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The Signs are Everywere

The "iconic" Guinness sign Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The “iconic” Guinness sign
Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Signs may seem like an odd subject to photograph. Yet signs are certainly a ubiquitous object. Some years back, I started photographing signs as a kind of cataloging technique. The intent was to use them as place-holder images in my image catalog that would show where I had taken a series of images. In the back of my mind, I may have thought they might be useful in a future photo essay (these thoughts happened long before the word “blog” had any meaning).

Though a standard traffic sign, I thought the context here spoke "Wyoming" Jackson Hole, Wyoming Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Though a standard traffic sign, I thought the context here spoke “Wyoming”
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

The problem was (and is), it didn’t really work well for a number of reasons. Primarily, I just wasn’t very good or consistent about doing it.  :-)   But it is also pretty much the case that not everywhere I photograph has “descriptive” signs. And some places have many signs – so which one should I use?

Lighted for Christmas Frankenmuth, MI Copyright Andy Richards  2009

Lighted for Christmas
Frankenmuth, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Occasionally, a sign would catch my interest, and I would photographic for its own sake. Over time, I began to pay more attention to signs; especially when I was traveling to new places. These days, I actually seek them out as matter of subject.

This historical sign speaks volumes about our history and culture Alcatraz; San Francisco, CA Copyright Andy Richards 2015

This historical sign speaks volumes about our history and culture
Alcatraz; San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

What is a sign? Like essentially everything else on earth, the apparently simple answer is really more involved. At first blush, one would say the function of a sign is to direct us somewhere, or tell us where they are. At the lowest common denominator, I think that’s a pretty good “definition” of signs. Of course, we can use the word in other contexts.

Sometimes signs can just be funny Knock, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sometimes signs can just be funny
Knock, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The word, “sign” can be used as a noun or a verb. Here I am obviously referring to the physical structure type of sign, with a graphic of some type. Dictionary.com defines “sign,” in the context used here, as “a notice bearing a name, direction, warning or advertisement, that is displayed or posted for public view.”

These days, I actually seek them out

Sign on the Turquoise Trail Madrid, NM Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Sign on the Turquoise Trail
Madrid, NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

So what? For a photographer, it seems to me that a sign can be so much more. Signs can be art. They can be whimsical. They can be humorous and unique. They can depict history and culture. Some signs are (or have become) iconic. And sometimes . . . . they are just a sign. :-)

A "whimsical" sign Chicago, IL Copyright Andy Richards 2005

A “whimsical” sign
Chicago, IL
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Signs can be affixed to a structure, a vehicle, or can stand alone. Sometimes they can be on very unique media.

Signs can be art. They can be whimsical. They can be humorous and unique

A moving, iconic sign Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta; Albuquerque NM Copyright Andy Richards 2008

A moving, iconic sign
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta;
Albuquerque NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Looking at my LR catalog for the topic of “signs,” I was surprised to see that I have cataloged more than 200 images of signs (some of them admittedly duplicates). I am sure I have others that I have “missed” because they are part of another image and my feeble mind has not “seen” the sign in there. SMILE

Jameson Distiillery Dublin, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Jameson Distiillery
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

I will bet that a number of my readers would count many times the number I have cataloged.

Sometimes its just a sign Dublin, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Sometimes its just a sign
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

I would be interested to hear about – and see – your signs.

Covered Bridges

Dummerston Covered Bridge; Dummerston, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Dummerston Covered Bridge;
Dummerston, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I don’t know how many bridges there are in the world. Thousands, is probably a pretty safe statement. Most of my own bridge photography has been in the states. I have had some very limited opportunities traveling outside the U.S. – most notably in Venice, Italy. In many of these cases, bridges were only an element of the overall image.

Holtz Bridge Frankenmuth, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Holtz Bridge
Frankenmuth, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Bridges come in all sizes, shapes, designs and uses, from foot traffic, to vehicular traffic (trains and motor vehicles, and historically – animal-drawn vehicles. There are some very modern and spectacular designs, and some more “pedestrian” (no pun intended) designs. They range from 100’s of years old, to spans recently built.

Nearly all of my own covered bridge images were made in New England

One bridge design that always appeals to the outdoor and nature photographer is the Covered Bridge. The design of these bridges, probably brought over from Europe when settlers first came to the Northeastern U.S., was intended to increase the life of the bridges. This was particularly true in times when the primary building materials for structures, including bridges, was wood. It was soon learned that bridges that were not covered had a relatively short life span, with weather being the primary culprit. Covered bridges lasted longer, and had the added advantage in cold weather climates, of shielding the bridge surface from snow accumulations.

