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.

Mamiya 645 1000S Monday, Oct 15 2012 

Once I started shooting 35mm film, I found that I was really enjoying the process and the result. Film makes you slow down, think about your shots, and as a result, you usually end up with better photos.

Mamiya 645 1000S

Mamiya 645 1000S

I got greedy, though, and I knew I wanted to get into medium format film. I stumbled upon a great deal on Craigslist and bought this Mamiya 645 1000S camera, with the 80mm lens, for $250. I even got an extra body, along with some knicknacks.

It was heavy and clumsy, and it took some getting used to, especially since there were some minor bugs that I had to learn the hard way. But I enjoyed the simplicity of it – manual focus, manual exposure, split level focus point, and a gigantic viewfinder. Most of all, I liked the huge image area – when the developed slides would come from the lab, it was just beautiful to look at.

Mamiya 645 1000S with the 25mm fisheye lens

Mamiya 645 1000S with the 25mm fisheye lens

I bought two other lenses for it; one was a slightly wider 45mm, which worked brilliantly, and the other was Mamiya-Sekor 24mm f/4 Fisheye ULD C, which was a mouthful to say, and a beast of a lens. It works out to be about 15mm on a regular film format (35mm), which is extremely wide.

I eventually sold all my 645 gear and traded up for the Mamiya 7 that I have now. I wrote a blog post when that camera was only a shy little wish list entry. Mamiya 7 is a 6×7 format, so it is slightly larger than the 6×4.5 format. The camera is also a rangefinder, so it’s more compact and easier to carry around. I’m still enjoying the medium format film, and I think I have a great camera; I may start getting some more lenses for it soon.

Via Condotti, Rome, Italy Friday, Sep 28 2012 

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

Prada

Prada

Shopping in Rome begins and ends at Via Condotti. As you can see, the 2-story Prada store is on the corner of the street and it overlooks Piazza Spagna, and the famous Spanish Steps. Across the street from Prada, on the other corner is Dior.

Further down are all other big names, like Gucci, Burberry, Fendi and Ermenegildo Zegna. Brands like Tod’s and Salvatore Ferragamo have not one, but two stores each on this street – one for men, and one for the ladies.

Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton

As you can see, Louis Vuitton is just across the street from Giorgio Armani. Did I mention how much I love this city?

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Virgin River, Zion National Park Friday, Jul 1 2011 

On our first full day at Zion National Park, Tyler and John and I wanted to take another stab at the Emerald Pool Lakes trail. We had done it a few years ago, but felt we could come back and get some good photos on it. While the jury is still out on some of those photos, after we came back down to the valley, we had time to kill before sunset, so we went to the Riverwalk Trail, at the very end of the canyon.

Record snowfall has turned Virgin river into a raging torrent, much like what we saw in Yosemite a year ago. At the end of the Riverwalk trail is the start of the Narrows, for which Zion is famous for, but the Narrows trail was closed because, well, there was no trail, only a river.

Virgin River

Virgin River

So we took a leisurely stroll, taking our sweet time setting up our gear in between the children and squirrels and other critters roaming around us. With no direct sunlight inside the canyon, we were trying to look at unusual scenes that you wouldn’t normally notice if you looked for grand vistas and bold scenes.

This was shot on Kodak Ektachrome 100 slide film with my medium format Mamiya 645 1000s camera, and, while I had some nice results with this film before, this was just flat and boring. I loved the composition, and the watery blur was in a perfect balance between a milky artificial look and the instant snapshot. There was depth there, and content, but the colors just didn’t work. This was a “maybe”, and that’s how I presented it to Tyler.

Virgin River, before Tyler-ification

Virgin River, before Tyler-ification

He made a few subtle adjustments, some of which are beyond my scope as a digital artist. He made some color enhancement – there was a lot of reflected blue light from the sky, and the green trees now look a lot better against the red canyon walls. He also encouraged the shadows and made the highlights behave. I’m posting the main photo the way he edited it, with the “before” image (direct slide scan) posted smaller, for comparison.

October Manifesto Sunday, Oct 3 2010 

In my September Manifesto, I set some goals designed to get me more involved in photography. Overall I did pretty well – I posted eleven portraits on my Flickr page; I shot a roll of medium format film and I read the book “First Light”. The goals I fell just short of were the number of blog posts (six instead of projected seven), and I did not make the 11×14 prints I wanted.

Despite not completing the list, I’m pretty pleased, and it definitely helped to define the goals in order to stay driven. It makes me adjust my October goals slightly, based on available time and opportunities to do photography-related activities. So, here they are:

Write 6-8 blog posts. Six is a good number – not too much so that I would have to blog too often, and not too little either so that I can stay motivated. I still have to get some ideas out there, so this should not be a problem.

Post 8 photos. I still have some maternity shoot photos to post, and let’s not forget that I shot a roll of medium format film that I could scan and post a few keepers.

Read “The Camera”. It was great that I was able to satisfy the September requirement by reading “First Light”, but that wasn’t really the achievement in reading. It was definitely amazing to learn the experiences of five great photographers, and even more inspiring to see their photos, but there wasn’t much text in the book, and I finished it in a few hours. However, “The Camera” is a little more substantial and requires some effort, perhaps even taking some notes. Still, I can’t wait.

My favorite photo from October 2009

Make 11×14 prints for portfolio. (From the September Manifesto) This is what I do to show people my work, and also to evaluate the possibilities of making even larger prints. All the Yosemite shots should be in here, as well as a few others; there are serious candidates for drum scans there, I just need to be able to visualize what I want.

