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...




New York City Photography

It's already been two months since my trip to New York City.  Time sure does fly by!  I wanted to share a little about the trip, and particularly the photos that I captured while there.  

I've always wanted to visit New York, but never really thought much about going there specifically for photography.  There is so much to see there, but street photography is not something that I had tried before.  However, I usually don't mind trying new things with photography, and this trip sounded interesting.  Getting to meet up with some friends there made it even better, so I couldn't resist.  

The four of us were traveling from different parts of the country.  John from New Mexico, Gary from Maine, Phil from Massachusetts, and of course me from Missouri.  Gary was to be our guide for this trip since he visits the Big Apple frequently and knows all the good places to go.  He did a great job helping us to navigate the busy streets and sidewalks to get to our destinations without getting lost.  Thanks Gary!

The flight out of Kansas City into La Guardia was a smooth one.  There is always some anxiety when traveling with photography gear.  I try to carry everything on the plane with me to avoid the possibility of a camera, lens, or something else from getting broken or lost.  The problem with that is my camera bag is pretty big and gets heavy when it is full.  My fear is that it either won't fit in the overhead compartment or there won't be any space left when I get on the plane.  Everything went well, although it was kind of a tight fit.  

Flying into the New York for the first time was quite an experience.  The massiveness of all the skyscrapers is amazing.  It seems that every square inch of land is covered by buildings.  After landing and catching up with John, we caught a ride to our hotel with Uber.  If you ever visit the city, don't plan on driving yourself.  Take advantage of any number of transit options to avoid the nightmare of navigating the streets on your own.  

We finally arrived at the Americana Inn and quite possibly the smallest hotel room I've ever stayed in.  It was 'cheap' by New York standards and conveniently located in Midtown.  All I really needed was a bed anyway, since most of the time would be spent wandering the streets.  

My tiny home away from home for a few days in NYC.  It's even smaller than it looks in this picture.

After checking in and unpacking a few things, what better way to start the trip than exploring the hotel a bit.  My window opened up onto a fire escape, which went up to the roof.  Who wouldn't want to see what the view was like from up there?  

The fire escape outside my hotel room window. 

Surrounded by tall buildings as you would expect.

The view up 6th Avenue from the roof of the hotel.

After exploring the hotel, it was time to head down to street level and see what interesting things were nearby.  The mass of people and the never-ending activity is just staggering, and something I wasn't used to.  That, and the constant sounds of car horns at all hours of the day and night.  

Just a couple of blocks down 6th Avenue was Bryant Park.  The park was abuzz with activity and was in the midst of its wintertime transformation into an ice skating rink. 

The fountain at Bryant Park

From there, we headed over to Times Square, which gives a whole new meaning to the word crowded.  And this was just a typical night.  It is quite a spectacle with all the bright lights, stores, and commotion.  And quite a few interesting characters, too.    

Times Square

There is definitely no shortage of street vendors throughout the city.  They sell a variety of foods, drinks, other things.  It must be an interesting and tough way to make a living.  

That was enough for one night.  Back to the hotel and a few night time captures from the roof before bed.  It was going to be a busy few days...




Falling Back in a Big Way

It's hard to believe that we are over a month into the fall season.  Seems like summer just started! As is always the case, fall color is difficult to predict.  Some early forecasts indicated that the peak color here in northwestern Missouri was to be sometime around October 22.  However, with the warmer weather we have had, that seems to have been pushed back.  

Some of the trees have really started to show their colors in the last few days.  It's always nice to see and the cooler temperatures are welcome after a long, hot summer.  Fall is probably my second favorite season, but isn't far behind Springtime.  Enjoy just a few images of Autumn below.  It won't be long before all the leaves are gone and the snow starts blowing.  

