My Top 10 Images of 2018

I know, I’m a slacker. Here we are one month into the new year and I’m just now getting around to publishing this. Selecting my top images for the year is an exercise I’ve been doing for the past several years. It gives me a good look at how the year went photographically, and also helps me to understand how (or if) I have improved over the previous years. If you are passionate about photography and really want to improve, this is something I highly recommend.

I’m not going to lie, 2018 was kind of a down year for me photography-wise. Not that there weren’t plenty of opportunities. There always are. From a trip to Charleston back in March for a photography conference, another excursion to Utah in May, to some vacation time in Colorado in July, there were some good photo ops for sure. No, last year was more a question of motivation, or lack thereof. That was compounded by some creative roadblocks and waning passion. Simply put, I found myself in a “funk” for much of the year and just couldn’t claw my way out.

In any creative pursuit, it’s not unusual to find oneself lacking in the creativity department now and then. Authors call it writer’s block. Does that mean for photographers it is called image maker’s block? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, I’m working my way out of it and am looking forward to a new year. Who knows what 2019 has in store, but i’ll have my camera in hand and ready for whatever comes my way.

So, without further ado, and to put a seal on the 2018 that was, here are what I feel are my top 10 images for the year. Choosing a top ten is not easy. There are many images that may have sentimental value, but are not necessarily “good” images. Sometimes the process and the adventure of capturing a particular image gives it more meaning. Reminiscing about what it took to get that image brings back good memories that may cloud your vision. Just because an image has a good story behind it doesn’t necessarily make it a good image either. In these selections, I try to take all these things into account. Then there is the all-important technical aspects of an image. What makes it good might be the light, composition, patterns, textures, gesture, color (or lack of color), or any combination of these things. Cutting through the emotional aspects and really drilling down to the nuts and bolts of what makes an image a good image is what is important.

So, here they are. In no particular order. I hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to say about any of the images or questions about how they were created. I’m always happy to help.

“Reflections of Color”, Historic Middleton Place in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Milky Way over Lower Fox Creek School”, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, near Strong City, Kansas.

“Morning Gold”, a Pelican on the Mississippi River, Lock & Dam 14 near Le Claire, Iowa.

“Lower Calf Creek Falls”, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

“Sunrise on the Beach”, Morris Island Lighthouse, Charleston, South Carolina.

“Milky Way over the Watchman”, Zion National Park, Utah.

“Fast Food”, a Bald Eagle fishing the Mississippi River at Lock & Dam 14 near Le Claire, Iowa.

“Sunset in Canyonland”, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.

“Milky Way over Escalante”, a panoramic image of the night sky over Escalante, Utah.

“The Bright Side”, a sunset capture at Grinter Sunflower Farms near Lawrence, Kansas.

Eagle Photography at Lock & Dam 14

It’s hard to believe, but another year has passed and I’m here again sharing about another trip to Le Claire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles. My presence on the blog was pretty much nonexistent last year, but I hope to make some changes and share more in 2019. I hope you’ll come back to check it out on occasion.

Note: Don’t forget to click on the images to see them larger and much more detailed!

This year’s trip started out like all the others, with a 5+ plus hour drive north on Interstate 35 to Des Moines, then east on Interstate 80 to Le Claire. It was mostly an uneventful drive, except for the last hour or so as some freezing drizzle was beginning to create some problems on the roadways. After white-knuckling it for the last leg of the trip, I checked into the hotel to get things ready for shooting the following morning.

January weather in Iowa, and in the Midwest in general, can be quite unpredictable. This was my 4th year making this trip, and weather the previous years had been somewhat mild. This year was a bit different. On Saturday morning, I woke up to a frigid temperature of -14 degrees. At least there wasn’t any wind to contend with. I made the short drive to L&D 14 to find that I was the second person to arrive for the day. L&D 14 can get pretty busy, as it has become one of the most popular locations for eagle photography. Even on this cold day photographers slowly poured in anxiously looking forward to putting some pixels on birds.

The first hour or so was a wash, as the fog on the Mississippi River was too thick to see, much less, photograph anything. There were, however, a couple of eagles perched in the trees above the parking lot. They don’t seem to mind all the people snapping photos. In fact, it’s almost like they enjoy posing for us photogs at times. The dense fog and frigid temps had created a coating of hoarfrost on all the tree branches, which made for some interesting images.

The heavy fog slowly cleared out for the most part. It remained overcast for the entire day and there were a few patches of fog every now and then. One thing that was consistent was that it was cold. I don’t believe the temperature ever got above 6 degrees. To top it off, there was not much fishing by the eagles all day. One would fly overhead now and then, but the action was very minimal. Bummer!

The view across the river from L&D 14.

The dark spots in those trees are eagles, but they stayed put all day.

Looking along the shoreline at the viewing platform. Not many people were out yet.

The nice thing about L&D 14 is how close you can get to the action, when there is action. The eagles typically fish the waters right in front of the viewing platform, which makes capturing images much easier. Another nice thing is that you park literally just a few feet from the river. On a cold day, that’s nice so you can hop in the car to warm up now and then. That was the name of the game on this day. Here are a few more images:

Going for a fish…

…and came up empty handed.

Coming in for a landing.

The second day was much different, weather-wise. Skies were clear and temps were “only” -4 degrees to start the day. It sounds cold, but what a difference 10 degrees and sunshine makes! The morning light was absolutely beautiful. There was more fog hanging over the water, but it was much thinner and allowed the morning light to shine through. Landscape photography is my favorite genre and this morning’s sunrise was right up my alley. I grabbed my Fuji mirrorless camera to focus primarily on landscape compositions for a bit.

