Friday, February 27, 2009

Kaaterskill Falls, NY (with photos)

Here is an excerpt of a description of Kaaterskill Falls from the

"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 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 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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Las Vegas, NV (with photos)

I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas, NV on business in February 2009. Interesting place!

First off, don't let the cab driver take you on the "freeway route" to your hotel. It's about twice as long as going via the strip and therefore it's a rip-off. Welcome to Las Vegas!

The Mirage hotel was nice. As with all hotels in Vegas, it's huge with a centrally located lobby containing the casino, restaurants for every taste, plenty of shops and bars, etc.

The casino in the Mirage was one of the nicer ones that we visited. Some of the others were a little tacky, and as strange as it sounds, some of the hotels pumped these perfume and musk scents into their common areas. I'm not sure what the reasoning is behind that, but it smells awful after you're in there for more than ten minutes and everyone we were with was annoyed by it.

Needless to say that when visiting Vegas a nighttime walk down the strip is a must. If you have a camera with good high ISO capabilities you can get some great shots of the strip if you explore. If you have a lot of extra time (which I didn't on this trip) then exploring inside each hotel is nice because they all have their own character and the architecture work is great.

I attended a dinner atop THEhotel. The bar/restaurant on the roof offers wrap-around views of the entire Vegas areas. Great photography opportunity. We also grabbed a more down to earth dinner at the Harley Davidson Cafe...ribs, chicken, burgers. Tasty and reasonably priced. We were originally recommended to Olive's next to the Bellagio, but it was too expensive.

For photographers, there are many things to see within a few hours drive of Las Vegas. I couldn't work any exploring into this trip because it was too busy with business and the forecast called for snow to come in while I was there anyway, but some of the major sites in the area include:

Death Valley National Park
Hoover Dam
Desert National Wildlife Range
Sequoia National Park and Forest
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Mojave National Preserve
and of course....the Grand Canyon

The mountains and valleys surrounding Las Vegas are beautiful in the morning and evening light....a photographer's playground!

The landing at JFK in New York in a 50 MPH windstorm was a bear. The plane was tipping from side to side right up until we touched down, and I don't think both sets of landing gear hit the runway at the same time! Yikes! During the last 30 seconds, it was one of those flights where I was thinking, "Damn...Please let this guy get this plane on the ground in one piece"! I'm sure the people on this Lufthansa flight were also thinking the same thing!

All in all, it was an interesting trip and I hope to return to the region one day to do some proper and lengthy exploring.

Click the link below to see photos from this trip...

Travel - Las Vegas 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Good photo sites

On the left side, I've posted the links for a few of my favorite photo sites that I visit almost every day to read the latest articles, techniques, etc. I've gathered countless useful tips off these sites, and found the gateway to many other sites as well. I'll update them as I find more. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Good photo books

One of the things I've been doing this winter during some of my photography down time is finding and reading some good technique books. I'm mostly interested in lighting and composition, but I've been reading others as well.

I don't read these books to "learn rules" that govern my shooting. On the contrary, reading other people's ideas helps me to think outside of the box, which only serves to improve my photography.

I've added a widget to the left side of this blog that contains the titles and authors of some of the the books that I feel are worthy of a read by anyone looking to improve their photography.