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There is more to my Blog than “Flowery” Prose

Tulips Copyright 1996  Andy Richards

Tulips
Copyright 1996 Andy Richards

O.k.  That was another one of those blatant, “gotcha” titles that has (almost) nothing to do with the subject.  Not much flowery prose here, but it is about flowers.

Flower Bed Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Flower Bed
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

In 1996, after a 14 year hiatus (life happened for a while), I rekindled my fascination with photography. By that time in life, I was considerably more affluent (which is still not saying much) than I was as a “poor college student.” With that “affluence,” I purchased a new Nikon N6006 SLR camera and a “kit” lens (I honestly don’t even remember what the lens was). I shortly began acquiring additional lenses and after some missteps, finally “sprung” for the top-end Nikkor 60mm “Micro” f2.8 lens. I thought it would be a good substitute for a “normal” 50mm lens. Ironically, I judge the lens to be just a little too sharp (I know – seems like a non-sensical observation for a photographer) for a general use lens.  But it made very nice closeup images.

Wildflowers Copyright 1996  Andy Richards

Wildflowers
Copyright 1996 Andy Richards

Like many “neophyte” shooters, I quickly developed a fascination for close up images. In my case, flowers were easy picking (yes; pun intended :-) ). I spent many hours happily setting up and shooting close-up images over the next several years.

Have you seen the strange neighbor on his hands and knees in his yard with the camera?

I am pretty sure I totally embarrassed my wife with the neighbors, as I crawled around on the ground in my yard, with the camera mounted low on my tripod.  “Have you seen the strange neighbor on his hands and knees in his yard with the camera?”

Lavender Daylily Copyright 1998  Andy Richards

Lavender Daylily
Copyright 1998 Andy Richards

There is perhaps no better practice ground for learning about the nuances of photography: directional lighting, depth of field, sharpness, composition and color arrangement are all possible with this genre. In addition, it is a great teacher of the virtues of electronic flash. You also learn very quickly the requirement of a sturdy shooting platform (a tripod), the relationship between subject movement, shutter speed and—again—electronic flash.

Orange Day Lily Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Orange Day Lily
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I have always loved color. What better place to find studies of color, from subtle to brilliant, than flowers? As my cataloging of images has gotten more detailed—particularly with the advent of Adobe Lightroom—I have begun to look at different categories of flowers, from different domestic varieties, to wildflowers. I’ll spend the next couple blogs posting some of my favorites.

White Daylily Copyright 2000  Andy Richards

White Daylily
Copyright 2000 Andy Richards

During the first several years from 1996, I amassed around 500 flower images. After a while, I felt that I had “been there, done that,” and moved on to other images. This was probably partly driven by my greater ability to travel to more “exotic” locations than my backyard. I have a very good friend and pro photographer who likes to quote another pro, saying that “in order to get good photos, you have to stand in front of good stuff.”

Purple Flower Copyright  1996  Andy Richards

Purple Flower
Copyright 1996 Andy Richards

More recently, as I have experimented with new lenses and cameras, I have found myself drawn back to the flowerbed as a testing ground.  As I selected images for the next several blogs, I was interesting and fun to go back to the “early” years and compare them to recent photographs.  I hope you’ll enjoy the next few posts.  I’ll be off in the Caribbean for the next couple weekends, so see you later this month.

The 7-Year Itch?

A solid support is crucial to sharpness and detail in this early morning light image

A solid support is crucial to sharpness and detail in this early morning light image

There is an old thought about relationships known as the “seven-year-itch” (something about getting an itch to try something new in the 7th year, which ultimately in most cases, terminates the former relationship). Before anyone gets alarmed, I have been happily married for 30 plus years now – that 7-year thing is well behind us. :-)

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

But, just trying to come up with a clever title for this blog, it came to mind. Next month, I will have been writing this blog for 7 years. So this coming year could be the year I decide it’s over and move on. Given my history, I probably won’t. Besides, I really enjoy writing this thing (the opening image is my very first posted image here).