The weather seemed perfect for some eagle action this morning, but they still were mostly staying perched in the trees. Oh well, with wildlife photography, you just have to take what you get and make the best of it. I didn’t get the shots I really wanted, but that’s OK. It was still a great time and I’ll be back again.

A look at the viewing platform bathed in the early morning sunlight.

Another Trip to Lock & Dam 14

For the past three years, I've made the 5 hour drive to the north and east of where I live to photograph the eagles at Lock & Dam 14. Located along the Mississippi River in LeClaire, Iowa, this location is well-known as one of the best places to photograph these majestic birds in action. It's not necessarily because it has the highest number of eagles. The real magic is in how close you can get to the river where the eagles are fishing. 

Taken last year, this image shows the boardwalk right along the river. Most people were standing along the river bank or on the boat ramp downstream from here this year. 

This year was a bit different than the previous years. Last February, a winter storm took out two trees that had been a mainstay at Lock & Dam 14 for many years. Those trees are where the eagles liked to perch and fish from, and their location typically placed the eagles directly in front of a slew of photographers standing on the boardwalk above the river. It was a perfect setup.

This image, also taken last year, shows the two trees that were lost in the storm last February.

Last fall, replacement perches were installed to take the place of those trees. The new perches are basically power poles with some extra cross members for the eagles to sit on. So far, the eagles have not taken to the new perches. When I was there the third weekend in January, they were fishing from a cove just down-river from the boardwalk. The best place to view the action was from the boat ramps along the edge of the wooded area. That meant that the eagles were not as close most of the time, but the number of eagles was really good and the activity was the best of the three years that I've been there. 

This shows the poles that were installed to serve as perches. According to the locals, the eagles don't want anything to do with them. Hopefully, that will change.

This has been a much colder winter than the previous two, which may have contributed to the higher number of eagles. The weather the first day was perfect, with some good light to make photographing the eagles much easier. They move fast and a really fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action. Having good light is important so the ISO doesn't have to be so high. The second day was completely overcast, but the eagles seemed to be more active. On both days, the morning was the best time to capture some fishing activity. 

It turned out to be another really great trip to LeClaire. Hopefully the eagles will begin to use the new perches by the time I return next January. The new trees that were planted won't be large enough for them to use for many years. Either way, it's always a great time, especially to catch up with some old friends and make new ones. 

In case you're interested in learning more about Lock & Dam 14, I wrote much more detail about the history in my blog post from a couple years ago. You can click this link to find that post:

Now for more images. If you follow me on social media, you may have already seen most of these. Enjoy!

The competition is fierce among the eagles. When one catches a fish, there is at least one other eagle looking for an opportunity to take it away.

There were lots of catches...

...and a few misses.

Heading for the trees with his loot.

We had a nice sunrise the first day I was there.

The pelicans caught their share of fish, too.

Moving in for the kill.

And he dropped it!

Waiting for their chance to steal a fish.

And another miss.

Hope you enjoy the images. If you're ever in the LeClaire, Iowa area in January, stop by and maybe I'll see you there. Thanks for reading!

My Top Ten Images for 2017

Another year is in the books, as 2017 has come to an end and we begin 2018. The past 12 months weren't some of my most productive photographically, at least in terms of quantity of images captured and locations visited. A look at my Lightroom catalog shows exactly 14,000 images for the past year. Of course, that doesn't count several thousand that were taken for use in time-lapse videos, which aren't in the catalog. My guess is the number for the year is closer to 20,000.

The quantity of images, however, really isn't any way to measure the success for the year. Taking lots of pictures can be a good thing, but it certainly doesn't mean that any of them are going to be any good. Instead, I like to look back at some of my favorite photos and the great memories attached to them. 

The year started off with a bang, with a trip to Maui the first week of January. A week in the tropical island paradise provided numerous photographic opportunities, and you'll see a few images from that trip on this list.

Shortly after the Maui trip was a quick trip to LeClaire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles along the Mississippi River. The number of eagles was down compared to the previous year (which was my first), but the trip was a blast and I came away with a few 'keeper' images. 

In March, I attended the Improve Photography Retreat in Phoenix. I made the decision to make it a road trip with intentions of a few side trips on the way there and back. That turned out to be a great decision. One of my favorite Milky Way images was created in Kansas on my way down there. While in Phoenix, there were plenty of opportunities to shoot as well, which resulted in a couple more images in my Top Ten list. Then, on the way back, I spent a couple days with Aaron and Brendon of Photog Adventures fame exploring in and around Zion National Park. There was a ton of driving involved, but that trip was ever so worth it. 

The rest of the year was kind of quiet, with most of my shooting done close to home. There were no other photo trips planned, which was kind of a bummer, since there were still a lot of months left in the year. It's not surprising that what I feel are my best 10 images were taken in the first 3 months of the year. It is kind of disappointing that the other 9 months didn't yield anything that made this list. I'm not complaining though; it was still a very good year with the camera. 

Without rambling on any further than I already have, below are my top ten images for 2017. These are in no particular order. It's hard enough narrowing it down from 14,000 to 10, so I decided there was no need to rank them. Let me know if the comments which one you like the best.

"Island Dreams" - Night time on the beaches of Maui, captured on January 4, 2017. Not a bad way to spend some time in January. 

"Twin Falls" - Captured on January 6, 2017, along the Road to Hana. 

