Sunday, July 31, 2011

New Rig, New Band...

A week ago yesterday, I broke down and made the jump to "full frame" with my photo gear. I picked up a "pre-pampered" (my term; feel free to use it) Canon 5D. I've been wanting to get a full frame body for a while, and the required aspects of availability, willingness, and funding all fell into place in one great big karmic cacophony of "do it".

So I did:


The new rig (with the Canon 85mm f/1.8)...

It's roughly the same size as my Canon 40D and my 20D (which has been, well, let's say "adopted" by my daughter), so it feels good and solid and substantial. The difference, of course, is the size of the sensor. I won't bore you with the techie stuff, but will just say that the lenses act like they should, as opposed to having an increased sense of "zoom". I guess, somehow, I'm hoping for some magical bolt of inspiration to hit me, I guess.

I've taken a few "test shots" with it since I got it, but I haven't really had the opportunity to really cut loose with it. I'm hoping that changes, starting tonight. I'll be in Saratoga Springs, New York, shooting my good friends Barenaked Ladies and, if I'm lucky, Goo Goo Dolls. I'm anxious to see how the 5D performs at higher ISO settings and varying lighting conditions.

Tomorrow, I'll make a run up to Montreal for the week. I'm not sure how much shooting I'll do with it in Montreal because, well, I've probably photographed Montreal more than any other city in Canada. I probably won't be able to resist the temptation, though. A lot of what I've shot with the 40D and the G12 are shots I think I might like to have taken with the full-frame 5D, so I'd say there's a better than average chance of the 5D finding its' way into the Vieux Port at some point.

But, before that, it's off to a show tonight to see how it handles a concert situation. I'll certainly post some examples...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Battle Continues...

As I mentioned a few entries ago, I'm setting my sights on a trip to Peru next summer. I've been asked to join a church mission to photographically document the work that they're doing, and have been doing, in a small village that you're not likely to find on Microsoft Streets & Trips.

My original 2012 calendar has sold some copies, and for that I'm grateful. But I thought that, maybe, some folks might like something different. To that end, I'll be creating a series of different calendars. This first "new" one highlights auto racing, and I've already got a good deal of positive feedback on it.

You can order the original for $26.99 (there's a discount on that one), or this one for $29.99. Remember, every penny of profit goes towards next years' excursion to Peru.

You can order the new calendar by clicking THIS LINK, or by using the link on the right.

And, hey, even if the Mayans were right, you're still gonna' need to get through three weeks of December next year, so why not?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Last Two Days...

Originally, we'd planned to spend three days in Yosemite National Park. The reality, though, is that we'd see as much as we could, within reason, during those first two days that a third trip would've resulted in us spending more time in areas we'd already been. Not that doing that would've been a bad thing, but it would've been a little redundant.

So, on Thursday, we opted to just hang out at Andy's He's got some nice digs in Bass Lake, so it wasn't too much of a struggle deciding to just hang out for the day.

After a while, we decided to head up to Bass Lake (the actual lake, not the town), and take Andy's two dogs out for a bit. Kazumie (not sure of the spelling on that one) and Kona are two rather mild-mannered dogs who love just hanging out in the great outdoors.

Kona and Kazumie. Hangin' out...

Bass Lake stretches four miles from one end to the other, and is about a half a mile at its' widest. It's also a tourist paradise this time of year. The lake was filled with every kind of imaginable watercraft, from jet-skis to power boats. There were folks sunning on the beach, and swimming in the shallows. It was, in a word, idyllic from a Chamber Of Commerce point of view.

Bass Lake

Bass Lake

I have to be honest, I don't get out into what would be considered "nature" too often these days but, after this week, and after the afternoon at the lake, I could probably get used to it. I enjoyed hanging out at the lake, and I even took the time to represent the home team:

Me at Bass Lake...

Hanging out with Andy and the dogs at Bass Lake...

