Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reflecting on 2008

I wrote this before New Year Day, but wanted to let it "age" before posting to see if I had additional thoughts.

This is the time of the year when we look back on the year and consider the ups and the downs. I think it is human nature to give ourselves a mental "score" as to how our year went - how well we met our goals - or how poorly we followed though on our good intentions. Every year brings new opportunities - some of them we follow through on, others either don't live up to their expectations or our efforts on them may fall short of the mark. Sometimes it is our own inner weaknesses that prevent the greatness we hoped for. Other times it is external events that limit us.

I use Google Analytics as one way to "score" myself on my progress. I was looking at my blog entries at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. I was surprised to note that at the end of 2007, I had 4,024 visits, 5,798 page views from 2,090 visitors from 77 countries. At this point for 2008 I had 7,927 visits, 11.778 page views from 6,158 visitors from 102 countries. Interestingly enough, a lot of the new traffic to my blog occurred from my Hurricane Ike posts. Hummmmm . . . does this mean I need to find more newsworthy, natural events to photograph? That will be a challenge!

My photography has had its ups and downs. I'm still struggling in the marketing aspects of being a professional nature photographer. As a Christian, my inclination is to maintain a humble view of myself - promoting oneself seems "boastful." It is also easy to get discouraged when you attempt to put your work out at the stock photography sites and nothing sells. However, using Alamy's Measures, in 2007 I had 239 views and this year I had 519. I joined Digital Railroad, and did upload a number of images there, but I don't know whether there was more I could have done to get my images viewed better there. Sadly, Digital Railroad is now history. My guess is that I still need to get more images up on the stock sites, but I lack confidence that where my first love is in photography (nature) is not necessarily what sells at the stock sites. I did more portrait work this year, but I have not decided if that is a direction I want to spend more time pursuing. The best news is that I had two photos in Nature's Best Backyards contest make the magazine and I had photos exhibited in 2 different gallery settings. I have a third photo that has been selected for exhibition in 2009. And I've been contacted by another photographic agency to submit for a calendar for 2010.

We did not get to travel as much for my nature photography this year, but I did have some good opportunities. Colorado in June gave me some mountain goat shots that may do well for me. Hurricane Ike was amazing to photograph - although I learned some things I would do differently were I to try to cover another hurricane. I'm thinking about and have started putting together a book with the Ike photos. My fall foliage trip yielded some shots that I have great hopes for as well. I definitely need to do more photography closer to my home.

While know that I did not take advantage of every opportunity to submit my work (yes, that is the biggest thing I need to work on in 2009), 2008 had its own challenges. The world economy is affecting everyone's budgets right now. Henry's mom was in failing health and we have spent more time in Amarillo over the last few years trying to be helpful both to Henry's parents and to Henry's sister who lives near them. It has been sad to watch the struggles that are a natural part of the aging process. Plus, there is that nagging reality that it won't be that very long until we experience those same struggles. Already, our bodies are not as strong as they once were. Arthritis and stiff joints are a fact of life. Exercise helps, but sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to keep the body agile and active.

Hurricane Ike has been a big event as well. Because we have property in Galveston, we spend time there each year. A catastrophic event hits harder when it devastates an area you are familiar with and love. We went to Galveston and experienced one of God's most powerful natural events - a hurricane. I still read the Galveston paper online daily. I rejoice that so many business are back up and running. But I mourn for the people who lost everything they had and still have no permanent place to live. We live in a time when we expect instant gratification, we want everything back to normal NOW. But the reality for both Galveston and the New Orleans-Mississippi area hit by Katrina, it takes a long time to recover from all the problems caused by massive hurricanes. We expect too much too fast. We are impatient. I believe that Galveston will recover, but it will take years, not months.

The world's economic problems seem to be the worst in my life time. It is easy to get apprehensive and anxious when no one knows how long this economic downturn will last or how bad it will be. The news from around the globe has been mixed as well. While things seem to be getting better in Iraq, things are worse in Afghanistan. The strife in the Middle East and in Israel has heated up again. The terrorist attacks in India have created new tensions between India and Pakistan. Hearing about life in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe breaks your heart. While there is calm in Kenya after the violence at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008, there are still tensions that could still erupt into violence again. One article I read this week talked about tensions building in Bosnia.