Comstock Covered Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Comstock Covered Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Nearly all of my covered bridge images were made in New England. New England – and especially Vermont – is known for its many picturesque covered bridges. Indeed, I believed Vermont probably had the largest number of covered bridges in the U.S. by a wide margin. On a per square mile basis, and probably on a per capita basis, that is absolutely true. Vermont has around 110 true, traditional covered bridges – most of them well maintained, and many of them very photogenic (particularly in the fall season).  For readers who have visited here for a long time and perhaps have been to my LightCentric Photography Website, there is an “Easter Egg” of sorts, here in one of the images :-).

The highest number of covered bridges appears to be in the state of Ohio

My assumption (and remember the old saying about those of us who ASSUME) was that the largest major concentration of covered bridges would be the New England States and most particularly, Vermont and New Hampshire. And they do have a lot of bridges between them. Vermont has around 110. New Hampshire has around 54. Maine and Massachusetts, to my surprise, only have around a dozen combined.

Longley Covered Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards  2005

Longley Covered Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

To my great surprise, I found – with a little research – that the highest number of bridges in any state appears to be in Ohio! Ohio boasts at least 125 covered bridges. And the largest concentration of covered bridges? Right here in my own “backyard.” Ohio has 125. Indiana has 98. Wisconsin has 35-45 (I am being ambiguous here, because the data isn’t as clear and it appears that many of them are not true road-based, working bridges). Illinois has many, but I wasn’t able to find an accurate count. My “front yard,” by the way (Michigan) has but 8. I have photographed only one of them, the Holtz Bridge in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Montgomery Covered Bridge Waterville, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Montgomery Covered Bridge
Waterville, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

West of the Mississippi, with the notable exception of the state of Colorado, covered bridges are not remarkable. Most states have an average of 3 – 6 of them.

Bridge-in-a-Bridge Northfield, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Bridge-in-a-Bridge
Northfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have my work cut out for me

There is a lot of information to be learned about covered bridges on the internet. I am not going to get into what is authentic and what isn’t. Although great for architectural and historical purposes, I am interested in their photogenics only. I did note, for example, that many of the bridges in other states (especially states where you would expect there to be covered bridges) are not “working” bridges, or are ornate foot bridges, parts of resorts, golf courses, etc. But if it has photographic possibilities, I am willing to attempt to shoot it. With literally hundreds of covered bridges just in the U.S., I have my work cut out for me :-) .

Hutchins Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Hutchins Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Bridges

Bridge to Canada Sault St. Marie, MI Copyright 2005  Andy Richards

Bridge to Canada
Sault St. Marie, MI
Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Of all the architectural structures that lend themselves to photography, there may be no other “wonder” than a bridge. Bridges have been designed, built and used for all of human history. Most often to span a body of water, bridges have brought us the ability to cross water on foot and by vehicle, without getting wet and without the need for watercraft.

Stone Bridge Manassas, VA Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone Bridge
Manassas, VA
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Early bridges were primarily built for pedestrian traffic. Later, they provided a way for our animal-drawn vehicles to cross. More recently, they have been used for train and motor vehicle traffic.  The Manassas Stone Bridge was used to cross Bull Run and was famously used by both the military and “spectators” who mistakenly thought a Sunday afternoon carriage ride out to the battlefield would be great spectator sport and a nice picnic.

Footbridge of Rapid River Rapid City, MI  Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Footbridge of Rapid River
Rapid City, MI
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Bridges can vary from the most simple and utilitarian pedestrian crossing, to magnificent works of engineering and architecture, crossing seemingly uncrossable stretches of water. They can be grandiose, and they can be very simple.

Pedestrian Bridge Somesville, ME Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Pedestrian Bridge
Somesville, ME
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

From a photographic aspect, bridges can lend themselves to wonderful reflections, and as foils to wonderful lighting events – both natural and man-made. They can be marvels of architecture and art (yes, art); or rather pedestrian (pun intended) utilitarian structures. For the photographer, they can be presented as the main subject, or they can be used as backgrounds, leading lines from the foreground, and leading lines from the background to infinity.
Bridges draw the eye as an imposing structure in many cases. In my travels to San Francisco, I have been struck by the fact that the city is dominated by two such structures, leading in and out of the heart of the city.  The Rialto Bridge in Venice is one of the most famous of bridges and in the early days, in addition to being the only major bridge over the main canal, housed many local merchants.

Footbridge Limerick, Ireland Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Footbridge
Limerick, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Bridges can often be unintentionally symbolic. In many American cities (sadly), bridges often separate the “good” and “bad” parts of the city.  I don’t think any of the bridges here represent that symbolism.

