Palacio Real, Madrid, Spain Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 

Palacio Real, Madrid

Palacio Real, Madrid

I’ve been posting some photos from my trip to Madrid I took a few months ago, and yesterday I mentioned the grandiose architecture you can find all over the city. Nowhere is that more evident than right here – Palacio Real.

Quick linguistic note – seeing letters “r, e, a, l” together immediately takes me to the English word, but in Spanish, the word actually means “regal” or “royal”. And there are quite a few “real” things about Madrid, the seat of the Spanish royal family.

Speaking of the Spanish royal family, this building was their main home for centuries, until very recently, when it was open to the public. It’s just gorgeous to look at, opulent and extravagant, and I caught it in nice late afternoon light. I even included a tighter crop of the shot I took with my long lens, to show some of the detail on the roof and the facade of the building.

Palacio Real, detail

Palacio Real, detail

Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

Missed Sunrise, Mount Rainier Tuesday, Sep 11 2012 

Almost exactly a year ago, I traveled to Seattle to visit my friend Tyler, and visiting Mount Rainier was on top of our to-do list. And, sure enough, we drove up there one afternoon, scoped out some spots to shoot the following sunrise, drove around for a bit, and then retreated to our campsite. I was excited to finally get to use my new Mamiya 7 camera – it’s the one I wanted for a while.

Missed Sunrise

Missed Sunrise

So, the following morning, I loaded it with Fuji Velvia film, expecting the sunrise to fire up the massive mountain in warm tones of orange and pink. Just as expected, the sunrise was spectacular. I used my Canon 7D digital camera mainly to meter the scene, and I kept firing the Mamiya every few minutes, as the light was changing.

When the magic light was gone and it was time to go, with no small amount of horror did I realize that I had my lens cap on the camera the whole time. You see, Mamiya 7 is a rangefinder, which means that you look through the viewfinder, but not through the lens (like with SLR cameras).

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

A classic rookie mistake, and now I was left only with those digital shots. I barely found a few that sort of worked; the one on top is during the magic light, but the second one is less than 20 minutes later – the magic was definitely gone.

Let it be said here that Mount Rainier is one of the most impressive sights I ever saw. It’s an enormous volcano, covered in glaciers, rugged and foreboding. It is the center of the eponymous National Park that is definitely up there with the most beautiful places on Earth and you should definitely go there if you get the chance.

What’s your favorite National Park? Leave a comment below.

Water Tower, Justin, TX Monday, Sep 10 2012 

Water Tower

Water Tower

A few years back, I drove past this old rusted-out water tower a few times and pre-visualized an image I wanted – I thought the setting sun would light up the rusty tones and that color would look great against the deep blue sky that I would get with Fuji Velvia film.

I even took a shot at it, but it was completely different from what I imagined. It was in the morning, I used Kodak T-Max 100 film and my lens was way too wide. But I still like the way it turned out, and it definitely had potential.

More than a year after that black-and-white shot, I came back, with my Canon 7D digital camera with me. The sunset was great, the sky clear, and I got the composition I wanted with my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. The sky definitely would have a deeper hue on Velvia, but I love the way the tower turned out. I never felt happy enough with the shot before to post it online. So here it is – with no post-processing, other than slight rotation to straighten it out, and the usual amount of sharpening.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Traditional Sunset, Eagle Crags, Utah Tuesday, May 17 2011 

I’ve been traveling with Tyler and John for four years now, for purposes of enhancing our friendship as well as our photography skills. And if there’s one thing that we bonded over more than over lens caps and ISO settings, it’s botched sunset shoots.

First, there was not one, but two sunsets in Monument Valley, a year apart, that left something to be desired. Then there was one when we didn’t get to Lake Powell in time on our way from The Wave, even though I hit 100 miles an hour to get there. There was one at Yosemite’s Tunnel View (although, the Sierras paid us back a few days later with a magnificent sunset from Sentinel Dome). And then the one when the skies finally cleared only when we were already many miles on our road out of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park…

If there’s one thing we can count on, that’s a less-than-perfect sunset.