Regardless on how one voted, I think it is a good thing for America to have elected the first African American president. I want the black community to have success and positive things. I think that Barack and his wife, Michelle, are very accomplished people who are worthy of my respect. Since I believe that God is ultimately the One who puts people into power, I have to believe that He has a purpose for Barack Obama's presidency. For many reasons, I hope and pray that Obama will be a strong, successful president who accomplishes great and wonderful things in his time in office. He is certainly taking office at a time when many difficult issues and conflicts need attention. May God give him wisdom, leadership, and success as he works through the difficult decisions he will have to make.

From my reading today in Alexandra Stoddard's Grace Notes:
"I regret nothing." Edith Piaf

I've learned a great deal this year. I feel it has been productive and also enjoyable day to day. What a wonderful thought to live our lives with as few regrets as possible.

What kind of year did you have? How would you rate it? No matter how many challenges you've had, no matter what pain you've endured, did you do your very best? Then have no regrets.

While I don't know what 2009 will actually bring, it is part of my nature to anticipate good things happening. I would rather look back at 2008 and concentrate on the positive things rather than dwell on the things that "might have been."

I wish for all my readers a wonderful, blessed, and prosperous 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Cold Front

Texas weather is always interesting - if you don't like it, wait a little and it will change . . . Saturday morning was mild, shirt sleeve weather. I took advantage of the warmer weather to go back out to my front porch for some "morning time." It was cloudy, but the temperature was in the 70's - great for sitting outside. I heard a few raindrops falling. My morning scripture for December 27 in my One Year Bible was from Zechariah 10:1 "Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain to men and plants of the field to everyone." I thought it an appropriate scripture for many reasons. I was watching the clouds moving across the sky, when the weather began to change. The sky got darker, there was a sense of anticipation, and then, I could hear the mighty winds come through with an amazing powerful roar. Henry said later that when the front hit, the entire house shuddered.

As I saw the amazing clouds, I ran into the house and grabbed my camera.

I had to work fast, because the clouds were moving rapidly across the sky, changing patterns as I watched.

No rain yet, but it was not long before we had a nice solid shower - much needed - we are way behind in our rainfall totals over the last twelve months.

Within an hour or so, the blue sky followed behind the front. Amazing to watch God's handiwork in the weather.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cards

One of my joys at Christmas time is the sending of Christmas cards. In today's world of Facebook, My Space, IChat, Instant Messenger, telephone texting, email, beautiful greeting cards like Jacquie Lawson's amazing animated cards, sending physical cards through the mail may seem quaint.
But I'm not ready to give it up. For one thing, not all of my friends have joined the Facebook crowd. Some I hear from only once a year. But I enjoy that moment of catching up with people from my past - people who have been important to me. I even like the Christmas newsletters, because they keep that sense of connection that I think is very important. I send cards to people I've known since I was very young, to people I met in my junior high school years, my high school years, my college years, my Girl Scout years, my Boy Scout years, and friend whose children grew up with mine. And, most important of all, I send cards to our family members who are scattered from the east coast to the west coast now. Some of my card recipients live far away . . . two live just up the road from me.
But it is my way of saying each year: "You are special, you are remembered, I hope all is well with you!"
By the way, occasionally, I get to see some of these folks in person. It is amazing how often we are able to pick up right where we left off - catching up on what our families are doing, what we're doing, etc.
Whether you send snail mail cards, or e-cards, or emails, or text messages, I hope you take time to remember those special people in your lives.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Namwianga's Children 2009 Calendar

When we visited Zambia last summer, I spent several days with orphaned toddlers at the Namwianga Mission near Kolomo. They were an amazing group of kids. Some were very independent, some were very clingy. Jason at two could already dribble a ball, he also appeared built like a football player. Cathy saw another little girl crying and brought her over to me.

When I was in California at a photography exhibit I talked with Karen Ande who had done a couple of calendars to benefit orphans in Kenya. I decided to create a calendar from the Namwianga children's photos to raise money for them.

