Cape Cod Sunset, A Study in Tools Wednesday, Oct 15 2014 

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Cape Cod, Massachusetts for the first time. It’s a place of quiet fishing villages, trendy tourist destinations and hip hangouts. Since it’s a peninsula, it’s also a very convenient destination for both sunrise and sunset photography – on multiple days, I was able to shoot both golden hours.

In this post, I present three shots taken within moments of each other, with three different cameras. It was a sunset shoot at Rock Harbor, not far from the city of Orleans, MA. The extremely low tide left many tidal pools and exposed sand dunes and grass patches, so there were plenty of ways to experiment with composition.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Film Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Film Camera

First up is my massively reliable medium format camera, Mamiya 7, which was loaded with the legendary Fuji Velvia 50 film. The metering for a sunset scene is never easy, and for a contrasty film like Velvia, I wanted to preserve the highlights, but the shot still ended up quite underexposed — most of the foreground is just too dark. On the other hand, the setting sun and the sky at the horizon have a great color to it, and I love the dark fluffy clouds on top set against the still bright sky. The composition of the foreground is also pleasing, with the patch of grass in the tidal pool. As usual for a shot done on Velvia, I didn’t do much post-processing; I tried to improve the shadows a bit, but not to the point where the photo becomes too grainy.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Digital SLR Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Digital SLR Camera

A few moments later, the sun finally set, but the sky was still pretty bright. This shot was taken by my digital camera, Canon 7D, at the widest setting on my 17-40mm f/4L lens. The composition seems a little different, lower to the ground, and the horizon falls closer to the rule of thirds. The bluish tint is typical for the “blue hour”, but there is still some reddish hues to add interest to the shot. As in the film shot, the tidal pool provides a great reflection, and I like the ripples in the sand, too. I would have liked some more color in the photo, but it still has a nice moody quality – of the three shots, it would probably work the best in black and white. And speaking of quality, even at ISO 800, there is almost no noise or grain in the image.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Smartphone Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Smartphone Camera

Finally, we have the humble smartphone camera; I had with me the Droid Ultra and its 10 megapixel camera, which is more than decent. I metered for the brightest part of the image and let the automatic settings fall where they may. As it happens, I like this shot the best, and it’s partly because of the very wide native format of the camera, which works well with the scene. It’s also very bright, but nothing seems too blown out. There is some chrominance noise in the clouds, but other than that, the shot looks very sharp and clean. I posted it on my Instagram page in its cropped form.

In the end, no one shot is significantly better than the others, but this exercise helps me compare how different cameras see the same scene, so that I can use them more efficiently next time.

Utah Rocks, Part II: Thor’s Hammer Monday, Dec 9 2013 

In my previous post from the Bryce Canyon National Park, I mentioned a rock formation known as Thor’s Hammer. It is one of the countless “hoodoos” in the main amphitheater of the park, but possibly the most imposing and easily recognizable.

Thor's Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park

Thor’s Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park

It gets its name from the shape at the top of the spire; through some fortunate geological coincidence, the sedimentary rock at the top of the spire is harder than the one below it, so it eroded less over eons, resulting in the characteristic shape. The rock is porous and the water that seeps in the microscopic cracks expands and contracts during endless daily freeze-thaw cycles, carving stone into hoodoos in the process. Geology meets mythology, you might say.

To get this photo, I simply walked down the path just under the Sunset point. It’s about as close as you can get to the Hammer, as it sticks out from the slope of the canyon. The rising June sun paints it a bright orange color while most of the rest of the amphitheater is still lit indirectly. One thing I love about the amphitheater is the shades of orange and red that it creates as light bounces around in the tight spaces in between the hoodoos.

It seems like Hammer has three siblings who live next door, but they are bunched together, and we’ll see over the next few millenia whether they turn into something quite as imposing as the Hammer. Who knows, maybe by that time the endless freeze-thaw cycles of Bryce Canyon would end Thor’s Hammer as we see it today.