Rialto Bridge Venice, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Rialto Bridge
Venice, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I have mostly shot bridges because they were there – never really doing a study of them. On my bucket list, I hope, on day, to make a concerted study of bridges. The image that appear here are a small selection of the numerous bridges I have shot. My files contain many more images.

Footbridge over Canal Venice, Italy Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Footbridge over Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

There are numerous styles of bridges, including floating bridges, suspension bridges, arch bridges, and simple piling-supported bridges. Suspension bridges, like the Mackinaw Bridge – spanning Michigan’s “lower” and “upper” peninsulas – and the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay Bridges, are true marvels of engineering, in addition to being very photogenic.  The “Big Mac,” as it is often referred to by Michigan residents, was once the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Mackinac Bridge Mackinac City, MI Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac City, MI
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

One of the most intriguing styles of architecture is the covered bridge. Next, I will showcase some of the very few covered bridges I have been able to photograph.

Lighthouses

Point AuBarques Light Lake Huron, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Point AuBarques Light
Lake Huron, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Over the years since I started this blog, I have covered many subjects. Earlier blogs were more philosophical. Seems like I ran out of gas in that area (probably in large part because of my limited capacity for the intellectual). :-)  I have done some “travelogue” blogs, recounting my travels throughout this wonderful country, and more recently, abroad. And, I have done the occasional equipment and/or software review.

Port Sanilac Light Lake Huron, MI Copyright Andy Richards  2008

Port Sanilac Light
Lake Huron, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

As I have amassed a collection of images, I have had to find a way to keep some order. I have used Adobe Lightroom since its inception – but mostly as a catalog. It is a wonderful program and if I were starting new today, I would probably use it as my principal software for processing images. Lightroom has a nice capability of organizing images by subject matter. Looking through the images (and for lack of anything more creative to write about these days) I realize that I hadn’t blogged by image subject. That is what stimulated me to post the last several blogs on flower images. In keeping with that general formula, the next several blogs will be about my “landscape-architecture” collection of images.

The primary limiting factors for these images are access and lighting

Lighthouses have always drawn my “photographic eye.” Like outdoor landscape images, they present significant challenges to photograph. The primary limiting factors for these images are access and lighting.

Bass Harbor Light Bass Harbor, ME Copyright  Andy Richards  2009

Bass Harbor Light
Bass Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

The all-important feature for most lighthouse images is lighting. The best time of day to shoot Lighthouses is generally early morning and late afternoon – early evening. This is because it is when the light is normally best. Exceptions to this rule may be when skies are stormy, or during the winter, when light is often at a low angle during the days.

Split Rock Light Sunrise Lake Superior, MN Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Split Rock Light Sunrise
Lake Superior, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

This presents a bit of a challenge, partly because of the second factor; access. Lighthouses are often gated, private property, or parts of state or national parks. They have hours when they are closed to the public. Some lighthouses simply cannot be approached or photographed from the land around them. So, getting the image during the “golden light hours” often presents a challenge.

Point Iroquois Light Lake Superior, MI Copyright  Andy Richards  2005

Point Iroquois Light
Lake Superior, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

In a limited number of instances, I was fortunate to photograph from a boat. Shooting from the water gives a nice perspective. I hope to do more of this in future years.

Strawberry Island Light North Channel, Lake Huron, Canada Copyright  Andy Richards  2008

Strawberry Island Light
North Channel, Lake Huron, Canada
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Some lighthouses simply cannot be approached or photographed from the land around them

Because they are “light” houses, nighttime photographs of lighthouses – especially when working, are great photographic opportunities.

Alcatraz Lighthouse San Francisco Bay, CA Copyright  Andy Richards  2011

Alcatraz Lighthouse
San Francisco Bay, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Many Lighthouses are no longer “active.”  Some have been preserved by historical societies and other are still working lighthouses.  One of the best opportunities to photograph a lighthouse while lit at night was during the anniversary of the Split Rock Light on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior.  The Split Rock light is not a regular working lighthouse, but now is part of a Minnesota’s “Split Rock State Park.”  They light it on certain nights.  On this anniversary we were treated not only to the light, but to a fireworks display.

Split Rock Light Lake Superior, MN Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Split Rock Light
Lake Superior, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Living near the Great Lakes has given me the opportunity to photograph a number of lighthouses. However, there are some East Coast and West Coast lighthouses I would love to photograph.

Mackinac Light Mackinac Straits, MI Copyright Andy Richards  2012

Mackinac Light
Mackinac Straits, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Miscellaneous Bouquets

Mixed Flowers Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Mixed Flowers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

One interesting consequence of writing this blog has been my own discovery of weaknesses in my image portfolio.  The combination flower image has always been a challenge for me.  It is relatively easy to select and isolate single blooms.  But after a while, those images become almost hackneyed.

