Thursday, December 31, 2009

If On A Winter's Night

Many people dislike winter. Snow, ice, cold, wind, bare trees, etc. They spend every day of winter wishing it was over instead of enjoying the season for what it can bring.

I'm just the opposite. I like winter. After the fun and long days of summer and the changes of autumn, winter is my time to settle in for a few months and reset myself. Slow the pace down a bit. Take care of things around the house, pursue my indoor hobbies, read some books, make some nice long fires, and watch snowstorms out the window with a good glass of wine (which, coincidentally, is exactly what I'm doing right now).

Yesterday, it was about 15 degrees in New York and the wind was absolutely howling. Some of the strongest winds that I've ever seen up where I live. Trees were swaying about 8-10 feet in each direction with the sustained winds. I went for a hike in the woods (and froze my ass off!), but it was cool to get to the top of the mountain near my house and experience these winds that sounded like a freight train coming up the hill. Impressive!

My thoughts about winter were reinforced when I first heard about Sting's new album called "If On A Winter's Night". I bought the CD and read the liner notes, and Sting was basically saying the same thing about winter as I was. I'm sure many people share the same sentiments.

His new album is not a Christmas album, it's a winter album. Yes, there are some holiday type songs on there, but more than anything the album creates a mood of winter and starkness. It's an interesting listen and it fits the season of winter perfectly.

Sting speaks about the new CD in this interview. Check it out...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I hope this blog entry brings you some Christmas cheer!

I took this simple photo last year after I decorated the front of our house with Christmas lights. When I was standing back to check out how it looked, this one red light seemed to jump out at me for some reason.

For a moment, I was totally lost in thoughts of Christmas past. As I stood there in the snow, I remembered fond memories of when I was little watching my Dad out the window hanging up our lights (just as I was doing now for my family decades later). I remembered playing with my toy trains and race car tracks at Christmas time, decorating our tree as we listened to Christmas music, the sweet smell of gingerbread cookies baking, the smell of the Christmas tree, our visits to New York City to see the holiday lights, the sound of presents tearing open on Christmas morning, playing in the snow with our new sleds, and so much more!

Memories generated from looking at just one little light...

It reminded me of the joy in my kids' eyes when we had all of our Christmas lights lying on the floor in our house as we were getting ready to hang them up, and I plugged them in. The room was suddenly flooded with colorful light and my kids smiled from ear to ear! I remember my Dad doing the exact same thing when I was little....and I remember be equally as happy to see all of the colors.

The message of this post is: "Enjoy the simple things at holiday time"! Everyone gets so caught up in shopping, rushing around to find a sale, planning parties, worrying about finding the right gift, etc. I think it's wise to slow things down a bit and simply relax and observe the season. Light a fire, grab a glass of wine, and sit on the couch doing nothing except listening to a Christmas record. Don't do anything else...just sit, listen, and enjoy.

For some extra fun, try spying on your kids and listening to their conversations about Christmas when they don't know you're listening. They wonder how Santa gets down the chimney with the big bag of toys. They wonder how he makes it all the way around the world to every family in just one night. Great stuff....

Enjoy the holidays!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Harold Davis

One of the great things about pursuing a hobby on the Internet is the capability to get great exposure to what you like quickly. In my pursuit of photography, I've easily found several hundred great web sites and I follow several dozen of them on a regular basis.

One of those sites is photo.net, and there's a set of articles on there now by Harold Davis about "Becoming a More Creative Photographer". He has written many photography technique books over the years, and this great series of articles on photo.net is something that I encourage people to read if you're looking to improve your photography or if you're already a seasoned shooter but just need a jump start out of a rut.

The good thing about these articles is that each one of them has assignments at various points within that "lesson" that serve to drive home the points that Davis is making. They're simple, fun, and make you think. You might be surprised by the results of the exercises when you do them. Well worth a read!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ian Plant - Dreamscapes

I read a great article in Outdoor Photographer today called "Dreamscapes" about the photographer Ian Plant.

There are two quotes in the article that really resonated with me about what he's trying to achieve with his photography:

1) "I strive to create images that move beyond the literal, transforming subjects into something unexpected for the viewer by rendering the familiar in an unfamiliar way".

2) "Artists should impose their vision on the scene, not the other way around. I’m always looking for ways to create an image, rather than just record one".

Great thoughts! Particularly the one about "creating" instead of just "recording". This is precisely what I was getting at in my post on this site called Active Photography.

This guy has a great portfolio. Check out his web site.

Friday, October 23, 2009

PhotoPlus Expo - New York City

Today, I attended the PhotoPlus Expo photography conference in New York City for the first time. I've had free passes for this event for many of the years it's been in New York, but something always came up the week of the show that prevented me from attending. This year, I made the time and went.

You can click the link above to read all about the show, but suffice to say that all of the major camera manufacturers were there as well as a large selection of photographic industry supporting businesses (i.e., manufacturers of flash units, papers, books, accessories, tripods, camera cases, lighting equipment, wedding albums, printing services, photography schools, photo services, etc).

It was great to see all of the current photography wares under one roof at the Javits Convention Center. It was also good to see a major presence from companies like Sony, which is trying to make a major push into the DSLR industry. Competition is a good thing!

I left with four distinct impressions:

1) The newest mid-range DSLR's (i.e., Canon 7D, Nikon D300s) are fantastic and far superior to their siblings from just 2-3 years ago. The features and performance of the new Canon 7D makes my Canon 30D seem like 20-year old technology, when in reality it's only three years old. The new pro level Canon and Nikons are also certainly very impressive machines.

2) Inkjet printers have become so sophisticated that their output is almost unbelievable. You have to see if for yourself to believe it. I'm planning to buy the new Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II printer, and the prints that this machine was printing out were nothing short of stunning in quality. No printer artifacts whatsoever like the earlier photo printers. Just clean, smooth, sharp prints on any paper size from small 4x6" prints to massive posters printed on paper rolls. Incredible!

3) The Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible Flash Diffuser is one of the greatest (and cheapest) flash accessories that I've seen in a long time. When attached to an accessory flash it produces a nice, even, soft flash effect without the harsh shadows associated with shooting bare straight-on flash. Great tool for softening up the harsh light from your flash unit.

4) The internet has made it possible for a photographer to run a full blown photography business with comparative ease versus five years ago. You can buy or find a service for anything to do with the photographic industry online. Print houses, photo album and book printers, media companies, marketing assistance, specialty photography web site hosting, software to do almost anything, etc. Everything is just a few clicks away. A truly fantastic use for the internet, and a great benefit for photographers!

Click the image below to see a few pictures from this year's show...
PhotoPlus Expo - New York City

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Transit

I've been reading an interesting book lately called "Transit" by the photographer Uwe Ommer.

This is not just another photography book. It's part photography book, part scrapbook, part cultural sampler, and part epic journey. It's also giant in size, not only physically, but in page number as well (720!).

The genesis of "Transit" was another book by Ommer called "1,000 Families" in which he traveled around the world for years to photograph portraits of 1,000 families showing life and values in different countries.