Traditional Sunset

Eagle Crags, UT

And here we were, three hours before sunset, after a morning hike to Angels Landing, after driving up a bad dirt road, getting perilously off the hiking trail, setting up our tripods in between the bushes and trees, wondering if we will get rained on before the skies clear and allow some sunlight onto the peaks in front of us.

The peaks are called Eagle Crags, and they’re located just outside Zion National Park, near Rockville, UT. We saw them a few sunsets earlier, as they were the peaks getting the very last light, due to the fact that they’re outside the main canyon of the park, so the light lingers on them just a little longer. Tyler found a road on the map, and the road led us to a BLM hiking trail, which eventually goes all the way to the foot of the Eagle Crags hill.

Eagle Crags, UT

Velvia film shot, not as good as the digital

Skies were dark and foreboding, which made for a dramatic background. We were cheering for the sun to break through the cloud bank to the west and light up the red sandstone. We had reason to hope: it happened a little earlier, but it was not the magical “golden hour light”. I captured it on Fuji Velvia 50 film, shown here, and it looks nice, but it’s not quite the same as the main digital photo, taken just that much later. Light was changing fast, and I never snapped another film shot. I didn’t even time to change my lens – it was gone in a flash.

Still, we’ve seen some photos in the local galleries, and this formation, somewhat off the beaten path, offers great potential for some wonderful sunsets. On this evening, however, our tradition continued.

Humpback Whale, Banderas Bay, Mexico Wednesday, Jan 19 2011 

It’s been more than a year and a half since my last beach vacation (Dubrovnik, Croatia), so I was looking forward to doing absolutely nothing for a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, this January. Of all the activities that the tourist agencies bombarded me with, the only one of any interest to me was the Whale Photo Safari, as it was an opportunity to take photos of wild animals in their natural habitats.

Humpback whales spend most of the year in the cold waters of Alaska, but every winter, they migrate south for breeding; some end up around Hawaii, but most go to Mexico. Seeing all the photos on the brochures, I thought to myself, if I could get just one photo like this, it would be worth it. So, here it is.

Humpback Whale, Banderas Bay, Mexico

Humpback Whale, Banderas Bay, Mexico

Let it be said right away that your chances of getting a good photo at this excursion are minimal and greatly depend on a few key factors, with reaction speed as a common denominator. First, if all you have is an iPhone or a point-and-shoot that takes forever to snap a picture, you better just put it away. Catching a photo of the whales (or dolphins) as they breach the water is an exercise in futility, because you have a window of about a second and have absolutely no warning. Further, even if you have a fairly decent lens on your dSLR, it helps if you also have a fast continuous shooting mode; the photo here is the second in a series of 8 that my Canon 7D fired off in only one second. The others are almost unusable, despite sharp focus and a shutter speed of 1/400 sec. This is because, in addition to all the other challenges, the boat you’re on swings violently on the massive waves of the open ocean.

Whale, 100% crop

In other words, you have to have the camera ready at all times, and scan the waters around you constantly, fighting the motion sickness caused by looking through the mercilessly unsteady viewfinder. And if you’re lucky enough to grab the photo, you won’t care that your horizon isn’t level or that your boat was in a less-than-ideal spot and most of the whale is in shadow and you can’t see well the intricate details on its rugged skin, covered with barnacles and other growth. You’ll be happy that you didn’t puke your guts out and that you enjoyed a truly “Wow!” moment in your life.

As a bonus shot, here’s another whale breaching a little farther away; however, I cropped the photo to about a 100% so it only appears closer. Notice that the angle is a little more fortunate, so the grooves of the underbelly become more visible.

Lower Manhattan, Sunset Friday, Dec 10 2010 

On the short list of my favorite cities in the world, New York has a special place. I visited it for the first time as a nine year-old boy, and was mesmerized. It lived on for decades in memories and photos until I came back in 2003. So when the opportunity came up to go there again this past Thanksgiving, I spared no expense.