Stone House; Manassas Virginia Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone House; Manassas Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I really enjoy writing this thing

In the winter of 2008, I began a series of “tutorial” e-mails to one of my sisters who had taken up DSLR photography. I was trying to explain the technical aspects of exposure, depth of field, etc. to her in steps. About the same time, a friend from Vermont began to ask questions about her point and shoot camera, and shortly, she acquired her own DSLR.

Glade Creek Gristmill; Babcock SP, West Virginia  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Glade Creek Gristmill; Babcock SP, West Virginia copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Between the two of them, and some others, I spent a fair amount of time writing and editing and responding to questions and clarifying, and it dawned on me that maybe I should save these “writings” (mainly so I wouldn’t have to re-create them later). About that same time, I hired a company to create a photography website for me to showcase my own images. The idea of a blog seemed a natural follow-up and since everybody was doing it, and there was no cost to set it up, I decided to give it a whirl.

Bernard Maine copyright  Andy Richards 2009

Bernard Maine
copyright Andy Richards 2009

I started the blog as a Google Blogger site, but migrated to WordPress a few months later, as WordPress seemed to offer both a more pleasing theme and more versatility for photographic blogging. Since moving to WordPress, the blog has had more than 50,000 views, and currently has 50 followers – not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening.

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening

Over time, the blog has gradually evolved from my “tutorial” writings (there is only so much of that, and mine were specifically “conversational,” and certainly not intended to compete with the myriad of books and website offerings by the professionals out there), to more of a combination of a travel images blog and the occasional philosophical or political musing, with the stray tutorial thrown it. I have also spent some time reviewing equipment – primarily that which I have owned or used.

Ketchikan, Alaska Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Ketchikan, Alaska
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Perusing my “offerings” from the beginning, I was amazed to see the territory covered. Since the first writing, I have traveled and photographed fairly extensively in the United States, including (in addition to my home state of Michigan – upper and lower peninsulas and my new “home” away from home state of Florida) Texas, Alaska, San Francisco and Northern California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks from Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Virginia, West Virginia; New Mexico; Minnesota; Acadia National Park and surrounds in Maine and Vermont.

Split Rock Light; North Shore, Lake Superior, MN Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Split Rock Light; North Shore, Lake Superior, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

It has gotten harder to do this

I have Traveled out of the country to Canada, Ireland, Italy, Turkey and Greece, as well as 3 trips to the Caribbean. In 2015, we will travel to Japan, the Mediterranean again; and I will go to Vermont again in the fall. So hopefully, there are many more images to come. In some of the places that I have visited multiple times, the challenge will be doing something unique.

Chili Ristra, New Mexico   copyright 2008  Andy Richards

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

There have been some milestones over the 7 years. In March of 2010, I bid a bittersweet goodbye to my best buddy and fellow shooter and traveler, Rich, whose career took a sharp left turn, as he moved away from Michigan. While we knew we would try to stay in touch, it was not certain that we would. Over the following year, we did. Then, to my great delight, his career took yet another turn and he moved back here to Michigan. We will live to shoot another day!

San Francisco Night Skyline  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

San Francisco Night Skyline copyright 2011 Andy Richards

As I looked for images that seemed to make an impression on me from the places I visited, it ocurrs to me that 2010 was a huge travel and photography year for me in the U.S.

Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

the challenge will be doing something unique

I cannot even count how many times I have mentioned the word “Nikon” in my blog. I have been a loyal Nikon user for thirty plus years. As my more recent blogs have noted, I have completely moved to another name and system in the past few months. I still think Nikon makes top quality DSLR bodies and lenses. But they haven’t moved toward the mirrorless system in a way that fits my thinking.

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On a couple occasions, I mentioned New Year’s resolutions in my late December posts. In one case, in 2011, I noted that I don’t make them (because I don’t keep them). In 2012 I made one (and didn’t keep it).

Oxbow Bend; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Oxbow Bend; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

It has gotten harder to do this. I still enjoy it, but inspiration for subjects or topics are tougher to come by.  For those who have read, followed and commented over the past 7 years, I am very grateful. I will be traveling again in the next couple weeks, and so may not be consistent with my weekly input. I guess it is one of the nice things about the nature of a personal blog. I can post when I want to.  :-)

The quintessential symbol of Venice is, of course, the Gondola Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The quintessential symbol of Venice is, of course, the Gondola
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Until next time ……….