We left the lake about 3:45pm, and took a drive up to the town of Mariposa. about a half hour away. We just wanted to check out some of the smaller towns. Martiposa has a population of 2,173 so, while considerably larger than Fish Camp, it's considerably smaller than the closest town to Bass Lake, which is Oakhurst.

It's a quaint little mountain town that was originally a mining camp. Now it's half hometown and half tourist destination. We spent some time walking through the various tourist-oriented stores, and were dismayed to find that what appeared to be the only bar in town, the 49'er Club, was closed. It was pretty warm, especially on that side of the street with the sun, and a col, frosty adult beverage would've been nice. C'est la vie, I suppose.

The 49'er Club in Mariposa, California...

After the drive back to Andy's, he proceeded to flex his muscle in the kitchen, making an incredible dinner which, frankly, was the best of the entire trip.

The next day, Friday, brought with it the prospect of the drive back to San Diego. It ended up being a much longer drive than I thought. I figured it would be a little over six hours, but the traffic we ran into, trying to avoid Los Angeles, was incredible. It really makes me appreciate what we consider to be "traffic" in San Diego.

So, this trip came to a close. Goodbyes were said and parting photos were taken.

Until next time, or course...

Me with the most gracious host, Andy Platfoot. I don't know why we did the pointy-finger thing...





Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yosemite National Park - Day 2

Our second day in Yosemite wasn't nearly as eventful as our first, at least from a personal injury perspective, but it was no less eventful, and probably more so, from a sight-seeing perspective.

The day started at 3:05am, with the alarm on my iPhone blaring away in the night. I'd only gotten about three hours sleep, and it wasn't long before I was wishing I'd had just a bit more. But that wasn't going to happen, so I embraced the idea of "Hell Day" and muscled on.

"Hell Day" is what the second day became known as. We would start early and try to see as much as we could. The day was to start with a sunrise shoot at Tunnel View.

Now, I should preface all of this by saying that the day started out sans coffee. Andy has a coffee pot, but it takes no less than a full understanding of a doctoral thesis in mechanical engineering to figure out how to use it. For that, I had neither the patience nor the time. Unfortunately, Clem hadn't yet opened the Fish Camp General Store by the time we were driving by, so we would have to wait until we got down into the Village, some hours later, before we would be caffeinated.

And I don't really know if the guy at the general store was really named Clem, but he should've been.

We arrived at Tunnel View around 4:45am, and I quickly unloaded the trunk of the car and got set up. It was still dark when I was ready, so I spent the time talking Milo, another photographer from San Diego. Before we knew it, the sun was starting to rise, and we were shooting.

The sunrise shoot wasn't all I'd hoped for. The sun actually rose from behind El Capitan, which made for some undesirable lighting. Be that as it may, I was determined to make the best of it. I'll be 49 years old soon, and it's taken me all this time to get up here, I wasn't about to not make the best of it.

Even before the sun came up, though, it was obvious just how impressive a sight the Yosemite Valley offered. As the sun started to sneak over the horizon, you could make out Half Dome in the distance. Slowly, Bridal Veil Falls came into view as the silhouette of El Capitan became more pronounced. No, it wouldn't matter how bad the lighting was. This was a lifetime event unfolding before me.

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. On the left is El Capitan. In the center of the shot, in the distance,
is Half Dome. On the right, below Cathedral Rocks, is Bridal Veil Falls...

The sun peeks around the granite monolith that is El Capitan...

It was awe-inspiring to just sit there and watch the valley come into view. This is one of the views which inspired people like Ansel Adams to preserve the view on film, and people like John Muir to dedicate his life to protecting it.

After the sun was up, it was time to eat. We'd already gone far too long without coffee, now the lack of sustenance was beginning to rear its' ugly head. We headed down to the Ahwahnee Hotel to seek out a restaurant.

