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.

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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.

FDNY

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

Top 10 of 2016 (#8)

Night photography is something I have tried to do more of this past year.  It is so much fun to do and it really gives you so many creative opportunities.  I enjoy shooting the Milky Way, but even though we live several miles outside of any city, there is still too much light pollution.  Star trails are the next best thing, and I have thousands of images on my hard drive to prove it.  

This image was created back in late June.  The hay had just been baled, so I decided to take advantage of that for some foreground interest.  Without any kind of foreground, these usually turn out to be pretty boring images.  There are a couple of different methods for creating star trail images.  You can take a single, really long exposure.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 30 minutes.  Or, capture a series of shorter exposures and stack them together.  Either way will show the apparent movement of the stars over time, as the earth rotates on its axis.  

I choose the use the multiple exposure method for a variety of reasons.  With several different exposures, it is possible to throw out one or two that have issues.  If you take one really long exposure and something messes it up, then you have to start all over again.  One longer exposure will also tend to have more digital noise (grain) due to the sensor heating up.  

The creation of this image consisted of capturing about 50 exposures.  Each image was exposed for 30 seconds, with only about 2-3 seconds in between each image.  They were shot at the relatively wide focal length of 14 mm, at an aperture of f/2.8 to allow in as much light as possible. I kept the ISO at around 1,000, which is about all you need for star trails.  A small flashlight was used to light paint the hay bale in one of the images to provide a little more foreground accent.

After shooting, the images were loading into the Lightroom, minor exposure adjustments were made, then exported as JPEGs.  The JPEG images were then stacked together in a free software program call StarStax, which works really well.  Finally, the resulting star trail image was blended together with the light painted image in Photoshop.

Another thing I should mention is that the camera was pointed in the general direction of the North Star.  This makes the circular pattern in the star trails.  The extra light trails in the final image are actually fireflies that were buzzing around as I captured the images.  I originally thought about removing them, but feel that they add some interest and context to this image. What do you think?   

Top 10 of 2016 (#9)

This is Number 9 of my Top 10 images from 2016.  I should probably add that these 10 images are really a combination of my best and my favorites for the past year.  In other words, they may not all be technically "correct", at least photographically speaking, but I really like them.  My hope is that by looking back at images from the previous years, that I see some improvement.  This is a creative journey.  It's not about a destination, but rather all the memories that are created along the way.  That is the most important thing to remember.  

We always enjoy watching the hummingbirds right outside the kitchen window every summer.  It seems there are never fewer than about 20 of them that hang around, and there are likely more than that.  Each year, I've tried photographing these little speed demons, and have been able to capture some pretty good images of them perched on the feeder or a nearby branch.  Capturing them while in flight is a whole new ball game.  

For this image, I set up about 15 feet away from the feeder and just watched as they darted from a nearby tree, to the feeder, and back again.  They are constantly chasing each other and protecting 'their' territory, so you need to be quick on the draw and have the camera settings dialed in.  I wanted to capture a hummingbird as a silhouette against the sunset sky, so that was my goal.  The shutter speed had to be relatively fast to freeze the bird, but I wanted to show some movement in the wings.  It seems to have worked out, from what I can tell.

Technical Details (in case you're interested):

  • Focal length: 200 mm
  • Shutter speed: 1/500th of a second
  • Aperture: f/10
  • ISO: 1,000

Cleared for Landing

 

  

Top 10 of 2016 (#10)

I've been doing a version of this for the last couple of years, so wanted to continue the tradition. This year, I'm doing it a little differently in that there will be a countdown, starting at number 10 and going down to number 1, and my very favorite image for the year.  There will be one photo each day from now until December 31.  

These photos are not only what I consider some of my best, but also some of my favorites for this year.  It was very difficult narrowing it down to 10.  My initial list had close to 75, which was reduced to 25.  From there, it wasn't easy to get rid of 15 of my favorites to get it down to the final 10.  After much deliberation, this is what I've come up with.  Hope you like them as much as I do.

Each image has a story.  From that story and the process that goes into to making the image, an emotional connection is made.  I will share a little about each image for each day, including the process that went into making the capture.  Of course, the click of the shutter button is only the beginning of the creative process, so the post-production of the images will also be explored.  

Without further ado, here is image #10 for 2016: 

Late Summer Sunset

It's kind of ironic that a sunset image starts off my list for 2016.  If you have followed me for a while, you might remember that last year was filled with sunset images.  It wasn't a daily thing, but there were a lot of sunset images captured for 2015.  This year, the sunset image wasn't quite as ubiquitous, but there were still a few scattered about.  There's just something about that late evening golden light and the way it can make the landscape seem to glow.  

This image was taken at 7:08 PM on August 14.  The sun was right on the horizon, which gave me a great opportunity to practice one of my favorite techniques.  Stopping down the aperture (i.e. making the opening smaller) on the lens when the sun is just on the edge of something allows you to create this starburst effect.  You will notice that I do this quite a bit in my images.  Maybe too much, but hey, I like it.  

For those who like the technical details and camera settings, here they are: 

  • Focal length: 10 mm
  • Shutter speed: 1/20 of a second
  • Aperture: f/22
  • ISO: 200

Photographers would look at this image and note that many "rules" have been broken.  The horizon line is pretty much right in the middle.  The sun is dead center in the image.  But so be it. Rules are made to be broken, especially photography rules, and I'll do so when it works for an image.  I think it works here.  There happened to be some great clouds in the sky, so that would normally mean accentuate the sky.  However, I also liked the warm glow on the grasses in the foreground.  So I showed them both off as much as possible.  