"Are you squawking to me?" - The image was captured along the Mississippi River just south of LeClaire, Iowa. January 21, 2017.

"A Whale of a Tale" - On a whale watching cruise while in Maui. Captured January 4, 2017.

"Bamboo Forest" - On the Road to Hana, while in Maui. Captured January 6, 2017.

"Monument Rocks Milky Way" - This is a panoramic image created at Monument Rocks, about 30 miles south of Oakley, Kansas. This was early in the season (March 8), so this was captured very early in the morning, not long before sunrise.

"Kanarra Creek Falls" - Located just outside of Zion National Park, this is a fabulous short hike into the canyon, with the reward of waterfall scenery. Captured on March 13, 2017.

"Picketpost Mountain Milky Way" - This area just east of Phoenix offered some surprisingly dark night skies for capturing the Milky Way on March 9, 2017. This was less than 24 hours after spending the night at Monument Rocks. 

"Canyon Overlook Sunset" - A wonderful view of the canyon in Zion National Park. Captured on March 12, 2017.

"Kolob Canyon Sunrise" - Captured on March 12, 2017, after doing some night photography and catching some sleep in the car while waiting for the sun to come up. Another of the amazing locations in Zion National Park. 

So, there you have it! My 10 best (and favorite) images of 2017. Hope you all enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed capturing them. Part of this exercise is to reflect on the year and to also look back to see how (or if) my photography has improved from previous years. I feel that it has. There is still much room for improvement. I look forward to 2018, and the adventures that are in store. My goal is to bring my camera along on the journey and share it with you. 

Thanks for reading!



Good Things Come in Threes: The Lensbaby Trio 28

Photography is a journey.   

It is a journey that follows many different paths.  At times, it is a simple road where the intersection of inspiration and creativity is easy to find.  Many other times, the path is a meandering one with many obstacles, and inspiration is much more difficult, if not seemingly nonexistent.   

I believe that most all photographers encounter this difficult road at some point(s) along their creative journey.  This is all part of the process and is, quite frankly, really necessary for growth. Some may call it a photographic rut, burn-out, or maybe even photographer's block.  The important thing is not necessarily how one gets into these situations, but rather how one gets themselves out.  


Grinter Sunflower Farm at sunset, using the Sweet optic on the Lensbaby Trio 28.

Maybe Gear Does Matter 

I'm not sure how many times I've heard the statement, "It's not about the gear."  I understand the gist of that statement and believe it to be mostly true.  However, there may be times that gear really does matter.  For instance, if a new piece of photography gear gets me outside and shooting more, then that's a very good thing.  That gear doesn't instantly make me a better photographer, but practicing the art sure does help.  Whether it's a new camera, lens, tripod, filter, or something else, if that new piece of gear provides some motivation and inspiration, then it certainly does matter.

Purple Coneflower; using the Twist optic on the Trio 28.

Lensbaby Trio 28

Although I had heard much about Lensbaby and had been curious about their products for some time, I had never tried one of their lenses.  That changed about three months ago when I received the new Lensbaby Trio 28.  I had ordered the lens for my Fuji X-T1 camera and was excited to try it out and push myself and my creativity.


About the Trio 28

The Trio 28 is a lens made specifically for mirrorless camera users, particularly for Sony E mount, Fuji X mount, and micro 4/3rds cameras.  It has a fixed 28mm focal length as well as a fixed f/3.5 aperture.  The lens is also manual focus only.  The most unique thing about the lens, however, is the trio of selective focus optics.  It's like having three lenses in one (hence the name).  

Kansas City Skyline; using the Sweet optic on the Trio 28.

The Look

The Trio 28 is one funky looking lens.  It is rather small, extending just under 1.5-inches off the front of my Fuji mirrorless camera.  The unique thing about it is the small rotating element protruding from the front that is used to select between the three different optics: "Sweet," "Velvet," and "Twist".  These optics are nothing new for Lensbaby, as they offer several lenses that offer one or the other of these options.  The Trio 28, however, has all three in this small package, providing for a lot of creative flexibility.  

Grinter Sunflower Farm; using the Velvet optic on the Trio 28.

The Feel

One of the first very noticeable things about the Lensbaby Trio 28 is the size and weight.  It is quite a small, and light, lens.  In fact, when UPS delivered the box, I wondered if there was really anything in it since it was so light!  The Trio 28 weighs in at just under 5 ounces and is 2-inches long by 2.75-inches in diameter.  It is easily my smallest lens, and that's a good thing.  More compact means that it is more likely to be carried with me to more places. 

Despite being relatively small and light, the Trio 28 feels like a quality lens.  Although it does appear to use a fair amount of plastic bits for the internals, the mount and outer body is all metal. The metal focus ring has a nice, smooth feel and has a distance scale in feet and meters. Selecting the desired optic is as simple as rotating the dial on the front of the lens.  Each selectable optic has a nice detent, which positively and securely locks into place. My one gripe about this feature is that the rotating dial is fairly thin and is smooth, so it can be somewhat difficult to grip in certain conditions.     

Warm autumn sunset; Velvet optic on the Trio 28.

The Performance

The Trio 28 was a joy to use.  It does take some time to figure out the effects of each of the optics and how to best utilize them, but that's part of the fun.  Using a manual focus lens may seem tedious, but with the focus assist features available on mirrorless cameras, it's a breeze.  One advantage to a manual lens such as this one is that it causes you to slow down.  This is a benefit, as it causes you to concentrate more on composition and shoot more deliberately.  Speed is really not a necessity for landscape and nature photography anyway.

