Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Droning On

Droning On

I've always wanted to be a pilot but never had the time to learn.  Plus, it's one of those things that you can't just do every now and then.  You have to stay sharp or you become part of the landscape instead of flying over it.  I've also had many occasions where I wanted to take a photo from "right there" but right there was either a few feet off the edge of a cliff  or several yards out into the middle of the river or ... you get the idea.  Plus to be honest, Toledo is just not a photography hotspot and I need to find new and different ways to see it to enjoy my photography addiction between photo trips.

Enter the drone.  Or actually, the third drone.  I'm somewhat of an early adopter, so several years ago I bought a drone and a GoPro.  Realistically GoPros are not landscape photography cameras so the images weren't great.  But more problematically, the drone was just not right.  It had an affinity for trees or other obstacles and a two year old could hold still better that it could.  My 12 year old son who regularly embarrasses me playing against me in any video game couldn't get this thing to fly right and flew it into Lake Erie.  It's not a submarine either we learned.  So last year DJI came out with version 4 (my first was version 2) and the promise was stable, controlled flight.  I bought one last summer, and Eureka! I could fly it, it held stationary if necessary, and it could find it's own way home when I lost track of it.  That happened often I'm embarrassed to say.  Unfortunately, the camera was a 12MP wide angle affair which was decent but not awesome.  But still,  better than nothing so I started experimenting with drone photography.  And of course, as with all technology, I no sooner paid the credit card bill for that drone when DJI released the 4 "Pro" version with a 20mp camera and a 1 inch sensor.  This is clearly a Chinese plot to extract as many American dollars from me as possible but I went for it (my long suffering wife Chris said "quit whining and just get it already" bless her heart).  Now we're working on 90% awesome.  Great camera -RAW+JPEG, low noise and super easy to fly with collision sensors all around.  Only complaint is fixed focal length and no zoom.  I'm sure it's just a matter of time - and probably not long - they've got to keep extracting those dollars you know.

So what have I learned so far?  Aerial photography is a whole different perspective and even with Google Earth you have to just get the drone up there and see if there's an image.  I use Google Earth to scout out possible subjects and safe places to fly from to access my intended subject. Light still matters but so does wind speed and precipitation which never completely stopped me before when I was using an SLR and a sturdy tripod. People are suspicious of drones - especially if you are flying them near someone's home; which for urban images is impossible to avoid. I've been harassed about flying in public airspace, but my new German Shepherd will take care of that.... Air travel is a pain because the drone takes up it's own backpack and my personal Sherpa (Chris) doesn't always fly with me so a camera backpack and a drone backpack makes me wish I was a camel. (Mike Mike Mike Mike....)  I haven't tried night drone photography yet but will report on that later when I figure out a safe location without aerial obstacles to experiment.  And finally, drones are not allowed in national parks (I agree) so there will still be those cliffs where I wish I could be 3 feet to the right but never will.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Smoky Mountains in the Spring

Recently I had an opportunity to assist in teaching a photography workshop in the Smoky Mountains with Andy Cook of .  The timing of the shoot was designed to take advantage of the spring environment:  fresh green leaves, water flowing in rivers and falls, and wildflowers.  Although I've been there many times before, it's mostly been to shoot the fall colors.  What a difference springtime makes!  Fall shooting in the Smoky's is just stressful - people everywhere, cars clogging the roads, traffic jams for animal sightings (mostly deer! why??? everyone has those at home $%#*@!!) and you never know for sure when and where the peak color will be until of course it happens.  Spring is the opposite.  Not as many people; especially during the week and so much less traffic.  Most people seem to be hiking instead of just driving around.  The predominant color is - green!  And it's everywhere - but with so many different shades and hues.  The leaves are new, not heat or insect damaged, and not so dense that they obscure the view into the woods.  Water is flowing everywhere and many places that would be dry in the fall become delightful small waterfalls or water fans in the streams.  There are many wildflowers as well, but unlike out west where there are entire fields of large, bright flowers, these are smaller, more subtle, and somewhat hidden in the forest floor.  Plus, there are still the usual opportunities for the well known fog shrouded mountain ridgelines and old wooden buildings.  So if you're willing to think green, photographing the Smoky Mountains in the spring is a truly delightful experience.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Trip Jinx

My friends and family know that traveling with me is like a hazardous occupation.  I've seen snow in Death Valley, rain in the desert,  and busloads of tourists invading isolated overlooks at sunrise.  True friends have even suggested to my wife that we really ought to just stay home.