The Ahwahnee Hotel is a National Historic Landmark, and is a four diamond resort next to Yosemite Village. Its' location could not be more perfect but, be forewarned: If you're going to stay there, you're going to pony up a minimum of four bills a night. Sure it's a nice hotel, but, wow.

We ventured into the hotel and decided to walk around a little before we had breakfast. The place is massive, and grand in every detail. Walking through the "sitting room", it's easy to see why this hotel has played host to Presidents and Kings:

The interior of the Ahwahnee Hotel. The fireplace at the end of the room is almost seven feet tall...

Walking around was nice but, with stomach's grumbling, it was definitely time to eat. The place is high-class all the way, but you can imagine my surprise when I was asked by the hostess if I had reservations. For breakfast. My lack of a reservation didn't serve as an impediment, though, as we were quickly greeted and, for the love of God, got to have some coffee.

Even the dining room (well, this one) was grand in its' scale. The room was immense and, despite my initial need for a reservation, empty tables were plentiful. The room was a study in rock and exposed wood, the motif keeping with the surroundings of Yosemite:

The largely empty dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel...

Now, if you've read my blog entries in the past, you'll know that I dig a good breakfast. There are few things in this world I enjoy more. And, sometimes, a damn good breakfast can be had for a relative pittance. For a breakfast like that, though, this is not the place to be. You see, the hotel and dining room aren't the only things here that are large in scale. The check, too, was actually more suited for a quick dinner in a mildly nice restaurant than for breakfast anywhere. Breakfast for two at the Ahwahnee? $56.95, with the tip.

For eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast and orange juice.

After breakfast, we decided we'd head over to the Village. We found the Village Visitor Center, which contained just about anything and everything you'd ever want to know about the Yosemite Valley. Everything from park stewards to geology was discussed on the walls of the displays, and much of what you would never know could be learned there.

Also featured was quite a bit of information on a gentleman by the name of John Muir. Had it not been for people like John Muir, it's likely that Yosemite National Park, as well as many other National Parks, would simply not exist. Muir was a naturalist at heart, and it was this drive which compelled him to see Yosemite Valley protected.

John Muir - Photo from Wikipedia

Muir first arrived in Yosemite in March of 1868, and it was Muir who who first brought Theodore Roosevelt to the Valley, to show him exactly that which, Muir was convinced, would suffer from the continued expansion of civilization. It was John Muir who petitioned Congress to protect such lands. It was John Muir who once stated that "No temple made with hands can compare to Yosemite. It is, therefore, John Muir who is considered to be the father of the National Parks System.

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. Photo: Library of Congress...

A bronze statue of John Muir in the Valley Visitor Center...

After walking around the Visitor Center for a time, we decided that we would head back to the car and continue on in our exploration. We stopped numerous times along the way; it was simply impossible not to. The opportunities for photos were simply never-ending. One of the more popular stops was the base of Yosemite Falls:


Taking a break on the way to Yosemite Falls...

Lower Yosemite Falls...

The view across from the entrance to Yosemite Falls...

After Yosemite Falls, we decided to venture to Glacier Point. I'd seen photos taken from there in the past, and I wanted the "photo op", as well. It was a long drive up from the Valley, along a winding, twisting narrow road. That drive, however, was rewarded by some of the most stunning views of the Yosemite Valley imaginable.

The first stop was actually about a mile before arriving at Glacier Point. Washburn Point offered a stunning view; simply stunning. Like Glacier Point, it offers a truly spectacular view of Half Dome, the Yosemite Valley and Tenaya Canyon:

Half Dome, a favorite subject of photographer Ansel Adams, as seen from Washburn Point...

After spending a bit of time at Washburn Point, we decided to head over to Glacier Point. The crowds were plentiful, and parking was at a premium. We lucked out, though, and were able to find a parking spot on our first swing through the lot.