Avoiding People in Landscape Images

Over my near-35 years of shooting, I have primarily shot and favored landscape type shots, with a heavy emphasis on natural subjects. I also like to shoot architecture, like barns, lighthouses, grist mills, and bridges. I have often traveled great distances, or gotten up very early to find these subjects in the right light. I have timed seasons to get fall foliage.

Honeymoon State Park Dunedin, FL Copyright  2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon State Park
Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

So many times, I have gotten to my perfect shot, only to find people milling about in the shot. As photographers, we can be arrogant sometimes. People walk into our shot or won’t move out of our shot. We chafe at that. Why can’t these ignorant “tourists” see that we are trying to frame up a shot? Don’t they “get” that they are messing up the beautiful image we are trying to make? I mean, most of them don’t even have cameras. They are using phones or those silly little point and shoots. Or just standing there looking!

We “serious” photographers chafe at people in our shots

But that’s really a pretty myopic view of things. The ugly truth is that those sights are there for all to behold (not just us “special” photographer-people). And while we capture the beauty of the image or event in our own way, there are many ways for a viewer to behold and take in sights, including just embedding them in our memory. And why do/should us “serious” photographers have any greater right to the view than anyone else.

Why not use them in our shots?

As I grow older, more patient, and more tolerant of others rights, I have begun to take two broad approaches to the “people in my image” phenomena. The first approach, is to be patient and work with it. With some patience and a pre-set setup, I have rarely found a time when there wasn’t at least a brief moment when the area clears. Of course, it becomes much more of a challenge when you are working with changing lighting conditions. Life isn’t perfect. And, these days, digital capture and post-processing is a really useful tool. There are now frequent occasions where I shoot an image, knowing that I am going to clone out certain things. Sometimes when the people are front and center in the image and easily distinguishable from the landscape, the incredible “content-aware” cloning features of Photoshop work really well. While I rarely do this, another approach might be to be friendly and courteous and just ask for a brief clearing. If it is a small group, one approach might be to ask them if they would like you to take a photo of them with the scene in the background and then explain that you would like to take one without anyone in the background. In the end, I think patience and courtesy for others’ rights will serve us well.

Ha'Penny Bridge Dublin City Center Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Ha’Penny Bridge
Dublin City Center
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The second approach is a newer way of thinking for me. Why not “use” the people in the picture as an advantage? Why not use them as a “story-telling” “prop?” Having people in the photo – I am learning – is a way to make a so-so postcard image (and let’s face it: in most of these instances, it’s been done over and over before) more interesting and appealing. People can also often give an image scale and perspective.  The couple in the Honeymoon Island shot make this hackneyed “Florida Gulf Sunset” image more interesting in my opinion.  It is a “storytelling” feature of the image.  In the Dublin image, during the day, it would be simply impossible to shoot the Ha’Penny Bridge all by itself.  So I purposely used the “hustle and bustle” of people crossing and looking, to make the image of what it is like to be on that bridge on a typical Dublin Day.  In the Tannery Falls image, the “people” (and trust me, the smaller one THINKS she’s people) give perspective, and the red jacket contrast to an otherwise monotone scene.

Tannery Falls; Munising, MI Copyright 2007  Andy Richards

Tannery Falls; Munising, MI
Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

But putting people in your images requires some additional thought and care. If they are  recognizable, you have to think about their privacy rights and their rights to their own image.  You might need a model release. For the most part, so-far, I have tried to place people in my image in ways that they cannot be recognized. I have some friends who shoot who are more gregarious (or maybe just brave) than me who find it easy to simply approach people and ask if they may take their image.

In the end, I think patience and courtesy for others’ rights will serve us well

Some Different Florida Imagery

Ybor City; Tampa FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Ybor City; Tampa FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The day after New Year’s day, I had an opportunity to explore one of Tampa’s urban legends – Historic Ybor City. In the late 1880’s, Vicente Ybor immigrated there and began making cigars. Ybor City was the site of a number of large and successful cigar factories for many years. The factories attracted and employed thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy. It is said that during the next 50 years or so, Ybor City’s factories produced millions of hand-rolled cigars each year. Then, it began to decline, and by the time of the Great Depression, it became one of those many areas of decay and neglect that are found in so many great American cities.