This summer was no exception.  I had arranged a canal houseboat rental from Mid Lakes Marina in Macedon along the Erie canal in New York. June was one of the wettest months ever, and just before my trip was to start, large stretches of the Erie canal were closed - for high water!  How you get too much water in a canal I don't know.  Admittedly the boat was quite comfortable but we had to head west instead of east as I had intended.  Canal houseboats are also very slow - people walking briskly along the towpath trails could outpace us when they were motivated.  So we didn't cover quite the area I had planned, but it did force me to slow my own pace down. Way down. I guess that's a good idea and fits with the concept of a vacation.  At least I didn't have guide a mule pulling the canal boat.

In July my long suffering wife Chris and I headed to Glacier National Park.  About two days before departure we got an email from one of the hotels informing us of a forest fire.  I've been to Glacier four times and this is the 2nd forest fire.  That's 50%.  I should probably be banned from the park.  When I called the hotel to inquire about whether I should get a reservation elsewhere, the man who answered said not to worry,  and nonchalantly added that the fire wasn't close - 6 miles away - and that it was at worst just a bit smoky....  So we flew into Great Falls Montana because although Kalispell is closer, it's on the west side of the park and we were spending all of our time on the east side which is separated from the airport by Logan's pass and the Going to the Sun road which can have surprise delays (even when there's no fire) and mess up your attempt to catch the flight back home.

Great Falls seemed to be a pleasant town and when we checked into the hotel we surprised with an upgrade - a jacuzzi suite. That night after dinner there was the sound like a herd of horses galloping around the room above us.  Just when we were about to call the desk about that there was a knock on the door.  When my wife answered there were two intoxicated young women standing there, one of whom slapped the other and slurred "told you this was the wrong floor!"  A few minutes later, there was the sound of flowing water coming from the room with the jacuzzi.  When I checked it out, there was water streaming from the light fixtures, the fire suppression nozzle, and down the walls.  Definitely time to call the front desk.  Apparently it's ok to go out and get drunk, leaving your children to wreak havoc back at the hotel.

The next day we drove to the park to discover that the main road through the park, Going to the Sun Road, was closed because of the fire and was unlikely to open in the near future.  This is the main road to access the majority of the highlights of the park.  The good news was that the fire wasn't heading towards our hotel.  The other upside was that it forced us to explore the Two Medicine section of the park which is definitely under-appreciated.  But this trip was timed to let us see the Logan Pass area after the snow had melted and when there should have been wildflowers and that wasn't an option anymore.

We spent the last few days of the trip in the Many Glacier area and stayed at the century old lodge.  It's definitely cool, historical, and offers access to my favorite section of the park.  However, there have been major advances in hotel construction over the last 100 years in areas like bathrooms and noise control. And when the fire alarm goes off at 3 am in a century old wooden structure you're really motivated to exit quickly!  

In spite of the challenges of the trips, there was great scenery and plenty to photograph.  One of the most fruitful outings were the two drives we made exploring the area east of Glacier National park.  This area is agricultural and the landscape was more of the big sky type with horses and hay fields under it. This area was quite a contrast to the mountains and lakes of the park.

As always, I was pleasantly surprised with the opportunities for images, even if they weren't what I had anticipated.  And of course, I'll continue to travel in spite of the black cloud.  I'll even go back to Glacier National Park - but next time I'll probably travel under an alias...


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sometimes You Get What You Need

My photography crazed friends Andy and Pete suggested a shoot where we would only photograph at night and sleep during the day.  And we would primarily car camp - each of us sleeping in the back of his own SUV.  The one week which seemed to fit our schedules was in February and the target area was eastern Utah.  It was necessary to find a week where the moon was less than one half at it's brightest and it would set early enough to give us both some moonlit landscape and some moon free night sky.  We didn't quite figure the impact of the very late rise of the thickest part of the Milky Way, which turned out to be around two hours before dawn.  For those who like night photography, you know that the night starts fading two hours before sunrise (and doesn't get really dark until 2 hours after sunset.)

