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Truth in Photography (Here I go again)

Birch Clump Hiawatha NF; Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Birch Clump
Hiawatha NF; Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

[Recently, I seem to have run out of fresh, new material, which partially explains my more infrequent posts here (my goal has been one a week and over the years, I have largely met it).  When I get into these times, I will sometimes look back at prior posts to see if there is anything worth re-visiting, and through my Lightroom archives to see if anything stimulates me.  I have done that for the last 2 weeks.  Nothing.]  🙂

“truth isn’t absolute”

So, this morning, I spent some time with my friend, “GOOGLE,” and found this article, Why Facts Aren’t Always Truth In PhotographyMany will remember the Afgan Girl magazine cover that (perhaps) launched photographer Steve McCurry into international recognition.  He has recently made news (at least in the photographic world) again.  Without getting into the specific circumstances of the article (written by a colleague and fellow professional photographer, Peter van Agtmael) it’s “10,000 foot view” is, in my view, focused more on some principles of “truth” in photography that can be generalized.  And boy, did it resonate with me.  In fact, it can — I believe — be applied to much of what has gone on in the past several months over media, social media and even the coffee table.

Starting with one of my earliest posts, “Get Real,”  and for example, “Has The Digital Medium Changed Everything?,” and “Photoshop Is Not Evil,” over the years I have been writing here, I have made frequent reference to my thoughts on the use of “digital darkroom techniques” to “enhance” my own images.  I think I have made position clear when it comes to the art of photography.  But Mr. van Agtmael ventures into photography that is not made, per se, as “art.”  Rather, he addresses what I refer to as “reportage” photography.  Presumably, the image depicts things exactly as they appeared.

“We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.” (Peter van Agtmael)

 

Humanity is not scientific.  Biology is.  The human brain is a scientific wonder.  The workings of human brain?  Well that is only “scientific” to the extent that it is thinking about science.  The rest?  It’s an art form for certain.  How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?  And so, Mr. van Agtmael posits something we have all heard back in our own ancient histories, at some point.  In my words, “truth isn’t absolute.”  But that is a bit cliche‘.  In his much more eloquently stated words: ” ... there were a lot of loaded words like ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ being thrown around. I don’t really believe in these words. I’ve never met two people with the same truth, nor seen true objectivity ever demonstrably applied to anything. They are nice words, but remain aspirational and cloud a more nuanced interpretation of reality and history. We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.”  I like that.  Our world is filled with millions and millions of “facts.”  We also hear a lot of opinion which is cited as fact.  But even with incontrovertible, empirically provable facts, it is still important to understand context and relevance.

Goat Island Light Newport, Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Light
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The opening image here is (OMG!) altered.  I know viewers will say I “saturated” it, I “enhanced” it, etc. (maybe; maybe not 🙂 ).   But that isn’t really what I mean.  This image was physically “altered” before it was even made!  I had an image I wanted to depict, and in the crotch formed by the 3 trunks there was I small pile of dead branches which were (in my view) unsightly and distracting.  Is it relevant that I removed them and spread the leaves around a bit?  Could the image have been found the way I have presented it?  Perhaps if I were trying to depict the “pristine” quality of nature, or deny that it can sometimes be messy, the answer would be different.  I appreciate that this is not reporting on the refugee crisis and is trivial in relation to that.  But this is a photography blog, and I don’t do reportage photography.  I just thought Mr. van Agtmael’s point would resonate even in the perhaps less significant milieu of nature photography.

How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?

Those who have read here previously know the story of the Goat Island Light Image.  I placed those chairs there.  “Hand of man and all that good stuff.”  Again, I don’t mean to trivialize the serious piece.  But I do think the larger point has application to all of our photography.

Fayette State Park Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

If the viewer looks carefully at the bottom center of this image, there is a snarl of yellow polyethlyene rope in the foreground.  A better photographer than I would probably have seen that detail and excluded it (or perhaps purposely included it, again depending on the goal of the image).  I would not perhaps shock anyone here that before I made a print of this image I (GASP!) “Photoshopped” the rope out.

Small things.  But then, from small minds ……..  🙂

But seriously, I would commend the reader to read the Peter van Agtmael piece on Steve McCurry debacle.  While you may or may not agree with me, or with its premise, I hope you will agree that it it thought – provoking.