Thor's Hammer At Night

Thor’s Hammer At Night

As it happens, I walked this path around midnight the previous night. The Moon was full and high up in the summer sky and it lit the amphitheater beautifully. There were even guided midnight hiking tours, where visitors got to see a very different Bryce Canyon. I took several digital shots, and was reminded of an old technical problem; without a remote shutter release, I could only take 30-second exposures, unless I wanted to hold my finger on the shutter button for an extended period of time. On top of that, I had to use a pretty narrow f/11 aperture setting, to keep everything sharp, since camera has a hard time getting focus lock in such low light conditions. As a result, I bumped the ISO on my Canon 7D camera to 1600, but it all worked out nicely — photo is sharp and not too noisy, and offers a different perspective of this great looking rock.

New Toy Thursday, Mar 28 2013 

For a little while now, I had the desire to own a music instrument again. I used to have a saxophone, but it was a bit loud and just complicated enough for me to lose the desire to really take lessons and learn to play it. I enjoyed making sounds on it, and sometimes those sounds would combine into phrases, even melodies. I sold the sax a few years ago in an effort to get out of some debt I had accumulated.

Bongo Drums

New Toy

Now, I wanted to get something new, but not very expensive, and above all, simple. So, I started looking into bongo drums. They are a simple, but satisfying instrument, and there are many techniques and rhythms to be learned. I did some research online and visited my local “big box” instrument store, which is where I picked up this set from Meinl. Surprisingly, the price was a little lower than at the big online retailer, just under a hundred bucks.

I brought them home and tuned them – the big drum (“hembra”) is around a B note, while the smaller (“macho”) is in the neighborhood of E. After that, of course, I played a couple of Carlos Santana songs and banged along with them.

Leave a comment if you play an instrument. Especially if you took pictures of it.

Bush Key, Dry Tortugas National Park Monday, Mar 25 2013 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I visited the Dry Tortugas National Park while in Florida in December 2012. After exploring the Fort Jefferson on Garden Key a little, I decided to take a walk around Bush Key, connected to the Garden Key by a short sandbar that was conveniently dry for this visit. You can see that on this photo, taken from the top of Fort Jefferson. In the background and to the right, you can see Long Key, but more about that in a moment.

Bush Key, Dry Tortugas

Bush Key, Dry Tortugas

Bush Key is a tiny island by any measure, but it has an interesting and fragile ecosystem. The National Park Service web site states it is closed for visitors, but on the day I visited, there was only a sign asking that you stay on the sandy beach and do not attempt to walk into the interior of the island. This is to protect the habitats of several native wildlife species, particularly terns, which nest there.

There were numerous conch shells on the island, as well as some fragments of coral, and it took some effort not to step on some of this beautiful inventory. At some places, the going got tough, and I slammed my camera into the sand when I attempted to climb a sandy slope and lost my footing. The sun had a hard time poking through the clouds, but at one opportune moment, I snapped this shot of a sun-bleached drift wood against beautiful palette of green and blue colors of the waters of Gulf of Mexico.

Bleached Driftwood, Bush Key

Bleached Driftwood, Bush Key

Halfway around Bush Key, there is a sign asking visitors to refrain from walking onto the Long Key, which is home to many species of birds, some of which were quite majestic. It was easy to see swarms of herons, pelicans, frigate birds and other birds over Long Key. Walking along the other side of Bush Key, I saw this three-bird formation and snapped a few quick photos, of which this one seemed the most successful.

Flyover, Bush Key

Flyover, Bush Key

Shortly before reaching the sandbar again on the other side, I spotted two birds leisurely walking along the beach in front of me. I had my 85mm lens with me and slowly approached. I managed to take a shot of this guy, and I loved how the photo turned out, but at the time I didn’t know which species he is. I knew I’d have to find out, because I definitely wanted to share the photo here on the blog.

Blue Heron Male, Bush Key

Blue Heron Male, Bush Key

I then visited the bookshop at Fort Jefferson, showed the picture on my camera display to the helpful lady working there, and we went through a few books until we determined that this was a blue heron male. He was just turning into adulthood, which you can tell by the little “hair” lock flowing down the back of his head.

Overall, it takes a while to get to Dry Tortugas NP, but if you do it, you won’t be disappointed, whether you’re a snorkeler, bird watcher, or just a photographer.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park Friday, Mar 22 2013 

Entrance to Fort Jefferson

Entrance to Fort Jefferson

Although I’m a big fan of the National Park Service, I never even heard of the Dry Tortugas National Park until I visited Key West, Florida in December 2012. It’s an ecological paradise, sanctuary to countless species of birds and marine life. The only catch is that it’s located 90 miles to the west of Key West, which makes it one of the more difficult National Parks to get to.