Getting a “bouquet” type of shot in a garden or other area is more difficult to pull off.   Flower beds — while pretty from a viewing distance — are often cluttered with elements that detract from the overall photographic image.  This is particularly true when you get in close for the image.  There are lots of opportunities, but it takes some work and maybe some luck to get the composition right.  Trying to do this has given me a new appreciation for the florists who put together the beautiful arrangements.  But even if I had that talent, it might be rather difficult to find that in the wild.  :-).  The opening image showed up a couple weeks ago.  I repeat it here, because I believe that – in 35 years’ worth of attempts, it is my favorite.

Red Day Lily Copyright  2006  Andy Richards

Red Day Lily
Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

Color mixes that work together are important. Filling space correctly is important. In order for an effective mixed flower shot, the photographer must successfully eliminate distracting foregrounds and spots that detract from the image by creating distracting area.

Blue Iris Copyright  1999  Andy Richards

Blue Iris
Copyright 1999 Andy Richards

It is also important to control depth of field so that the overall image is pleasing.  In the Iris image, I tried to find a pleasing color combination, while using the depth of field to highlight the main subject.  What you can see from my selected images here, is that I still tend to be shooting a single flower or variety, sometimes with others as a background element   I need to make “bouquet” images a challenge/project.  I may report back here at some point in the future.  :-)

Mother Nature does it Best

Cottoneaster Copyright  Andy Richards 1998

Cottoneaster
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

When seeking flower images, there is nothing quite like a “find” of wildflowers. Many of them are quite rare, and a find is exhilarating. At times people who know where these are, can be very secretive about their location.

Columbine Copyright Andy Richards  1999

Columbine
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Wildflowers tend to be smaller, and it is even more difficult to find that perfect specimen. But they have a very nice presentation and draw to them.

White Trillium Michigan Official State Flower Copyright  Andy Richards 1999

White Trillium
Michigan Official State Flower
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

I have had some very good fortune with wildflowers in Northern Michigan. Michigan’s “state flower” is the White Trillium. I was fortunate to find a great area in Northwestern lower Michigan some years back for these beautiful three-petal wild flowers. When trillium begin to go beyond their maturity, they turn from white, to pink, to purple. I think the right “mature” specimen as every bit as photogenic and pretty as the pure white ones. There are also very rare red trillium. I have not had the good fortune of finding any yet.

Mature White Trillium Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Mature White Trillium
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Near my Northern Michigan Trillium find, there is a private nature preserve where I found the relatively rare wild orchid known as the Yellow “Lady’s Slipper.” Yellow is one of the most difficult colors to photograph. It is very difficult to capture and display fine detail. My Yellow Lady’s Slipper images illustrate that difficulty. There are at least two other varieties of this wild orchid: the Pink Lady’s Slipper, and the “Showy Lady’s Slipper” (which is a two-toned white and light red color). I have found and photographed the Pink. I have yet to find the showy.

Yellow Lady's Slippers Copyright Andy Richards  1999

Yellow Lady’s Slippers
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Another entrancing wildflower is the wild swamp iris. Small and delicate, these are very beautiful flowers.  I should have shown more context here, as this closeup image makes the flower appear to be larger than it is “in person.”  All of these images were captured on 35mm film and scanned with my epson desktop scanner.

Blue Flag Iris Copryright  Andy Richards  1998

Blue Flag Iris
Copryright Andy Richards 1998

Coneflowers are Cool

Purple Coneflower Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Purple Coneflower
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

One of the flowers that is the most interesting is the Purple Coneflower. As intrigued as I am by them, I have taken many coneflower images, but have not been really satisfied with most the results.

Purple Coneflowers Copyright 1998  Andy Richards

Purple Coneflowers
Copyright 1998 Andy Richards

These flowers have the ability to reproduce, photographically, as a delicate pastel, or a much more saturated purple. They seem to be best portrayed—as with many flower closeups—with a nicely blurred background.

Purple Coneflower Copyright  1998  Andy Richards

Purple Coneflower
Copyright 1998 Andy Richards

Much of what is written about flower closeup photography suggests that we look very carefully for the perfect specimen. But in nature, there are few perfect specimens. One of my favorite coneflower images has a clear imperfection, but I don’t think it detracts at all from the final image.

Purple Coneflower Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Purple Coneflower
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I like to look for contrasting colors for a background for these images. It is common to see them planted near yellow flowers (like black-eyed Susans).

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