Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crop This

8x10, why must you be so square? Your frames and mattes are so readily available, and yet you are virtually useless when it comes time to make a wide landscape print. Your cousin, 8x12, is much more reasonable, and yet nowhere to be found at Michaels or A.C. Moore. If only Aaron Brothers hadn't moved out of Maryland, there might be some hope.

In case you haven't already guessed, I've been in the process of making a lot of prints lately. This seems to happen every year as the weather cools and more time is spent on my butt indoors. It's time to put down the camera and make use of all those photos taken during summer travels. Nostalgic, isn't it?

As for the 8x10 dilemma, perhaps I should just start shooting everything with a Mamiya 7 like Ben Roberts. Then again, he also shoots with an Xpan. :-)

By the way, here's a shot from last March during a special overnight trip to Rocky Gap State Park here in Maryland. It's called Sidling Hill. It's worth a brief stop if you find yourself driving along the I-68 corridor.

Sidling Hill

This is also one of the photos I had to painfully crop down to 8x10. While it does still work, I think the drama of the striations is significantly diminished. Luckily the trees are still there to provide some struggle.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Photojournalists, cover your ears (or eyes, in this case). This does not apply to you.

One of the interesting properties of landscapes is that they can usually be stretched horizontally without anyone noticing. Hills become more gentle, rocks become flatter, but there's nothing particularly odd about that, so most people never question it. Why do we care? Because this can be very useful for creating a panoramic image from a relatively square one.

Not only can the image be stretched, but it can be selectively stretched. Here's an example with a single image of Chelsea:

The top image is the original, full frame of the photo. Chelsea clearly wouldn't appreciate it if I'd simply widened the whole image (and her figure along with it). Instead I widened only the areas to the left and right of her by doing the following:

  • Resize the canvas (not the image) to the desired width.

  • Select the landscape to the left of her with the Marquee tool.

  • Edit -> Transform -> Scale...

  • Stretch the selected area to the left until it fills the left side of the canvas and press Enter.

  • Now do the same for the landscape to the right of her.

What I find amazing about this is that widened areas of the image blend right into the unaffected areas. It's a neat trick that can be selectively applied around people, trees, or any figure of known proportion. Give it a try!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Budds Creek

At some point last night, I was poking around flickr (again), and came across some cool motocross photos. Since the greater DC area seems to have just about everything, I figured there had to be some motocross racing around to shoot. Google revealed that Budds Creek Motocross Park was only about 90 minutes away. And wouldn't you know it, there were races this weekend. Perfect.

Before I was even through the gate, I could already tell that this was going to be different than my usual trips to Summit Point. They made everyone sign a waiver on entry, and with good reason; the motorcycles aren't just on the track. They share the pedestrian paths and tunnels throughout the park. Granted, the bikes aren't exactly quiet, but when there are dozens of them running around, some piloted by eight-year-olds, you better watch your back Jack.

For this trip, I'd brought along the trusty 1D Mark II, 17-40/4, 70-200/2.8, and 400/5.6. As you know, I prefer to pack light, but seeing as this was a new venue and sport for me, I figured I'd bring a wide range of lenses. It turns out that I used them all at one point or another. In a pinch, I probably could have done without the 400, but sometimes it's nice to compress the action and force extraneous details out of the frame.

The 1D Mark II is a beast of a camera. It's heavy and it doesn't have a lot of the standard features that have been added to cameras since 2003, but as a raw picture taking machine, it's very hard to beat. Nikon couldn't touch it until they came out with the D3 last year. I know this because my former D2H forced me to switch to Canon in 2005.

Sky Ride

I was also pleasantly surprised at how wide the 17-40/4 looked with the 1D's 1.3x multiplier. 17mm comes out to about 22mm, which is still wider than my usual 24-105/4. I kind of threw it into my bag as an afterthought, but I shot quite a few pictures though it. I guess that's also a testament to how close the action is at Budds Creek.

One last note, watch out for all the Amish buggies on MD-236. I didn't encounter any in the morning, but on the return trip, there must have been at least a dozen of them on the six mile stretch.

One Tree Hill

Shadow Chase

Monday, September 7, 2009

Unforgetting Philadelphia

It's easy to forget how close Philadelphia is to Baltimore. In some ways, it's closer than DC. Likewise, it's not too far off the path to New York City, and yet it continues to be forgotten. We finally put a stop to some of the ignorance on Sunday.

