed in the old cooperage.  Deputy Sheriff Sandy was working on some plaques for the various law enforcement departments he does work for.  He invited us to sit a spell and talk.  We did.

He told us all about the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries and how the Old Taylor brand is being revived by the good people at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort.  It was closed down in the 1970s and left to sit.  Barrel tracks, loading bays, mash cookers – all left behind.  Even the timecards of the last shift workers were left in the clock house by the gates.  Sandy went on to explain that Kentucky bourbon must first be made in the state, contain no less than 51% corn mash, distilled to 160 proof and no higher, be barreled for at least 24 months in new, charred, white oak barrels.  Charring those barrels is a highly individual thing and ranges from just a few seconds to almost half a minute.  Most bourbon spends far longer in those barrels; averaging 7-9 years.

Joshua McQueen - one tough old dude I'll bet.

Well, as much as it pained me to go (since I wanted to tour the ruins legitimately) we had to.  Before we did though, Sandy told us about a soldier who is buried in the cemetery across the street from the distillery gates.  I would have stopped there to shoot anyway (you know me and cemeteries), but knowing about this really old dude made it all the more special.  Here’s his death notice in the  Louisville and Nashville Christian Advocate 1853 –

JOSHUA McQUEEN born Baltimore. Co., Md., Oct. 15, 1746; died Franklin Co., Ky., April 17, 1853 in his 107th year; s/o Thomas and Jane McQueen; firstborn of five children; enlisted in American army and served 7 years during the Revolutionary War; among battles he was in: Germantown, Monmouth, Brandywine. “At Valley Forge, he was one of the sufferers in that memorable winter, when the fidelity of the soldier was thoroughly tested” during which time he was servant to Gen. /Nathanael/Green(e); md Margaret Baxter; had 11 children; about 1790 moved to Madison Co., Ky.; joined MEC 1792/93; wife died and he md Jemima Cornelison d/o John and Elizabeth Cornelison of Ky. who was a Baptist; moved to Franklin Co., Ky. 1832; to three miles below Frankfort, Ky. in 1842 where he died.

Wow.  Just wow.  Sandy himself bought and erected the modern stone you see here.  No one knows exactly where Joshua is buried, but just knowing he’s been commemorated is a good thing.

Oh and before I go, here’s a working distillery – Woodford Reserve –

Woodford Reserve

We got an excellent tour here.  That building houses all their active production; shipping & receiving, bottling, yeast cooker, mash fermenters and 3 copper distillers themselves.  Amazing and very labor intensive.  Small batches is putting it mildly.  The tour guide mentioned a nearby cemetery, so of course I had to go there, too.  It’s directly across the road from the visitor center and had its own fascination –

"Shaw" cemetery

In the back corner there is a stylized representation of what I think is a corn maiden.  Corn being the biggest cash crop around Kentucky and a mandatory ingredient for bourbon, it’s not too surprising that images of corn appear everywhere; signs, gateposts and fences just to name a few.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Coming up – a Kentucky ghost train just in time for Halloween!



	

Desert Blooms

May in California is wildflower season and the high desert of the eastern Sierras is no exception.  I took tons of photos, but due to the harsh light, relentless wind and time constraints (who can wait forever for the wind to die down on every single shot?) most of them are for my reference and remembrance only.  Some did work out well though I wasn’t able to identify most of them.  I had a book and have used the internet, but still their IDs elude me.  If anyone definitely knows what some of these are, feel free to add a comment.

Desert Prince's Plume

No ID, I loved the morning light through them though.

 

Shot at dawn, no ID, they were everywhere, like grass.

No ID, found on the slopes of Black Point by Mono Lake

No ID, found on the rim of the Panum Crater by Mono Lake

No ID, but the backlighting was awesome at dawn

No ID, I loved their shy quality and the little droopy bits

Most of these are unbelievably tiny and I can hardly believe they survive, much less thrive, in such seemingly harsh conditions.  So different from the wildflowers in New England, but gorgeous none-the-less.  I spent  a lot of time oohing and ahhing over them.  It was hilarious and I felt really bad that I kept saying ‘Just one more’ to my stalwart husband.  He’s a gem, he is.

So, if anyone knows what these are, chime in.


Mono Lake and Musings on Travel Photography

So I’ve been thinking about this blog post and putting it off because I didn’t have an angle, a theme or a cohesive idea to pull it together.  As with a lot of my writing it just needed time to brew, like a good pot of French Press coffee.  (Four minutes with 200 degree water and fresh ground Starbucks coffee, preferably a darker roast like Sumatra (my current fave) or Italian roast.)  After a few days, I realized what’s really been rattling around in my head – the differences between travel photography and home turf photography.

A little while ago I wrote about The Art of the Do-Over and how that takes some of the pressure off getting the “perfect” shot.  And in the Are We Blind article I showed two shots of the same waterfall separated by about a year of serious shooting.  Knowing that you can easily go back to a location and get the shot you missed is an immense comfort.  You can control the light by watching the weather.  You can control the time of day you shoot.  You can control the equipment you have with you.  And last, you bring your experience and knowledge to the shoot; you know what you’re after and you know the location from having shot it before.  All really fine circumstances, but travel photography is different.

Spacegirl Blues

Travel photography is loaded with pressure.  With angst.  Will I get that iconic photo?  Will I be able to document what it was really like to be in this place?  Will I just get “tourist snaps”?  Will I find some hidden wonder no one’s ever shot before?  Will I get up for the perfect sunrise?  Will I have enough memory cards?  It’s a crazy, anxiety producing time for a serious photographer, even when it’s supposed to be relaxing.  Oh the things we do to ourselves.