You can see the year's photos here:

Each month has a scripture with God's words about children.

Cost is $15.00 plus $2.00 shipping and handling fee. All profits will go to benefit these precious children. To order:

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A new snake "hiding" place

I got ready to put in another load of laundry this morning. This is an automatic task - not requiring a lot of brain work, right??? You open the door throw in the clothes . . . but then . . . you realize that the washer is inhabited . . . a long slithery snake! I KNOW it was not there last night when I emptied the towels . . . And it is a BIG snake.

Now, outside, I enjoy watching snakes - they are part of nature, they are part of the food chain, and some of them eat rats and mice. But when wild things enter my house . . . that's another story. Plus my friend, Bettye had found two rattlesnakes by her barn recently, so whereas I did not give a blood curling scream, I certainly vocalized my displeasure over this occurrence.

Henry came and started the attempts to get the snake out of the washer - it didn't want to come. It opened its mouth very wide and began trying to strike at Henry . . . not a good sign.

I found Jonathan because I thought this was a site worth seeing - a once in a lifetime sight actually . . . Since the bar-b-que tongs were not working to remove the snake, Jonathan came up with the idea of using a loop of rope. Using an old closet dowel rod and a metal hook and some string, Henry caught the snake in the loop and with some difficulty dislodged the snake from the washer. Definitely a large snake - four foot - triangular head, had it not been poisonous we would have released it down by the pond. Safely releasing a venomous snake seemed more difficult as well as leaving a potential danger around our household, so . . . . with grief, we dispatched said snake.

Now . . . my adrenalin level is dropping. Henry is NOT going to show the photo of me standing on the chair while he worked on getting rid of the snake.

The mystery: how did the snake get into the washing machine? We think that while Jonathan was exercising on the treadmill that the noise scared the snake while it was inside the garage (we know we have snakes out there regularly because we find the snake skins). It must have scooted inside the door and then climbed up in the washer. I don't see how it could have come up through the water lines - too large.

You can bet I'll be checking the washing machine for snakes every time I open it now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pioneer Farm

One of the things I really enjoy at Christmas is the Jourdan-BachmanPioneer Farm's Candelight Christmas. The country store is not only a great place to buy handcrafted Christmas gifts, there were Christmas carolers as well.

There were musicians at the 1886 James Bell Homestead.

I have to confess that I go to get photos for my Christmas cards.

From the 1871 Frederick Jourdan homestead:

From the 1867 Frederick Krueger homestead;

Finishing the evening by the warm outdoor fire at the Krueger homestead was wonderful. Crisp cold air . . . warm fireplace glow . . .

Pioneer Farms' Candlelight Christmas will continue December 12th and 13th. On Friday, December 19th the Biscuit Brothers will host a Christmas Concert at the Farm.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway - Meadows of Dan

The Meadows of Dan makes a great stopping point along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tend to want to spend the night there because it is the closest place to spend the night near Mabry Mill. Getting up for sunrise photos is MUCH easier when you are close to your subject. We've stayed at the Meadows of Dan RV park and thought it was a nice place. This time we stayed at the Blue Ridge Motel. It is an older hotel, but the owners were very friendly and it also made a good place to stay. Our ATT cell phone service had no signal and we had no internet, but for one night in this area it was worth it.

We had dinner at the Mountain House Restaurant. They served a great buffet of "home cooked" food.

The Poor Farmer's Market is a must stop. Not only was there fresh produce - squash, apples, pumpkins, tomatoes, etc, but inside the store was Amish fresh churned butter, jellies, fresh baked goods, fresh local cheeses, specialty teas, etc. I spent thirty minutes wandering through the store and we left with breads and crisp sweet apples. If we had been in the RV, I would have bought both cheese and the churned butter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mabry Mill