Glacier Point is the more famous cousin to Washburn Point, but offering similar vistas. It's easy to see why, in May of 1903, John Muir saw fit to bring Theodore Roosevelt here during a three day hiking trip in Yosemite. From here, the scale of Yosemite takes on an aura which simply can't be had from the valley floor. This is Yosemite, and Muir saw that, appreciated that, and dedicated his life to protecting it:

Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, as seen from Glacier Point...

Shooting at Glacier Point. I had no idea my nose did that when I shot...

In all honesty, I don't know that I had much breath left in me after the trip to Glacier Point. Like so much else around the Valley, it simply took your breath away. Well, add to that how hot it was, and the hiking, and I could feel myself starting to wind down a bit. It wasn't "Vegas hot" (then again, very little is), but I could feel the burn on my skin and the sweat on my brow and neck. It was time to get back in the car and enjoy the cool of the air conditioner as we drove the 16 miles back down the mountain to the main valley road.

Once we arrived in Wawona, a "town" of 169 within the park borders, we pulled into a general store parking lot and got a sandwich and something to drink. We hadn't eaten since breakfast, and the lack of food was beginning to make us a bit testy. After eating, though, we felt far better, and looked forward to what would be our final stop in the park, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Mariposa Grove is about two miles to the right as you enter through the park's southern gate (everything else is to the left), and is a 20 minute ride on the park shuttle from where we'd stopped to eat. We got off the shuttle and made our way to the ticket booth to buy tickets for the Grove tram tour. I was beat and tired, and I wasn't about to go hiking through the Grove. The tram was $26.00 a head. It could've been $100.00 a head, and I still wouldn't have hiked the Grove; it just wasn't happening. And, to be frank, the tram was a great way to see Mariposa Grove.

These trees are, in a word, awesome. There's nothing else which comes close to describing them. Stretching into the sky to 300 feet, and are thousands of years old. Think about that for a second: thousands of years old. What other living thing has such longevity. This, alone, makes them incredible. While their height certainly compliments that, it's the circumference of these trees which is difficult to wrap your head around.

One tree, known as "The Grizzly Giant", has a base circumference of 96-1/2 feet. If you have a room in your house that's 20 feet by 20 feet, the base of this tree wouldn't fit in it. It's massive:


The base of "The Grizzly Giant"...

The Grizzly Giant is so big, it wouldn't fit in the frame of my trusty Canon G12. I don't know how far away I would've had to have walked to fit the entire tree in the frame, but I know I wouldn't have wanted to walk that far.

Now, consider this: at a whopping 209 feet tall, the tree has a total volume of 34,005 cubic feet. As impressive as that sounds, it makes it only the 25th largest living Giant Sequoia. There are 24 of them which are bigger.

Huge Giant Sequoias dot the landscape in Mariposa Grove, many of them having been given names such a "The Grizzly Giant" and "The Galen Clark Tree" (named after the first European to step foot in the Grove in 1857, and said to be the first tree he saw). One, known as the "Fallen Monarch", toppled over more than 300 years ago. Due to the Sequoia's natural resistance to decay, though, the remains of the tree are still stalwart and, like everything else in the Grove, big:

The "Fallen Monarch" in Mariposa Grove. The top of the root structure is over 30 feet from the ground...

After our visit to Mariposa Grove, it was pretty clear that we were done. It was going on 5:00pm on a day that started at 3:00am. It was "the day from Hell" only insofar as the length of it was concerned. Everything else that was seen and experienced was, quite frankly, heaven...

Nature Attacked Me - Yosemite National Park, Day 1

I travel a lot. It's part of my job, and I'm on the road often between March and November. As I've chronicled here, though, my primary travel takes place in Canada. I hate to say it, but I'm quite confident when I say that I've probably seen far more of Canada than I have the United States.

I want that to change and, this week, I'd like to think it's started to.

The week began on Sunday in Long Beach, California. A buddy of mine was getting married on board the Queen Mary. Ryan and I have been friends for ten years, and I wasn't about to miss it. The wedding was a LOT of fun, and a good time was had by all.