The "1,000 Families" book was the expected outcome of that major effort, but it seems that "Transit" was the unexpected outcome. You know how some DVD packages come with the movie and then an extra DVD about the making of the movie? Well, "Transit" is about the making of "1,000 Families".

I find this book interesting because of it's massive scope of travel, the storytelling approach of the the narratives, and the funny anecdotes that can only come from a modern day around-the-world adventure into sometimes not-so-modern-day places. And that's what this trip was....an adventure!

But more than anything else, it clearly shows the importance of the family unit in every corner of the world. Every family and culture is different (which this book clearly points out), but in the end everyone just wants to be happy, to enjoy life, to give something back, and to be with their family in their environment. It's a compelling story...

If you're interested in travel, family, culture, photography (or all of these things), I would suggest checking out this book.

I'll end my part of this post by putting up the description of "Transit" from Amazon's web site:

"Around the world in 1424 days: the epic voyage behind the making of the book 1000 Families. Part travel journal, part scrapbook, "Transit" is a unique book that traces the four-year, 250,000-km journey of photographer Uwe Ommer during the making of TASCHEN’s 1000 Families. Called a "family album of planet earth," 1000 Families is a vast collection of portraits taken by Ommer in over 130 countries in all corners of the world. Naturally, a voyage of such epic proportions bears its fair share of anecdotes, adventures, mishaps, and souvenirs, and Transit traces the experience via stories and images. From closed borders and broken bridges to late rainy seasons, curious customs officers, thieves, coups d’├ętat, raging fevers, and a far from "unbreakable" Land Rover, Ommer found truth in the maxim "just about everything that can go wrong, will."

This amusing and original compilation paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to travel to the most remote corners of the globe for four years, meeting countless people and observing the great cultural and social similarities and differences that mark the human race".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Canon 7D

Canon Professional Network has posted a lengthy overview of the new Canon 7D on their web site.

In my opinion, this is the first truly innovative camera to come from Canon in quite a while. The 20D, 30D, 40D, and 50D DSLR's were just minor steps up from each other. The 7D is a major revision and unleashes a fury of new and truly creatively useful technology.

The one thing I disagree with is the continuation of Canon and Nikon's race to cram increasing numbers of megapixels on APS-C sensors. I keep wondering when the megapixel marketing race will end and Canon and Nikon will figure out that most photographers would probably prefer to have 12-14 really clean megapixels at high ISO with no noise over a 19 megapixel APS-C sensor with noise and tons of noise control. I personally don't give a darn about having 19 megapixels. Just give me a clean shooting camera...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life blogs

Sometimes life or work (or both!) beat the ever-living crap out of you. You're totally worn down, you lose perspective, and the smallest things become a big deal. You're off balance.

Those are the times to reset, pursue one of your hobbies, take a breather....and/or check out one of the better blogs about living a simpler life and focusing on what really matters.

That's all the introduction I need to give to these three great blogs. Check them out and you'll get the drift real fast. Good reading!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Autumn arrives!

Autumn.

A distinct chill is in the air in the northeastern U.S. as autumn comes sliding in...

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder. You need a jacket in the morning and an extra blanket at night. Our baseboard water heat turned on for the first time the other day and you can "smell the warmth" of it. The kids say "I smell heat". They're right...it has a certain comforting smell the first time it comes on for the season. Makes me want to take a nap on the couch!

I always like how autumn sneaks up on you. Everyone is always rushing to do their last fun activities of the summer, then the kids go back to school, then a few weeks pass and you suddenly realize that the leaves are changing color! Fall is here!

I remember the morning I took the picture above. It was about 6:30am and the grass was heavily frosted from overnight. I had just cut it the day before so it was all clear of leaves except for this one red leaf that fell right in the middle. I thought the contrast against the frosted grass would look nice. I was right! :-)

Take some time to enjoy this season. Take a long meandering drive through some mountains to see the scenery. Watch how the sun cuts through the trees in the afternoon to make them explode with color. Go to a local farm to pick a pumpkin, have some apple cider and a donut. Make a fire and just relax and watch it burn with a glass of merlot. Listen to the wind as it blows the leaves from the trees. And take some pictures!

Autumn is a season for the senses. The first taste of the holidays will soon be in the air. Enjoy it!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Adobe TV

Adobe has updated and improved their Adobe TV section of their web site, which offers good video tutorials on many topics related to photography. Check it out.

The use of video has really changed this area of online support and education. It's often much more effective to watch someone do something than to read about it. A picture (or video) is worth a thousand words!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Photo books

Here is a good article from Shutterbug.com called "Self-Publish Your Photo Book" that summarizes the most recent state of the art web sites for publishing your own photo books. The prices have come down considerably, and now most serious photographers have good self-publishing options within their grasp.

One book printer left out of this article is Photo Book Press, so I figured I would include them here.

ACDSee Pro 3 - No!

I've been using ACDSee Pro for quite a few years to manage my photos because it's fast, easy to use, and helpful. However, even as I've remained a fan of this software for years, I've also always thought in the back of my head that it just wasn't as good as it could be in the areas of functionality, organization, features, workflow, etc.

I stuck with ACDSee Pro through various upgrades primarily because Adobe Bridge CS4 is such a dog on my older machine. It's so slow that I just can't use it on a regular basis for photo management. I return to Bridge periodically only because it has implemented keywording in a great way. So I keyword each new month of photos that I take, and then don't return to Bridge again until the next month.

So....Out comes the new version of ACDSee, which is Pro 3. This version of the software seemed to correct almost every complaint I ever had about it, but after using it for a few days I discovered that the 'Process' mode workflow is so deeply flawed that it's almost unbelievable. Seeing how this mode functions (even when editing simple JPEGs) , I would have to say that people need to take a careful look at this software before deciding if its workflow scheme would suit your needs. It's a great photo browser, but in my opinion, the editing capabilities have been ruined due to the workflow it forces you into.

The new interface is constructed around modes named Manage, View, Process, and Publish. These modes structure you into an organized workflow when you want to manage and edit images. Much the same way Lightroom does...

But more importantly than the new structure of the application is the vast suite of editing tools that it now contains that are all-encompassing, easy to use, more efficiently organized, etc.

The problem with all of this is the Process mode. This is the area of the software that you enter when you're ready to edit a photo. Process mode is broken into two halves; Develop and Edit. Each of these two subsections has a logically grouped set of editing capabilities within it. So far, so good. The major problem is that if you make some edits in the Develop mode, and then move to Edit mode to continue with the next set of tools, you can't go back to Develop mode again to tweak what you originally did there without losing everything you did in Edit mode. This is so unbelievably silly that I triple-checked to ensure I was seeing this right. This is indeed the way it works. Terrible!

The other problem with Pro 3 is its implementation of keywording. You can keyword photos, but the interface to do it is cumbersome and outdated. It's a sadly overlooked part of this software and has been since the first version. All ACDSee has to do is implement templated keywording like Bridge has and this would be a huge improvement. It's a shame that they still can't get this aspect of their software right.

Maybe I can overlook the outdated implementation of keywording, but the Process mode is so fundamentally wrong (especially for JPEGs) that it immediately turned me off to this software.