Mabry Mill is probably one of the most photographed locations. Although I've been there at sunset, it is really a sunrise or cloudy day place because the best vantage point to catch both the mill and the pond is from the east looking west. The last time I was there, I was the only photographer out. This time, I was a late comer to a group of photographers that were part of a workshop. They had obviously been there awhile and were everywhere trying to get the best angle. I had overslept and realized quickly that I had probably already missed the "best" light. The sun was already catching the trees behind the mill - so the exposure difference between the trees and the mill was too great for the sensor. So I shot for HDR - basically three or more exposures one stop apart until I could get the background trees exposed and the darkest areas around the water wheel. Right now I'm working shots both with Photomatix and the HDR function of Photoshop. This time the Photoshop version just didn't work even after two tries. But the Photomatix version had its issues as well - there was a blown out area in the water where the blue sky was too bright. The yellow reflection in the water from the trees was also too bright. When shooting foliage, photomatix also can make the leaves look not quite sharp enough. So, I used a dodge and burn technique to tone down the bright yellow reflection. I cropped out the reflected sky. I created a duplicate background layer so I could sharpen the trees and leaves more. And then on the dodge and burn layer, I add just a little bit of warm color to brighten every thing.

The light was changing fast and the lighting on the mill was going to be speckled - too much difference between the bright early morning sun and the shadows from the trees. While I was a little frustrated that I had not gotten there earlier, I took time to do some panoramic shots. Because we were trying to follow foliage, I knew we couldn't stay in the area another day for a reshoot. I needed to get to the Great Smokies before the foliage there was all gone.

I'll be playing with the shots I did take for awhile. Here is one taken when the sun was a little higher. It is actually a stitch of two photos that I've turned into digital art using Topaz Vivacity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of lovely driving. No stop signs, no stop lights, just smooth cruising through beautiful scenery. Designed and built in the 1930's, construction started in 1935. Most of the construction was completed by 1967. The last 7.5 miles were completed in 1987. The Linn Cove Viaduct was specially built to prevent cutting through a beautiful stretch of ancient mountains. To read more about the amazing engineering of this elevated road, go to the Blue Ridge Parkway Association's webpage.

We usually spend about three days going down the Parkway. Our very first visit to the Parkway was in the 1970's. We had a very limited amount of time. We were coming up from the south and got as far as Mount Mitchell. From the top of Mount Mitchell, there was a sea of clouds that was just beautiful. However, the Parkway became engulfed in fog, we finally had to descend to the valleys because there was no visibility even for driving much less sight seeing. We've been back several times since and it is truly beautiful.

One of the nicest things about this road is that it follows the ridges, so there are many opportunities to look down to the valleys below from the overlooks. However, I find that while the view is gorgeous, it is difficult to photograph. Each of the overlooks is "maintained" by regularly trimming the trees that keep trying to grow into the view. That makes it difficult sometimes to get a "clean" image. Because you are on top of a ridge, you can see long distances. But I find it also makes it hard to get good sharp images of the details in the distance.

Here is one of my attempts to capture the beauty from one of the overlooks:

When I view this image at the pixel level, it does not match my standards for sharpness anywhere. However, I liked the image with the patchwork of farms and pastures in the valley, so I played with the Topaz sharpening filter. It worked better for this purpose when I had resized the image. I think I prefer this artistic version. You may need to click on the images to get a larger version to see better the effect:

I tried to take advantage of the trees that were on the ridge by the road. I focused on the leaves of the tree on the right. I think this image works except for one branch in the middle foreground that I could not quite find an angle without it.

One last image for today, the fall colors were gorgeous:

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Real Story behind the Wizard of Oz

I read many things every day. I follow some threads on webpages and not others. Following an interesting thread, I found an interesting analysis about the original work that the movie, "The Wizard of Oz" was based on the Minyanville website. The entire article is good reading for those trying to figure out what the stock market may do next, but science fiction and fantasy fans and other people who like to read books may find the analysis of L Frank Baum's economic and political commentary on his times quite interesting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ike - Integrated Kinetic Energy and Hurricane Ike

The Galveston County News has an article today by their weather reporter, Stan Blazyk, about the IKE scale - worth reading. Hurricane Ike measured a 5.6 on the scale of 1-6 on the Integrated Kinetic Energy scale. (Another article I read said Hurricane Ike measured 5.4 - still larger than Katrina) Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma only measured 5.1. While I never found the reference in Weatherwise, he mentions that Hurricane Ike was designated as the largest hurricane ever in the North Atlantic Basin. Weatherwise also has an interesting article about a reporter who followed Gustav. Hunting Gustav: A Broadcast Meteorologist's Diary which noted that the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Ike both connected with cold fronts and re-strengthened over the midwest. It is an interesting read.