Grinter Sunflower Farm - 2016

This marks the third year that I've made the little trip down to Grinter's Sunflower Farm, located between Lawrence and Tonganoxie, Kansas.  Each year, I have seen a dramatic growth in the number of people who visit this place.  It really is amazing, and attracts people from all over.  It is a very popular photography location, as I usually see a number of local photographers with various photographic equipment out for family or senior portrait shoots.  The combination of the sunflowers at their peak the lighting, assuming you are there at the right time and the weather is cooperating, can't be beat.  

Many of you probably know that I've been writing bi-weekly articles for the Improve Photography website for the past few months.  My visit to the farm this year was a great opportunity to provide a little more exposure to this wonderful place.  You can check out my article at this link. Check out the other articles while you are at the website; there is lots of great information, especially for those interested in learning how to make great images.   

I mentioned the importance of getting to the fields at the right time.  That applies not only to the time of day, but the time of year as well.  The sunflowers are typically planted in July.  That means they reach their peak bloom sometime in late August or early September.  This year, that time happened to be around the Labor Day holiday.  The crowds that weekend were incredible.  At one point, the farm had to be shut down to visitors because of traffic backups on the incoming highways.  I was there the Saturday before Labor Day, along with hundreds of other people. There was plenty of parking, however, and plenty of space to find my own little peace in the 40 acre field.  

Not only is time of year important, but also time of day.  This is especially important if you want to be there during the times of best lighting for photos.  Generally speaking, this is either just after sunrise or right at sunset.  The low angle of the sun at those times produces golden light and helps to create much more dramatic images.  Mid-day is the least favorable, as the sun directly overhead creates harsh light that just isn't as pleasing for photography.  Of course, if the skies are overcast, it doesn't really matter, but I would try to coordinate a visit when there is mostly sunny conditions and maybe a few light clouds swirling about.  A few high clouds, especially in the western sky can really create some dramatic color after the sun dips below the horizon.  I made my visit in the afternoon in order to catch the sunset.  The sky was sunny, but unfortunately there were no clouds in sight.  

Since the sky was crystal clear, I decided to stay late and catch some late evening and Milky Way shots.  I wasn't sure how dark the skies would be due to the proximity to Kansas City and Lawrence.  There was a fair amount of light pollution, but the Milky Way was still visible.  One of the nice things about staying late is that there are very few, if any, people there.  Once the sun went down, the crowds quickly disappeared, and the farm was as peaceful as one would hope. One of the bad things about staying late is mosquitoes.  I made the mistake of not packing insect repellent and regretted it as I was battling those blood suckers all evening.  

This image was taken well after sunset.  Photoshop was used to create a composite of two images to exaggerate the size of the moon over the field.

The Milky Way over a corn field adjacent to the sunflower field.

So, another year is in the books for visiting this amazing place.  It really is a neat place to go visit and I would definitely recommend it.  Even if you aren't a photographer.  I'll be there again next year, so look me up.  

The Wildflowers of Capitol Reef National Park

When driving through southern Utah, one thing that is really striking is the desolation of that land.  There aren't many trees; not much green of any kind.  Every direction is mainly reddish-orange rock or soil of some type.  It's a place that receives very little rain.  A place that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  It is a harsh place, as evidenced by the sparse population of the area.  Although Utah has a population of nearly 3 million, the majority of those live in the northern part of the state in the area centered around Salt Lake City.  

With the abundance of sandstone and apparent lack of water, you might not expect to find much life.  And certainly not much color.  However, getting off the interstate and taking the time to explore reveals surprisingly abundant life.  A diversity of life...and plenty of colorful scenery.  

I've always enjoyed taking pictures of wildflowers.  Seems that on a hike, I'm always way behind everyone else as I stop along the trail to capture images of the flora along the way.  It's something about the intricate detail and the inherent beauty that catches the eye and begs to be recorded on the digital sensor.  I wrote an article a couple of years ago for the Improve Photography website about flower photography.  Go check it out for more information.  