Even though this was mainly an exploratory trip, I can recommend that you check out the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.  You can walk all the way across on either side of the bridge, though the south side seemed more scenic.  You can get on where the bridge intersects with 5th Street on the Philadelphia side.

Also, The Bourse is worth a quick stop, even if you aren't looking for fast food. It's a former stock exchange floor with plenty of character remaining in its atrium.  Oddly enough, there's also a Mexican consulate located on the third floor.  If only it were a British consulate, then the irony would be complete.

Granted, we barely scratched the surface by mainly staying in the touristy historical sections of town, but we had to start somewhere.  Additional depth will have to wait until the next trip.  And now that we know how close it is, there will certainly be a next trip.


Sail Tour

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Botanical 50

I've been meaning to slap the 50/1.8 (thrifty-fifty) back onto the 5D for a while. Lately it seems like I've been shooting everything with the 24-105/4, but there's no substitute for getting back to basics. Yesterday I took the opportunity at the United States Botanical Garden. By using the 5D's monochrome Picture Style with a red (digital) filter, I was able to bring out some of the contrasty patterns in the plants. I can only imagine what could be done with a real macro lens.

The botanical garden is often overlooked in DC, but it's worth a quick stop. It's not that large, but has a great variety of plants and environments. I was expecting it to be deathly hot inside in the middle of summer (i.e. greenhouse effect), but it was surprisingly pleasant, especially in the dehumidified desert section.

National Building Museum

Made a stop at the National Building Museum yesterday. I'd been once in early 2005, and I've been meaning to go back ever since. This time I was shooting with a 17mm lens and a full-frame camera. Last time I was there, I had a 20mm lens on my trusty D2H; not what I could call ultra-wide. Even without a wide lens though, it's still got some great patterns and repetition that are just begging to be photographed. The daylight pours in through the building's enormous windows too, so you won't be hurting for photons.

We also had the good fortune of catching the museum's photography exhibits for Philip Trager and Camilo José Vergara. Trager's architectural photography was excellent, and the prints were very well executed. Vergara's exhibit of storefront churches was less about form and composition, and more about interesting subjects. Both are worth checking out.

Most tourists and locals completely miss the National Building Museum. If you find yourself in DC, you need to make a stop. It's just a few blocks north of the National Gallery of Art and the National Mall, so it's an easy (and safe) walk.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm will take your breath away. Just head south out of Anchorage along Alaska route 1 (Seward Highway) and you can't miss it. Be sure to stop at Beluga Point. Watch for whales and bore tides. Don't walk on the sand/silt, as the extreme tides can turn it into dangerous quicksand. Also stop at Bird Point. It's got some similar views, as well as displays that explain the scenery, whales, and bore tides.

Here are a couple shots I grabbed with my Xpan:

Beluga Point

Turnagain Arm

Alaska Gear

I think some people have been wondering what camera gear I took with me to Alaska, so here's a quick post to fill in the blanks:

I used a ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60 to carry everything but the tripod during the flights.  My Xpan Go Bag fit perfectly in the bottom.  Once I arrived, I put only what I needed for the day in my Kelty Basalt backpack.  The backpack itself was checked for the flights.  I kept my North Face rain coat in the bottom of the backpack to provide padding.

I think that about covers it.  Notice that there's no laptop in that list.  I did have my iPod Touch with me, but Internet access was fairly scarce.  I didn't go all the way to Alaska to browse the web though.

Now get packing!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Other Air and Space Museum

The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum is well worth the trip. My friend and I drove out there yesterday. It had been on my list of places to visit for far too long.

The museum was much larger than I expected. It's about the size of the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, but much more open.

As with all the Smithsonian museums, admission was free. Parking was $15 though, some of which probably gets kicked back to the museum. This gets no complaints from me; they deserve it. I think the parking fee is also there to discourage people from using it as a parking lot for Dulles Airport, which is literally right next door.

I was very impressed with the way they had all the aircraft lit. Most museums seem to be satisfied with harsh top lighting, but not here. They had the undersides and crevices illuminated so everyone could appreciate (and photograph) the details of things like air intakes and landing gear. If you ever want to learn how to properly light an aircraft, you need to check it out.



I was impressed with how many aircraft they'd fit into a single building, though it did get out of hand at times (see left). I was especially looking forward to seeing the Concord, but was disappointed to see that it had so many other planes encroaching on it. The SR-71 and Enterprise were very well presented though, and it was great to see them in all their glory. Other favorites included the F-14 Tomcat, F-35 Lightning II (STOVL), TDRS satellite, and the New Horizons probe.