Streamline Flickr page. Right now, most of the stuff is there, but there are some orphan sets, and a few things need to be tied together. It’s a vague goal, but any step would be a step forward.

I could also invest in a frame for one of the prints I made, and shoot another roll of medium format film, but this is enough for now.

What’s your plan for October?

September Manifesto Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

July was okay in terms of my involvement in photography. I took a few photos on my trip to Bosnia, I polished and posted a few photos from my June trip to Yosemite, and I even managed to participate in a mini-meetup session with a few models and photographers just before the month expired.

August, on the other hand, was terrible.

My shutters were completely silent; not a single exposure was made. I barely even got my gear out of the bag since that July 31 model shoot.

This could not go on. Therefore, I made some quick notes about how to reclaim my zeal for photography in September. Nothing big, just a few basic things to get things going. Here they are, in no particular order.

* Post 5-10 portraits. Model shoot with 3 models, studio maternity/pregnancy shoot, as well as the rock show I shot for my good buddy…. there’s got to be 10 good shots in there somewhere.

* Write 7-10 blog posts (not counting this one). I only wrote a few posts in August, and I know I could have written more, even without posting new photos. They don’t have to follow the portraits mentioned above, I have things to write about.

* Make several 11×14 prints for the portfolio. This is what I do to show people my work, and also to evaluate the possibilities of making even larger prints. All the Yosemite shots should be in here, as well as a few others; there are serious candidates for drum scans there, I just need to be able to visualize what I want.

* Read a total of one book on photography. I already have the books to choose from: “The Camera” by Ansel Adams, and “First Light” by a group of authors/photographers (including Scot Miller, who signed my copy!). The way I worded this leaves some wiggle room; since I like to start more than one book at the same time, I can read half of each book or any similar combination.

* Shoot at least one roll of medium format film. Digital snapshots are easy, but you know you’ve been out shooting when you have a roll of exposed medium format film in your bag. On my Mamiya, that means 15 exposures. I actually have a plan for this, but I’d really like to go beyond the minimum of one roll and shoot more. I have many films to choose from, but they’re sad and lonely in my fridge, their only company a carton of eggs and a bottle of tonic water.

One of my September 2009 shots...

That’s about it. Nothing too fancy, just a pledge to get out there and shoot, come back and post, think and write. There could be a few minor additions to the list along the way (my Flickr page needs a makeover), but these are the main objectives.

What’s your plan for September?

Yosemite Falls and Pine Wednesday, Jul 21 2010 

Yosemite Valley is a long, deep, narrow incision into the granite of the High Sierras, and as a result, most of its main features are visible from just about anywhere. I already provided some examples of that with El Capitan and Half Dome, but right up there with them on the list of the most recognizable images from Yosemite are the Yosemite Falls, the tallest year-round waterfall in North America.

Yosemite Falls and Pine

Yosemite Falls and Pine

There are a number of ways to photograph the falls, and we had some nice shots from various meadows in the valley, one of which appears below. On this day, however, Scott, John, Tyler and I decided to go up the Four Mile Trail, which snakes from the bottom of the valley all the way up to Glacier Point. The trail is one of the signature trails of the park, and it’s actually five miles long. The first part of the trail offers a great “reverse tunnel view”, where a somewhat distorted eastern profile of El Capitan is on your right, and the Cathedral Peaks on the left. But then, slowly, the trail keeps shifting eastward and there are many spectacular views of the Yosemite Falls.

What’s interesting about this is that the perspective is somewhat changed by the elevation gained on the trail. The plumes of water spray at the bottom of the Upper falls come into full view, and the Lower falls, which is somewhat secluded by the narrow gorge it carved, can be clearly seen.

This is the highest I got on the trail; I had my lunch here, looking at the falls on my right and El Capitan on my left. It is the first shot I took with my Pan F film in medium format (120), and it turned out that this film produced nothing but winners.

Yosemite Falls, from the meadow

El Capitan, From Taft Point Wednesday, Jul 14 2010 

It’s difficult to reduce El Capitan to a description. Photos may be worth a thousand words, but not even a thousand photos can prepare you for when you first see this behemoth. It’s not just a rock. It’s a vast vertical wall of granite, rising from the earth to the height equal to about two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.

But it’s even more than just stats and numbers. The prominent protrusion, dubbed “The Nose” by the climbers, gives it a very distinct look, and a profile of a stern authority figure, with a furrowed brow and a menacing demeanor. You could almost see Ahab or Sitting Bull looking like that.

El Capitan, From Taft Point

El Capitan, From Taft Point

For the most part, you don’t even have to get out of your car to get a great shot of the giant. On our last full day in Yosemite, Scott, John, Tyler and I scrapped the sunrise shoot and slept in. John made killer omelets and we took off on the Glacier Point Road to a trailhead that leads to Taft Point in one direction and Sentinel Dome in the other. After some adventures on the poorly marked trail, we reached the scary outcrop of Taft Point, one of only a few spots in the Valley where you can look down on El Capitan.

Late morning clouds were moving fast, and the scattered sunshine actually created some interesting patterns on the massive mountain features. I clicked the shutter on my Mamiya 1000s just as a large cloud obscured the background of El Cap’s nose, but thankfully left the stone giant brilliantly lit. The Ilford Pan F film was stretched to both limits of its dynamic range, and I wish i can remember how I metered the scene, because I don’t think I could have done it better. This is easily one of my favorite shots from Yosemite.

Quick technical note: this shot may seem as a typical landscape panorama, but it was actually taken with a normal lens – 80mm on the 645 medium format. It may seem counter-intuitive, but my best shots around Yosemite were taken with normal or telephoto lenses.

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