The purpose of the trip was not photographic in nature, so I was content to see the city as a tourist yet again. In addition, the November weather was murky and unpredictable and did not hold much promise for successful photography. But, on the only day when the forecast called for clear skies in the afternoon, I decided to make the pilgrimage to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

The plan was to shoot the sunset and capture the brilliant sunlight reflecting off majestic skyscrapers. But two things conspired against me — one, sun sets really quickly in the Northeast at this time of year, and two, it takes a really long time to get through all the lines and onto the top of the ESB. By the time we went through metal detectors, cheesy green-screen photographers, ticket counters, elevators and more elevators, the sun was gone, and only the glimmers remained. It wasn’t even 5 p.m. when this shot was taken.

Lower Manhattan, Sunset

Lower Manhattan, Sunset

On the plus side, the city lights were coming on, and the south view to lower Manhattan was fantastic. The downtown buildings stand out wonderfully, with the Flatiron, Woolworth, and Metropolitan Life dominating the foreground along with Fifth Avenue. If you know where to look, you can find other New York highlights, such as the Liberty Island (with the Statue of Liberty just barely lit), and Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

Taking the photo without a tripod in fleeting light wasn’t exactly easy. I tried several techniques and spots along the southern terrace of the Observation Deck. The settings I ended up being the happiest with are the ISO 400 (not too noisy, but enough to keep the shutter speed manageable) and f/5.6 (one stop down for my 17-40mm f/4L lens). Resulting shutter speed was 0.4 seconds, so I braced myself into the fence and hoped for the best.

Michigan and Chestnut

The exposure ended up being just a little dark, so I lightened it in PhotoShop, carefully watching not to lose the pink and orange hues along the horizon. The shot immediately reminded me of a similar photo of Chicago I took from the Hancock Tower when I was there shooting with my friend John. Millions of tourists see these same views every week, but the iconic cityscapes represent a universal language that all tourists speak.

Model Shoot: Elizabeth Wednesday, Sep 22 2010 

About a year ago or so, I joined Model Mayhem, a web site where photography professionals and enthusiasts get together for creative purposes. My goals were modest, to connect with some local people who like to do the same types of things I do, and maybe get involved with some fun shoots, and hopefully learn something.

Elizabeth contacted me and offered to set up a shoot; after she gave birth to her son earlier this year, she was looking to get back in front of the camera. Her “port” (home page) looked very versatile and interesting, but we could not get our schedules lined up. Then, in July, another model I shot with before, Crystal, set up an impromptu shoot with three models and three photographers in historic West End in Downtown Dallas. Elizabeth showed up wearing a tight-fitting retro dress and a winning smile.

We had a great time with different poses, from which I picked four for my Flickr gallery. She was a terrific sport – not only did she indulge my insane idea to come out into the scorching July sun for a few minutes for some natural light portraits, she even deftly changed into another tight-fitting retro dress. That dress is featured in this shot where her curvaceous body is highlighting the banner for the “Bodies” exhibition (“An Exhibition of Real Human Bodies”).

There’s also this shot where she’s framed by a service elevator opening; that one was a real pain to clean up. It was taken from very close distance with a very wide angle lens, which is usually a no-no for portraits, due to the distortion those lenses create. First I used the lens distortion correction, based on the numbers published by a photographer and blogger Ken Rockwell to get the lines straight. But then I had to change the vertical and horizontal perspectives to get everything properly lined up. I doubt the haywire lines would have distracted from what’s a very nice portrait of Elizabeth, but I’m pretty pleased to have helped keep the focus on the model.

Cloth’d In The Sun Friday, Sep 17 2010 

This is my buddy John. By occupation, he’s a philosopher. By conviction, he’s a rocker. Ask him about Allister Crowley, or Roger Waters, and he’ll tell you all you need to know, and more. He’s provided me with more workplace-related motivational quotes than anyone else. Just enough of an idealist to inspire some serious introspection, even for a cynic like myself.

So, the story goes a little like this: John walked into a Guitar Center one day with his better half and immediately fell in love with a curvaceous beauty that appeared before him. His better half encouraged the adulterous relationship, probably because she didn’t feel too threatened by a bass guitar.

