Sunset, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Friday, Oct 5 2012 

Friday is the day when we celebrate the end of the work week with simple posts.

While I was looking for photos of my sister for yesterday’s post, I saw some really nice colors from a series of photos taken during a few sunsets while we were vacationing in Puerto Vallarta in 2011.

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

This one is particularly lovely, as it captures the last ray of sun before it disappeared under the horizon. And look at that tiny little sailboat, going on its merry way!

I remember telling my sister while we watched this scene: “Not only is it January, it’s actually a single-digit date in January.” Our Northern hemisphere minds find it hard to comprehend being on the beach, watching the sunset, on January 9 of any year.

I hope we get to do it again in January 2013.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

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Numbered Beaches, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA Monday, Mar 19 2012 

As I mentioned before, in August 2011 I visited my friend and photographer Tyler in Seattle. He was kind enough to provide me with a tour of nearby National Parks, which he documented quite well over the last few years since he moved into the area.

One day, I’ll tell you a sad story about a very nice sunrise at Mount Rainier, but this story, far less sad, begins later that same day.

After breakfast at Rainier, we broke camp and took a few hours drive west to a quaint little town of Forks, WA, made famous by some teenage vampire novels you may have heard of. We stopped at a few places along the way and took some photos, but the main goal was to get to the Second Beach, a secluded place on the western side of the Olympic peninsula, in time for the sunset.

Third Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Third Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

And we did, or so we thought. The First, Second and Third beaches are adjacent lagoons, each with its own trail leading back to the main road to La Push, WA. But, since it was an afternoon of a long day when we drove by, we didn’t realize we took the trail for the Third beach until we hit the sand, a mile or so later.

Twilight-themed signs at a restaurant in Forks, WA

Twilight-themed signs at a restaurant in Forks, WA

Which was just as well, because it was a perfectly lovely place, and the dying light of the day provided great back lighting to the distant sea stacks. I started a new roll of Fuji Velvia film with two sunset shots, of which I prefer this one, with more dramatic clouds and nice reflection in the water. I wish I had a longer lens than the normal 80mm on my Mamiya 7 medium format camera, or that I were closer to the distant sea stacks, but it still ended up being a very nice photo.

We went back among the werewolves and vampires (see phone camera photo), regrouped and tried again in the morning to find the Second beach. When we got there, I saw why Tyler wanted us to go there in the first place. Massive sea stacks dominated the landscape, and an extremely low tide revealed many of the smaller rocks, and billions of muscle shells clinging on to the rock.

Second Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Second Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Spoiling the fun were the Pacific Northwest clouds which obscured the rising sun. We still tried to make the best of it and trotted around the beach and among the rocks, and made a few photos along the way. I changed films from the high-contrast Fuji Velvia to the lower contrast Ilford Delta 100. The overcast sky and the lingering fog gave the scene a moody feeling, which I ended up enjoying.

Although remote, Olympic National Park is well worth the trip – in this post, I didn’t even mention the central part of the park with rainforests, river valleys and dramatic waterfalls, like the Sol Duc Falls. By the time we got back to civilization, the weather cleared up very nicely. As a bonus from the visit, during our stop at a Starbucks I ended up picking up Hugh Laurie’s excellent CD “Let Them Talk“, which I like almost as much as these photos.

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.

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