Nevertheless, a few photos on a brochure I looked at convinced me that the trip is well worth taking. My hotel made arrangements with the speedy boat to take me there early one morning. The ride is a couple of hours long and on this particular trip the sea was quite choppy, so some passengers lost their breakfast before they got to the destination.

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson – looking over the moat to the Loggerhead Key in the distance (film shot)

When we finally docked at Garden Key, we were greeted by the massive Fort Jefferson, built in the 19th century to provide a strategic stronghold in the Gulf of Mexico. Wikipedia says that it’s a largest masonry structure in the Americas, consisting of 16 million bricks. It even has a moat built around it, with a walkway that circumnavigates the fort.

Rodman Gun, Fort Jefferson

Rodman Gun, Fort Jefferson

The fort was fully operational during the Civil War and it included a prison, whose most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd, serving the sentence for treating the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth following his assassination of President Lincoln. Mudd ended up serving as the fort doctor during the outbreak of the yellow fever in 1867, which in part led to his pardon.

Civil War history of the fort is also evident by several heavy cannons that can still be found around it. Pictured above is a 10-inch Rodman gun, one of the most common in the fort.

Fort Jefferson, View from Bush Key

Fort Jefferson, View from Bush Key

Finally, since the tide was pretty low, I decided to walk across a small sandbar onto the Bush Key, which appears as a separate island on most photos I’ve seen, because the sandbar gets submerged. Looking back to Fort Jefferson, you can see on the left the catamaran ship that brought me there, and the seaplane which originated in Alaska judging from the tail insignia.

Bush Key walk was thoroughly enjoyable and I made some nice photographs that I will share in a separate post.

And the Place Goes Boom Tuesday, Oct 16 2012 

Two and a half years ago, on April 11, 2010, Dallas Cowboys blew up their old stadium, because they made a big new shiny one. They made the implosion a public event, and I was there with many hundreds of people who love to watch things blown up.

Texas Stadium Going "Boom!"

Texas Stadium Going “Boom!”

About six months earlier, I purchased the Canon 7D digital camera. One of the secondary reasons for the purchase was the amazing speed of the camera – it was advertised to be able to record eight frames per second. It’s not something you expect using all the time, but, for example, when you’re on a photo-safari hunting whales, it helps.

On this Sunday morning, I knew I’ll only have a few seconds before Texas Stadium falls down, so when the explosions started, I pressed the shutter and kept it pressed. One of the shots was this one, with two fiery explosions going off at the same time. The very next photo on my memory card, taken fraction of a second later, doesn’t have these fireballs.


Foucault’s Pendulum, Los Angeles, CA Saturday, Oct 6 2012 

When I’m asked at corporate meetings to tell “one interesting fact about myself”, I usually go with the “I was a state champion in Physics in 8th grade”.

I had a great physics teacher in elementary school, and it really came easy to me, so I was interested in all sorts of physics phenomena, from simple machines to electricity.

One of the most fascinating experiments is the Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s not much more than a simple pendulum, except that it is really, really long. The length of the oscillation makes the pendulum slowly change direction because it is affected not only by gravity but also the rotation of the Earth. The change in direction differs based on the location of the pendulum; for example, at each pole, the pendulum would return in the starting position after 24 hours. On the equator, the pendulum would not change direction at all!

Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault’s Pendulum

The photo is of the Foucault’s Pendulum inside Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California. The exposure was half a second, so you can see how the pendulum’s bob traces across the pit.

Now that I used “pit” and the “pendulum” in the same sentence, I have to mention the literary references. Other than the obvious Edgar Allan Poe connection there, it’s worth mentioning that “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco was one of the books I read during the siege of Sarajevo, 1992-1995. I loved Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”, although I remember “Pendulum” to be a much different book. No less interesting, though, with its conspiracy theories and secret societies, and it definitely made quite a few winter afternoons go by quickly.