All in all, I only wish I'd allocated more time, and that I'd brought a wider lens. I only had my usual 24-105/4 with me, but the 17-40/4 seems like it would have been very useful in some of those spaces. On the flip side, the image stabilization came in very handy in all that low light. I generally had to shoot at ISO 800 and was getting shutter speeds below 1/30. Thanks to the reciprocal rule, this should be fine at 17mm, but would be pushing it at 40mm.

Anyway, whether you bring your camera with you or not, don't put it off like I did. Go check it out!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Portage Lake

On August 6th, 2009, I had the opportunity to take the Gray Line tour of Portage Lake, south of Anchorage (map). From what I'm told, Portage Glacier is relatively small, as glaciers come. It looked big enough to me though. The deep shades of blue that were buried in the crevasses were amazing, even from a few hundred feet away. Overall the tour took about an hour. The tour is operated by a private company, but a Forest Service employee gives an excellent narration throughout the tour. It was a nice little side trip before I had to depart Alaska. I'd recommend it if you only have a little extra time in Anchorage.

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier

Friday, August 21, 2009


Ken Rockwell pointed out a simple way to get cool pictures of lightning with a point-and-shoot. With tonight's storms rolling through Baltimore, I thought I'd give it a try. I used my little Canon SD800 to get this shot about an hour ago.

Zap Zap Zap

The building that's second from left is the Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) building. I guess they know some secret about lightning, because it seems to rarely strike their building... Hmm.

Anyway, I set the camera in manual with ISO 80, tungsten white balance, and continuous shooting mode. The camera automatically selected a shutter speed of 1 second. I then propped the camera up on the window sill and held down until I got something cool. It really does work, so give it a try.

Also, I'm kind of excited about the S90. Let's hope its as good as everyone says.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier (trail head) is an easy, worthwhile stop south of Anchorage. It's very close to the Gray Line and Begich-Boggs Visitor Center. The trail is only about 0.8 miles long. It's a well-kept gravel trail that granny's motorized wheelchair could probably traverse. When you get there, don't be afraid to hike out across the rocks. Just don't get under any overhanging ice, as large chunks can break off and fall at random.


Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Essential Notepad

I was reading the Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing today, and it reminded me of something I've been doing since at least 2006... carrying a notepad and pen. I know what you're thinking, "Haven't you ever heard of a PDA?" Of course, but an electronic gadget is often more trouble than it's worth for quick notes. I can keep the notepad in my back pocket for an entire year, sitting on it day after day, without fear of breaking it. A notepad doesn't need batteries or a connection to the Internet cloud. It doesn't need to boot up. It doesn't crash. It's also got convenient history and messaging functions; turn back a page or pass a note.

Obviously, the other essential item is a pen. I prefer the Zebra F-301 blue or black pens. They look sharp, handle well, and haven't failed me yet. The pen lives in my the left pocket (I'm left handed) of my jeans, clipped to the top, near the back. It stays put surprisingly well too, ready for the quick draw. My Swiss Army Knife also has a pen, but it's small and awkward, so it's strictly a backup. As a side note though, I heard Swiss Army officers were originally issued knives to sharpen their quills for record keeping.

And as you can tell from my blog, I've got a ways to go on my travel writing...

Williwaw trail

Williwaw trail, near Portage, has one of the nicest boardwalks I've ever seen. We stopped there for my last night in Alaska. Along the trail there are great places for viewing salmon and local plant life. I was amazed how green the Alaskan summer was. The plants apparently have to take full advantage of what little summer they get. Overall the campground was nice too, though the provided fire pits didn't allow any air in from below. We just made our fire outside the pit instead.

Williwaw roots

Williwaw Trail

Williwaw Salmon

Williwaw Plants

Williwaw Bridge

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mount McKinley

In case you didn't know, Mt. McKinley is big. In some ways, it's bigger than Mount Everest. It's usually enshrouded in clouds, but on the second day of my trip to Denali National Park, it fully revealed itself. Luckily, this was also the day that I was on the park shuttle bus to Wonder Lake (more on that in another post).

Mt. McKinley

This uncropped shot was taken at 200mm on my 5D (full-frame sensor) from a distance of 33 miles, at Eielson Visitor Center. Thirty-three miles, and it still filled the frame. Those little mountains you see at its base are about 7,000 feet tall; not exactly small.