From 1880 – 1930, Ybor City’s factories produced millions of hand-rolled cigars each year

Arturo Fentes Cigar Factory Building; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Arturo Fentes Cigar Factory Building; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

More recently, the area has begun to rebound and has been transformed into a night club and entertainment district. The neighborhood has ben designated as a National Historic Landmark District, and some of the structures – which date back to the cigar “heyday,” have been designated as National Register structures. There is a cable car which runs the length of 8th street, which borders the north part of the district. 7th Avenue is the main drag, and we were impressed with the sheer number of restaurants, cigar bars (many of them having their own dedicated hand-rolling areas), cigar shops, and entertainment venues (comedy clubs, night clubs, music, etc.). We were there during mid-day, but one can only imagine the scene at night when things ramp up. The heritage of Ybor City was its – unusual for its day – multi-cultural mix of ethnicity, and that shows in the mix of establishments, which include Italian and Spanish restaurants, mixed in with the “Cuban flavor” of the neighborhood.

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The Columbia Restaurant is an “anchor” landmark in Ybor City

An anchor landmark in Ybor City is the Columbia Restaurant. It is said to be the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and the longest – continually operating restaurant in Florida. The huge, ornate building takes up most of a block and seats 1700 people. I have eaten in the Clearwater Beach “branch” restaurant and can attest that the menu is incredible, and the food wonderful (but “big”).

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I will look forward to an opportunity to re-visit this place when it is hopping.

Some Florida Imagery

 

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Some readers here may recall me mentioning that we have a second home in the Tampa Bay area. This is a relatively recent acquisition and, still being a working “stiff,” I have had (or perhaps made) little opportunity to explore and shoot there. Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, I spent some time down there, and had a couple opportunities to get out and do some shooting.

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I am told that opportunities abound, but I am still getting the “lay of the land.” One nice area is only about 1.5 miles from our house. Honeymoon Island State Park is a narrow spit of land that lays out in Gulf of Mexico, just northwest of Clearwater, Florida. It is north of Clearwater Beach and has been largely preserved as a natural/recreational area (though it may be hard to say “natural” with a straight face, if you look at the amount of paved surface area created for parking). On a given sunny day, hundreds of beach-goers drive out over the causeway from Main Street in Dunedin, Florida, to this day-use park. There are also hiking trails and natural habitat for much of Florida’s wildlife – primarily of the avian variety – but not exclusively so.

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL Rokinon 8mm Fisheye Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
Rokinon 8mm Fisheye
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

My two quick trips out to the Island did not yield an opportunity for exploring. That will come later. This time, I made a quick trip on one of the last evenings of 2014, and again on one of the first evenings of 2015, when it looked like a sunset might be developing. The Florida Gulf Coast is noted for its spectacular sunsets. I have yet to capture one I would deem “spectacular.” But I do think I can characterize some that I did capture as “nice.”

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I see many sunrise and sunset images these days. While a nice orange ball against a horizon is nice, the huge expanse of (relatively) uninteresting water in front of most of them makes them seem mundane to me. I try to either capture some kind of foreground element, or if I cannot find something in the foreground, exclude most of the water in favor of an interesting sky. These Florida Gulf sunsets seem to yield consistently interesting skies, so that is often easy.  The exception to the “expanse of water” might be when there is some color or interest to the water.  In some cases, I think its o.k. to add color and interest.

This outing also gave me an opportunity to use the newly acquired (traded “down” from the a7R) Sony a7 and I am cautiously pleased with the result and handling of the camera and the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 lens. I also used my Rokinon 8mm fisheye manual lens (for the NEX E-mount, but even with the vignette, I liked the wide result).

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL "Photoshopped" Copyright  2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
“Photoshopped”
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Are Photographers Superstitious?

Silly question. Photographers are (generally speaking) people. Some people are superstitious. Therefore some photographers are superstitious (I did reasonably well in my Logic class I college :-) ). A recent conversation with a friend about an equipment-change and how we view and use our equipment generated the idea for this blog post.