 

 

 

The Sun Rises; Reprise

Bay Bridge Sunrise San Francisco, CA Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Bay Bridge Sunrise
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

It seemed like 16 images were too many for a single blog post (really, 8 is probably too many, and my blogs tend to be longer than a blog should be 🙂 ).  So I split my sunrise images into 2 installments.

Bean Pond Barton, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Bean Pond
Barton, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2010, I again visited Vermont for a fall color photography excursion.  My good friend, fellow photographer, fellow blogger, and co-author of the 2nd Edition of Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage, Carol, acted as my host and guide for the first couple days.  One magical place she took me too was Bean Pond, a small, unremarkable roadside pond near here home in Barton in the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont.  Unremarkable, that is, unless you are a photographer looking for fall foliage venues.  Since my first trip there, I have been back to the pond several times (and I am certain Carol has been there almost daily when she is in Vermont in season).  Our morning broke very cold, with frost on the ground, after a prolonged spell of heavy rain.  We knew the conditions were ripe for fog and steam rising off the pond and she had us there by twilight.  The resulting images (only one here) made the cold, early morning well worth it.

Bay Bridge San Francisco, CA Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Bay Bridge
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

In 2011, we visited San Francisco, to visit our daughter.  She lives in downtown, which put me in the middle of one of the best photography venues I have ever visited.  Once again, the 3 hour time change worked in favor of early rising, and a 15 minute walk brought me to the Embarcadero, at the eastern boundary of the city, and one of San Francisco’s seaports with a closeup view of one of the two major bridges leading into San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Bridge.  There are San Francisco Bay shooting opportunities all along the Embarcadero.  We returned again in 2014, and I couldn’t resist a couple more early morning walking trips to the Embarcadero.

Mocassin Lake Munising, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Mocassin Lake
Hiawatha NF
Munising, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have been traveling to the Michigan Upper Peninsula (U.P.) for many years for fall color photography.  As many readers here know, I think highly enough of the photographic potential that I have co-written an eBook on Photographing the Michigan U.P., with my good friend and fellow photographer and blogger, Kerry Leibowitz.  I have photographed Mocassin Lake many times and never cease to find it photogenic.  My writings on the U.P. and some of my imagery captured the attention of a professional photographer and teacher in Pennsylvania, James Moore.  Inn 2012, he decided to host one of his workshops in the U.P.  He asked me to be his guide.  These images were all made during the 2012 trip.  I appreciate his inspiration and I think that week was the most rewarding of all of my trips to the U.P.  I was there from the beginning to the peak of color, perhaps the only time in my shooting career.

Pete's Lake Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Pete’s Lake
Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Pete's Lake Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Pete’s Lake
Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

In 2013 we went on two more cruises.  In January, we joined a group affiliated with the O’Brien Estate Winery in Napa, Ca, on a Caribbean Cruise.  We didn’t know a soul when we boarded.  We were fortunate to have some very friendly table mates and we ended up not only spending most of our time on board with them and another couple, but we have made lifelong friends.  We have traveled to Napa together, and they have recently visited us in our Florida home.  It was a great cruise.  As we arrived home in the early morning hours, I was able to capture this sunrise image of the Miami Skyline.

Miami, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Miami, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Later, in September, we took what was my first trip out of the U.S. (Canada doesn’t count 🙂 ); a Mediterranean Cruise.  We started with a few days in Venice.  My only sunrise shot during that trip was the famous gondolas in St. Mark’s Square, which took some doing.  We were staying on the mainland, so I had to take the early train to Venice and then find my way through the maze to the square before the sunrise.  I had practiced a couple times.

Gondolas San Marco Piazza Venice, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Gondolas
San Marco Piazza
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

I grew up in the Northern Michigan town of Traverse City.  It is a resort town, and by all reports, beautiful in all seasons.  The city sits at the base of a peninsula of land (Old Mission Peninsula) which creates two deep bays (East Bay and West Bay) into Lake Michigan.  It has unique, sandy coastline and a climate similar to that of Northern California (except that winters up there are brutal and snowy).  I moved away from there shortly after I graduated from High School in 1975.  But I still have family there, and only live about 2 3/4 hours away.  It occurred to me at some point that I had spent little time photographing up there, and so, in 2014, with no major fall foliage outings planned, took a long-weekend trip up there.  I was on the high point of the peninsula, where it is possible to see both bays, at sunrise.  This sunrise image faces (perhaps obviously) East Bay.