I enjoyed using the trio of optics to see how each one performed and the effects they had on my images.  That's where this lens really shines and really gets the creative juices going. It's also what makes it so much fun to use.  The different effects are generally defined as follows:  

  • Sweet allows you to get the center part of the image (the sweet spot) in sharp focus while the rest of the image fades into a pleasing blur.
  • Velvet creates kind of a dreamy effect, where the image has a subtle glow.
  • Twist has a sharp central area of the image while the surrounding area takes on a swirling bokeh.  

The Sweet effect was by far my favorite of the three.  So much so that I found myself leaving it on this setting most of the time.  It worked great for nature shots where I wanted to really draw attention to a particular subject.  For certain situations, particularly an urban setting, it has a miniature effect on the buildings and cars if you are shooting from a high perspective.  Pretty cool.  

Velvet was my second favorite.  I quite like that dreamy or surreal look for certain images. This is particularly true for images of flowers.  The soft focus effect works nicely to complement the delicate nature of some blooms.  

Twist just didn't quite do it for me.  For the style of shooting I do, the swirling effect wasn't very noticeable.  Admittedly, I need more practice to find situations where that effect would be more apparent and add interest to an image.  I will continue to experiment and see what I come up with.

Country sunset; Sweet optic on the Trio 28.

Creative Exploration

There is nothing quite as exciting as venturing out in a new place or with some new photography gear to capture images.  The desire to create kicks into high gear as you become keenly aware of every nuance of light and shadow.  This is creative exploration at its finest, and the Lensbaby Trio 28 is an excellent companion to bring along for the journey.  

Creative exploration is important, and even necessary, for photographers of all skill levels.  It is vital for growth, not only as a way for us to continually improve, but also as a means to find our visual voice.  The voice that brings not only meaning, but feeling to our imagery.  It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  While that may be true, I believe it to be important for those words to have significant meaning, which translates to powerful impact for the viewer of my images. 

Personally, I feel that I'm still searching for my own visual voice.  It's an arduous task and may be difficult to find in the world in which we live today.  However, it is important to point out that it's not necessarily about the destination.  It is more about each step along the way and the different paths that we choose to take.  That's what is really important.  That's what makes it so much fun.  

Photography is a journey....      












Grinter Farms Sunflowers, 2017

Well, here we are.  Another year has passed.  It's funny how time just slips by sometimes.  I remember thinking about going to Grinter Farms again earlier this year, but then realizing it was still several months before the sunflowers would be in bloom.  Plenty of time to do other things. Lots of other pictures to capture.  Then all of a sudden, it's September again.  Time to head out to the farm while the sunflowers are at their peak.  They don't last long, in the grand scheme of things.  Kind of like so many other things.  They are here, then gone in the blink of an eye.  

Trying out a new lens, in search of inspiration.

This year's peak began over Labor Day weekend.  Remembering the crowds from last year, there was no way I was going to attempt to go then.  I waited a couple extra days and headed down to Grinter's the Tuesday evening after the holiday weekend.  The flowers were still full and bright, and definitely photogenic.  There were also plenty of people there that evening.  It has really become the place to be for anyone in the area who likes sunflowers.  I'm not sure how many different photoshoots I saw that evening.  There were tons of photographers with huge softboxes, strobes, and all sorts of props.  It was like a giant outdoor studio.

A change in perspective is a good way to capture an image that is a little 'different' than all the rest.

The great thing about coming here is that you can pretty much go anywhere you want in the fields.  It's not too difficult to get away from the crowds, if that's what you want.  Most people stay near the edges closest to the parking areas.  I go about as far away from the parking as I can get.  Most people also leave as soon as the sun sets.  That just happens to be when good things really start happening in the sky, as the colors really start to pop.  

Don't forget the details.  There is so much to see!

Last year, I stuck around until well after dark to capture the Milky Way.  No such luck this year, as the moon was full (or near full), washing out most of the stars.  By the time the skies are dark enough again, the sunflowers are going to be pretty much done for the season.  That's OK though; it's still fun while it lasts, and such a neat place to visit.  If you've never been there, then put it on your calendar for next year.  It's worth the trip if you are anywhere close to the area. Even if you're not a photographer.

Also, don't forget to turn around.  Sometimes there are interesting things behind you, too!

Holding the camera high overhead on the tripod to get this shot.

The moon was nearly full on this night.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

It's been nearly a week since the total solar eclipse.  By now, you've surely seen hundreds of photos of the event, and may be tired of them.  To be honest, they mostly all look the same. There are a few exceptions, but seriously, it's not easy to create images of an eclipse that will be dramatically different than everyone else's.  Those that really are unique take a lot of planning and time to create.  Much more time than most of us have to devote to photography.  

My plan was to set up in my front yard and capture all phases of the eclipse, including over two-and-a-half minutes of totality.  It was a good plan, and I had all the necessary gear and had done my research to know how to capture the images.  It seemed like a slam dunk, and I wouldn't even have to fight the massive crowds and traffic that were predicted to flock toward the line of maximum totality.  

The only questionable aspect of this plan was the weather.  Darn the weather!  No matter how much we think we can control it, we just cannot.  The weather does what it wants when it wants to do it.  Clear skies for the total eclipse?  I think not.  At least not here in northwest Missouri. Some parts of the area had clear skies, if only for a brief time, but thick cloud cover was dominant and would make viewing the eclipse difficult, if not impossible.  It wasn't possible from my front yard, so the plans had to change....and quick! 