Try the free demo version of Pro 3 to see what you think.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Active photography

When I was in college I took a class called "Introduction to Music" as one of my liberal arts electives. The class was about learning all the different genres of music, their history, etc. I've been a fan of music my whole life but I had never studied it, so I thought it would be interesting.

On the first day of the class the instructor explained the principle of "active listening" to the class. The main theory of it is that when you really want to appreciate music in a more engaged way, you don't just put it on as background sound and go about your business. To actively listen you have to sit down and pay attention to the start, middle, and end of a piece. You listen to the instruments, which ones are playing when, how they're playing, what they're contributing to the piece, how they interact. Listen to and appreciate the nuances of the music. You get the point...

I had never really thought about music that way. I appreciated it and certainly understood what was going on, but I don't think I can really say I was an "active listener" in the sense described above.

The instructor went on to explain what our final exam would be. We would need to listen to a twenty minute symphony performance, identify what time period it was from, identify the instruments playing, how many of them were playing, and describe the milestones of the performance (shifts in mood, who was instrumentally controlling the piece at what time, etc). I thought he was out of his mind! I thought it would be impossible.

So, guess what. I went through the whole semester, learned what he was talking about, and really enjoyed it. I took the final exam and got an 'A'. Imagine that!

The reason I tell that story is to draw a parallel between "active listening" and "active photography".

Many people will never take more than snapshots with their cameras to capture a moment. And you know what? That's fine if that's what they want to do. To each his own...

But other people want to take photographs that have a very intentional composition and convey a story, a message, a purpose, etc. Some people want to make other people think about an image. They want it to linger in someones memory. I remember pictures from 20 years ago that seem like I saw them yesterday. Those are photographs!

For those people, I believe that you have to get actively involved in your photography to achieve your purpose. There's little chance of achieving these types of goals if you walk up to something and simply go "Click!" to take your picture. You have to become engaged, find a good angle, find good light and proper exposure, emphasize the subject, set your depth of field, and ensure that these things combined will achieve your goal. You have to pursue "active photography". Like active listening, it's a lot to think about and it takes time to learn.

The next time you're out somewhere taking pictures and you see something that you stop to take a photo of, try to practice active photography. Think about the subject and message of your picture and what you can do to emphasize and achieve it. If you put some thought into it, the first few times you succeed in this type of advanced photographic goal and "get it right", I think you'll be startled by the results. This kind of realization is what will draw you deep into the hobby of photography. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

100 Things

Well, it's been a fun (but wet!) summer. I'm getting back to preparing some posts for this site because I haven't done much writing this summer. I've been out and about with the family traveling, taking pictures, and having fun.

I don't often link to other articles on this site, but I might do some more of that because I've been reading some stuff lately that has been useful, amusing, or just worth reading for some reason.

I found this link interesting, funny, true, and worth a read. It's called "100 Things I've Learned About Photography" on the Digital Photography School web site. As I read through the list, I found myself saying "Yes.....Yes.....Yes" to many of the items and realized that I've had many of the same experiences and thoughts. Maybe you have too! Check it out...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mainz, Germany (with photos)

I've had several chances to travel to Germany on business over the last year and they've been interesting experiences that I wanted to share here.

While I've done extensive traveling around the US over the years, I haven't done much traveling outside of North America. For that reason, I was approaching these trips to another country, especially one where I don't speak the language, with a mix of excitement and a little bit of trepidation as well.

The fact that I was going on business and would be meeting my colleagues while I was there helped me feel more comfortable. But until I arrived in Germany and got into the swing of things, I was thinking that I was going to feel very alone (which I indeed did). Someone told me that everyone under forty in Germany speaks English. I don't know if that general statement is true or not, but I also found that somewhat comforting. I did my best to learn a few key words in German before I went.

Destination:

Here is some information about Mainz from Wikipedia just to set the stage for this story:

Mainz (French: Mayence) is a city in Germany and the capital of the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. It was a politically important seat of the Prince-elector of Mainz under the Holy Roman Empire, and previously was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. Up until the twentieth century, Mainz was usually referred to in English as Mayence.

Mainz is a city with over two thousand years of history. It is located on the river Rhine across from Wiesbaden, in the western part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region; in the modern age, Frankfurt shares much of its regional importance.

Mainz is located on the west bank of the river Rhine, opposite the confluence of the Main with the Rhine. The 2008 population was 196,784 , an additional 18,619 people maintain a primary residence elsewhere but have a second home in Mainz and it is also a part of the Rhein Metro area consisting of 5.8 million people. Mainz is easily reached from Frankfurt International Airport in 25 minutes by commuter railway (Rhine-Main S-Bahn).

The summary above highlights one of my interests in seeing Germany....The history! The US is a "baby-country" in age compared to the countries in Europe, where long and interesting histories have shaped the culture and people.

Airports:

John F. Kennedy Airport in New York is the main hub for Lufthansa Airlines in my area, so off to the airport I went...Speaking of which, the New York airports really suck. Not to get into airport-bashing, but come on. These airports have been in a state of disrepair and constant renovation for at least twenty years. I can honestly say that any other airport I've walked into anywhere that I've been is nicer than those in New York, which is supposed to be one of the gateway cities of the world. New York has to put some money into them and get the job done right once and for all!

On the contrary, Frankfurt Airport is nice and the landing and customs processes were smooth. The airport is huge and therefore the layout is slightly confusing, but pretty much any convenience you can want is there. Restaurants of every type, interesting shops, etc. Plenty to see while you're waiting around. The driver of my limo was very late to the airport, and that created some logistics problems getting my luggage. It was a little nerve racking finding my way around to retrieve it and finding my limo, but all ended up fine.

Flights:

The flights over and back to Germany were mostly uneventful and were on time. I don't want to jinx myself, but I've been lucky in that regard....having almost never experienced flight delays during my travels over the years.

I was able to talk myself into the Business Class lounges of the airlines, so it was nice to sit in the quiet in there to get some work done for the trip and relax for a little while.

Flying in business class on Lufthansa was a big help (and a treat!) because the seats go almost completely flat, there's plenty of room between the seats, and I was able to get some sleep on the eight hour flight. I'm 6' 3" tall, so sleeping in coach for any length of time is almost impossible. On subsequent flights I had to fly coach, and that sucked and was really uncomfortable for a tall person. On those coach flights, I couldn't wait to get off the plane!

The flight to Germany up to the halfway point was OK, but after that it seemed excruciatingly long. I slept, read everything I brought to read, listened to my iPod, ate, drank....and still there were three more hours to go! Ughhhhh. The flight home was slightly better because I was looking forward to seeing my wife and kids.....That made the time pass faster.

With regard to the airlines in general...I now try to fly Singapore Airlines to Germany whenever I can. They fly Boeing 747's as opposed to Lufthansa's Airbus A330's, and the 747's have slightly more room between seats in coach. I'll take every inch I can get! The 747 is still such a nice plane, despite having been in service for over 30 years!