In post-processing the image, I accentuated the great light as much as possible, and especially the glow of the seed heads on the grass.  The shadows were brought up and the highlights were dropped slightly to deal with the high dynamic range of the scene.  The colorful sky was accentuated with a boost to the vibrance and saturation.  Finally, a trip through Topaz Color Efex Pro gave the image the contrast and glow that I was looking for.  Hope you like it!

 

 

New York's Grand Central Terminal

You know the saying, "It's like Grand Central Station..."?  This is where it comes from.  There were a lot of people there the day we went inside.  The place was 'infested'!  But, what a building. Architectural photographers would really love shooting here.  Well, any photographer really.  It is quite something to see and a must-visit when you are in New York City.  At least in my opinion.

I figured that Grand Central Station deserved a blog post all its own.  After all, it is one of the world's most visited tourist attractions.  In my research, I noticed this landmark has been defined a little bit differently over the years.  When first opened in October 1871, it was known as Grand Central Depot.  After renovations and expansion in 1901, it became known as Grand Central Station.  When that original building was razed and a new one constructed in 1913, it took on the current moniker of Grand Central Terminal.   

Grand Central Terminal has quite a storied history.  Much more than I'll go into here.  Original construction was in 1871, subsequent renovation and expansion in 1901, complete dismantling from 1903 to 1913, construction of a new terminal in 1913, threats of being replaced by another skyscraper during the financial hardships of the 1970s, and renovations and rejuvenation into what it is today.  It has stood the test of time.  It is widely recognized as an engineering marvel. It is huge.  Covering 48 acres, it has 44 platforms.  More than any other railroad station in the world.  

Like I said, you'll just have to go there.  Here are a few images to look at for now.  Wish I would have taken more of the interior.  Maybe I'll have to go back!

New York City Photography - Day 2

This was actually our first full day in the city, since we had arrived the afternoon before.  After getting some breakfast at the little cafe around the corner from our hotel, it was time to hit the streets.  We walked pretty much everywhere, which turned out to be a LOT of walking.  About 60 miles over the four and a half days we were there.  Walking was the best option since there were so many photographic opportunities and we didn't want to miss anything.  

A couple blocks down from the hotel was the New York Public Library.  It is located on the same block as Bryant Park.  This is the main branch of the library, housed in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.  This branch opened in 1911 in a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and designated a New York City Landmark in 1967.  It is quite a building on the outside.  The interior appears to be spectacular as well, but we were not able to go inside during the times we were there.  

New York Public Library

Walking the busy sidewalks and streets on a Friday morning was kind of a surreal experience. Millions of people were hustling along on their way to work or wherever, while the four of us were leisurely strolling along taking pictures of things.  We had a front row seat to the 'rat race' and I found myself wondering how they could do that on a daily basis.  I suppose it is just something you get used to after a while.  

With so many tall buildings all around, the low morning sun was barely visible.  On the few occasions we did see it, I tried one of my favorite techniques to create an image with a starburst sun.  Some worked and some didn't.  This one kind of worked. 

Photographers are always on the lookout for interesting light, shadows, shapes, patterns, and lines.  Oh, and reflections.  The glass buildings made for some interesting reflections when the sun was at a low angle.  

Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 highrise commercial buildings, which includes the original Time-Life Building, the Today Show studios, and Radio City Music Hall.  The heart of the complex is 30 Rockefeller Plaza (30 Rock).  This impressive building is the home of NBC Studios.

30 Rockefeller Plaza

In the image below, I wanted to use a longer shutter speed to smooth out the flowing water and show the movement of traffic in the background.  This technique typically requires the use of a tripod to keep the camera from moving while the shutter is open.  I didn't bring a tripod with me, so attempted to hold the camera for this shot.  Even at a half second shutter speed, I think it was acceptably sharp. 

The Plaza Hotel

A little further along our way to Central Park, we made a quick stop at the famed Plaza Hotel.  If you've watched Home Alone 2, you'll recognize this as the hotel where Kevin stayed when he was lost in New York.  The hotel was opened in 1907.  According the Wikipedia, a room at that time was $2.50 a night.  Out of curiosity, I did check to see what the nightly rate would be.  Let's just say that it's a bit more now than it was back in 1907!  A step inside revealed very luxurious furnishings, but only hotel guests are allowed to enter the lobby area.  

Another starburst

Across the street from the Plaza Hotel is an entrance to Central Park.  We took a long stroll through the park to see what we could see.  It's is interesting to see this huge tract of green space in the midst of all the skyscrapers.  

The Pond in Central Park

Gapstow Bridge

A bit further along (actually quite a walk) in Bethesda Terrace and Fountain.  This is considered to be the heart of Central Park and the terrace overlooks Central Park Lake.  The sandstone pillars and railings are filled with intricate carvings and amazing stone and tile artwork adorn the walls of the lower passage.  

Bethesda Terrace

The lower passage

Bethesda Fountain with the Angel of Waters statue

There is so much to see in Central Park that one could probably spend a whole week there.  We walked through a part of it in one afternoon.  With so much to see in so little time, it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all.  I can probably think of a hundred things that I now wish that I would have photographed.  At the time, it was just fun to enjoy it.  Sometimes, maybe it is best to just take mental pictures rather than spend all of your time viewing the world through the lens of a camera. 

Although that is not the end of our second day, I'm going to end this post here and pick up the rest later.  Stay tuned for more...