Center Road Old Mission Peninsula Traverse City, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Center Road
Old Mission Peninsula
Traverse City, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

 

Key West

Key West Harbor Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Key West Harbor
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I have a travel “bucket list,” (of sorts).  One of the places on that bucket list has been the Florida Keys, and particularly, Key West.  In January, we traveled to Key West for a long weekend.   As can happen, it turned out to be a bit of an adventure.

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

From Fort Myers Beach, you can take a Ferry (The Key West Express) which will land you in Key West in about 4 hours.  I have always thought of Key West as being south of Miami.  It is more accurate to say it is southwest of Miami, and it is really further west than south (sounds like the beginning of a Jimmy Buffet song).  And it is actually straight south from Ft. Myers Beach, so the ferry ride is a pretty straight shot right down the gulf.  From Ft. Myer’s the drive is substantially longer and were were interested in getting there and back as quickly as possible.  Personally, I don’t mind driving — especially when it is to new places. But my traveling companions; well, not so much.  “Be careful what you wish for,” it turns out, applied here.  More on that later.

Fort Myers Beach Fort Myers FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Ferry pulled away from the dock early in the morning, and we were aboard to see the sun rise over Ft. Myers Beach.  As we left the harbor, we were able to see some of the popular “beach” hangouts from the deck of the ship in early morning light.

Fort Myers Beach Fort Myers, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As promised, just under 4 hours later, we landed at the Key West Harbor terminal, where the main boating activity, including cruise ships, fishing boats, ferries and pleasure craft, occurs.    A short jaunt from the ferry terminal, Key West’s main tourist attraction, Duval Street, begins just southeast of Mallory Square, on the harbor.  While the island itself is oriented primarily west to east, most of the streets run diagonal from either the Northwest to Southeast, or North East to Southwest.

Sloppy Joe's Bar Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As soon as you set foot onto Duval Street, you are confronted with bars and restaurants and shops.  While there are a number of “tourist” and “family” activities available, the main event (for adults anyway — in it definitely is an “adult” kind of place) seems to be the bar/restaurant scene.  We visited several bars while there, including the famous Sloppy Joe’s.  We were interested to see the substantial influence from the military — particularly the Navy.  Since my father-in-law was a career Naval Officer, we enjoyed seeing some of the paraphernalia left by military personnel over the years.

Sloppy Joe's Bar Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

It was also fun to visit a restaurant and learn a bit about Key West history.  Blue Heaven was such a place with a singular history of  cockfighting (100 years ago), gambling, and Friday night boxing matches purported refereed by Hemingway himself.

Blue Heaven Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Blue Heaven
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Notwithstanding its “quirky nature, one of the draws it its very unique, partially covered, outdoor area.  In Key West, it is a restaurant/bar of some repute, with live music and good food.

Blue Heaven Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Blue Heaven
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Our B&B was at the southeastern end of Duval Street, near the furthest south beach in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, there is also a resort next door, aptly named, “The Southernmost Beach Resort.”  After our arrival in Key West, we first took our luggage to the B&B and found a restaurant (equally aptly named), in the resort:  The Southernmost Beach Cafe.

Southernmost Beach Resort Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

A stroll down the approximately 1 mile long Duval Street from the B&B back to Mallory Square, gave us a bit of the “lay of the land” and a precursor of the chaotic night life that Duval Street is known for.  Among other famous figures, Key West was a favorite haunt of Hemingway and of President Truman (both of whom had substantial homes on this island).  But for me the personal favorite “famous” person is Jimmy Buffet.  :-).   So I couldn’t walk by the original Margaritaville without stopping (and I couldn’t walk out with out buying a T-shirt) :-).

The Original "Margaritaville" Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Original “Margaritaville”
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I recently noted here that the Florida Gulf is known for its sunsets.  Key West is certainly no exception.  We sat at an outdoor bar listening to a local live band in Mallory Square at the end of our first day and watched the sun set as “our” Key West Express departed with its passengers for Fort Myers Beach.  We thought we would be on that same boat 2 days hence.