One more important thing that made me move away from Lufthansa was an awful flight that I had to Germany the second time I went. The plane was filled with a bunch of families apparently traveling together, and the kids (and adults!) were completely rude and out of control. The cabin crew could not settle them down, and it turned an already crappy flight into misery.

On the contrary, Singapore's operation runs like clockwork. You can almost feel a certain air of "travel respect" when you get on a Singapore plane. The crew is in control and everyone is taken care of. People seem to respect the travel experience a little bit more. Very nice...Ready to lift off!

On the ground:

Once out of the airport in Frankfurt and in the limo heading to the hotel in Mainz, I was immediately struck by the landscape once we got out of the airport area. I liked the way many of the towns in the Rhine valleys that I saw in the distance from the highway were situated in a way where they hugged the edge of the hillsides and crept slightly up them. For some reason I like that connection to the mountains....It's kind of a European landscape characteristic. You typically don't see that kind of layout of towns in the US.

We made our way our way along the highway, sometimes at high speeds, to arrive in Mainz.

One thing I regret about these trips is not taking more photos. I brought a variety of cameras on the trips, but I was so tired most of the time from the travel and the 6-hour time change that I wasn't particularly inspired to take photos. I was just mentally wiped out. I have to shake that off next time and make sure I take more photos!

Mainz:

The hotels that I stayed at in Mainz and Weinheim were nice but stark in the their interior styling. Rooms were decorated in a functional way, but there was not much in the way of additional decorations to make the hotels more visually comfortable. There were few paintings on the walls, few pillows anywhere, etc.

I found Mainz to be a charming town. I made sure that I took the time to take several walks down to and around the old town section. I went to the Marktplatz (e.g., town square or town center), saw the historic buildings, the Mainzer Dom, many shops and smaller buildings, and just generally took in the architecture and surrounding community and people.

Most towns of any significant size have a Marktplatz and Dom/cathedral of some kind, so always check where you're going to see the most significant sites.

The Mainzer Dom is spectacular. The only thing I can compare it to is St Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, only the Dom is larger and certainly much older. I took many photos inside and around the outside. The architecture is magnificent.

A traditional farmer's market took place in the Marktplatz while I was there, and it was great to see all of the vegetable and fruit stands, people gathering at the market to shop, eat, talk, and relax with a cup of coffee. I was glad to catch this...Very nice.

This little bit of exploring around Mainz and learning the history of the area really sparked my interest to explore Europe more in the future. I think the combination of the history, architecture, beautiful historic sites, the people and culture differences, different foods/wines/beers, etc, is a great thing to experience. I have specific interests in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. We'll see what my time (and budget!) in future years will be able to accommodate...But it's a life goal that I would like to fulfill.

In Germany, one thing I definitely want to do is take a trip to Heidelberg to experience the history there and to take a drive on the "Fairytale Road". Heidelberg is one of the towns in the area that was not heavily damaged by bombing during the war so the architecture is mostly original. Sections of many towns in Germany were rebuilt after the war with replica architecture that matches what was there before, but isn't original.

Fairytale Road is a section of road in southern Germany that passes about 100 castles as you travel along it. Some of them are in ruin, but many are open to the public and you can go inside and explore. Some have even been gently converted into hotels and inns where you can stay the night. My daughter would love to stay in a real castle! The towns where these castles are located are supposed to be quaint and a treat to explore.

In general the food was good, but be careful where you eat because a lot of smaller restaurants don't take credit cards. Several people I work with got burned by this because they didn't find out until after they ate. I had one of the best meals of my life in a tiny restaurant with only seven tables on a side street in Mainz. The funny thing was that the waiter/owner brought me tiramisu for dessert even though I mentioned that I didn't like it. I figured that if he was pushing this dessert like this then it must be something good that he's proud of, so I accepted it. It was one of the most delicious desserts I've ever had! Just goes to show you...Keep an open mind!

Speaking of food....What goes along well with food? Beer! I can safely say that every glass of beer I had in Germany was great. All different types of beer brewed in the individual towns or even right in the restaurants themselves. Absolutely delicious! I would like them to be served a little colder, but the tradition there is to serve them slightly more room temperature than cold. But that didn't really matter.....The beer was great!

The funny little things:

Before I left, my kids showed an interest in me noting the things that were different in Germany than our home in the US, so I made some notes for them along the way. In some cases the differences were somewhat amusing. Everyone does things a little differently, which is what makes traveling interesting. Learning about other people, customs, and environments.

Some of the things I saw that I found interesting/funny include:

1) Coffee cups are small - Tiny in fact! I had like six cups one night just to get the equivalent of one of my morning cups at home.

2) No cold milk at breakfast - I didn't like this. The milk at the hotel buffets for cereal was warmed. Makes the cereal instantly soggy. My waitress seemed quite surprised when I asked about this.

3) Toilets flush with a flat pad - No handles. The toilets often have a pad about the size of a small paperback book over them that you press to flush. My kids thought that was very funny....I'm not sure exactly why.

4) Not much air conditioning - Finding air conditioning in the hotels, restaurants, or offices is rare (at least during the time periods that I was there). I'm not sure what goes on in the summer (I was there in autumn) but it must be hot as hell in some of those buildings.

5) No speed limits in some places - Of course everyone knows that sections of certain roads in Europe have no speed limits, and this was quite amusing the first time I was on one. My limo driver kept going faster and faster and I found my foot pressing an imaginary brake pedal on the floor because my brain knew I was going much faster than normal in a car.

6) Beds are "not made" - The beds aren't made with the blankets placed flat, like we would expect to see in the US. They're rolled up almost like sleeping bags (see photos below). The first time I saw that in my hotel room I thought my room hadn't been cleaned. I laughed at that...

7) Hotel doors have no peep holes - Several people knocked on my hotel room door. There are no peep holes!

So.....This post got longer than I thought it would, but it's hard to summarize trips like this in only a few paragraphs. I enjoyed the trips I took to Germany. Missing my family and home while I was away weighed heavily on me many times during the trips, but it was an experience worth having because as I said above it really wet my appetite to see more of Europe....hopefully with my wife and kids so we can enjoy it together!

Click on the image below to see a few photos from my trips to Germany...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Photographer's Eye

Over the years, I've read more than a few books on photography composition, graphic design, improving my photography, etc. Some of them are very good and I reference them frequently to refresh my memory on certain topics. Others have gone on the shelf after the first read and haven't been touched since.

This post is centered on a book called "The Photographer's Eye - Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos". The author, Michael Freeman, should scratch the word "digital" out of the title because this book is about photography, not just digital photography.

Here is a video about the book.

This book is so good that I would highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in gaining a better understanding of photography and the basics of visual design, photographic elements, compositional techniques, and how to utilize all of these concepts to design better photos.

When I first started to read this book, I got a little stalled due to what I perceived to be the complexity of the subject matter, or the way it was being presented, or both. It seemed like Freeman just dove right into the meat of the book without setting the table enough for me. I put the book aside to read some other books on my list, but soon returned to "Photographer's Eye".

The second time around I reset myself a bit, read the table of contents, re-read the intro, and with that new grounding I now find the book to be excellent. Examining the table of contents was particularly helpful because it gave me a good idea of where Freeman would be heading, and why.

