Chasing a Clearing Storm

It rained, here in Sonoma County, yesterday.  Having some free time I decided that I wanted to run down to the Golden Gate Bridge and make some images of the clearing storm.  I took my Fuji XT1, a few lenses, my GoPro "Hero" and a tripod.  This being a spur of the moment decision, the ability for planning was limited.  I did check the Golden Gate Bridge webcam to see if conditions might be favorable for some images.  There was heavy cloud cover but it wasn't raining and the weatherman said that it would clear up by the early afternoon.  So I jumped in my car and headed South.  Hitting some traffic on my way.  I made it to the Marin Headlands in about an hour and a half.  The clouds were clearing nicely but the fog was my biggest concern.  The Headlands are the hills just North of the Golden Gate and afford some of the most beautiful views of this amazing structure.  I usually avoid shooting here in the middle of the day, even when conditions are perfect, due to the huge number of tourists in the area.  The fog was very erratic, at times blocking the view of the bridge completely.  I got lucky and was able to make a few images.

South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from the Marin Headlands. June, 2016

I set up my tripod to hold my GoPro "Hero" and started the timelapse mode.  As I set it up the fog cleared and I saw this shot below.

View of San Francisco looking through the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from the Marin Headlands.  June, 2016

One of the challenges of being a photographer and standing in a location such as this is that you are asked to take image after image of tourists.  I don't mind this at all, but it tends to get in the way of my purpose, which is to create images.  It got to the point where people were crowding me and my tripod so I had to abandon ship.  Before I left I was able to make this timelapse.

As I was getting ready to pack up I looked down and noticed a lock attached to the cable of the fence at the viewpoint.  The lock had a heart engraved on its' face.  It gave me an idea for a couple of images.

Lock attached to fence cable, located at a viewpoint above the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, June 2016

Lock attached to fence cable, located at a viewpoint above the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, June 2016

I love photography adventures.  I have found that I do my best work on spur of the moment trips.  Lately these adventures have been inspired by weather events.  I love the look of the sky as the clouds start to clear.  A clear blue sky can be a beautiful background but I tend to prefer a little something going on in the way of clouds.  

Dreaming of the next storm.......

Yosemite Drama! Not the Ahwhanee?

In 1990 my college buddies talked me into a backpacking trip.  We hiked from Tuolumne Meadows, through Pate Valley and finishing at White Wolf.  We did this trip in seven days.  This was my first backpacking trip.  I was the ultimate noob!  My pack was full of things I had no business bringing.  I was totally out of shape and had no idea what I was getting into.  On top of all of that I woke up with an abscessed tooth the morning we were supposed to depart.  A quick trip to a local Oakhurst dentist allowed me to make it to the trailhead in time.  Needless to say the physical part of this journey was not enjoyable.  What I did find was that I had discovered the place that brought me closest to, whatever it may be, that created all of this.  Yosemite, from that day forward, became my church.  What does this have to do with photography you ask?  From that date on I have spent many hours photographing both the valley and the backcountry of Yosemite.  Both on film and more recently digitally.  

This week, on Friday, I depart for another photographic journey to Yosemite.  We have been blessed with several feet of snow at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The Yosemite high country is blanketed with the beautiful white stuff.  The Valley Floor has seen more than just a dusting over the last few weeks and i'm curious if we are going to be lucky enough to see it this trip.  As of this writing two small storms are on track to hit while i'm there.  I save a ton of money by staying in the Curry Village tent cabins.  While heated with propane heaters several blankets will be necessary.  

There is a new twist that has recently happened in the valley.  The concessions company that lost the contract for all of the businesses in Yosemite is fighting in court, for compensation, for the naming rights of practically everything in the park.  The Ahwhanee, Curry Village, the Wawona as well as the title of the park "Yosemite National Park" has been claimed by this company.  With the exception of the later, everything has been renamed temporarily.  Only a judge will decide the outcome and I'm sure it will take years before it is resolved.  You can read about it here.  I don't really care what changes are made, I will continue to call these locations by the only names I have ever known.  That I know is true.