I have spent a lot of bandwidth here discussing (perhaps rationalizing) my decision to change my camera lineup from DSLR to mirrorless (perhaps that’s because I cannot think of anything else to write about :-) ). I am ultimately happy with my move, though, as I have said here on numerous occasions – I strongly caution others – I think my circumstances and reasons were unique to me – and for most “already” owners, I would recommend you very seriously consider staying where you are; for the time being, anyway. If you are a brand new user, that’s another thing entirely (of course, it is mainly a function of what you will use the gear for, but then, I might consider mirrorless and never even go for the DSLR line).

There has been enough “hemming and hawing” and “buts” in my reviews and writing about the Sony mirrorless system to make a reader wonder if I really am happy with the decision. In the 35 plus years I have been shooting, I have yet to find the camera – or system – that is even close to my perfect fit. I have certainly owned some cameras that I loved and occasionally think nostalgically and fondly of. But none has completely fulfilled my “checklist” of what I want on a camera. They are tools. And as such, they are tools designed for the masses. Back in “the day” when home personal computing first exploded on the scene, Gateway computers had a system where you could “custom design” your computer and order it from them.  I used to wonder what it might be like to purchase a camera body that way? The economic reality is that when you are trying to market a camera to tens of thousands of purchasers, you cannot just “call Andy” and ask him what he ideally wants in a camera.

With that perspective, I am satisfied with my current “gear.”  So here is the connection to the title. I progressed from the original “enthusiast” Nikon D100 DSLR with a 6mp APS size sensor, all the way to their “best” (at the time) enthusiast DSLR body; the “so-called” “full frame” D800 with a 36mp sensor (ironically – manufactured by Sony). From there, I moved (after dipping my toe in the water with the APS Sony mirrorless body and lenses) to what I believed was Sony’s “best” full frame, complete with its 36mp sensor (again, ironically – manufactured by the same Sony – presumably the same sensor) The a7R. But for a number of reasons, I could never get mentally comfortable with it).

I could never get mentally comfortable with it

I am a sometime golfer and a fan. I do a fair amount of reading about sports in general, and particularly about golf. The U.S. alone has near 300 million people (now in fairness, a very small part of the worldwide population actually play golf, but even county those who do, it is a huge number). Golf is a worldwide thing now, with the PGA tour (largely an American phenomenon) but with golfers from all over the world trying to make the tour. There are 100 members who have “made” it in any given year. Having played the game for many years, trust me, these 100 men are some extremely talented individuals.

And they are generally superstitious. There are a lot of stories (many of them humorous) about golfers’ superstition (one of my favorites involves a pro who fired his caddy for “talking to his ball” while it was in flight during a tournament). Lots of silly things: Carrying a particular ball-marker, or coin; wearing a particular color; etc. And this is not a golfers only thing. Athletes as a group will often have routines that they never vary from what they eat, to which sock they put on first. Superstition? Maybe.

But there is also a part of the phenomenon that actually makes sense. And to an extent, it is probably true in some way for all of us, with everything we do. Why acknowledge this “superstitious” behavior—especially when the endeavor is perhaps primarily scientific, mechanical, or skill-based? Because it makes us comfortable. And when we are comfortable, it frees us to exercise our skills automatically and the “creative” things we do, without our minds being cluttered. When we are comfortable, we trust our equipment, our routine and our skills, and don’t consciously worry or consciously think about gear and mechanical stuff, while working behind the lens.

It makes us comfortable

Michigan is in the no-man’s land between the “Midwest” and the “Northeast,” and it is an irony that I tend to acquire new gear about this time of the year – which also tends to be the worst time of the year to photograph. As I write this, it is grey and wet. So it happens that I acquire gear and do not get an immediate opportunity to test it.  It was a long time from the time I received my a7R until I had a chance to go out and work with it. And during that period of time I also acquired the Sony 70-200 f4 zoom, which was also a new and untested item. During the time before I shot it, it came to light that because of some mechanical issues, the a7R (only – and not the a7 or the later to come, a7S) might have some vibration issues that cause unacceptable softness in images with long lenses and slower shutter speeds. There was a proposed, but admittedly “Rube-Goldberg” “fix” for this problem – a counterweight that you screwed into the camera’s tripod socket (presumably, you used the longer lens’s own lens mount). I built one. It weighs a ton (one of the reasons for the switch to mirrorless was to shed weight). And, the 36mp sensor demands the very best of your glass, and shooting skills – or it highlights the lack of either or both. And finally, I was struggling with a AF issue when using the wireless remote (you can turn off AF at the on-camera release button and use back button focus only, ala the Nikon setup. But it does not appear to work with the wireless remote – still working on that one).