If you are interested in reading more about the Ike scale, Stan Blazyk's article provided two links. A Google search for the Ike Scale also came up with more interesting articles that have been written since Ike. I suspect that in the future, hurricane forecasters will be using the newer Ike scale in addition to the Saffir-Simpson scale to give a better sense of how much damage a given storm will produce.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Galveston Update

Since Hurricane Ike, I read the Galveston County News every day. It's been almost two months. During that time, our nation has faced an enormous economic crisis that came to a head during Hurricane Ike's visit. We've had a historic Presidential election that was hard fought and demanded everyone's time and attention. When we took our fall foliage photo trip, I heard tales from people in Ohio and Kentucky who were so surprised that Hurricane Ike had brought damage and lost power so far from the gulf.

When we were on the island right after Ike, I was impressed with how rapidly help arrived. Army helicopters were making rescues the morning after. Texas State Troopers were lined up to help keep order. HEB sent semi tractor trailer rigs with water and ice. The state of Texas had contracts with truckers who also brought in ice and water. FEMA vehicles, Wal-mart Emergency Team, fire departments from all over Texas had come to help. People who had remained in Galveston were having bar-b-ques to use the meat in their freezers. We could hear generators running at some homes. Some people had already pulled out the wet carpet and padding and they were on the street ready to be hauled away. Some of the historic houses already had water remediation contractors checking things out. National Guard soldiers were checking homes for victims and engineers were already assessing damage. When we left as we drove up I-45, we saw the army of utility cherry picker trucks that had come to restore electricity. While there were complaints (aren't there always), I left Galveston knowing that already things were getting going.

Of course, the bad news was that the Mayor had decided not to let residents return to start their own cleanup. Yes, port-a-potties are unsightly, but . . . I can't help but wonder if people had been allowed in (as was the norm before) quicker, if the damage costs would have been less for a large number of people. Some of the less affluent folk were not even allowed back into their units to salvage belongings that might have survived (plates, jewelry, things that don't mold, mildew or rust.) I know the army has big trucks that carry potable water - I think it would have been possible to let people back in so that they could at least inspect their property and do damage control quickly.

As I've read the news every day, I'm impressed by the strong will that many businesses have to get their business cleaned up, restocked, and open again. Many businesses are open, there are grocery stores, restaurants, hotels that are ready for business. The hotels are full, but as the FEMA vouchers run out, that may not continue.

But Galveston is out of sight, out of mind. People either think that everything is "back to normal" or they think the entire city was wiped out. Neither is true. At the time, I was amazed at how many residences behind the seawall looked so normal. I am amazed now that there was so much damage that was not easily visible in just a casual drive through. I wonder how many homes will be torn down either due to the amount of damage or because they were more than 50% destroyed and cannot be repaired without being elevated to the new flood guidelines. I was glad to hear that homes older than 50 years may qualify as "historic" and will be able to rebuilt even if the damage is over 50%. I grieve and worry about homeowners whose damage may have been 60%, the insurance will pay 60%, but the building codes for the flood insurance require that they be destroyed. Some of those homeowners will only receive the 60% which may not pay off the mortgage. They'll have a mortgage with no home to live in. The Small Business Administration may provide loans, but now is not the time to be trying to get a mortgage.

The picture is really mixed right now. I've heard that Murdoch's Bathhouse will be allowed to rebuild (Hurrah!!!!), but the cost seems astronomical to me. Some folks are working hard and trying to get on with their lives. For others, they are caught in a nightmare. Their homes are unliveable. FEMA assistance is running out. Some having been living in a communal tent for the last few weeks and have been moved from one tent to another. Temporary housing trailers ahave been delayed because no one can figure out where to put them on the island. In an ideal world, the this type of housing would be temporary and would need to be removed before the next hurricane season. This is not an ideal world. So . . . the temporary trailers have not yet arrived to alleviate the housing shortage.