The writing is clear with many well illustrated examples to support the text, and of course many good supporting photos as well. Looking at the photos and illustrations makes it easy to connect with Freeman's concepts.

Freeman walks through:
1) The Image Frame
2) Design Basics
3) Graphic and Photographic Elements
4) Composing With Light and Color
5) Intent
6) Process

Suffice to say, there's a lot of information, techniques, and concepts here. But the key thing is that it all fits together so well. You can almost make each chapter a study on its own and go out to shoot the techniques discussed to learn everything and connect with it. There's way too much to digest on a casual read...You really need to spend some time to absorb the great content in this book.

This book is so highly recommended because it makes you want to slow down, think about what you're doing when you're out photographing, and design better photos. For $20, this is is a steal! Get it and enjoy it!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Which lenses?

When people see that I'm into photography and we get to talking about it, a lot of them ask me, "Which lenses should I buy"?

You can get into a discussion about this for hours, but my advice focuses on three main points:

1) Buy the best lenses that you can afford. Cheap lenses often result in low contrast, low color, soft photos.

2) Don't buy "crop sensor" lenses (like Canon EF-S and Nikon DX) unless you have a specific reason to do so . Some day, full size image sensors will get cheap enough to make that the manufacturers will probably end up putting them in most of their cameras. If you then buy a full sensor camera you'll end up owning a bunch of specialized lenses that won't work properly on full sensor cameras. Buy full frame lenses unless you have a specific reason not to.

3) For most people, good quality zoom lenses are perfect. Buy a "wide zoom" (17-35 mm), a "normal zoom" (28-135mm), and a "long zoom" (70-300mm). Most manufacturers make zooms somewhere close to these focal ranges. I shoot lenses with these ranges and almost never find myself needing any other focal lengths for general photography. If you have one good quality lens in each range, you're good to go.

For more information on this subject, there's no reason for me to repeat what has already been written in this good article from Outdoor Photographer.

Happy shooting!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Digital frames

I'm always surprised by the number of people who have digital cameras and take tons of digital photos, and have no way of displaying them. The pictures sit buried on their computer hard drives and are only glanced at periodically. Just like all of us who used to shoot 35mm slides and have boxes of them in our closets that rarely see the light of day because it's just inconvenient to take them out, set up the screen and projector, etc.

Part of the fun of digital photography is the concept of freeing yourself from the physical mediums of prints, slides, photo albums, etc, and enjoying your photos easily every day whether they're on your computer screen, emailed to people, displayed on the web, or......displayed in your house in digital photo frames!

I've kept an eye on the digital frame market for about six years, but back then they were much too expensive to justify purchasing. Somewhere around $450 for a good one. Around 2006 they took a big drop in price and the quality jumped way up. In 2008, that happened again. In 2009, you can now buy a great quality large (e.g., 10" or 15") digital frame for under $200, and some have even come down to under $150.

Don't buy a cheap/bargain frame for $50. You most likely won't be happy with the quality of the display and there will be few color controls on it.

The best quality frames from Sony, Kodak, Pandigital and others all have some amount of built-in memory and also have built-in multi-card readers so that you can put many thousands of pictures on a memory card and put the card in the frame to randomly display the photos. The number of photos is typically only limited by the size of the memory card that you put in the frame.

Most good frames have fairly extensive color and tone controls so you can get the look you want on the screen, and they usually come with touch screens and/or remote controls as well.

I'm not sure why, but many frame manufacturers have started making their frames in the 16:9 format that's used for wide screen televisions. They're probably doing it to catch the "wide screen marketing craze" that's sweeping the TV retail business. The reality is that digital cameras typically don't pictures in 16:9 wide screen format, so when you display them on a 16:9 digital frame they will be cropped on the top and bottom. In my opinion, this is very silly....but I guess people are buying them anyway.

Instead, what you want to get is a 4:3 aspect ratio frame. This will display your photos in their native size without cropping, which is what you want.

My favorite frame manufacturer is Pandigital. From my experience, their products are well made, reliable, full of useful features, and most importantly the screen quality is great. Pandigital makes both 16:9 and 4:3 ratio frames, and as I mentioned above, I would get the 4:3 format. One of their most popular frames is this 10.4" 4:3 format frame.

The next biggest thing to hit digital frames in a big way will be wireless capability. Kodak currently makes some frames with wireless, but it's not implemented very well. When a company like Sony or Pandigital does wireless effectively in their frames it will eliminate the need to use memory cards with the frames. You'll be able to stream photos easily and reliably right from your computer to the frame. Fantastic! It should be here within a few months...

Once you get yourself a nice frame, load it up with a ton of your pictures, set the auto-play feature to automatically rotate through your photos, and watch your terrific memories rolling by throughout the day. You'll really enjoy it!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mohonk Preserve, NY (with photos)

I was telling my wife the other day that in addition to being a hobby, starting this blog has inspired me to ensure that we take time out in life to do the things that we enjoy, and not spend all of our time working, sitting around the house, or generally caught up in life's hectic schedule.  

It's easy to get into a cycle in life where the weeks are running by and all you're doing is working and running around taking care of chores and other activities.  This has happened to me recently at work because I'm in the closing months of a two year project and it has monopolized my professional and personal time much more than I would like.  For example, except for weekends, I haven't had a day off since early January.  As the old saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy".  You have to break the cycle and enjoy life!

Such was the spirit behind a recent day hiking trip that I took with my wife up to Mohonk Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains.  I took the day off from work, we put the kids on the school bus in the morning, and then we hit the road!  

Mohonk is billed as New York's largest non-profit nature preserve and the description of it on their web site says, "The Mohonk Preserve is a mountain refuge for people and nature.  It is a haven for wildlife, a living museum, and a sanctuary where visitors can come to reflect and be restored".  Very true!

On the grounds of the preserve you can enjoy biking, hiking, fishing, rock climbing (some of the best in the region), boating, running, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and other activities.  In addition, the preserve has many sponsored activities for adults and kids so there's always something to do in this environment.  It turns into a winter wonderland during the colder months with ice skating, snowshoeing, etc.

Our plans for our day hike were to ascend Bonticou Crag, which is a stark white cliff that overlooks the entire mountain valley.  There are two ways to the top of the crag.  The most direct route is straight up the face of it in what the Preserve calls a "rock scramble".  What this means is that you climb up hundreds of giant car-sized granite boulders that have broken off the face of the cliff over the centuries and then you're on top!  The other way is to take the Bonticou Crag ascent trail around the backside of the mountain to the top.  

The rock scramble sounded interesting so we gave that a try.  It was easier said than done!  Although the rocks are huge, they are sometimes precariously perched on top of each other and the hill is very steep so this route can be quite intimidating as it rises several hundred feet into the air.  My wife gave it her best shot, but she just wasn't comfortable with the steepness of it and it was a long way up (and down!) so we turned around to take the other route up.  I will return to the rock scramble to try it again some day.  I like that kind of stuff...