Now, back to Utah.  You may have been following along with my previous posts about my trip to Capitol Reef National Park.  I'm still working through the images from that adventure and enjoying every minute of it.  I thought it would be interesting (well, interesting to me anyway) to show the wildflower images from the trip.  Just to prove that they are there.  Even in the desert. Take a look.

Tansyleaf Aster

Central Prickly Pear

Utah Daisy


Claret Cup

Utah Daisy

Cliff Rose

Basin Blanketflower

Tufted Evening Primrose

Golden Mariposa

Harriman's Yucca

Dwarf Lupine

Scapose Greenthread

Prince's Plume

Rough Mulesear

Life finds a way

Cathedral Valley

There are two main reasons why I share these blog posts and images from my photography adventures. First, I enjoy sharing with others, and hope that doing so will provide a brief glimpse of the incredible beauty of our natural world and maybe even provide some inspiration.  Another reason is more self-serving, in that I want to document and remember the places that I've been and the amazing things seen along the journey.  

On our first full day in Capitol Reef National Park, we ventured into Cathedral Valley to see what we could see.  Cathedral Valley is a great place to get lost, and perhaps a place to find yourself. After driving 15 or so miles to the southeast on Highway 24, we turned onto a dusty, gravel/dirt road that would eventually lead back into the park.  There are no traffic stops, or traffic for that matter, out here.  Just miles and miles of rocky terrain, sandy soil, and roads that change their personality with the seasons and the occasional torrential downpour.  This is no place to be without a high clearance vehicle, and no place to be if there is a threat of rain.  

After driving for about 26 miles, we arrived at our destination for the morning.  The Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Sun are sandstone monoliths towering above the valley floor, emphasizing our smallness in the grand scheme of things.  A variety of scrubby vegetation, some wildflowers, and an occasional juniper tree litter the valley floor.  Sand created from erosion of the native bedrock is pervasive.  Although we were there in late May, the sun was still powerful overhead.  One could only imagine the proverbial oven this place would become in July and August.  However, despite the harshness of climate and the desolation (or maybe because of it), life thrives here.  

In the couple of hours we were there, we each went our separate ways.  Soaking up the scenery and the carefree breezes was a delight.  This place is not just peaceful, but ever so quiet.  The stillness is immersive, and such a welcome attribute in the otherwise non-stop hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Walking in the shadows of the sandstone giants and up one of the numerous washes, as sporadic desert lizards flitter to the safety of the nearest brush at my approach, my mind is filled with imaginings of what it must have been like for those who first explored here. Pleasant thoughts abound and are not quickly forgotten.  

Eventually, we felt the need for a hasty exit due to threatening clouds moving into the area, but not before capturing a few memories on the image sensor.  A few of those memories are here and I hope you enjoy them....   

Temples of the Sun (left) and Moon (right) 

Somehow, life finds a way

Geology Layer Cake

Capitol Domes and Red Rocks

Continuing in the series of my trip to Capitol Reef National Park.  There is such a variety of rock formations in the park.  It is a geologists dream!  The park gets is name due to a combination of two things: dome shaped rocks that resemble a capitol building and a long escarpment formed by uplift and tilting of the rocks that resembles a reef.  The light gray domes were formed by erosion of the Navajo Sandstone.  The "reef" is a geological feature known as the Waterpocket Fold.  This feature is literally like a giant fold (over 100 miles long) in the earth's crust that formed due to faulting and upheaval of rock formations and the subsequent erosion of overlying layers. The result is a layer cake of nearly 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock strata representing many time periods throughout geological history. 

Coming into the park from the east, it wasn't long before I noticed the dome-shaped rocks.  You can see one such feature in the photo below.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in the park, ranging from easy day-hikes to long, multi-day backcountry adventures.  One of the short hikes I did was the Hickman Bridge trail, which is an approximate 2 mile round trip to a natural rock bridge.  The photo below shows the trailhead for this hike.  A sign at the beginning warns of potential falling rocks and suggests that you not stop along this section of the trail.  