We traveled to the south and east, vigilantly watching the skies and checking the cloud cover radar as we went.  From the looks of things, it appeared we would need to travel at least a couple hours to get to some clearing.  Traffic seemed a little heavier than normal, but wasn't bad. After stopping a few times along the way, we finally decided to head to Sedalia to see how it looked there.  Sedalia was a little south of the max totality line, but the radar looked promising.  We ended up a few miles just south of Sedalia, just barely within the zone of totality.  By the time we set up, the eclipse was just starting.  The sky was mostly clear, although there were some thin clouds lingering. 

As it turned out, we were able to see the entire eclipse from our location.  Unfortunately, however, there were only a few seconds of totality.  A far cry from what I was hoping for on this day.  The cloud cover was spotty, as there were others in the area that were able to see the entire eclipse and over two minutes of totality.  It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time...and a little bit of luck, too.  At least we got to see it, so that makes it all worthwhile.  Here are a few of the images that I captured.

eclipse composite.jpg

The Eagles of Lock & Dam 14 (2017 Edition)

I made another trip up to LeClaire, Iowa back in January to see what the eagles were doing up there.  You may remember a post from early last year about my first trip there.  It was so much fun to watch the eagles, I decided to go back.  I met up with my friend Steve again, saw a few other familiar faces, and met some new friends as well.  

It is so amazing to watch these birds of prey swoop down out of the trees and catch fish out of the river.  Usually, after a catch, a chase ensues as another eagle will attempt to steal away the fish.  The incredible aerial maneuvers and acrobatics are always exciting to watch.  

Unfortunately, the eagle numbers were down this year due to much warmer weather and less snow on the ground and ice on water bodies to the north.  There wasn't nearly as much action as last year, but what little there was, was sure fun to capture.  Here are a few images from the trip. There are also a few landscape images thrown in for good measure.  

The eagles weren't the only ones that were hungry.

Early morning fishermen.

A little too close for comfort.

New York City Finale

Wow, looking back now through all the images from New York City, it is hard to believe how much ground we covered.  Most of that was entirely on foot.  Over 60 miles in four days.  That was a lot of walking....and tons of fun.

Our last day in the Big Apple was super busy and eventful.  As usual, the day started with a quick breakfast at a nearby cafe to fuel our bodies for the urban hike.  It was October 10, a Monday. The City was bustling with activity as millions of people made their way to work.  In the streets were the usual symphony of car horns.  The sidewalks were alive and fully "infested" with business men and women eagerly running the rat race.  It was nice to just leisurely stroll along and stop for a photo now and then.  

Our first destination for the day was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or "The Met", located up 5th Avenue.  The Met is the larges art museum in the United States, containing over two million works.  This place was huge.  We could only cover a small fraction of it in the short time we were there, but it was an amazing place to see.  There were plenty of things to see along the way.  One of the more comical scenes was two NYPD officers, who were both big guys, getting into the smallest car possible.  

After leaving The Met, we walked back a different route that took us by the United Nations Headquarters.  This complex, bordered by First Avenue to the west, East 42nd Street to the south, East 48th Street to the north, and the East River to the east, has served as UN headquarters since 1952.  

The United Nations

We also made a brief stop at the famous Chrysler Building.  The tallest brick building in the world with steel structure, the Chrysler Building stands at 1,046 feet high.  It's an architectural marvel, but is not easy to photograph amongst all the other tall buildings and busy streets.  

The Chrysler Building entrance

For sunset, we took a ride across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey.  The view back across the river at the New York skyline was amazing.  Not a cloud in the sky, but the sunset colors provided a nice backdrop.   

Finally, the night (and the trip), culminated with views from the 86th and 102nd floors of the Empire State Building.  The Empire State Building was the first structure completed that was over 100 stories.  It stood as the tallest building in the world from its completion in 1931 until 1967.  It is now only the 5th tallest skyscraper in the United States and 34th in the world.  

So, there you have it.  It was an amazing trip, and I've finally been able to get through all the images capturing the experience.  Someday, I may even go back again...

Taking the High Line to Greenwich Village

To say that there are numerous interesting neighborhoods in New York City would be an understatement.  Greenwich Village is certainly no exception.  Colloquially know as simply 'the Village', this quaint yet eclectic neighborhood is located on the west side of Lower Manhattan. Greenwich Village has been touted as an artist's haven.  It is well-known as an important landmark for American bohemian culture as well as the cradle of the LGBT movement.  With a history as colorful as its inhabitants, it was certainly an interesting stroll through the streets.  

We started the day by heading west from our hotel to the High Line Trail.  The High Line is a 1.45-mile linear park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur known as the West Side Line.  Most of this section of railroad spur was demolished in 1960, and laid dormant until construction of the rails-to-trails park began in 2006.   

The view from the High Line

On the High Line Trail

A flair for the dramatic on the High Line

The Empire State Building in the distance

Most of the morning was gray and rainy.  It seems we spent about as much time hanging out in coffee shops as out shooting.  There were still plenty of interesting things to see and photography, though.  

Never know what you'll find in The Village

Lunch at John's on Bleecker Street

The Village Vanguard, famous jazz club in operation since 1935

Jefferson Market Library

We also made stops in Union Square and Washington Square Park.  Both were infested with people, doing a variety of things.  Some were feeding the local wildlife, some playing musical instruments, a few were playing chess.  There were even a few protesting for sex worker rights. We live in unusual times.  Here are a few more images, and don't worry, they are all safe for work.