The University of Texas Medical Branch was heavily damaged from the storm. They have just announced the loss of 3800 jobs. They are talking about downsizing the hospital and perhaps moving many of the functions of the medical branch to Austin.

The taxing authorities on the island are worried about the loss of tax revenue. While they could have reappraised based upon the value for the months before the hurricane and for the value of the property after the hurricane, they are not going to reappraise for this tax year. However, next year, they will have to reevaluate based upon the current value or lack thereof.

There are valid concerns that over the last few years that the rising property values and rising taxes, that the middle class were being priced out of Galveston. Galveston's low income housing was hard hit. It will still take time for the business to reopen and provide the job that these folks sorely need. Low income families lack the resources to replace their lost belongings, to relocate, or to afford the hotel rooms after the FEMA money runs out.

Galveston has been a unique place because it has been a living community will all incomes represented rather than just a resort community. Only time will tell if that will be true after Ike.

I have not been back to Galveston since Ike, but Bill Crider has been down there and posted some photos. When we were there the streets around the Strand were empty, when Bill was there they were filled with debris from the businesses.

Martha Wells has also blogged about the current state of affairs. Not a pretty picture.

Now, I realize that this has been a long blog, but this article from the Fort Worth Weekly is a must read.

I don't know what my little blog can do to help keep Galveston and its issues in people's hearts and minds. Perhaps the people who think we should not have towns on barrier islands are correct. But I've been visiting Galveston island for a very long time. It is a special place. I think we need to find better ways to help the people who are trying to rebuild.

Creativity and Photography

There are so many ways to be creative with photography in the digital age. I am a firm believer that it is important to capture an image as well as you can to begin with - I don't shoot with the thought "I can fix it in Photoshop." But I also enjoy exploring the creative things you can do both "in camera" and in Photoshop that take an ordinary scene and make it something beautiful.
As I work through the images I took on our fall trip, I ran across this one. Taken at the beginning of our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway, this beautiful fall tree drew my attention, called to me.

The sun was cooperating by hiding behind a clouding, so that if I waited patiently I could get soft lighting. The rocks seemed an interesting foreground. The catch: the wind was blowing just enough to cause some motion blur of the leaves in places at my preferred ISO 100 for landscapes. I played a little in photoshop to get the rocks nicely exposed and then did a little bit of dodging and burning to make the tree look "good."

I found that it seemed pretty, but perhaps ordinary.

I purchased Topaz Adjust and Topaz Vivacity during the summer. After playing around with the Adjust filter, I went over to Vivacity and came up with this version:

I went back to the original and played around with the Photoshop artistic filters to try to find an artistic effect that would work with this shot. Then I went back to Topaz Vivacity to get the finished look I wanted.

After posting this, I added even more saturation to bring out more of the reds.

I think I like this last version the best, because it keeps the deep reds in the tree, but still gives this a more painted look.
Which one do you like best?

To get the full effect of these photos, you can click on each one and get a larger view.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New River Gorge National River

As a country we have set aside a number of river areas as National Rivers. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways was the first, set aside in 1964. More have been added under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)

Some of these rivers are managed by the National Park Service, some by Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and others National Forest Service. There are a number that are in partnership with other state and local agencies, Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers.

When looking for something to visit on our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we chose the New River Gorge National River in southern West Virginia. I gave myself a day to scout out the area and I definitely would like to go back and spend more time exploring the area. It is a unique river in North America, because it flows north!

We woke up to a cloudy, somewhat wet morning.

We started at the Grandview area. The overlook of the gorge was obscured by the fog, but the forest was lovely in its partially obscured state. The foliage was past its peak, but the fallen leaves left a beautiful carpet underneath the trees.

We ate a picnic lunch by Glade Creek - sitting on rocks by the boat launch. There were these amazing insects that moved by the thousands along the water creating ripples. Along the road to the Glade Creek campground, I saw my first Downy woodpecker. It is one of the smallest woodpeckers - I would not have realized it was a woodpecker if I had not had the binoculars to see it more clearly.