The trail provides nice views of the domes and other rock formations in the area.  Also, notice the large dark colored rock in the foreground of the image below.  These volcanic rocks were picked up by advancing glaciers from the mountains in the area and deposited by ice melt, runoff, and rock slides.  These basaltic boulders can be seen scattered across the hillsides throughout the park.

There are lots of interesting things to see along any hike in the park, including interesting erosional patterns in the rocks, wildflowers, and maybe even some wildlife.  Most of the wildlife that I saw consisted of either a variety of birds or small lizards.

Arriving at the top of this hike, there is a 133-foot natural bridge that formed from the erosion and collapse of the sandstone rock formation.  The low angle of the sun to the west made for some nice golden light to illuminate the rocks and bathe them in warmth.

This was definitely a fun little hike and one that is worth doing, even if you only have a short time in the park.  Just make sure to bring plenty of water to drink, especially in warmer temperatures. Also, be ready for a crowd if you visit this spot during the peak tourism season.



Delicate Arch Redux

I first hiked up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in October 2013. I was on my way to a photography workshop and wanted to cover some ground on my own. You can read a little about that first trip up to this cool place in this blog post. I'm glad I made the trek that day, because the very next day, the boneheads in Washington shut down the government and closed all the national parks. 

On this trip, I was on my way to meet some photography friends in Capitol Reef National Park, and wanted to spend a day in Moab. The evening looked good for a sunset, so I figured why not make the 3 mile round trip hike again. As usual, the scenery was incredible on this hike up through the petrified sand dunes.

Upon arriving at the overlook for the arch, the scene was much the same as it was the last time I was there. This is a really popular place, especially at sunset, so if you go during the height of tourist season, you'll spend some quality time with at least a hundred of your closest friends. My friend Bob calls this an "infestation". I would have to agree. The photo below gives some idea, although it doesn't really show the crowd. Most people sit or stand along a rock ledge just to the left of this image waiting for the golden light of sunset to light up the sandstone arch. A few dozen others take turns getting their portraits taken or snap a selfie in the archway.

I can't blame them, really, for it is a neat place, and those selfies probably make good profile pics for their social media sites. Of course, this makes things difficult for those of us trying to get a nice landscape image of the arch with the La Sal Mountains in the background. Some people get a little impatient and voice their displeasure, but those "non-photographer" don't really understand. 

Thankfully, there is Photoshop to help us politely remove the tourists. Either by taking several identical images and masking the people out or just using the healing brush tool, the photo can look like you were the only one there. It just takes a little more time.

On this trip, I decided to stick around after sunset to try some star trail photography. Most of the crowd left, but there were a few who stuck around with similar ideas. Since the moon would be rising soon, I had to set up and work quickly to get several images that I was happy with. I decided to move down into the bowl below the arch for a slightly different composition. The image below shows the arch and a few stars as the full moon was about the come up from behind the rocks. The arch and some of the rocks around it were being lit up by people with their flashlights.

Finally, the finished star trail image, composed of a total of about 60 photos. The photos were stacked together in a free software program call StarStax, which does a pretty good job. These images are a lot of fun to create and it's always interesting to see the patterns that the star trails make. More to follow as we move on to Capitol Reef, so come on back real soon!












A Trip Through Capitol Reef National Park

In a few short days (Thursday, June 9 to be exact), my fifth article will be published on the Improve Photography website. The article will be titled "A Photographer's Guide to Capitol Reef National Park". You may not have been to, or even heard of Capitol Reef National Park, but take a look at this article. If you are travelling through Utah, take the time to stop at this amazing place. The history, geology, and just sheer beauty is worth the trip. I'll be posting more about this trip on my blog over the coming days and weeks as I get around to processing all the images. Here are a few to whet your appetite.