Too many variables

So, here I was, trying to evaluate the a7R when shooting with a lens I wasn’t sure about with a contraption (when I remembered to attach it). Just too many variables. And, while I did not ever come to a final conclusion, I did note that for whatever reason, I was vaguely dissatisfied with image results. Superstition? Maybe. Probably. I know there are a7R owner/users out there making wonderful images with it.  But I just could not personally get comfortable with it.

I recently was able to make a trade: My “mint” a7R for a similar “mint” a7. The economics are that I probably made a costly move, buying the a7R in the first place, as it cost more than the a7. But from a superstition point of view, I am much more comfortable with the a7. And being comfortable, means being free to work with the tool the way it was intended and to apply my skills and approach to photography without the clutter of “wondering” whether I have the right tool in my hands.

Just don’t talk to my ball

There are things I do with my gear, my technique and approach to photography, and in my post-processing that others may or may not do. They are things that I have become comfortable with and do as second-nature. I believe they help me (though there is certainly an argument for another time and another blog that some of them equally – hinder me) in my quest to make satisfying imagery. Call me silly. Call me superstitious. Just don’t talk to my ball! :-)

It Was a Very Good Year

Alamo Square Row Houses Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Alamo Square Row Houses
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

A good friend and mentor likes to borrow from song lyrics for blog titles and sometimes to caption his images. They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” so I am taking a page from his book for the title of this blog. I am not sure whether he is a Kingston Trio Fan, but I’ll bet he likes Sinatra. Who doesn’t? :-) But as is so often the case, I digress ……….

2014 has been a good year for us. I have said that our home in Michigan can be a tough place to live during the months of Jan – April. Lots of cold, not enough sun, and often lots of snow. I am not a snowbird (got that out of my system in my youth), so I don’t miss it when its gone. 2014 was the first year we were able to take advantage or our second home in the Tampa Bay area. It was nice to be warm in the Winter months, even if only for a few days at time. And, as we have gotten the “drill” down, I have now established a “home office” in Florida and am able to visit for longer periods and work from there. I am looking forward to finding photographic venues there.

Shortly after Christmas, I ordered my first “mirrorless” “full frame” interchangeable lens camera, the Sony a7r. While I didn’t completely fall in love with this camera, it certainly gave me lots of “fodder” for this blog. :-). I did learn to “respect” it, however. It has taken my photographic thought process in a new direction. I think I have finally settled in with a “keeper” version of this camera (the a7 – sans r) and look forward to actually giving it a good workout in 2015. Along with it have become new lenses, tripods, etc. Lots to do and think about. But now its time to get back to making actual images!

D.H. Day Barn Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

D.H. Day Barn
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

In February, we joined a group of our Michigan friends on a Caribbean Cruise. This mid-winter, warm weather cruise has become a tradition for my wife and me. We try to visit new venues with each cruise, but it is not difficult to overlap stops and we have now been to several of the stops multiple times. St. Maarten continues to top my list. One of the things that will become increasingly difficult will be finding new and unique photo ops. It seems to me that the more time I spend in the Caribbean, the more it seems that there is a “sameness” to these little islands. I don’t mean any disrespect to the people or cultures of these islands. They are undoubtedly each unique and very proud of that. Indeed, we try to take some kind of tour in most of the places where we learn about some of those cultures. I meant photographically. The flora, fauna and “hand of man” seem to be pretty ubiquitous. First, in all of these places, there are the commercial tourist traps built around the cruise lines (unfortunately in my opinion). The one exception to that seemed to be St. Croix. There was no real “cruise line mall” at the port their. Unfortunately for us, we arrived there on a Sunday. Not much was going on in the little portside community, but it looked like it was pretty genuine. There have been many colorful photographic subjects on these cruises, and I will look forward to finding new ones as we head South again in mid-winter 2015.