Sunset, Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunset, Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I neglected to say, the occasion of our visit to Key West was a birthday present from my wife.  For the actual birthday, she found, and booked a restaurant on the water, called Louie’s Backyard.  For anyone visiting Key West and looking for a nicer restaurant with wonderful food in a great venue, I highly recommend Louie’s Backyard.  As we sipped a Martini and watched the sunset, I captured this image with my wife’s smartphone, of an adjacent pier which must have been yet another bar or restaurant.  Not too shabby a birthday night.  Certainly one to remember.

Sunset from Louie's Backyard Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunset from Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Also, all good things must come to an end.  Sometimes abruptly.  I had carried a cigar around in my shirt pocket for two days, waiting for the right opportunity to enjoy it.  It turned out to be after we returned from the restaurant and up on the 2nd floor balcony of our B&B.  And as I sat there enjoying the night time activity and pleasant weather, and wondering what we would do the next day, my wife received a text from Key West Express.   Due to predicted, near-40mph wind gusts and thunderstorms over the gulf, they would not be there to pick us up at our appointed time at 5:00 p.m. the following day.  I am fond of saying that if things don’t work out as planned, it is always important to have a “plan B.”  When asked what “plan B” is, I usually say that the reason it is “plan B” is because I have no idea what it is. :-).  It is another way of saying sometimes you just need to roll with the punches.  We (actually my wife and brother in law, as I sat back and watched them in action) rented a car on line and the next morning we left the B&B at 8:00 and picked up a rental car at the Key West airport.  So, I did get my chance to drive through the keys!  It was a very long day, but an enjoyable weekend.

 

 

The Sun Rises, Too

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I wanted to title this, “The Sun Also Rises,” but given all the preaching I have done here about copyright, I thought Hemingway deserved my respect 🙂 .  Last week, I blogged about Florida sunsets, and waxed philosophical about sunset photography in general.  While much of what I said applies to sunrises, they are unique.

Photographing a sunrise takes a certain resolve and commitment which most people just don’t have

As noted previously, lots of folks (including some I know very well) never see the sun rise.  I am here to assure them that is does, indeed rise.  🙂 .  And sometimes you get really lucky and get to see a moonset and sunrise in the same location on the same morning, like I did at Pete’s Lake in Michigan’s U.P. a few years ago.

Pete's Lake Moon Set Hiawatha NF, Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Pete’s Lake Moon Set
Hiawatha NF, Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

One thing that makes sunrises different sunsets is atmospheric conditions.  Sunsets follow the warmth of day and sunrises often follow a cool or even cold night.  The warmth of daylight often produces thinly cloudy atmospheric conditions which can create beautiful pastel colored skies.  Or, a sudden clearing or opening can yield a surprise dramatic lighting condition, as happened at the Ft. Myers Beach harbor.

Port of San Francisco Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Port of San Francisco
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Other times, the fog or cloud cover can diffuse the sunrise and create a “dawn of a new day” kind of look.  The San Francisco Ferry leaving in the early hours is backstopped by such a sunrise.

While much of what I said about sunsets applies to sunrises, they are unique

Sunrises, because they normally follow the coolest temperatures during a 24 hour period, can often be seen in foggy or misty conditions.  This is particularly true near water, which is why water is my preferred sunrise setting.  But sometimes, it is just a matter of perspective–literally.  The shot of the city of Tokyo at dawn was taken from a high floor in my hotel window as daylight was beginning to emerge.

Tokyo Dawn Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Tokyo Dawn
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Yet there is another, more esoteric dynamic which distinguishes sunset and sunrise.  In most parts of the world, even when the days are at their shortest, sunrise happens before most folks are out and about.  Indeed, in order to see and capture a sunrise at its best, you will need to be up and about, and on location before the big event.  So it takes a certain resolve and commitment which most people just don’t have.