Chess in Union Square

The view from Washington Square Park

Washington Square Arch


The 9/11 Memorial

I was in Murray, Iowa performing a soil and groundwater investigation on that fateful day.  The subcontractor that I was working with told me that something big was going on and it was all over the radio news.  I got in the work truck, turned on the radio, and listened in disbelief.  It seemed as though there must be some mistake, or maybe it was even a sick joke.  But it wasn't. Terrorists had struck at what they thought was the heart of America.  

Thousands of innocent lives were lost that day.  I remember driving back home, traveling south on Interstate 35, listening to the news coverage of the worst terrorist attack on US soil.  The video footage that was played over and over later that night of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers was so haunting.  Something to never be forgotten.  At least one would think not.  

A trip to New York City just wouldn't seem complete without a visit to the memorial that pays tribute to all that lost so much on that day.  Walking around the former building footprints, which have been transformed into reflecting pools, was a humbling experience.  Water continuously flows and falls into the voids that were left behind by the senseless violence.  Bronze parapets surrounding each of the pools contains the names of all those whose lives ended way too soon.  Tokens of remembrance are left behind by many of the names on those walls.  Whether by family members or complete strangers, I do not know, but it is evident that some have not forgotten.  

The Bell of Hope was presented by England to the people of New York on the one year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  The bell is rung every September 11.  It has also rang to pay tribute to victims of other terrorist attacks around the world and at home.  The ringing has been heard far too frequently of late.  

Bell of Hope

Construction of the One World Trade Center began on April 27, 2006.  The building was completed in July 2013 and now stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth tallest in the world.  The building towers high into the sky (and sometimes into the clouds) as a symbol of the enduring freedoms of this great country, reaching ever higher in spite of adversity.  You see, they only think that they struck at the heart of America.  Regardless of what some may want to believe, our heart lies much much deeper than that.  

One World Trade Center


A Rainy Day in the Neighborhoods

After leaving the East Village, our path lead us through the neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown.  It was a rainy day, so not great for being out for a walk in the city or for having the cameras out.  We still had a great time and made the most of it.  

Although once known for its large population of Italian-Americans, Little Italy is now much smaller and consists of only a few Italian stores and restaurants.  In the early 1900s, at its peak, there were nearly 10,000 Italians in the community.  By the year 2000, only about 1,200 residents claiming Italian ancestry remained.  The neighborhood has shrunk considerably, with many shops and restaurants closing in recent years.  From experience, it sure didn't seem like we were in this neighborhood for long.  As I look back now, there really aren't any photos in my library that really show this neighborhood very well.  

Chinatown, just south of Little Italy, is a different story.  There was no doubt when we entered this neighborhood, as the markets and people were a definite indicator.  The streets were abuzz with the hustle and bustle of people coming and going in every direction.  Many were likely tourists, but there were many shopkeepers and others who seemed to be residents.  This neighborhood is the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere, with an estimated population of 90,000 to 100,000.  It is also one of the oldest.  The Lower Manhattan Chinatown is just one of twelve Chinatown neighborhoods in the New York metropolitan area, containing the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia.  

Chinatown is an interesting place, with many shops and markets selling a variety of goods, and many interesting people.  Below are just a sampling of images showing the neighborhood. 

Church of the Transfiguration, Chinatown, New York

The Flatiron Building

Let's see....where did I leave off.  Last month, before beginning my postings about my top ten images for 2016, I had been sharing some of my adventures from my trip to New York.  It's time to get back on track and share some more.  

There are numerous iconic buildings in New York City.  We visited a few of them when I was there back in October.  The Flatiron Building, located at 175 Fifth Avenue, is one such building.  The building was completed in 1902 and at the time, was one of the tallest buildings in the city.  The name of the wedge-shaped building is derived from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron.  

The Flatiron Building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966; added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979; and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.  

Flatiron Building

We started this day out like pretty much every other day.  After a quick breakfast in a nearby cafe, we were on our way to explore the city.  I think I mentioned it before, but the best way to really explore is to just hit the streets and walk.  It may take more time, but there is so much to see that would be missed if riding in a cab, a bus, or on the subway.  

The start of another work day in the Big Apple

Photographing the Flatiron Building (or any building for that matter) wasn't the easiest thing to do.  I've never done much architectural photography, but wanted to show the setting for the building.  It sure is unique and almost looks out of place.  

Along the way and after leaving the Flatiron Building, we continued on a path that led into the East Village for lunch, then on through Little Italy, Chinatown, and eventually the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center.  Like I said, we did a lot of walking.  I won't cover all of those areas in this post, but will show a few images of the interesting sites along the way.  If you look closely, you'll even see some of the wildlife that we enjoyed on this day in one of the city's many parks.  

Live Bait (among other things)

We even went by B&H (the other one)

Not sure who this fellow was, but didn't look like one to be trifled with.




Top 10 of 2016 (#1)

This is it; my best (favorite) image for 2016.  Choosing these 10 images from the year has been a difficult thing to do.  It is a great exercise, though, to see where I've been and evaluate my progression as a photographer.  My goal is to improve in this art form and hopefully a comparison of this year with last shows that to be the case.  And that next year will be even better.  That's the goal, anyway.  Regardless, it has been a fun ride, and one that I plan to continue for a while.

Of course this would be another night time image. And one captured in Utah, no less.  This was taken back in May during the trip to Capitol Reef National Park.  One of the things I wanted to shoot while there was the Milky Way.  The skies are really dark, so we just needed some clear skies.  This seemed to be about the only night that clouds didn't move in, so I took advantage of it.  