Cloth'd In The Sun

His Rickenbacker is indeed gorgeous, and John put it to good use. He reinvigorated his progressive rock band, “Cloth’d in the Sun”, they worked hard on their songs, and they were invited to appear at a festival in Flower Mound, TX back in June. I offered my services as the unofficial band photographer, partly because I have a secret craving about stage photography. They, in turn, offered a vibrant set of original songs and lit up the crowd like the setting sun.

That setting sun made this shoot both interesting and challenging. It’s the ultimate spot light – small, strong light source very far away. The shadows are harsh and the contrast is high, but the color is warm and pleasing.
The black and white Rickenbacker looks great in front of John’s Ohio State football jersey. There’s a little too much stage clutter even with the f/3.5 aperture, but I liked this shot as a portrait of an artist as a young man.

For the bonus shot, I picked this closeup of John and his Rickenbacker locked in a passionate embrace. It may be love at first sight, but something tells me these two will live happily ever after.

Spotty, Age 14 Thursday, Sep 9 2010 

I’m not really sure it would be prudent to elaborate where exactly was I when I took this picture. Let’s just say I was at the CARE facility in Bridgeport, TX; CARE stands for Center for Animal Research and Education, and it’s a large rescue shelter for big cats. The man in charge Derek was kind enough to show me around and introduce me to most of over 50 big cats they have on the property.

Spotty, Age 14

Spotty here is a gorgeous adult leopard male, who was just lounging around on a warm Saturday morning. You have to be a little careful about overusing the adjective “gorgeous” when you talk about CARE cats, but they are extremely well cared for, in stark contrast to their immediate pasts. Most cats were kept as pets and either neglected or abused; some kept in extremely small enclosures or even dog kennels. The more fortunate ones were kept in zoos, until those zoos became victims of a tough economy and the cats had nowhere to go. Now, at CARE, they live the good life, playing and napping and pouncing on their favorite treats – chicken leg quarters.

Raven, Age 13

Spotty’s room mate is Raven, seen in the photo to the right. Raven is a slightly younger female black leopard who took the term “lounging around” to a new level… literally. She was up at an elevated shelf looking lazily over at Ace, their third neighbor. Spending some time at CARE reminded me why I love cats, even though I’m a dog person. These guys, just like house cats, are athletic and aloof, lazy but playful. If you’d like to see them, visit CARE as soon as you can – and remember to donate; those chicken leg quarters don’t buy themselves.

Sydney, Age 7 Wednesday, Sep 8 2010 

This past Labor Day weekend, I wanted to drive around North Texas and find interesting photographic subjects. By chance, I found a website for CARE – Center for Animal Research and Education, a refuge for big cats just outside a small town of Bridgeport, TX. Having heard of a few similar places in the area, I expected a few tigers, maybe a couple of bobcats, and not much more. Once I got there, I was stunned to find more than 50 big cats, most of them gorgeous tigers, like Sydney here.

Sydney, age 7

It was a slightly cool morning compared to the heat waves we’ve had the past month or so. Most of the cats were out and about, and the host, Derek, played around lovingly with each of them as he was showing us around. Sydney was on a platform in her enclosure, and when I first saw her, she was in the middle of a sleepy stretch which you can see below. Shortly thereafter, she perked up and assumed this regal pose you see in the main photo. Truly a gorgeous cat, and according to the CARE web site, she’s available for adoption. They also accept donations… Hint: tigers love chicken.

Sydney, stretching

Since I now shoot JPG, it was a bit of a challenge to nail down the white balance on the shot. Straight out of the camera, it looked very blue because my Canon 7D probably got confused with the warm shadow of the foreground with the cooler light seeping in from outside. My friend Tyler taught me this interesting Photoshop technique (too elaborate to go into here), so I managed to warm up the beautiful oranges on Sydney.

In the coming days, I’ll post a few more shots of beautiful cats from CARE. Until then, get on over to their web site and donate a few bucks or simply volunteer. The cats will love it.

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