But my focus was, as it had been for the last couple of weeks, on what was to come. Monday brought with it a five hour drive from Long Beach to Bass Lake, just 15 miles south of the southern gate into Yosemite National Park. My friend, Andy Platfoot of the band Buck-O-Nine, has been extending an invite for some time, so I decided to finally take him up on it.

There would be no traveling into the park on Monday; we got to central California too late in the day for it to be truly worthwhile. But Tuesday... Ahhh, Tuesday.

While driving towards Yosemite, it was lost on no one that, thus far, there had been no coffee. Anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, knows that I'm a fan of coffee. Somewhere, I surmised, there had to be coffee.

I surmised correctly.

We entered the thriving metropolis of Fish Camp, population 200. This is where things finally began to look rather "Yosemite-ish". I don't know where everyone who lives in Fish Camp works, but I'm glad that one of them worked at the Fish Camp General Store. When it comes to a "general store", this place was the real deal. They had a little bit of everything, including coffee:

Fish Camp General Store...

With the caffeine jones addressed, it was time to head to the park. We pulled through the gates around 10:00am, and began the twisting, turning drive to the north. Every once in a while, we'd see a nice overlook or pass by a running mountain stream. It was at one of these; Alder Creek, to be exact, where nature attacked me.

Thankfully, I was only carrying the Canon G12. Halfway down the embankment to the stream, the National Parks gods decided to have their fun. My feet came out from under me and, as will happen when someones feet come out from under them, I became subject to the laws of gravity. Unfortunately, I became subject to those laws while plummeting towards the earth and an exposed tree root. It caught me right below the tailbone when I landed, and it hurt.

A lot.

The result was that I now have a rather pronounced bruise on my posterior. I also managed to mangle the inside of my left forearm and wrench my left shoulder. I suppose I was fortunate to stop the bleeding from my forearm when I did. I was beginning to feel a bit weak; light-headed, even. Hey, this is the wilderness, man, and bad stuff can happen if you're not prepared. Thankfully, I was able to call upon years of first aid training to immediately block out the pain I was in and treat the gaping wound on my forearm. As you can see, I was pretty damn lucky:

Gruesome, I know, but it has to be shown...

So, with my medical needs addressed, we decided to continue on. We drove along until we came to what's known as "Tunnel View". It's called that because, I guess, the view that you first see when you exit the tunnel through the mountain is simply indescribable. I can only assume that it has the same affect as when someone seen the Sistine Chapel for the first time. It is, quite simply, awesome, and I'm sorry to say that my pictures simply don't do it justice:

Yosemite Valley, as seen from Tunnel View. El Capitan is on the left, Half Dome
is visible in the distance, and Cathedral Rocks are on the right...

As you exit the tunnel, Yosemite Valley spreads itself out in a degree of grandeur which takes your breath away. We've all seen pictures of Yosemite Valley, taken by everyone from Aunt Midge to Ansel Adams. But there is simply nothing like standing there and seeing it for yourself.

This is why I wanted to make this trip. If I went the rest of the week seeing nothing else, this view, alone, was worth the drive.

From Tunnel View, we continued down into Yosemite Valley. All along the way, there were countless places to stop and shoot:

Yosemite Falls...
El Capitan, as seen from Bridal Veil Falls...

After stopping for the umpteenth time, we decided we should just head into the Village. Upon arriving in Yosemite Village, it becomes rather apparent that they don't want park visitors feeding the local wildlife:

Welcome to Yosemite Village. Don't feed the deer...
Don't feed the squirrels, either, or it'll cost you five grand...

After some lunch, we decided to head over to the Ansel Adams Gallery. While I can't imagine that there's anyone in this world who doesn't know who Ansel Adams was, I'll simply state that there's no one who captured more images of our National Parks, Yosemite among the most common subject, than Ansel Adams. When you put an image of Yosemite in your mind, it's more than likely an image created by Ansel Adams.