This shot was captured from Panorama Point, just after midnight on May 28.  After wandering around in the dark for a while, I decided that this tree would make a good foreground element to include in the shot.  However, it was so dark that the tree was just a silhouette and the ground was a sea of black.  That's when a little bit of light painting comes in handy.  In this instance, not much light was needed to illuminate that tree and the foreground.  I used the flashlight on my iPhone, and even had to partially cover it with my hand because it was too bright.  

Note that there is some trial and error involved in getting a shot like this.  There are a lot of things that have to be right and that usually doesn't happen without several test shots.  The exposure has to be right on, to show enough of the stars and Milky Way, but also be able to see enough of the foreground to make it interesting.  This could have been done in two separate shots and composited together on the computer, but I wanted to capturing it all in one.  Check out the final result and see what you think.  I hope to do many more of these in the summer of 2017.  

For those interested, here's the camera settings:

  • Focal length - 14 mm
  • Shutter speed - 30 seconds (to let in more light and give me time to "paint" the foreground)
  • Aperture - f/2.8 (as wide as my lens would allow)
  • ISO - 3200 (it was super dark and I wanted to see the Milky Way)

I hope you have enjoyed my images as much as I enjoyed creating them.  As 2016 winds down (literally within 15 minutes as I write this), and a new year begins, I'm ready for the new challenges that will come with it.  Stay tuned to my website, as I resolve to post more often and share more images here.  

Happy New Year!



Top 10 of 2016 (#2)

Only two more to go now.  These will be my two best/favorite images of 2016.  I'd be interested to hear what everyone thinks about my selections.  

Back in late May, I took a photography trip.  Another excursion to the Red Rock Country of Utah, and more specifically, Capitol Reef National Park.  I met up with my photography friends, affectionately known as "The Posse", for more great times, lots of laughs, and plenty of picture taking.  The Posse, which consists of Sheriff Bob, John, Phil, Gary, and Spike, has been on a few of these trips together now.  Mostly to the Wild West.  In fact, we all met on a photography workshop in Utah back in October 2013.  

The intent of the 2013 photography workshop was to visit Utah's national parks.  As luck would have it, the government shut down and closed all the parks the day the workshop started.  We were locked out of our parks that entire week.  Go figure.  On our return this year, the parks were open and we were focused on exploring as much of Capitol Reef and environs as possible.

One of our goals was to visit Factory Butte for a sunrise shoot.  It was another incredible morning.  We arrived 30 minutes or so before sunrise and began the ritual of unpacking gear and searching for good compositions for the scene before us.  There were thick clouds on the horizon, so it was unclear whether the sunrise would produce spectacular light on the butte.  It didn't exactly work out as we had hoped, but the clouds created some great drama in the sky for us.  In landscape photography, you win some, you lose some.  To me, this was a win.

There were several images captured on this morning that I liked, but this one stood out as a favorite.  The cloud formation being lit up by the colorful morning light really made the shot. Factory Butte is a place I could visit again and again, never tiring of the view, and each time getting very different images.  The Sheriff would be proud. 

Camera Tech:

  • Focal length - 18 mm
  • Shutter speed - 1/60th of a second
  • Aperture - f/8
  • ISO - 200



Top 10 of 2016 (#3)

Moving into the top three, the remaining images for 2016 represent some of my favorite times, photographically speaking, for the year.  There were lots of good memories made, and I like the images that go along with them, too.

Back in January, I took a long weekend to head up to LeClaire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles fishing the Mississippi River.  Wildlife, and particularly bird photography, has never really been my genre of choice, but my good friend Steve convinced me that this would be a great trip.  He sure wasn't wrong about that.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but rented a couple of super-telephoto lenses, packed up the photo gear and warm clothes, and headed north.

The first day was gray and pretty uneventful.  The eagles were there, but not very active. Saturday was a different story.  It was sunny, there were tons of eagles, and they must have really been hungry.  What an amazing treat to just watch them swoop down out of a tree to skim the water's surface and snag a meal for themselves.  Almost without fail, every time there was a catch, another eagle would try to steal away the fish.  It was so much fun to watch this and try to capture the action.  

This image was captured at about 2:30 that Saturday afternoon.  That usually isn't a great time to be out shooting, but the low angle of the sun and position of the eagle made some pretty good light.  By the way, I debated between this shot and a couple of others for the list, but decided this was the one I liked best.  

I learned a lot on that trip about photographing birds and anticipating the action.  I hope to be back up there again in January 2017 to see what I can capture.  

Camera Tech:

  • Focal length - 400 mm (even at that, this image needed some serious cropping)
  • Shutter speed - 1/2000th of a second (they were moving pretty fast!)
  • Aperture - f/8 (good middle of the road and sharp aperture)
  • ISO - 800 (even at mid-day, needed to boost ISO to keep shutter speed fast)

Top 10 of 2016 (#4)

We're getting close!  This is #4 of what I feel are my top 10 images for 2016.  This one takes a slightly different turn once again, away from landscapes and nature and toward urban life.  Back in early October, I took a few days to visit New York City with some friends and we explored the city with our cameras.  You may recall a few posts that I have written about that trip, which will continue after the "Top 10" is completed.  

There are so many amazing things to see in New York that it is difficult to choose a favorite. However, the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center ranks right up at the top of the list.  It's not a place that one wants to exist, because it memorializes a dark and sad time for our country. On the other hand, it also exemplifies the undying human spirit and our persistence to press onward.  In these United States that are rife with divisiveness, this would seem to be a perspective we could all embrace.