We met up in Arches NP and the first night started off well and then became increasingly cloudy. Then there was a major league snowstorm.  So much for night sky shooting.  We elected to head south because the snowstorm was moving northeast and we figured it would clear there first.  We drove to Natural Bridges National Monument where eventually we were the only visitors for a day.  When you see no other tire tracks, you know you have the place to yourself.  The snowstorm  coated the rocks and trees perfectly and we had the opportunity to photograph the high desert scenery in its winter finest.  Of course,  hiking in the snow was a little challenging and sleeping in the SUV's at 20 degrees wasn't exactly cozy.  But the images were awesome, and eventually the storm cleared providing a superb sunrise in the process.  We photographed our way back north and eventually got some night shooting as we had envisioned. 

In retrospect I was glad for the diversity the snowstorm provided and the fact that it forced us to get some sleep at night.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

So Now What?

My wife and I had planned a February trip to Hocking Hills in the fall.  She was looking forward to the romantic cabin and I to some winter photography - and romance in the cabin.  We had just gotten a foot of snow at home so I figured the scenery would be awesome. She was hoping the cabin would be as nice as its website.  The cabin was, but the snow never got quite as far south as Hocking Hills.  Now what?
Of course I still had a beautiful woman, a really nice cabin in the woods, a hot tub, wine, and some gourmet food.  If I wasn't a diehard photographer, this would be perfect.  We did do some hiking, as my wife Chris really does enjoy the outdoors and thankfully can find things to enjoy while I photograph.  Besides the lack of snow, it turned out that the Yaktrax that she had weren't up to the ice covered stone steps that lead down to the really cool features in the park. My Kahtoola  microspikes were awesome but we only had one set of those.  So for our hikes together we went places without lots of icy steps and I looked for ways to depict winter without showing a snow covered landscape (bottom photo.)  When she'd had enough hiking I slipped out (pun intended) and used the microspikes to find wintery looking scenics (top photo.)
In the end, we had some quality "us" time and I found some images too, so it was a perfect weekend.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Being that it's the Christmas holiday season there's a lot of visiting going on.  Earlier in the day I was thinking about how many people I visit during the season, how many parties there are, and how many special events occur.  There are times I wish I could spread out the Christmas fun over a few months - especially January and February which in Ohio could use some help.  And then there are those people who I only see during holidays and wish I would see during the rest of the year and do a revisit of the holiday get together.

Thinking about the concept of a "revisit" also made me think about photography.  Yeah, I know, the average person would never connect these things and sure I have a photography fixation. And yes my poor wife Chris needs lots of sympathy.  But what occurred to me is that photography offers the possibility of revisiting your previous work and redoing the processing of images.  If you're not into cold weather photography or if you're not escaping to a tropical paradise, January and February are great months to look at old images and see what else you can do with them.  Perhaps you have some new software which would allow you to process an image that you never could get to work out previously.  Maybe you've learned some new ways to work with images in Photoshop or Lightroom.  Or, you could try to create black and white images from some previous captures. For instance, the image above was tone mapped in an HDR program that salvaged an image photographed in harsh midday light last summer. The image below is a black and white conversion using a dedicated monochrome program from Topaz. 

So since half time is over (why are all the interesting football games crammed into two weeks!) I'll end this post now.  But remember, when it's cold, dark, and boring this winter do a revisit.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mood and Photography

When you see this image, do you think it's sunrise or sunset?  If you see a sunrise, is it because you are optimistic and the sunrise holds forth the promise of a new day?  If you see a sunset, is it because you generally hold a different outlook and the day's end is a melancholic event?  Certainly a photographer can attempt to convey mood by composition, color, or by choosing a monochrome look.  The composition is generally determined at the time of the image capture, and will reflect the photographer's mood at that time.  But even more so, the emotions of the photographer at the time the image is processed will set the ultimate expression of mood. 

We've all heard of the tortured artist who creates masterpieces but must be suffering intensely in order to create.  For the rest of us, working on images might be a refuge from difficulties in the rest of our lives. Images we are processing probably recall a happier time when we were out doing something that we truly enjoy and probably somewhere far away from those things that cause us stress. For myself, I find that if I'm too upset about something, I can't even work to process images.  If I'm not quite that distraught, I've been told by friends that my processing tends to take on a gloomy look. The most important thing in my life is my wife, and after that my family, so if something major is going on there I can turn a blue sky sunshine puffy white clouds and field of daisies image into an expression of despair. 

So that's all for now; no real epiphany. Just something to reflect on for a moment.