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

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

But what they miss is perhaps the most magical time of the day.  What you learn from experience is that sometimes the most dramatic light–and images–come just before the actual sunrise, in the twilight minutes.  And when the sun does rise, if it is exposed, it is usually much more intense than sunset, which occasionally means very contrasty conditions and challenging exposure issues.  But it also means drama, and sometimes, star patterns.  As we scouted the Split Rock Lighthouse one morning following a rainy night, the cloud cover suddenly broke behind the cloud cover behind the light to yield a pretty dramatic silhouette.  I was able to stop down enough to get a diffuse starburst effect, too.  It was still raining that morning when we rolled out of bed and it would have been easy to just sleep in more, or go to breakfast.  But I were weren’t there I would have missed this shot.

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards

Another plus to sunrise shooting is that you are out when there is virtually nothing moving.  The only thing that is is the wildlife that is often active at that time.  It can be an incredibly serene time of day and it is without a doubt, my favorite time to shoot.  The morning I made the Cape Hateras image, I (and another solitary fisherman) was the only human for miles of beach.  The surf was quiet and all that could be heard was that gentle wave break and the seabirds.  It was a pretty amazing moment.

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

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

Shooting into the sun is challenging under any conditions.  But it is often rewarding.  One issue that often arises from this perspective, especially with short and mid focal length, lenses, is the phenomena called lens flare.  In many instances, lens flare can be an image killer.  But sometimes, it adds to the image.  Especially when it produces colors.  I got not only the starburst effect, but also lens flare in the Sault St. Marie image.  One of the wonders of post-capture digital manipulation is the ability to retouch these out of the image.  But sometimes lens flare actually adds something to the image.  I like the effect here.

Florida Gulf Sunset

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My friends and some readers here know that I have two homes now; one here in Michigan and one in Florida.  The Florida home is in western Florida on what is known as “the Gulf side.”  We are in the Tampa Bay region and between the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, and Clearwater Harbor, water is everywhere.

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography.  And the Florida Gulf is renowned for its spectacular, colorful sunsets.  So it is interesting; almost surprising to me that though I live no more than 10 minutes from the gulf, I have made very few sunset images.

Part of the reason is that I haven’t made the opportunity.  My trips to Florida are usually short, and often centered around the holidays, and spending time with family and friends.  Unless one of them is as enthusiastic about photography for its own sake, it is more difficult to fit a dedicated photography outing in (even a short one).  I have noted here before, that the best light conditions for late day photography often fall at the same time people make plans for dinner, or other evening activities.

Crystal Beach Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric.  Back in “the day” (in context, when we shot with film and mechanical cameras), getting a successful sunset (or sunrise) shot required some knowledge of the science of exposure, a decent camera, and a tripod.  It really took a more or less “dedicated” outing to do.  So there were fewer of them out there (in print and later, on the internet).  Consequently, almost any well exposed sunset shot with some color in the sky was new, different, and to many, interesting.

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric

Technology has changed that.  Particularly in the last 10 years, digital cameras, and especially the cameras built into cellular phones, have become increasingly impressive at rendering all kinds of scenes in all kinds of light conditions.  Today, we get 100’s of posted sunsets each day on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and the like.  And they are often technically pretty well exposed, even in instances where the shooter really doesn’t know anything about the science of photography.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they are “good” images though. (although I will concede that at some level, “good” is very subjective).  Part of human nature (mine at least) means that this glut of “sunset” photos make them less interesting, and it takes something more to not only capture my interest, but make the image worth making.

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

During the “Christmas” holidays (roughly late December through early January), I was in Florida for a more extended period and I did make some time to do some scouting and then eventually, shooting.  I try to get in a 15-20 mile bike ride every other day or so, and the Pinellas County Rail Trail is very close to our home and basically skirts the gulf from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs.  I ride it most of the time, and have taken a few detours down to the water, in exploration of possible photo ops.  One of the really nice places I found was a very small community sandwiched between Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, called Crystal Beach.  There is a nice little park, a small beach, and a community pier.  So Crystal Beach became a destination for some sunset shooting.crystal_beach_pier_4_2017