This was a particularly gray and rainy day in New York.  The low-lying clouds partially obscured the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  However, the tall building graciously rose above, and to me is symbolic of the strength of the American psyche, even in the toughest of times.  It is a sobering experience to visit here, and one that I'll always remember.

Camera Tech:

  • Focal length - 10 mm
  • Shutter speed - 1/60 of a second
  • Aperture - f/14 
  • ISO - 640

I liked the monochrome look better, especially since there wasn't much color on this day anyway.  


Top 10 of 2016 (#5)

Back in late May of this year, I ventured out to Utah to meet up with some photography friends for a week of shooting in the Desert Southwest.  Red Rock Country provides so many photographic opportunities, it will always be high on my list of places to revisit.  I arrived a couple of days early and spent some time in the Moab area.  On this particular evening, May 22, I decided to hike up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.  Me and a few hundred other people.

Delicate Arch is a very popular shooting destination for photographers and tourists alike, especially at sunset.  It is a relatively short and easy hike, which makes it accessible to many.  I arrived about an hour or so before sunset and staked out a location.  As sometimes happens, the sunset that evening wasn't particular interesting and far from spectacular.  I snapped a few obligatory shots and then set out exploring.  My thought was to stay after dark and try to shoot for the stars.  

I made my way down into the bowl below the arch just before dark.  It's a good thing, too, for it gets pretty difficult to see up there, even with a headlamp.  The idea was to set up the tripod with a good view of the sky, but to also include the arch in the shot.  I also had to work fast because I knew the moon would be rising soon and would ruin any chance of creating a decent star trail image.  

Although most sane people had already hiked back to their cars long before dark, there were still a few others besides myself out there.  A small group of photographers were still on the upper rim of the bowl light painting the arch, so I had to work around their spotlights.  As it turns out, some of the light that they provided helped contribute to my image.  

The image below was a stack of 70 images.  Each image was shot using the widest angle lens I had with me, 14 mm.  Exposure time was 30 seconds, aperture of f/2.8, and an ISO of 800.  I just barely beat the moon rising, as you can see from the bright light just to the right of the arch.  It washed out some of the trails, but I still like the resulting shot.  



Top 10 of 2016 (#6)

We take a family vacation to Colorado just about every summer.  The Rocky Mountains have so much to offer in terms of things to do, adventures to take, and beautiful scenery.  It's also nice to escape the heat and humidity of the Midwest and head to the high country.  

The past several summers, we have taken as many opportunities as we could to summit some of Colorado's peaks that reach an elevation of over 14,000 feet.  Affectionately known as the 14ers, this has become a very popular activity among the locals and tourists alike over the years.  On this day, July 19, we summited Mt. Bierstadt with an elevation of 14,065 feet.  This was the third time I had been to the summit of Bierstadt, mainly because of its proximity to Denver, easy access, and because it is considered one of the easier 14ers to complete.  However, don't take it lightly, for "easy" is a relative term.  It is still no walk in the park, so to speak.  

Mt. Bierstadt, located only about 40 miles west of Denver, is one of the more popular 14ers.  If you hike it on any given weekend during July or August, you are likely to have lots of company and share the mountain with hundreds of other adventurers.  A trip during the week is generally not as crowded, although you'll still likely see a few others on a quest to reach the summit.  Just make sure you get an early start and are well on your way back down to avoid potentially dangerous afternoon thunderstorms that are common in the summer.  

Mt. Bierstadt was named in honor of Albert Bierstadt, a German-born American landscape painter who made the first recorded summit of the mountain in 1863.  Bierstadt joined several journeys of the westward expansion of the United States to paint some incredible scenes.  Being in the mountains and surrounded by majestic peaks, it isn't hard to see where he got his inspiration.  

In much the same way as Bierstadt recorded the beautiful scenery on canvas, I have attempted to capture it on a digital sensor.  This image really doesn't do it justice, but I hope it provides just a glimpse of the grandeur of the scene.  This image was taken on the descent, about half way back down the mountain.  The bright yellow flowers, deep blue sky, and puffy white clouds begged to be captured.  This is one of those images that may not be technically perfect, but it is one of my favorites for this past year.  It brings back memories of great times spent in the mountains with some truly great friends, and that's "perfect" enough for me.  

Tech details:

  • Focal length: 10 mm
  • Shutter speed: 1/250 of a second
  • Aperture: f/8
  • ISO: 200  

Wildflowers on Bierstadt

Top 10 of 2016 (#7)

One of my favorite places to photograph in Kansas City is at the Liberty Memorial overlooking Union Station and the downtown area.  The view is pretty amazing an any given night.  Judging from the number of people that are usually there, I'm not the only one who feels that way.  The image below was captured on January 13 of this year, at the time the Kansas City Chiefs were making their run in the playoffs.  Union Station, the Downtown Marriott, and some of the other buildings in the downtown area were showing the Chief's colors in support of the home team.  

The image was captured a little after the sun had gone down.  It was dark enough to require a longer exposure and tripod to keep the camera steady.  For this shot, the shutter was open for 2.5 seconds to allow in enough light.  An aperture setting of f/8 and ISO of 640 rounded out the exposure triangle to get a decently exposed image.  In post production, the shadows were brought up and the vibrance and saturation were boosted to bring out the colors.  

Although my preference is to shoot landscape and nature images, I don't mind venturing into the city once in a while for a change of scenery.  This is a great place to do it. 

Chiefs Union Station