The Eagles of Lock & Dam No. 14

About three weeks ago, I took a trip up to LeClaire, Iowa, to spend a few days trying to capture some images of eagles.  This was my first real foray into bird photography, so I wasn't sure what to expect or if I would get any decent photos of the birds.  Bird photography can be tough, especially capturing them in action in their natural habitat.  It sounded like a good time, though, and I like to challenge myself photographically, so I packed up and left on Thursday afternoon to make the 5 hour drive.

After an uneventful drive and arriving in LeClaire, I met up with my friend Steve, who is from Michigan.  Steve and I happened to meet early one morning in October 2013, waiting for the sun to rise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, and had kept in touch since then. He had been planning this trip for some time and invited me to come up and join him.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, we weren't sure if the weather was going to be cooperative.  The mild winter and little snow meant that the eagles had not journeyed down to this location and the numbers were really low.  However, after some cold and wintery weather a couple of weeks out, things were starting to look up.  We were not disappointed.

Just a bit of background before we move on.  Lock & Dam 14 is located next to Smith's Island on the Upper Mississippi River.  This area in Southeastern Iowa and Northwestern Illinois is known as the Quad Cities Metropolitan Area, consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois.  (Wait a minute...isn't that 5 cities??)  Construction of Lock & Dam 14 was completed in 1939 and it is operated by the United States Corps of Engineers. The Lock & Dam 14 Woodland Preserve is an approximate 9 acre area that has been set aside as important habitat for wintering bald eagles.  Because of the easy access and the proximity of the eagles, it is a very popular place for photographers to visit.  

Friday morning started out a little slow.  We arrived early in hopes of catching a nice sunrise, but the sky was overcast.  As it became light, we started to see eagles perched in several of the trees surrounding the area, but there was not much movement.  By mid-morning, however, the eagles were becoming more active and we captured some images of them fishing the river as well as some nice overhead shots.  By mid-afternoon, the action had slowed down considerably, so we decided to pay a visit to one of the other main attractions in LeClaire.  LeClaire is the hometown of the American Pickers, so we visited their shop and took a few photos.  Unfortunately, none of the stars of the show were around.

Saturday turned out to be the kind of day everyone hopes for when they come to Lock & Dam 14. The morning started out clear and crisp and we even got to the river early enough for some sunrise shots.  The sun hadn't been up long before the eagles started putting on a show.  One after another, they would swoop down from the trees and make a pass over the water to try and catch some breakfast.  It was really a lot of fun to watch, especially when one eagle would make a catch and 2 or 3 others would give chase in an attempt to steal it away.  By early afternoon, the boardwalk above the river was lined with photographers, rubbing elbows and trying to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot.  I'm not sure how many people were there at any one time, but there must have been hundreds that came and went throughout the day.  

Sunday morning was another overcast and slow-moving day.  There wasn't much action, neither from the eagles nor from photographers.  After bidding farewell to Steve and other new friends made while on the river, I headed for home by about noon.  It was a great trip with lots of opportunities for interesting shots and a chance to meet lots of new people.  My guess is that I'll be back to LeClaire, Iowa next year, and may even make it an annual event.  Now, time to end this already too-long post and get to some images.  I took over 2,000 photos on this trip, but these are just a few of my favorites.  Thanks for looking!  

This one appeared to be yelling at me.

The Coming Winter

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. — Henry David Thoreau

That time of year has come again, like it always does.  The vibrant colors of fall have gone, leaving in its wake the browns and grays and cold winter days that are sure to follow.  Some color still lingers, but it's only a matter of time before the dull and drab winter days take full control.  The beauty that is all around us is often taken for granted, and easily overlooked as we go about our daily activities.  That can be even more true this time of year.  With the exception of that first snowfall that blankets the ground and clings to the trees with a pure white, wintertime can be a difficult time of year to see the beauty in nature. 