After climbing the ascent trail, we relaxed on the top of the crag and had a nice lunch that we brought along.  We ate, relaxed, enjoyed the view, and talked.  A great day off!  

I would encourage people to explore Mohonk Preserve.  It has a lot to offer in every season and truly is a place to restore yourself.

Update on 5/27/09:  After a day of hiking and exploring, what goes down better than a few locally brewed cold beers and a good dinner.  Nothing!  If that's what you're looking for after exploring Mohonk, stop in the town of New Paltz on your way back toward the highways and check out the Gilded Otter (3 Main Street, New Paltz, NY and the phone is 845-256-1700).  The beer brewed on site is fantastic, the food is good, and the venue is nice and comfortable.  Nice end to a day!

The second part of this post is related to the Mohonk Mountain House.   This magnificent lodge was built on the deep-blue waters of Lake Mohonk in 1869, and it's a 265-room Victorian castle that's one of America's oldest family-owned resorts.  The buildings of this historic lodge are spectacular as they wind across the property.  They all have a slightly different architecture because they were built over a period of time, but they're all connected to create one big winding interior.  The hallways, rooms, dining rooms, common areas, and libraries are grand in nature.  They are much like the great national lodges in the western United States.

Over the years, the lodge has been expanded to include a spa, indoor pool, and other facilities.  There's even a covered outdoor ice skating pavilion!  In the warmer months, they show movies on a giant portable screen on the lawn.  You can sit on their huge porch and watch with your family while the mountain air blows around you.  Very cool...

I first stayed at Mohonk Mountain House for a 2-day retreat at work in 2007.  I later returned with my wife for our 10th wedding anniversary in 2008.  I've put some pictures of the exterior of the lodge at the link below, but for some reason I didn't take any pictures of the interior on my trips here.  That's very unlike me, especially with a place as photogenic as this, because I always take pictures inside of the places I stay, but this time I didn't.

There is so much history in this place.  There are plaques, murals, paintings, and pictures all over that explain its history.  It's interesting to stop and read them because it helps you appreciate what it's all about.  Enjoy walking around and seeing the history...

While I certainly appreciate the history of the Mountain House, the one negative aspect of it is the expense to stay there.  The per night cost does include three meals per day in the excellent dining room, but even considering that, I thought the prices were very high overall.  Our small room was over $650/night with taxes.  Some of the larger rooms and suites are well over $1,000/night.   As I said, while I did fully enjoy our stay, no hotel is worth that amount of money per night and if it wasn't a special occasion we probably wouldn't have stayed here.....I need to strike gold and become rich so I don't have to worry about paying the bill next time!

Click the image below to see some photos of the Mohonk area...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New material soon!

It's been interesting getting feedback from people on this blog. Just by the nature of the way Blogger.com is set up and how it uses the information you put in your Profile to feed searches that people do, word of this blog is spreading in almost a viral way with little effort on my part. Interesting stuff...

I have a series of travel and technique posts coming in the next week. Most importantly, I plan to get back to putting up more entries related to my "Auto-everything" post from 2/15/09.

If you're spending some of your valuable time to visit and check out this blog, I hope you find it interesting.

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, April 10, 2009

East Branch Reservoir, NY (with photos)


I'm fortunate to live in a nice place, specifically a large suburb about 45 minutes north of New York City...perhaps you could say it's right on the edge of being rural.  The next town up from me starts the "farm country" in this area.  Lots of trees, rolling hills, etc...

Although it certainly is nice and I'm definitely not complaining, I wouldn't exactly call it a "photographer's paradise".  I often find myself lacking inspiration when I photograph my immediate home area because I see it every day and it has become somewhat commonplace over the years.  I'm sure many photographers might feel the same way about their home town, except of course if you live near a picturesque location that offers continual inspiration.  

Inspiration is easy to find when I travel out of my home area to other places that I don't see every day.  The exception to this feeling is when unique photographic circumstances present themselves close to home.  Then my mind explodes!  Such was the case this weekend...

There is a large reservoir near our house called the East Branch Reservoir that's down about 50 feet (or more) from it's normal water level this spring due to drought conditions and some bridge work that the surrounding towns are doing that necessitated that they lower our water level.  The full story can be found at this link.  The reservoir was formed when the towns of Southeast Center and Milltown were flooded over, sacrificed in the name of progress.

Fifty feet is a lot!  Because of these conditions, almost the whole reservoir is empty and features that are normally below water have been exposed for the first time in decades.  It's a very uncommon event, and you guessed it, one that was well worth grabbing the camera for.

You can hike all over this enormous space where there is typically only water...It's almost like being in an alien landscape.  Submerged waterlogged trees are exposed and dried out.  There are old stone walls all over that used to mark farms before the area was flooded for the reservoir.  Dead fish, furniture, golf balls, fishing lures, etc.  It's all here to explore.

Some of the stone walls are massive.  I would like to research the history of Southeast Center and Milltown to understand what was here before the towns were flooded.  It's very interesting.  Especially all of the walls.  I mean...they're big!  You can see roads that have been marked and lined with boulders.  Old bridge foundations.  Even the stone foundations of homes, barns, etc.

I spent three hours photographing and hiking with my family inside the reservoir on two occasions already, and plan to go back for more before they fill the reservoir back up.  It's an oddly peaceful place to walk around.  Very quiet.  It's like exploring a huge piece of the past right in my own back yard.

The moral of the story is.....Never give up on your own town!  It might not be the most stunningly, overtly photogenic place in the world on a typical day, but there are special times when it will expose itself and call you back.  Take advantage of those opportunities and enjoy it while they last!  Take some pictures!

Click the image below to see some pictures from inside the East Branch Reservoir...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Opacity.us

I stumbled across a great web site that I thought was worthy of being specifically mentioned here. If you're interested in photography of abandoned buildings, old factories, mills, forts, historic locations, etc, then Opacity.us is the web site for you!

It's run by a guy named Tom Kirsch in New York. The web site is truly a labor of love. Tom travels around the world to photograph all kinds of abandoned sites and then posts his photos on his site with some historic background to add to the story told by the pictures.

If you're interested in this type of photography then you could easily become lost in the Opacity web site for hours as you explore these fascinating pictures of abandoned locales. Tom's photos have a definite style to them that really portrays the loneliness and solitude of these places. Many of them are a little spooky!

When I view photos like these I find myself asking what these sites were, what they were used for, why they were abandoned, who abandoned them, when they were abandoned, etc. And that is, after all, one of the major goals of photographers.....To make a picture that's interesting and possibly generates some thought in the viewer. Tom succeeds on all levels with his site!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Panorama

Talk about interesting! This weekend I tried shooting a panorama for the first time and stitching it together with the Photoshop CS4 PhotoMerge function, and the results were a lot of fun to look at!

I've never been motivated to experiment with panoramas before. My perception of the high effort required to post-process the individual pictures into a usable panorama photo kept me away from bothering to try it. I couldn't have been more wrong!