My last trip to Yosemite happened in February of 2014 and I was lucky enough to catch a departing storm from the Valley View parking area.  It is my favorite image to date of the valley.

There are two additonal images from this trip that I love.  One of Upper Yosemite Falls and the other a view from the road that I captured out my car window.  You never know when an amazing image is going to happen.

I will be uploading video throughout the weekend as well as images to my Instagram account.  This will be the first photographic journey I will take with my Fuji XT1 and  i'm excited to see what I can accomplish with this new tool in a place that is close to my heart.  

For the Love of Photography

I have been trying to find a theme for my work for some time now.  Nothing jumped out at me.  Matt Granger has "Get Your Gear Out", Jerod Polin has "I Shoot Raw" so what should be mine........and then it hit me.  "For the Love of Photography".  The expression "for the love of god" has been one that I have heard a million times growing up.  Always an expression of exasperation.  Not believing whatever it was the person was witnessing or being so disgusted by it that the expression was necessary.  I love photography.  I don't love gear, I don't love software and I sure as hell don't love spending my time with my camera so that I can get a few likes on the interweb.  I just love the act of creating images.  Sharing them is just a bonus.  Do I want people to love my work?  Sure, who doesn't, but it's not my motivator.  I am at my happiest while wandering, looking for the perfect landscape or the leaf that is just the right color of orange or someone doing something interesting in a place that has meaning to them.  Capturing these moments in time is a pure pleasure.  

I feel that we have gone far afield in the world of photography.  Spending too much time pining away at the newest gear.  Cameras are replaced with newer models before you have time to master the one you just bought.  Technology is improving at an amazing rate but does that mean that you have to have the latest and greatest first?  Is doing this going to help you master the craft of photography?  I believe that answer is a resounding NO!  My old Nikon D70 is a great camera.  6 megapixels, small viewing screen and no movie mode.  I am able to still make amazing images with it.  I am confident that I will be able to hand that camera to my oldest son in a few years and have him learn the basics/fundamentals of photography by using it.  

Do I like new gear?  Yes.  Do I get G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) sometimes? Another YES!  but I have to put on the brakes.  I have to think, do I need a new camera or is a new lens a better choice?  Maybe I should invest in a class or book or visit a museum or photo gallery.  Or maybe I should take a day off from my day job to take photos.  These are all things to think about.  Sometimes you do need new gear.  Your abilities outgrow your equipment and new features are what you NEED, not what you WANT!  I get it.  I just think we should all take some time and enjoy the process.  Learn a new skill with that existing camera.  Take a walk with a photo friend and do it "For The Love Of Photography"

A New and Old Adventure (Success?)

As always, my annual trip to Reno, was a fantastic adventure full of new memories with old friends.  (See previous blog post, same name, for more info).  My trip began with a stop in South Lake Tahoe where I recorded this video.

With each video I am a little more comfortable in front of the camera.  I admit that it's awkward and I hope that with time it will be less so.  Part of what I hope to do here is to show my progression in abilities over time.  I know that i'm an amateur where video is concerned but I love doing it and am enjoying the learning curve.  The Rode Filmmakers Kit has made this super easy and I am glad I made that purchase.  

On Saturday I arrived at The Reno Stead Airport for the National Championship Air Races.  I decided to splurge and purchase a pit pass in addition to the regular admission.  This would give me access to the area where the race planes are prepped as well as closer access to the flightline where the planes line up prior to each race.  There are several classes of aircraft including jets, WWII T-6's  and other stock and modified planes.  My favorite aircraft is the P-51 Mustang and there are several that fly in the races.  Some are stock and others are highly modified like Voodoo.

 

Voodoo In The Pit.  Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

I spent most of Saturday in the pits and loved every minute of it.  You get to see a totally different aspect of the races.  There is so much hard work that goes into this day that, as a spectator in the stands, you never see.  