Yesterday was our first taste of winter weather for the season here in this part of the Midwest. After record rainfall on Thanksgiving Day, temperatures dropped to below freezing, giving us icy precipitation that coated vehicles and roads, and made travel just a bit more treacherous.  The ice also accumulated on trees, grass, and other vegetation, that can make for some interesting photographs.  There wasn't a lot of it, but I went for a short walk in the woods to see what I could see.  Here are a few of the images.    

Grinter Sunflower Farm - 2015 Edition

It's hard to believe that we are already well into September and that Fall is right around the corner. This time of year marks the peak of the sunflower crop at Grinter Farms, located just south of Tonganoxie, Kansas.  I visited this enchanting place for the first time last year and wrote a blog about it here.  Last year, I was a few days past the peak and although the sunflowers were still in full bloom, they were beginning to look a little worse for wear.  My goal was to be there this year to see the crop in its prime, and this weekend was just the right time.  

Sunbeam Sunflower

The Grinter family has been farming this area since 1947 and has planted their fields of sunflowers since the 1970s.  There doesn't seem to be as many fields of the Kansas State Flower anymore, as other, more lucrative crops have taken their place.  That's one of the things that makes this place so special and unique.  Approximately 60 acres of black oil sunflowers are planted each year and harvested in the fall to use as bird feed.  The flowers typically bloom and reach their peak for a few short days in early September.    

I decided to make the trek into Kansas and down Highway 24 last evening, in hopes of catching a nice sunset.  By the way, the address given for the farm is 24154 Stillwell Road, Lawrence, Kansas.  That will get you close, and believe me, you will have no problem figuring out where to go once you get in the area.  Just follow all the other cars.  If you go during the peak, and especially on a weekend, there will be a crowd.  There sure was last night.  Cars lined the parking area and both sides of Stillwell Road and hundreds of people were wandering the rows of flowers.  It seemed that everyone had a camera and several photographers were there to do family portrait shoots.  There was even one gentleman with a drone, hovering over the field for an aerial view.  You'll notice the drone at the very top of the image below (as well as a few of the people that were there).    

The past week, we have had some late summer heat, and last night was no exception.  When I arrived at the farm at around 6:30, the temperature was still in the 80s.  I turned onto Stillwell Road following several other cars that were going to the same place, and thought that I would never find a place to park.  As luck would have it, there was a spot right up front just waiting for me.  It was going to be a good evening.  There was some light cloud cover that I figured would make some really nice colors as the sun settled below the horizon.  After grabbing the camera, an extra battery, and monopod, I made a short hike to the edge of the field and up between the two stands of trees in the above image.  That's where I would spend the majority of the evening snapping away and waiting for the light show.  Most people stayed along the edges, so I had this spot all to myself.  Surrounded by sunflowers, I took a few (hundred) photos while waiting for sunset, which was supposed to happen at 7:42.  A few of those images are below. 

Front and Center

Clicking the shutter button to take the images is only half the fun.  Uploading the images onto the computer and into photo editing software can be a lot fun too.  At least I think so.  Some post-processing is necessary for most any raw image and it allows you to try some more creative and artistic things with your photos.  Since everything so far has been mostly yellow and green, I thought why not try a black and white.  I also ran the same image through Topaz Impression, which provides more of a painter-like finish.  See what you think of the images below.  

Sunflowers in B&W

OK, so the sun did finally set, and that's when the camera went on the monopod.  Normally, I would use a tripod to shoot landscapes, but I wanted to make some images from above the heads of the sunflowers and thought this would be a good way to do it.  With the camera mounted on the monopod and the shutter release set to a 10 second timer, I would press the shutter button, then hold the camera overhead, trying to keep it as steady as possible.  Granted, this isn't the ideal way to shoot, but I think it worked out.  It just took a few dozen tries to get everything relatively straight and composed in a way that was to my liking.  Oh yeah, and a little tip for shooting sunsets: don't leave right after the sun goes down below the horizon.  Wait around for a while.  If there are some clouds, that's when the best colors will start.    