I was on a hike this weekend in the reservoir near my house and I came upon some great subject matter. Yes, I did say "in" the reservoir. We're having a spring drought in this section of New York this year and our reservoir is down at least 30 feet or more. These low water levels reveal all of the hidden things that you can't usually see when they're under the surface of the water. All of the old stone walls that used to mark the farmlands, strange rock pilings, old wood, etc. Interesting stuff!

So I'm looking at that scene before me and thinking, "I wish I could capture all of this in one photo", and then I thought.......Shoot a panorama! I didn't have a tripod so I knew I was going to have to try it handheld. I was hoping PhotoMerge would be able to handle the probable shakey results.

My simple steps:

1) I metered for the first picture and recorded the meter readings.

2) I switched the camera into full manual mode and entered those meter readings for the first picture. I did this so that all four of the photos I was planning for the panorama would use the same exposure settings (very important when it comes time to stitch things together!).

3) I set the camera to manual focus so that once I focused for the first picture, that focus would remain for all four photos.

4) I planned out the four pictures in my head and then took them one after the other, overlapping them by about 25% to give PhotoMerge some room to do its work and find a good place to seam them.

5) I took the four photos in sequence, being careful to hold the camera as level as possible.

That's it! I came home, pointed CS4 Photomerge at the four pictures, and let it do its thing in complete auto mode. The results were astounding! I couldn't believe that with practically no effort on my part, Photoshop correctly stitched the four images together with absolutely no signs of where the stitching was done.

The resulting panorama was a real eye opener! It presented the scene I saw before me in all its splendor. I was truly impressed, and everyone who has seen the photo said the same thing, "Wow"!

This experience opened up a whole new creative thought process for me. Not every subject is suitable for panorama format, but now that I know how easy it is, I'll think more along these lines when a situation like this presents itself again. There are many odd sized places in our house that could use a nice panorama print to fill the space. Of course, the issue is finding an easy way to print these pictures because doing it on a standard size printer at home wouldn't be easy. I will investigate labs that handle this and perhaps try a sample print to see how it comes out...

More to come on this topic!

For an interesting video on this topic, see this PhotoMerge tutorial at Layers Magazine online.

Update 6/14/09: Here's an article that mirrors what I said above, but adds a few more tips.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Kaaterskill Falls, NY (with photos)

Here is an excerpt of a description of Kaaterskill Falls from the Gunks.com:

"Kaaterskill Falls is one of those rare, glorious, big pay-off hikes that doesn't require too much time or sweat. The 260 ft. double-tiered waterfall between Haines Falls and Palenville in Greene County New York is an awe-inspiring body of shale and rushing creek water. The water drops 175 ft. from the top, past a natural amphitheater created by the overhang of the upper falls cap rock. The lower falls then drop another 85 ft., spraying mist against the sides of rock, wetting the nearby craggy greys and dark browns. At the bottom, the massive fountain of water calms as it flattens into a rocky Kaaterskill Creek bed that flows alongside the .4 mile trail back to the road".

The description above is precisely what intrigued me enough to want to take the family on a drive up to the area around Hunter, NY to take this hike and see the Falls. We were not disappointed. What a great day!

We arrived at the Molly Smith parking area on Route 23A just up the hill from the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead around mid morning on a summer day, and the parking was already tight. The lot is small and can't fit many cars so the next choice is to try parking on the narrow shoulder of 23A itself. I would have thought you wouldn't be permitted to do that, but every time I drive by there cars are always parked on the side of the road with no tickets.

The fun began once we walked down the hill from the parking lot to the trail head. At the bottom of the hill you cross a small bridge under which the bottom of the Falls stream rushes. If it's been raining a lot in the days leading up to your visit, the water will be rushing all around you. The sound of it is great. It sounds powerful!

The hike up the mountain alongside the rushing Kaaterskill Creek to the main Falls is a gentle slope up most of the way, only getting steep in a few brief spots. The tricky thing is that the steeper sections are rocky and/or covered with fallen trees, branches, and puddles. It takes some doing to get around these sections and the ground is often wet, so careful stepping is necessary.

Once you get closer to the top and start to hear the roar of the main Falls, you know you're almost there. When you finally reach the pools below the lower Falls and see them for the first time, you just stop and stare to take it all in. If it's been raining and the Falls are full, it's an impressive sight and sound, especially since there are not many waterfalls of this size anywhere near here.

Note that I did talk to a friend who made this same hike in the middle of a very dry summer and he said the Falls were merely a trickle. Plan your trip accordingly....Make this hike after a few days of heavy rain to ensure a good viewing experience.

Once at the base of the lower Falls, you can wade into the cool water, watch it stream around you, and enjoy sitting a while to look at the sights centered around this large double waterfall. We saw many photographers and painters on the hike up making their renderings of the scenes.

For the extra adventurous, you can hike up the very steep hill to either side of the Falls to get to the natural amphitheater at the base of the main Falls. This extra section of hiking is discouraged on many websites that discuss Kaaterskill Falls due to the complexity and steepness. I didn't try it because we had our kids with us, but I saw several people who did. I would imagine that it's quite impressive to stand at the base of the main Falls, so I will try this hike one day with an abundance of caution.

For the ultra-extra adventurous, you can continue past the base of the main Falls and its amphitheater and continue up this very steep hill to get to the top of the Falls to look down on the whole scene from above. Again, this is something that I would never try with the family, but I'll give it a try on my own with a good pair of boots some day.

When we were done wading around and viewing at the top, it was time to head back down. Careful stepping was required on the way down. It's easy to pick up speed! Once at the bottom, we proceeded to head back up the hill to the parking area where we hopped in our car and headed into Hunter Mountain village to grab a good dinner.

If you decide to head into the village (a few miles down the road from the Falls) and you like Mexican food, pay a visit to Pancho Villa's Mexican Restaurant. The food is good, the drinks are good, and there's always a lively crowd inside. If Mexican is not your thing, there are other restaurants on the same street as well...

This was a great way to spend a day outdoors with the family. If you're in this region and you're looking for something fun to do, this is the just the ticket.  If you combine this hike with a visit to one of Hunter Mountain's many festivals, the day will be even more complete.

Click the image below to see some more pictures from this hike...Enjoy!

Passion

Passion is essential to all art forms. Regardless of whether it's painting, music, building something, sculpture, photography, or anything else, it's the passion in what we do that transfers our thoughts and emotions into the outcome of our efforts. Passion helps us to realize our vision and achieve our goals.

In my opinion, passion is very necessary to achieving success (however you define success) in your photography. If you're not passionate about what you're shooting, you're probably going to end up with less successful results that you envisioned.

Finding subjects that you're passionate about is one of the easiest ways to improve your photography because passion makes you explore your subjects more and try harder to accurately express the impact that they have on you.

Here's a perfect example. Last autumn we were going through a patch of bad weather so I didn't get many chances to get out and do photography. One day when the weather cleared, I went out to shoot. I didn't really have anything in mind, I just went for a hike and wanted to try to make some nice pictures. As I was walking, I wasn't seeing anything that inspired me. There were just bare trees and fallen leaves everywhere.