The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village...

The collection of images in the gallery was stunning, as was the collection of books available. Most impressive, though, were the original signed prints of Ansel Adams. The one I liked was a mere $45,000.00. Unfortunately, I didn't have that on me, so I guess that'll just have to wait for my next trip. Despite that, I still didn't get out of the gallery for less than a hundred bucks, but I see it as money very well spent.

After leaving the gallery, we decided we'd go ahead and start to make our way back to Andy's. Even this trip was not without numerous stops along the way. Simply put, there's always something to shoot in Yosemite Valley.

We started to find our way back up the mountain and, once again, at Tunnel View. We didn't stop this time, but decided to travel on. Even still, though, I couldn't resist taking another picture:

Leaving Tunnel View...

We found our way back to the house, and decided to go have dinner at Tenaya Lodge. If you ever find yourself four miles outside the southern gate of Yosemite National Park, I highly recommend you visit the restaurant "Embers" at Tenaya Lodge. The Filet Mignon was awesome, as was the Flaming Banana Desert Thing (okay, that's actually not the name of it, but it should be), better known as Bananas Diablo, we had for dessert.

After dinner it was back to the house, as Wednesday was going to bring an early start, with a sunrise shoot at Tunnel View...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Yosemite...

As much as I travel, the one downside of it is that the majority of it is in Canada. Don't get me wrong; Canada's great. I love it up there. But the simple fact is that my escapades in the United States are far more limited than those in our neighbor to the north. Even still, I try to travel here in the States as much as I can. That said, those opportunities are, sometimes, few and far between.

I'm originally from Long Island, New York. I can remember, when I was a kid, that going on a "trip" meant going to my Grandparent's house in Hopewell Junction, NY; about two hours away to the north. We called that "upstate" when, in fact, it was anything but. There's a whole lot more of New York to the north of Hopewell Junction than there is to the south. But, hey, we were kids. Two hours was an absolute eternity for us to sit in the back of a '65 Plymouth Belvedere.

That was, to us, "travel".

Of course, since then, I've managed to travel pretty extensively. It pains me when I think that I only truly got into photography long after much of my travelling was done. I would've loved to have had a digital SLR as I walked the streets of Quito, Ecuador or while exploring through the markets in Cartegena, Columbia. While I took many, many photos while in places like Kuwait City and Busan, South Korea, those images, long ago, found their way into a box which, apparently, doesn't want to be found.

But as much travel as I have under my belt, the vast majority of it has been outside our own borders. While I can see a certain romance about that, I suppose, the truth of the matter is that I feel as though I've been somewhat remiss in my travels throughout the country I call home. When I do travel in the United States, I tend to go to the same places. Hey, when I find someplace I like, why not go back?

Well, over the last couple of years, I've tried to step outside that box. My brother and I drove up the California coast to visit my friend Chris in Lafayette. On the tale end of a business trip, I went to Washington DC. I don't remember it being anywhere near as hot when I was last there as a ten year old. I've made a couple of trips to Texas; one to Dallas and one to Austin, and I've almost made a habit out of going to Florida at least once every year or two.

What I haven't done, though, is enjoy the trips I can make which are closer to home. Sure, the southern California coast is just about as perfect as it gets but, honestly, even that can get old after a while.

So, to that end, more trips are in order. More trips to new places. And that starts next week.

After attending a wedding on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the trip will head north to Yosemite. A good friend of mine lives just south of the southern entrance, and has extended an open invitation for about the last year or so. I finally decided to take him up on his offer.

I'd like to think that this is the first of many trips which are similar. For instance, I've never been to the Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone, or Mt. Rushmore. I'd like to see those one day. Other than to change planes at O'Hare, I've never been to Chicago. Nashville? It looks great in pictures, but those pictures are all taken by someone else. I've simply never enjoyed the opportunity. Maybe one day.

But, next week, "one day" will be Yosemite...

Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...