Crew members working on parts from Voodoo.  Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Crew members working on parts from Voodoo.  Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Race Prep. Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Polishing Strega's Blades. Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

I have to admit that I had some challenges.  Photography and videography aren't my full time gig so my time with my gear is limited.  Sometimes I have to learn as I go.  For this trip the biggest challenge was video.  I'm more comfortable with video that has the camera on a tripod.  This provides a steady platform and there is no camera shake to worry about.  For this trip I used a Benro Monopod and it was the first time I have attempted video with it.  Camera shake was a problem as well as learning how fast to pan or tilt while filming.  I may have to invest in a gimble or some new VR lenses for more stable video.  Once again that pesky learning curve.  The cool thing is that I am learning and the next time out i'll have something usable.

This year the event added an attraction.  In  1970 the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!" debuted.  Several planes were manufactured to represent the Japanese Zero's.  These planes were then donated to the "Commemorative Air Force".  From then on they have been performing this act for air shows throughout the world.  I feel lucky to have witnessed it.  

Tora! Tora! Tora!  Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

The beauty of these planes is hard to describe.  It's like walking back in time.

Commemorative Air Force,  Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

I spent some time just taking in this view.  My generation can only imagine what it must have been like in the 40's.  Slowly but surely those that lived as part of the "Greatest Generation" are departing this world and will no longer be able to tell their story's.  It is events like this that will keep these memories alive as well as being part of our understanding of our past and its' impact on our culture.  

Commemorative Air Force,  Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

On Sunday I joined my friends for the show and spent less time photographing and more time enjoying our time together.  I've known these men for over 40 years.  As time has passed we have gone our own ways but Reno is always on the calendar.  Each year we meet and enjoy this event and our time together, catching up, sharing our successes, failures and some stiff drinks.  It is a time I have cherished and will continue to for many years to come.

Rare Bear, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

You are probably asking yourself, where are the race photos?  The answer to that is that I don't have a sufficient lens capable of capturing close up images of the planes in action.  At a minimum I would have needed a 400mm lens.  This is not in my budget and I didn't feel like lugging one around this event.  They are very large and heavy.  I was able to capture a few images of the action though.  

Start of the T6 qualifying race. Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Breitling Jet Team, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Breitling Jet Team, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Falcon 7X Flyby, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Opening Ceremony, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

There is so much to soak up at this event.  Everywhere you look is an image waiting to be made.  I think it also helps that I love this event and that I have been attending off and on since the mid 80's.  There is something magical about these aircraft.   It's like i'm a little boy all over again.  The sights and sounds, just as exciting as they were 30 years ago.  

Cockpit, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Argonaut, Hawker Sea Fury, Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

Reno Stead Airport, National Championship Air Races 2015

I hope you've enjoyed this adventure as much as I have.  I believe that the only way to grow as a photographer is to push your limits and try new things.  I feel that this adventure did just that.  Would I have done things different if I had it to do all over again?  The answer is yes, but I never would have figured that out if I had never tried.  

 

Full Frame DSLR? Mirrorless? Hmmm.....

I want to take my photography to the next level, but which system do I want to invest in?  There are so many debates out there, some saying the DSLR is dead and that Mirrorless has taken over or Mirrorless cameras are nice for casual photographers but not for a pro.  You can Google "DSLR vs. Mirrorless" and the flood of opinions will appear before you.  What it comes down to for me are quality of the image and affordability of the gear.  I know this is a simplistic view but for me it is this basic.  I have no problem switching to a new system and deal with the learning curve for the right camera.