New River Gorge has four visitor centers - Canyon Rim, Sandstone, Thurmon Depot, and Grand View. Canyon RIm and Sandstone are open year round. Canyon Rim is right near the beautiful New River Gorge Bridge, the world's second longest single arch bridge. We were not there for dramatic enough lighting for me to venture a photo (yes, I've gotten bad, if I can't get a good or great photo, I don't take one at all - silly me) The next day was going to be "Bridge Day." The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and fills with pedestrians. Activities include Base jumping, rappelling, and high line, and rafting below. Naturally vendors supply food and refreshment as well as souvenir shirts, crafts, and photos, etc. While this might be a fun thing to attend another year, our time was limited and I was glad we happened by the day before rather than the day of the event.

We went from the falls area over to the Thurmon historic district. I had seen a backroads route that I wanted to explore. We found the beautiful Dunlap Creek:

Some parts of my backcountry route definitely fit in the "road less travelled' category, but it was a great road to be pretty much by yourself in a beautiful outdoor area. It was also a great place to create more of these artistic images that I have not come up with a great name for. I liked this one because of how the small tree shows up with its brilliant yellow foliage.

While I did not find that "perfect" place to photograph the New River, I did stop at the end of the day to get at least a few shots at the river level.

The next morning we went over to the Sandstone Visitor Center. This is a new, very beautiful Visitor Center - well worth the stop. We saw the Sandstone Falls from the road. It was a long hike down and it was a bright sunny day, so we continued our journey south following the foliage.

I would love to come back to this area and spend a week both exploring and trying to wait for those perfect lighting moments.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Circular Polarizing Lenses

My circular polarizing lens lives on my camera. I only take it off when I am taking photos inside. A polarizing lens works a lot like your polarized sunglasses - blocking reflections and glare. But in the camera the actual effects are much more obvious in your finished product. On our trip, I was out one foggy, damp morning. I have two shots here: one with the polarizer, one without.

I have not done any color adjustments on these - they are straight out of camera. This first shot does not look too bad, you can see the fall colors carpeting the ground.

But notice how much richer and more saturated the colors are with the polarizer. The polarizer removes the reflections from the damp leaves, leaving the colors deeper and richer.

On this next pair, I did do an exposure adjustment, but notice how the glare on the rocks goes away with the polarized image. This first one - not polarized:

Notice how much more the leaves show up on this one, where the glare from the wet rock is gone.

On this next pair of images, the glare on the wet rocks gives it a different look - I almost like the reflection on the wet rocks.

However, I really like how the leaf shows up better with richer color on the polarized version.

When shooting for blue sky and clouds, a circular polarizer works better when you are shooting at a a 90 degree angle from the sun. So if the sun is in the west, the polarizer will be most effective if you are shooting to the north or south. One way to see this for your self is to face north and turn the polarizer so the sky is that deep rich blue. Now turn all the way around watching the sky and how it changes. At some positions, the sky will be darker on the left or right. This is why if you are shooting panoramic shots, it is better to take the polarizer off. And if you are shooting directly away from the sun, you may also want to leave the polarizer off to keep the sky's color even rather than darker on one side. You can always deepen the blue using Selective Color in Photoshop. But most times, it is better to use the polarizer to get the color and the beauty of the clouds.

A polarizing filter also can amplify a rainbow. When you play with your polarizer with a rainbow, you'll see that at one setting, the rainbow disappears and then reappears as you twist the lens. The same is true with certain water reflections.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Tomorrow is Election Day here in the States. Regardless of who you are voting for, please search your heart, take time to cast your vote for the candidate that you think most represents what you believe should happen in the next four years.

Each one of us will have a different "agenda," different most important issues, different viewpoints based upon our life history.

I hope and pray that God is touching our hearts as we prepare to vote. I can't claim wisdom as to which candidates would be God's choices. But I do believe that God is still alive and active in the world. My prayer is that God guide our hearts and minds as we as a nation vote. When the results come in tomorrow night, I will pray that we as a country unite together and work together as a team to meet the challenges that our politicians will face the next four years. We have to move beyond the partisanship of an election year to find workable solutions for the current issues our country faces.