There’s an old adage that says familiarity breeds contempt, but I try not to let that happen.  Familiarity can also breed ideas and a level of comfort with the area that the travel photographer doesn’t have.  My biggest hurdle on vacation is not being familiar with the location.  Oh sure you can use online maps and specialized programs like The Photographer’s Ephemeris, but they can only do so much.  Like when you drive and drive to reach a sunset location only to find the river in shackles provided by the Los Angeles water department.  Or when you get up before the sun and drive to what you think will be the perfect beach only to find there’s a huge fence and the gate is locked.  Yeah, that kind of thing.  Being a native is a tremendous advantage in any setting and I can see why photographers hire guides to help them find the best locations.  But I’m on vacation, not a photo shoot and I have to be mindful that my husband has different ideas about fun and relaxation.  Learn to let it go if a shot just doesn’t come together perfectly.  If a location doesn’t turn out to be as good as advertised.  If you have to make do with something other than your ideal.  Let.  It.  Go.

Gemini Spacecraft

And then there’s the weather.  You’re only going to be in that spot for a short amount of time so you take what you get.  Hopefully it’s something you can manage and work with instead of against.  I ruined one whole vacation’s worth of shooting by fighting the light instead of managing it to advantage.  Clouds don’t show up for your sunrise…find something else.  Too much cloud cover for your sunset shoot?  Harsh light all day?  Wind?  Rain?  Snow?  Freezing temps?  Ah the joys of travel photography.

That’s when flexibility is key.  I’ve heard it said that the best way to get good images is to have a shot list and plan them in advance.  All well and good except that you’re planning with in a finite box of perfect conditions.  Ha!  We all know Mother Nature’s sense of humor and unless you have a lot of time and an unlimited travel budget, chances are you’re not going to get the shot you envision.  That’s when the ability to see photographs on the fly comes in so handy.  I did that pretty well on my last trip to CA and tried to do it on this one.  Experience and a solid foundation of good photography practices will be something to lean on in times of trouble.  Think of it as your fallback position.  Fallback onto solid, traditional compositions and subjects that are dictated by what you see, not what you want to see.  Remember what I said about letting it go?  This is when you do it.  Be flexible and let it go if you can’t accomplish it.

Songs for Future Gods

So along with setting a shot list that you can be flexible about, it’s important to set expectations, too.  Study the weather.  Look at the elevation.  Check out the terrain.  Know where the light is coming from. Go to your favorite photography forums and see what threads have been posted about where you’re going.  Post your own thread asking for advice.  Check out blogs from local photographers or pros who have been to the area.  Oh what did we do before the internet?  Seriously, it’s so much easier now and so there’s no excuse for not being prepared when you get there.  Just knowing what the typical day is like where you’re going is a huge advantage.  This will help you visualize ahead of time and you won’t be surprised about what you find.  Think of it as sending an advance team.

Riders of the Dawn

After years of bringing the kitchen sink with me on vacation, now I travel with minimal gear.  It’s rare that I find myself wishing for something I didn’t have.  But what if you do need something that you didn’t bring?   If you are lucky enough to be in an area that has a decent camera store, you might be able to talk your way into a quickie rental.  Or if you’re traveling with other photographers who use the same brand, you can always beg or borrow.  Mostly though understanding your own photography is your answer.  Analyze what you use, really use, not just own.  Think about what you want to produce while you’re on vacation and pack accordingly.  On this trip I brought an older telephoto lens because I don’t have any new Olympus tele-zooms.  Having gotten decent results with it before, I thought it would work.  Unfortunately the camera out-resolves it and I didn’t get a single useful image with it.  Maybe I should have brought the one I have more experience with, but I brought the 180mm because I so rarely use it.  And vacation is not the time to be learning or perfecting techniques.  Work on that when you can have an easy do over.

Interstellar Communique

What about fun?  What about relaxing?  What about enjoying a place without having to photograph every inch of it?  Knowing when enough is enough is so important.  I’m not a street photographer and so my instinct to bring a camera with me into town to get breakfast is weak.  Sure I thought of doing it, but I didn’t because that’s my time.  My relaxation time.  My time to just sit with my husband, laugh, eat and find the course of the day.  Being with a single-minded automaton is a real drag and who wants to be that person?  Putting the camera down and experiencing a place is sometimes more important than snapping away.  Sometimes the camera is a barrier to being, just being in a location.  More than once it’s happened that I come away from a place without a sense of it…I was too busy looking through the viewfinder.

Monocerous

Oh jeez that was rambling, wasn’t it?  Here’s a summary to better prepare for a “once in a lifetime” location –

  1. Study the location remotely – weather, light, terrain and choice locations are all available online to help you get a feel for a place
  2. Be flexible – chances are the perfect conditions will never present themselves and you have to be able to envision good photos on the fly using what you see, not what you want to see
  3. Bring gear that suits your style – don’t try to break out of your zone on vacation, bring equipment that enhances your viewpoint not what disrupts it
  4. Fallback to the familiar – can’t make the original images you want, fallback on tried and true techniques and compositions; imitate the masters, they earned that title, find out why
  5. Work with what you have – if you can’t get to a spot or find conditions different from what you expected, exploit what you find and work it hard, let go of your preconceived photo
  6. Put the camera down for a while and really feel what it’s like to be where you are and with the person beside you – don’t let the camera be a barrier to fun