As a pro photographer quality images are the basic expectation.  So I started to do some visual research.  I headed to a few photo sharing sites to look at images taken with different systems.  Because I'm a Nikon shooter I stuck with the Nikon D610 and the D750 for DSLR images and for Mirrorless I chose the Fuji XT1.  The reason I chose the XT1 is that first off I love the styling.  Yes I said it, the styling.  It reminds me of my Nikon FE2.  It's what I hoped the Nikon DF was going to be.  I have rented the XT1 and love the feel of it and the small form factor.  I like the EVF (Electronic View Finder) and the other features of this camera.  I looked at about 100 images from each camera and to tell you the truth there wasn't much difference.  The one difference I did notice was that the Fuji images had a more real to life look.       In my opinion Nikon images, JPG or RAW have a distinctive look to them.  I love this loook and it's been the reason I have stayed with Nikon for as long as I have.  The XT1 allows you to apply film simulations such as their "Classic Chrome", which I believe was intended to emulate Kodak's Kodachrome as well as several other simulations.  That paired with filters also available with the XT1 and the creative possibilities are endless.  I like tech as much as the next guy but I am no expert on image sensors or lens elements so you won't get any long drawn out discussion on specs.  What I do know is what looks good and all of these cameras can create spectacular images in the right hands.  

I can't imagine anyone wants to throw away money on equipment.  It can be easy to jump in with both feet quickly after hearing positive review after positive review.  The newest shiny camera that promises to make your photos look as if pooped out by a unicorn mixed with pixy dust!  The inevitable feeling of dissapointment, regret and depression that you spent a month's worth of hard earned cash on something that just doesn't work for you.  For an entry level full frame Nikon system you are going to spend close to $3400.  The Nikon D610 is listed on B&H for $1496 and one decent lens, such as the Nikon 24-70 f2.8 will set you back close to $1900.  The Fuji XT1 sells for $1300 and the Fuji 16-55 f2.8 Weather Resistant lens(equivalent 24-82.5 full frame equivalent) will cost you $1200.  While the bodies cost close to the same amount, the fuji lenses are less expensive than the Nikon equivalents.  So going with the Mirrorless you would save close to $1000.  I know this is for just one camera and lens and most are going to be buying multiple lenses and a backup body.  The price just grows from there with a major savings by going mirrorless.  

I have shot Nikon for years.  I have a standard DX system that I have used for weddings, portraits and events.  I love Nikon gear and it has served me well from my FE2, purchased in 1983 to my D70 and then my D7000.  I do have to admit that when I see a system that is half the size and much cheaper with amazing quality images I am tempted. I'd love to hear what you think.  Are you shooting full frame or mirrorless?  Have you switched?  I'd love to hear your story.

My Life As A Souvenir Photographer

You know what i'm talking about.  You head out on a cruise on a lake or are getting off the lift at your favorite ski resort or checking out any one of the must see tourist destinations throughout the U.S.A. and there they are, poised with their camera in hand ready to position you in front of that beautiful backdrop...

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How Do Photo's Make You Feel?

How a photo makes you feel is subjective.  We all take photos throughout our lives of special events, where we've travelled, our children, beautiful views and so on and when we look at them they bring back memories and the emotion of that time and place.  These images most probably won't be winning prizes for composition or be showcased on the cover of magazines but they are beautiful to us because they are our memories, our experiences.  But what is it that makes a photo universally amazing?  A photo that when you look at it you can't look away or you have to share it with a friend.  A photo has to make you feel something, happy, sad, angry, aroused.  For it to be great it has to elicit some kind of profound visceral reaction from a broad audience.  This is what I strive for in my photography.  I hope that when I show my images to someone, or they come across them online, that they stop and say this is beautiful or this makes me think or they just want to soak it up.  I know that my photography is  a work in progress and that it will always be.  What I also know is that with each photo I take I get closer to that place, to that emotion.  Every time I take the time to think about what it is that I am seeing through the lens my images get better.  I read a post by Brett Birdsong called "Shoot What Matters" on dedpxl.com and it resonated with me.  He talks about shooting from the heart and not worrying about what shots people say you should get or "what some intoxicated intern behind a desk at a wedding blog tells you that you should see".  I could spend the rest of my life shooting the things that I know will rack up likes or comments in my feeds or I could do something different.  I could shoot what I love and put my heart into each and every image, leaving a little bit of me in each pixel.