The right to vote has been won by many warrior's deaths and by courageous people who stood up for what they believed to be right. Go exercise that privilege tomorrow and appreciate the ones who have gone before that made it possible for you to have a voice in your government.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Falls at Dunloup Creek

One of my goals for this trip was to find great fall scenes. I paid particular attention to the creeks and rivers hoping to find something that I could do really creative things with. When I first saw the waterfalls at Dunloup Creek in the New River Gorge National River area, I could hardly get out of the car fast enough. At first I was frustrated because there were branches in the way of my view and I did not immediately see a way to get a clear view. Henry found a way that I could get the views I wanted.

While I did not shoot in any particular order, my goal was to get the big picture and then to find ways to photograph smaller portions of the fall in a more intimate view.

I used my 24-105mm lens with a polarizing filter to get the "big picture." I had it set at 35mm rather than the full 24mm wide angle because there were distracting elements that I did not want in the photo.

I zoomed in for a closer view at 47mm:

I changed to my 100-400 and moved the polarizing filter over. This one was shot at 100mm:

Now, look back at the "big picture." Do you see that very tiny double waterfall at the top. With the 100-400mm zoomed out to 320mm, that small cascade takes on a life of its own.

I probably spent an hour or more here, trying to find all the possible compositions. While none of these images are HDR, I was also shooting for HDR - so each composition had at least 3 exposures to be sure I had gotten the water action I wanted as well as the exposure on the rocks and fallen leaves. I was lucky that the weather was cloudy - so my lighting for this was nice and even. I could not have asked for anything better.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Creative Images

When I'm shooting for these creative images, I take a lot of images that just don't work. I get just enough intriguing ones that it keeps me trying this technique.

This one came from the New River Gorge National Scenic River area. To me this one came out looking a lot like my sister-in law, Mary Solomon's pastel imagery.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Autumn Impressions

I don't have time to do much of a blog tonight - I've got to get up early to do sunrise at a cypress swamp in the morning. But . . . here is another of my "creative" images. I have not figured out a catchy name for them, yet. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Michigan Fall Colors

As we drove through the Upper Peninsula, the colors were just gorgeous. Sometimes I felt like I was in a fall fairy land!! Sometimes, the forest just glowed yellow!

These were shot on the road going toward Eagle River. There was color everywhere!

We went up to Brockway Mountain. It is a beautiful drive. The weather was not conducive to great photos - too hazy and dark, but the view of the colorful fall trees and Lake Superior is gorgeous.

Here are some shots at a different angle at the top of Brockway. Even on a dull cloudy day the colors were amazing.

I'm also playing with artistic creative images that you get straight from the camera. I've tentatively named this one: Whimsical Fall.

Presque Isle River - at the Isle

The next day I came back to the Presque Isle. I started at the Island on the bridge. The bridge is a suspension, wooden bridge. Anytime you walk on it, it sways both up and down and a little to the side. As a photographer, I've learned a lot of patience. Sometimes it is waiting for the optimum light as a cloud passes over. This time it was timing my shots when no one was walking on the bridge.

I spent a lot of time here - I wanted to get the big picture shot:

This is actually a large, flowing area, one of the channels around the island. I shot that one with my 28-105mm landscape lens. While it does show the big picture, it also makes this large powerful river look small. Even the large trees in the background don't give a good feel for the size.

I also wanted to find the smaller, more intimate looks.

I pulled out my 100-400mm lens to get a better shot of the rapids at the top of the first image. This is up at the top, you can barely see it in the "big picture."

I changed location on the bridge and was fascinated with the way the river water and the rocks had worn jig-saw puzzle shapes into the bedrock.

I was also looking for places where I could get both the stream action and the hint of the fall colors:

I found this composition illustrated the flowing lines and I still got a fall leaf:

This last shot is a really close up, almost a macro shot:

I won't decide which are my best images from this area until I get home. I'll be looking for which images have all the leaves sharp, rather than the motion blur that occurs as a gentle breeze comes through. I also shot for HDR (high dynamic range) which lets me get good exposures for the brightest areas and the shadowed parts.