Celebrity Summit St. Croix; USVI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Celebrity Summit
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

In April, we were privileged to joint Bart and Barb O’Brien, proprietors of The O’Brien Estate Vineyard in Napa, California, on a rather unique trip to Ireland. Readers here have been inundated with my Ireland photos and know that we had a great time. If I were arranging my own trip to Ireland (a likely occurrence some day), I probably would not have done it the way we did. But this was a rather unique historical and cultural voyage, centering on the life of Ireland’s perhaps most famous of Kings; Brian Boru. History tells us that all of the O’briens, worldwide, descended from him. Not surprisingly, a fair number of the O’brien surname find their way to The O’Brien Estate – and become regular customers. While I do not have any Irish DNA that I am aware of, I could not have felt more welcomed by the people of Ireland. And I can also say that I have very much enjoyed my new found friendships with the several O’Briens who joined us on the trip — A friendly bunch!

Somewhere In Ireland Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Somewhere In Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

In early October, we made our third of hopefully many trips, to the San Francisco Bay area. There are (so far) 2 cities I have been to that seem to have endless subjects for photographers. One is San Francisco and the other is Venice, Italy. I know there are others, but these two have impressed me in a way no others have. I am an (relatively – it seems to get harder as I get older) early riser. The 3 hour time change makes it even easier, and my wife indulges my early solo walks around the downtown. The early and late light is magnificent and there are so many things to capture. So I rise each morning and spend a couple hours discovering.

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This trip, we also did some driving, visiting the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse (which might be photogenic – I don’t have any idea – we couldn’t see it through the heavy fog) and the Pt. Bonita Light, which is difficult to find a really good spot to shoot from. The 2 magnificent bridges, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge seem to be always somewhere in view. San Francisco is a peninsula and a very steep hill, so views are easy to find.

Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Almost every fall, I make an extended trip somewhere to photograph fall foliage. With the travel schedule such as it was, that didn’t happen this year. There is this pesky little thing called a “job” and my clients do expect me to be there. :-) This year, I decided to try to make a couple short trips and that limited my venues to places reachable by day trip or weekend overnight.

Bay Bridge in morning Twilight Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Bay Bridge in morning Twilight
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I did a day trip with my buddy Rich, and then, the following weekend, went “home,” to the town I grew up in, in Northern Lower Michigan, Traverse City.

Round Bales in Foliage Harrison, MI Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Round Bales in Foliage
Harrison, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Between of Lake Michigan and two deep bays extending south from the lake, the climate there is more moderate in the Fall (they pay for it in the winter, with significant snowfall – though some probably think that is a blessing). So I was able to take advantage of very late October and “discover” some shooting venues I had never before done (my love affair with photography began after I had moved away from there). All in all, my fall shooting was more rewarding than I expected.

Vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula; Grand Traverse County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula; Grand Traverse County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This is sounding a lot like one of those annual “Christmas Letters.” :-)  I am looking forward to another eventful year in 2015. We will kick things off with another Caribbean Cruise, Tokyo in August, the Mediterranean in September, and with some luck, a whirlwind trip to Vermont to meet some old (photographer) friends and shoot New England Fall Foliage. There should be some photos coming away from these trips – especially later in the year. Mixed in with that I hope to find a chance to do some winter scenic shooting in Northern Michigan.

National Lakeshore Farmstead; Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

National Lakeshore Farmstead; Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

As I write this, my blog has had over 50,000 visits and almost 75,000 page views (average 30/day). When I started this, I had no idea whether anyone would ever read it. Thank you, thank you to all who have visited, and a special thanks to all of the “followers” out there. I also have a couple “regular” commenters. Thanks to you too, for your input and your support. I would love to seem some comments and discussion come out of this, so please comment in 2015.

Kilkenny Castle; Kilkenny, Ireland Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Kilkenny Castle; Kilkenny, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I want to wish all of the regular readers and anyone else who comes here a very happy and prosperous 2015. I hope you find all your photographic dreams.

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