After being out for about an hour I was thinking to myself, "Great hike, but I haven't taken a single nice picture yet". I wanted to take nice pictures, but nothing was motivating me. Finally I came across a rock that had some nicely colored leaves that had fallen on it in a nice pattern, so I started to take pictures of it. An angle here, an angle there. Then I started reviewing the pictures. They sucked.

When I thought about it, I realized that I didn't give a damn about that rock and I knew that I would never use those pictures for anything. They were pointless. I had no passion whatsoever for that subject and that lack of passion transferred directly into my pictures. I was just trying to "take some nice pictures" regardless of how I felt about the subject.

Contrary to that day with the rock, one day when I was out taking care of some business I ran across a dilapidated barn in a field that was definitely past its best days. It had holes in the roof and sides, broken windows, shattered doors, vines growing inside, etc. I thought to myself, "This is great! I can take so many great shots of this barn"! I proceeded to spend about an hour walking around it shooting all different kinds of shots and angles, and they turned out to be some of the standout pictures in my library.

Without even really thinking about it, it dawned on me that I like taking pictures of old abandoned buildings. They interest me. I think about what they were once used for. What happened to them? Who left it here? Why is it still here? What's inside? What would happen if some nice sunlight shined through that broken window late in the day? In other words, I have passion for that subject. I want to explore it and take pictures of it to transfer those same emotions into photos that others can look at.

In photography, you need to find subjects that inspire you...that make you say "Wow!"....that you can't wait to get out and shoot. You have to find subjects that make you want to explore them from different angles, in different lighting, in different seasons, etc. When you strike on these subjects and themes, go shoot! You'll probably see that your pictures are much more interesting and effective than when you shoot something that you don't care about.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Wii

What does this post have to do with photography?  Nothing!  The reason I put it here is because I also want to throw other fun stuff on this site from time to time, and this is one of those posts.  It's filed under "Random thoughts" in the Topics on the left side where I'll categorize all of these types of posts for people who are interested in such things...

When I decided that it was finally time to take the gaming console plunge, I looked at all of the primary units....PlayStation 3, XBox 360, and the Wii.

PlayStation and XBox are certainly ahead of the Wii with regard to graphics, number of game titles, etc.  Unfortunately, what immediately turned me off to both systems was the number of games that are violent, about racing (which I have nothing against, but how many racing games do we need???), or just generally adult in nature (war simulations, etc).  I have a son (8) and a daughter (6) and I just don't think we need that stuff in the house at their age, so both units were crossed off my list.

The Wii, on the other hand, is fabulous.  If you have kids (and even adults!) who are interested in gaming from a family perspective, the Wii is the way to go.  

I knew the Wii platform was an immersive and interactive experience, but it turned out to be more so than I thought.  Every member of the family enjoys it, gets up off the couch to play it, and we have a lot of great family times together.  Not to say that doesn't happen with PS3 and XBox, but the Wii is different.  

The Wii console and controllers are innovative, respond to motion input in multiple dimensions, and translate that motion into the games in a terrific way.  Everyone who plays it always responds with the "Wow!" factor when they see how their arm and hand motions affect the game play.  Try playing Tiger Woods Golf and you'll see what I mean.  It's terrific!  

We recently picked up Wii Fit, and it continues that great feeling.  What a great way to get and stay in shape!  For people who have specific problems (I have back problems), you can figure out which specific activities will help that and focus on them in your daily fitness routine.  Wii Fit will never replace going to the gym or going outside for some good sweaty exercise, but again....it gets you up and off the couch in an innovative way and makes exercising with the whole family fun!  It even includes exercising games, so the kids don't even realize they're exercising.  Pretty funny...

If you've never seen or tried the Wii, check it out.  You'll be hooked, like most other people who try it...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Salisbury, CT (with photos)


If you're ever in the area of Salisbury, CT in early February, take some time out to attend the Eastern National Ski Jumping Championships that are part of the annual JumpFest ski jumping festival hosted by the Salisbury Winter Sports Association. This is a long standing event in Salisbury that celebrates everything about ski jumping.

I remember the only other time that I attended a ski jumping event very well. My Dad took me to see it at Bear Mountain State Park when I was young. Bear Mountain was a popular venue for regional ski jumping back then.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We were able to walk around the landing area to see the jumpers when they hit the bottom of the hill and ran down the run-out. But perhaps more exciting was when we hiked all the way up the side of the jumping hill to stand next to the ramp where the skiers took off. I'll never forget the whooshing sound of the skis on the snow when they went by and then the silence when they took off over our heads to fly down the hill. Great stuff!

Sadly, Bear Mountain stopped hosting jumping events back in the early 1990's. If you visit the jumping site when you're at Bear Mountain today, all you can see is a rough path through the woods where the jumping hill used to be and the skeleton of what remains of the wooden scoring shack halfway up the hill.  I've included some pictures of the current condition of the old jumping site here.

Back to Salisbury...The spirit of the event catches you as soon as you park your car. You can hear announcements coming over a public address system through the woods, but you can't see the hill at all from where you park. You pay a nominal fee to get through the entrance gate and then hike up a small road to get to the festival area.

It's a comfortable and enjoyable scene as soon as you see it. There is, of course, the 65-meter jumping hill front and center. Off to the side are the skiers' hut and food stands. Several large bonfires burn to keep people warm. People are sitting on lawn chairs in the snow and bleachers waiting for the main event. It's a festive environment.

Then you notice the sounds. People laughing and talking. Announcements being made. And cowbells. Everyone has a cowbell. I didn't realize what this was for at first, but I obviously heard that everyone rang them loudly every time a skier did a jump.

The reason why people shake the cowbells instead of clapping for the jumpers is actually quite funny, and it didn't occur to me at first. People wear gloves in the winter, and when you clap you can't hear it! Certainly the skiers can't hear it at the top of the hill. So someone, somewhere, way back when came up with the idea of shaking a cowbell to make a loud sound for the skiers to show appreciation and encouragement. The skiers can certainly hear hundreds of cowbells rattling when they're at the top of the hill, which is a noisy form of encouragement for a good jump.

Our kids were thrilled when they found out they could buy one of the bells, so we promptly went to the cowbell vendor and bought two of them....A pink one for Nicole, and a red one for John. They carried them proudly the rest of the day.

The jumping itself was cool. One by one the skiers started from the top of the hill, went down the lead-in hill, and flew off the ramp. Some didn't get very far, but many of the more experienced jumpers soared for several seconds way down the hill and landed with a satisfying thump when they hit the bottom. The whole scene made me imagine what it must be like when these events are held at the Olympics or at the mountains in Europe.

When the jumping was over, we headed over to the ice carving competition on the lawn of the White Hart Inn in town. The White Hart itself is a quaint little inn on the green in town, and it's the perfect place to enjoy a few cocktails after a day of wandering around at the ski jumping event. We watched the artists doing their carvings, had a few drinks in the inn, and then stayed to watch the carving awards get handed out.

All in all, it was a nice way to spend a day with the family. There was a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. Give it a try if you ever have the chance, either at Salisbury or a ski jumping hill near you. You'll walk away with a smile on your face and a good memory.

Click the image below to see some photos from this trip...

JumpFest 2009