My own criteria for sunset shots is different from many of the shots I commonly see (mostly on Facebook).  To me, for interest, there needs to be something more than water, sky and sun (or light) in the shot most of the time.  I emphasize “most” of the time, because I think there are occasions when the sky alone (or the water reflection) may be the true subject and any other objects in the photo may detract from this.  But not most of the time.  This really isn’t different from general “photography 101.”  A good photograph needs a good subject, and good placement (or exclusion) of other elements in the photo to enhance the view of the subject.  A couple of basic things I like to remember as I set up and compose are to be sure the horizon is level (probably the number one “cell-phone” shot issue I observe), and that the horizon (most of the time 🙂 ), is not dead center in the image.  Aside from that, I look for something that will give the image perspective (and, to me “interest”).  Sometimes you just feel the urge to do a “gimmicky” shot, too.  While in Key West a couple weeks ago, we celebrated my 60th birthday at a nice restaurant with a deck overlooking the ocean, noted for sunsets.  I didn’t have my camera at the time so a cell phone shot would have to do, as I saw this image developing.  There was no other place I could get to to shoot the orange ball as it dropped, so I framed it in the pier next to us.

Louie's Backyard Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My one other dedicated sunset photo outing was in early 2016, to Honeymoon Island, again, close to home and a “favorite” spot for viewing the sunset over the gulf.  The silhouetted couple was a stroke of luck, but it definitely make the image unique and in my view, certainly more interesting than that spectacular colored sky alone.

Honeymoon State Park Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Honeymoon State Park
Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The opening shot of the Crystal Beach Pier is an example of my thought process.  The golden sunset has a “wow” factor all of its own.  The sunset shot of Newport, Rhode Island is similar in that I don’t know that I could have duplicated that beautiful orange color ever again.  But without the sailboat, it would just be a ho-hum (colorful, perhaps, but still ho-hum) image.  AT Crystal Beach there were 20-30 people who arrived shortly before sunset, just to observe this phenomena, which is a frequent occurrence (thought always somewhat unique).  To the observer, the sunset is the rai·son d’ê·tre.  So we come for that and we watch it and often, we capture it with camera or phone.  But our subconscious puts that sunset into perspective; something the photograph often does not.  Our peripheral vision sees the pier, the ground, the plants, and that the horizon is “out there” (and level).

Narragansett Bay Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Narragansett Bay
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

There are many spots I have scouted and many I haven’t even discovered yet.  So there will be more Florida sunset shooting in my future.

“Gear Stuff” – a comparison between Large and Small Cameras.

Castle Hill Lighthouse Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Castle Hill Lighthouse
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I have “categories” on my blog, like “gear” and “musings.” I am not sure if this blog is more “gear” or “musings.” So let’s just call it “musings about gear.” 🙂

The age old gear discussion often involves whether one is better than the other

All craftsmen use tools. Some are generic, but often there are special tools for a particular job. I think photographic “gear” is really better characterized, generally, as “tools.” The age old gear discussion involves whether one is “better” than the other. So let’s just start this out by stating that, when it comes to photography, “better” is always subjective. And perhaps when we apply the adjective, “better” we need to think in terms of “better for what,” and “better for whom?

Castle Hill Lighthouse Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Castle Hill Lighthouse
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Equipment that is better for me is not necessarily better for another photographer. One of my good friends, Phil Dolinger, is a sports photographer. He wouldn’t use my gear. It just wouldn’t work for him. It is the wrong tool. I could use his gear (Phil, if you give it to me, I will use it 🙂 ). But I don’t need his gear. I travel and I most often shoot cooperative (“still”) subjects. Usually, I can get closer using my feet. So I can work with smaller lenses and smaller cameras.

Sailboat Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Sailboat
Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Before I go further, I guess I need to consider what I mean by “large” and small.”  For many of the years I have been shooting, in my thinking, really large cameras were view cameras.  They use sheets of film, often as large as 8 x 10 inches.  Large cameras were the various iterations of the so-called, “Medium Format” (MF) camera, which shot film rectangle sizes of generally between 6 x 4.5 and 6 x 8 inches.  While these cameras certainly were capable of capturing tremendous detail, the were often fiddly, expensive to operate, heavy, and required accessories.  There is a reason you never see a view camera on the sidelines on NFL Sunday.  View cameras and often, larger MF cameras required the use of a large and sturdy tripod.

Probably the most ubiquitous camera over the last 40 years has been the 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera.  The vast majority of shooters, pro and serious amateur alike, used these cameras.  Though their film square was a mere 35mm diagonal, they were a very acceptable compromise of film, a wide variety of interchangeable lenses, adjustability of shutter speed and aperture.  Their main advantage was their diversity and portability.  A variation the SLR is the so-called viewfinder camera.  Most of them used 35mm film and they were, more often than not, used by pro’s who needed portability and sometimes anonymity.  Or, often because they just preferred them.  Since my acquisition of the Sony RX100 small camera, I now understand why.