I'd thought about lugging my 400/5.6 on this trip, but it's probably better that I decided not to. There was quite a bit of haze in the air from regional forest fires, so there's only so much sharpness and detail you can achieve, no matter how long your lens is. I had to up the contrast quite a bit in this shot to get the level of detail you see now. Luckily, I remembered to expose to the right without blowing out all the highlights, so pulling back the color and contrast wasn't a huge problem when I got home.

If you make it up to Denali National Park, I hope you're lucky enough to see Mt. McKinley in all of its massively huge glory too. Happy trails.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pocket Ref

This is in no way related to Alaska, but I've been meaning to tell everyone about Thomas Glover's awesome little Pocket Ref. If you're planning to travel anywhere with less-than-stellar Internet availability (i.e. airplanes, Wyoming), then you need to drop a few bucks and get one of these. It's like having a little bit of Google, Wolfram Alpha, and Wikipedia in the palm of your hand. Want to know the difference between a cirrocummulus and a cumulonimbus cloud? Page 652 (with pictures). Want to know how to tie a blood knot? Page 537. Want to know the chemical composition of azurite? Page 342. Want to know how to convert from ounces to grams? Page 719. I could go on and on, but needless to say there's a lot of great stuff in this 5.6 ounce (158 gram) book. I found my copy at the bookstore hidden in with the dictionaries and thesauri. Check it out!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Savage Xpan

Ok, I've been bad about posting lately, but hey, I did just get back from Alaska. I plan to have several small posts about the trip in the coming weeks. I think it would take too long to write a huge post about the whole trip; just look at how long my PAGC post turned out to be.

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this shot I took through the viewfinder on my Hasselblad Xpan. It was taken at Savage Creek in Denali National Park a couple hours after sunrise. The yellow box in the middle is the parallax focus area. The mounted lens is the 45mm, which only blocks a small corner of the viewfinder.

Savage Xpan

In case you were wondering, the shot through the viewfinder was taken with my little Canon SD800 in macro mode. Pretty cool.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Denali Air

I'm sitting in the back seat of a Piper Chieftain. The pilot fires up the two props and taxis out to the end of the grass strip. A quick 180 points the plane toward Denali National Park.

Full throttle. The small plane rises so gradually, that it's difficult to tell whether we're still rolling on the grass. A quick glance down reveals that all is well. The tips of the tress are indeed below, and I'm suddenly glad that Piper blessed the Chieftain with two engines, not one.

The pilot banks west over Parks Highway, the Alaska route 3. We pierce the park's invisible wilderness boundary line and throttle back. Ground below, clouds above, Mt. McKinley ahead.

The headset clicks. Our ascent and pre-recorded audio tour is suddenly interrupted by the pilot. Dall sheep on the cliffs at 3 o'clock... not below, straight out the window. Perhaps I should reach out and grab some wool, but the comfort of the enclosed cabin makes me think twice. The pilot comments on the joys of flying below the clouds, between the peaks, now that the weather has cleared. Indeed.

Denali AirDenali Air

Surrounded by cliffs, glaciers, and mountain passes, our plane dips and banks to their every breath. My back and hips absorb the undulations as though I'm riding on the back of a horse. The lens hood on my 24-105/4 occasionally bumps the Plexiglass window in spite of my attempts at stability. As the vastness of patterns and colors outside reveal themselves, there are simply too many pictures to take. Image stabilization is a wonderful thing.

Denali Air

Denali Air

Suddenly, we've reached our destination. We're eye-to-eye with McKinley massif, or at least we should be. Clouds have moved in. The pilot offers to zoom us around to the west side of The Mountain in an attempt to get a clear view... for an extra $100 (each). A quick look at the clouds brings a quick consensus among the passengers. No thanks, McKinley can keep its cloudy reputation.

Our course dwells momentarily as the plane turns slowly east. We're graced with the same amazing cliffs, glaciers, and mountain passes on our return, and my 5D continues to click away. As we approach the runway, I switch to taking video with the SD800; no need to "turn off all electronic devices" here, thank you very much.

The landing is as smooth and gradual as the takeoff; much smoother than I've felt on most commercial airliners. The Chieftain rolls to a stop, and the pilot shuts down the right engine. After all, there's no need to taxi with two engines after a perfect landing.