Final note about a pendulum goes back to a story told to me in class by a different physics teacher, this time in college. She said that she heard of a university professor who would use Foucault’s Pendulum to test the student’s faith in the laws of physics. First, he would have the student displace the pendulum from a resting position by some distance and ask the student to simply release it. Pendulum would swing across the room and then start hurtling back towards the student.

If the student took a step back in fear of impact, they would fail the test.

Forum, Rome, Italy Thursday, Sep 27 2012 

The day I went to the Coliseum with my lovely sister was a day that would break lesser travelers in two. Keep in mind, this is after we spent a day exploring squares and alleys of Rome, and wrapped it up by eating gelato at Trevi Fountain; and then another day of intense sight-seeing, which included a bus tour, more walking, and a late dinner.

Forum, with the Temple of Saturn on the left

Forum, with the Temple of Saturn on the left

So, on this day, we walked half a mile or so to catch a bus to take us to Coliseum. After spending several hours up and down the amphitheater, the next destination was going to be Palatine Hill, with all its archeological riches, including the Foro Romano, or Forum.

I may have forgotten to mention that all these days were early July days, with temperatures pushing 100 degrees (or, for European purposes, close to 40). But, the thing about Rome is that it makes you forget how exhausted you are, because it comes at you from all sides with such awesome sites and sights that you forget about everything but how impressed you are with this city.

Arch of Septimius Severus

Arch of Septimius Severus

To me, this was nowhere more evident than at the Forum. This whole area is essentially one large archeological dig that’s still very active. I’ve seen a hole in the ground that was dug up only a few years ago to reveal an elaborate system of rooms that seems to revolve around a central pillar, and a sign next to it which said that not even the scientists fully understand what they found. To have something like that discovered so recently, in the middle of Rome, a stone’s throw from Coliseum, is really remarkable.

And so we pressed on, until very late in the afternoon, walking in footsteps of ancient Romans, through their marketplaces and temples, under their arches, by their columns, next to their walls. No kind of photograph can quite tell the story of how cool it is to be there, even on a 100-degree day.

 Temple of Vesta

Temple of Vesta

This place is my favorite city in the world.

Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, UT Saturday, Sep 22 2012 

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing

Back in May 2011, I traveled to the Zion National Park in Utah with my friends and photographers John and Tyler. You can see a few of the photos I brought back here, here and here. The goal was to create some nice landscapes worthy of our portfolios and to have a good time hanging out with each other in the process.

Halfway there

Halfway there

One of the things we wanted to do while in Zion was hike the Angel’s Landing trail. It’s not a particularly difficult or strenuous hike, although it climbs a total of 1500 feet (500 meters). The main appeal of it is in the very narrow ridge that you have to negotiate while getting to your destination. Angel’s Landing is a tall rock protrusion into the valley and it was so named because it was believed that only angels had the ability to get up there.

But up there we went, the three of us, navigating the trail that at one point consisted of a meter-wide path with a death-defying drop on each side. There were plenty of places where you had to hold on to the chains bolted into the rock along the way, so that you would not lose your balance and fall hundreds of feet down.

I remember passing a family that included a girl who couldn’t have been more than 7 years old; the family was on their way down while we were on our way up. The three of us guys spurred each other on by saying, “If a 7-year old girl can get up there, then we can get up there, too.”

View from the Top

View from the Top

The view from up top was excellent. The main canyon of Zion was both in front of us and around us, and we truly had the “top of the world” feeling. Of course, by the time we got up there, it was mid-day, and the light was “wrong” for truly breathtaking photos, so I never really got to show these before, except to friends and family. But here they are, if nothing else, as a document of where I’d gone, like a t-shirt I purchased later that day in Zion. The shirt says “I hiked Angel’s Landing.”

Fuzzy Seagull, St. Petersburg, FL Friday, Sep 21 2012 

Friday is a day for celebrating the end of the week with simple posts.

Fuzzy Seagull

Fuzzy Seagull

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in St. Petersburg, FL. The weather was perfect, the water was fine, and the SPF was 50. Then, when the sun was about to dip below the western horizon, I snapped a few photos.

That’s when the seagull flew by. Since my focus was on the water, he’ll appear fuzzy. Maybe if I had my Canon 7D in the AI Servo mode, the auto-focus system would be smart enough to focus on the moving object.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

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