I have always thought the term “full frame” was kind of self-serving.  It refers to 35mm.  All those shooters shooting various medium format and larger format cameras have to be saying “really?  Full Frame?  You are gonna go with that?

And then there are “small” cameras.  Those are essentially anything smaller than an SLR, in my thinking (obviously, it’s all relative).  We have, over the years, come to calling them “point and shoot” (P&S) cameras.  This perhaps pejorative name is less based on their capability than their intended market.  These were everyday, snapshooter, often inexpensive, and generally, limited systems.  They didn’t have to be.  I once carried an Olympus “pocket” camera that made some very high quality images.  Some used 35mm film, some even smaller film.  Generally, a “serious” photographer did not carry one of these “small” cameras as their primary gear.  In the past 5 years, that has (at least for me and perhaps a couple others I know) has all changed.

What has been a real eye-opener for me is just how capable current small cameras are. In “the day,” nobody argued that a larger piece of film yielded finer, more detailed results; especially where large prints were involved. So the View Camera generally yielded best results. Medium Format cameras generally yielded better results than 35mm. For its first 20 years, it has been assumed (and probably proven), that the same held true with digital capture. There was no question in the nascent days of digital capture, that the medium format digital backs rendered finer, more detailed, and just overall more pleasing images.  But they were completely out of the economic reach of the typical enthusiast and of many pros.  The first consumer affordable sensors in a “larger” camera format were the so-called APS-sized (smaller than 35mm) sensor.  Built on the 35mm SLR body concept, they have been tagged DSLRs.  They are are probably still the most popular enthusiast dedicated digital camera. The roadblocks to creating 35mm equivalent and larger sensors were technology and cost. As those two factors converged affordable 35mm (so-called “full frame”) sensors became reality. But for the 10-15 years before that, an entire, new phase of manufacturing came about in order to produce lenses that worked hand in hand with the smaller APS sensors. Again, gear. Lots of it. Good for manufactures and sales :-).  I have always thought the term “full frame” was kind of self-serving.  It refers to 35mm.  All those shooters shooting various medium format and larger format cameras have to be saying “really?  Full Frame?  You are gonna go with that?”

What has been an eye-opener is just how capable smaller cameras are

Again, the gear and tools analogy holds here. The reason 35mm SLR cameras were so popular was their versatility. You don’t see many view-cameras and black cloths setting up for sports or wildlife shooting.  And you never see one of those being hand held on a crowded city street.  Not only are the images upside-down on the viewing screen, but it is really difficult to move the camera and focus it.  Another reason, of course, is the ability to manufacture and offer SLR style bodies at a price that can be afforded by consumers.

Temple Rokuon-Ji Kyoto Japan Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

But things have changed. And oh, how they have changed! Film and digital capture sensors are both, without doubt, physical science. But the technology surrounding the physical science just gets better and better, and put in the context of our own empirical experience, unbelievable. Things like Fuji’s “Foveon” sensors, and the newer “stacked sensor” technology championed by Sony, has given us the advancement to create high image quality digital capture with very physically small sensors. So much so, that it is becoming really difficult to differentiate an image captured by a small camera and one captured by a large camera.

I need to qualify this. On paper, there is still no comparison between the image quality rendered by a large digital sensor and a small one. The larger one will yield measurably better results. “Measurably” is the key. The practice of magnifying the images to 100% and looking at the individual pixels is often referred to as “pixel-peeping.” I won’t argue that difference is remarkable. But I don’t know that I really care. For me the objective has always been display of my images in a format that viewers can enjoy. And though more and more, digital display has become the benchmark, I still think in terms of the relatively large photographic print. So, when I am able to take a small sensor image and make a good quality print at 24″ x 36″, I have obtained the results I seek. I have a couple such prints that are indistinguishable to my eye from similar prints made from my “full-frame” (35mm equivalent) camera.

The practice of magnifying the images to 100% and looking at the individual pixels is often referred to as “pixel-peeping.” I won’t argue that difference is remarkable. But I don’t know that I really care.