The plane is returned to its patch of tarmac. The pilot turns around and finds nothing but smiling faces. He tells us a little about the plane. Its engines are overhauled every 2000 hours. It spends its winters (September to June) in Anchorage. Personsonally, I prefer to winter in Miami, but Anchorage seems sensible. The pilot also mentions that he's been flying at Denali for 27 years; almost my entire life. Good to know.

After some pictures next to the plane, we return to the car. As we drive back to Riley Creek campground, we agree that Denali Air was a wise choice over the ATV tour. $250, 45 minutes, 180 pictures, and an unforgettable perspective of Denali; sounds like a deal to me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon

For this year's 4th of July weekend, my girlfriend and I decided to get the flock out of the DC area and go camping at the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (PAGC) in Leonard-Harrison State Park. We were definitely in vacation mode this time around, so photography was less of a priority. There would be no getting up at the crack of dawn for sunrise pictures, nor would we be rescheduling dinner around the sunset. Nonetheless, the 5D was with me, along with my new-ish 24-105/4 L IS.

We hit the Rattlesnake Rock Trail on our first evening. This trail had a really deep, dark feel to it. The trees ascended the mountain on the west side of the trail, making the canopy seem particularly thick. The creek along the tail provided a nice clearing through the dense forest. The trail head also had a cool meadow, pictured below. Just don't go wandering too far off the trail, several people reported seeing rattlesnakes nearby. I guess the trail lives up to its name.

Rattlesnake Rock Trail

When we got back to the campsite, we decided to get the fire going. When we'd arrived around 1:30pm, most of the campsites were empty, and the park ranger said we were free to gather up as much wood as we wanted. The down side was that most of the wood had been left sitting out in mud and puddles for a while, so it was quite damp. The wood that was dry was often infested with a variety of ants. We were able to find a few good pieces though, and plenty of kindling. After persistently feeding the fire with kindling (along with the help of some lighter fluid), we finally got some hot coals to dry out more of the wood. The fire pits at Leonard-Harrison State Park are fitted with fold-over grates, which we used to hold up the cast iron skillet. After enjoying some pork chops, we hit the hay.

In spite of our best efforts to sleep in on this trip, we actually got up by 6am both mornings we were camping. The birds dutifully announced the sunrise, so we simply decided to get an early start on the trails. On the plus side, we didn't have to wait in line for the shower; there was only one for men, one for women, and one in the "family" restroom.

The second morning we decided it was time to hit the local tower overlook. When we got there, it was totally unmanned and looked about as rickety as a ride at a state fair. The entry gate was operated automatically via a credit card reader, which was somewhat unexpected given the tower's remote location. The charge was $3. I ended up having to swipe my card twice; I'd given the gate a half-push, which was enough to make it think I'd gone in, but not enough to actually move the gate. I'd recommend standing in the gate then reaching back to swipe your card rather than swiping then stepping in. In any case, morning was definitely the time to go, as we had the whole tower to ourselves, and the view was very nice. I imagine it would be even more spectacular at sunset. In hindsight, I'm also curious if we could have seen some distant fireworks that night.

Once we were done at the tower, we decided to hit Leonard-Harrison's feature trail, the Turkey Path. Undiscouraged by the hazard signs at the entrance to the trail, we worked our way down, enjoying some of the best waterfall views I've seen outside of the Pacific Northwest. This is also where the image stabilization on my lens really amazed me. I was able to get some excellent shots of the waterfalls at 1/13 of a second hand held. While the optimal shutter speed for waterfalls is actually 1/3 of a second, 1/13 isn't bad and saves the time, trouble, and weight of a tripod. Here's a shot of Lower Little Four Mile Run Falls.

Lower Little Four Mile Run Falls

When we were done on the Turkey Path Trail, we headed over to Darling Run Station for some lunch and a walk along the Pine Creek Trail. We were vastly outnumbered by people on their bicycles on this long, smooth trail. The trail can get a little monotonous at walking speed, so I'd recommend biking it. Then again, from a bike, it would be difficult to get a shot like this:

"Pennsylvania Grand Canyon"

After a lazy afternoon nap, and a beautiful drive up to Hammond Lake (and a brief stop at the Tioga Central Railroad), we decided to forgo the local fireworks and start on the fire instead. This time around, I decided to try a different fire starter... dryer lint. I was skeptical at first, but it just took a handful of lint under some kindling to get the fire going; no lighter fluid required. It probably helped that we had more dry wood to work with this time, but if you ever need fire starter, look no further than your dryer.

Whether you call it the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania" or the "Pennsylvania Grand Canyon", it's very cool, and well worth a stop.