Grinter Farms Sunset

Bandon Beach

Bandon was the last leg of our photography workshop in Oregon.  After about three months, I have finally made it through the majority of the images from the trip and this series of blog entries is coming to a close.  (You can hold the applause...;-)  To say this was a great trip would be an understatement.  As expected, I made lots of new friends, saw lots of cool new places, made gobs of images, and had a really fun time.  Prior to this trip, I had never been to the west coast, and I would like to return some day.  Although we had a full itinerary, there is still so much more to see and do.  

Bandon is quaint little town, located along the southern coast of Oregon, about 90 miles north of the California border.  For a town with a population of only about 3,100, it is rich in history and has a lot to offer visitors.  Bandon was founded by George Bennett in 1873 and was named after the Irish town of the same name, where Bennett and his sons were from.  The town was devastated by fire in 1936, when a forest fire spread westward and wiped out the entire commercial district.  Ironically, the fire that destroyed Bandon was largely fueled by an oily plant that was introduced to the area by the town's founder.  However, Bandon rebuilt and continued to grow into the wonderful place it is today.  It is well-known for producing five percent of the nation's cranberry crop; world-class championship golf courses; fishing and wood products industries; and of course, tourism.  

We stayed at the Sunset Lodge, with a great view and a short walk down to Bandon Beach.  The sound of the cold Pacific waves relentlessly pounding against the rocky shore served as a reminder of the natural forces at work.  The most notable features of Bandon Beach are the many sea stacks along the coastline, standing like towering watchmen over the area.  These stacks are the remnants of harder, more resistant rock that are left behind as the softer rocks surrounding them erode over time.  One of the more prominent rock formations is Face Rock, which if viewed from the right angle, looks a lot like, well, a face.  It was kind of eerie, almost like some stone giant guarding his smaller sea stack brothers and sisters and suspiciously gazing at anyone who dared pass by.    

Our hope was to have some really nice sunsets and/or sunrises to shoot in the few days that we were in Bandon.  Unfortunately, the early morning and late evening skies were a continuous blanket of never-ending gray.  Never letting our spirits be dampened, we still had a great time and made some nice images anyway.  Hope you like the few that I have chosen to show here.        

Coquille River Light

We visited three different lighthouses along the Oregon coast, and I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite.  However, the image of the Coquille River Light was one of my favorites from the entire trip.  I like the dramatic clouds in the background and the 'misty' foreground with the lichen-covered boulders.  It's sometimes difficult to pick a favorite, as each photo has something unique.  Add to that the emotional attachment of the 'place' and the experience of being there to take in the sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded the process of making the image.  This was a gray, cloudy, and kind of windy day.  The Coquille River pounded against the rocks on shore. Occasionally, a gust of wind would carry with it a hint of sand to brush against the face and the cool, salty smell of the Pacific.  As photographers, we naturally wanted to get the best perspectives to capture this scene, which for some meant daring the splashing water and slippery rocks along the river's edge.    

So you see, a photograph is so much more than just a few million pixels with varying brightness and color values that compose a representative image of a scene.  It is a collection of moments, an amalgamation of experiences that filled the senses and enthralled the imagination.  It is within those moments that we seek the inspiration to best capture a split second of time; to create an image that captivates and also invokes some of the emotion that we felt while standing there.  I hope that my images accomplish this to at least some degree.     

Coquille River Light

The Coquille River Light, located near Bandon, Oregon, was first lit on February 29, 1896.  The light helped to guide the way past the shifting sandbars of the Coquille River and into the harbor at Bandon.  The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1939, giving way to automation.  The light deteriorated and was subjected to vandalism following its deactivation.  The attached living quarters, as well as several outbuildings, fell into such disrepair that they eventually had to be removed.  Recent renovations have restored this historical landmark to its present condition and it is currently maintained by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.  Enjoy a few more images from the day below, and thanks for stopping by!