On my recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island, I carried the small, Sony RX100iv in my pocket the entire time I was shooting. I have started to use it to frame up images and take test shots while setting up the full-frame a7 on the tripod. What has continued to amaze me is that I find it difficult to meaningfully distinguish images shot with it and the a7. And these days, my small camera images are mostly handheld. The first Castle Hill Lighthouse shot here was made with the a7 and a 70-200 lens. after making a few shots with the R100, I waited for the “golden” light to make the a7 shot.  The only real difference I can see is the light and color of the image. As far as the image quality, I really cannot see a difference. I am confident that I could print from either digital file as large as I would ever want a print to be for hanging. (NOTE:  when I wrote the first draft of this, I said “Sure, it is not going to make a billboard image, but I haven’t shot one of those yet 🙂 ” )Recently, I sold an image made with my full frame Nikon DSLR that was used as a billboard sized panoramic images in an Interstate Welcome Center.  Perhaps the RX100 would have shown its weakness there 🙂 .

Castel-Angel Rome, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Castel-Angel
Rome, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

I have used the RX100iv exclusively as my travel camera, to some pretty amazing places. I have surprised myself that I have foregone carrying the more “serious” equipment. As well, I have been surprised that I haven’t missed it and have brought home some pretty good images (IQ-wise, at least. I’ll let the viewer judge whether they are “good” images or not).

Rigging, Tall Ship Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Rigging, Tall Ship
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Every image here, except the first one, were made with the Sony RX100iv. I believe the quality of smaller sensors has gotten so good that I told my buddy, Rich on our trip that if I ever replace the a7, I will most likely move back the NEX (now badged “Alpha 0000”) series of cameras. While using an APS sensor in lieu of the 35mm equivalent, they — and their matching lenses — are smaller, lighter, and generally less expensive. But with pretty estimable image quality capability. I like all those things.

 

Old Boats

One of the really fascinating finds of my trip to Newport was the prevalence of very old boats.  There is an entire industry about finding and restoring very old wooden boats, often from a wrecked status to like-new condition.  There were amazing examples all over Newport when we were there.  Some of it was the draw of the international show.  But much of it is also specific to Newport.

Multi-Million $ "Boats" Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Multi-Million $ “Boats”
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We were able to go aboard the completely refurbished wooden cruiser closest to the dock.  It is luxurious.  Cost of these rebuilds, I am told, range in the $10 – 15 million arena.

Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We were also intrigued by the “old school” workmanship of the newest of America’s “Tall Ships,” which acts as a school and maritime school for young people.

Old Boat Hardware Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Old Boat Hardware
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The the best of all, was our walk-through of the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) .  Here they have small classes of 12 -14 students who go through 2 years of wooden boat building training and education.  It is mainly “hands-on.”  One of the things the teams do is completely restore certain model, old wooden boats that were popular enough years back that they are fairly plentiful.  AS you can see, they are typically in very poor – even shipwrecked condition.  But they find them and bring them back to the school where they restore and then sell them.

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

They also do single model restorations.  These are typically paid for by benevolent owners.  The boats shown here are popular small models.

Wooden Boat Being Restored Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Wooden Boat Being Restored
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Completed Restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Completed Restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

"Deepwater" Another popular restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

“Deepwater”
Another popular restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In addition to the ongoing school efforts, IYRS is currently involved in the long-term restoration of a one-of-a-kind recreational sailing yacht, the Coronet, a 131 foot, 1885 Schooner.  The yacht was involved in one of the first ever transatlantic races, and was sailed around the globe by its original owner.  It was owned by several different owners prior to being acquired by IYRS in 1995.  IYRS later conveyed title to a group of investors, who are paying to have it restored.  Begun in 2010, restorations are ongoing.  The yacht has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Coronet IYRS, Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet
IYRS, Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet IYRS, Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet
IYRS, Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet IYRS, Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet
IYRS, Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet IYRS, Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Coronet
IYRS, Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Hardware; Coronet IYRS, Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Hardware; Coronet
IYRS, Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Everything will be restored or rebuild as close to original spec and materials as possible.  It was a fascinating thing to behold;  And to imagine a private yacht as large and as luxurious as this back in 1885.