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2016 – Year in Review

Narragansett Bay Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Narragansett Bay
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Since I will be more or less offline for the next couple days, I am posting this earlier than my usual “Sunday morning” time.  As is not unprecedented this time of year, I have been MIA the last couple weeks.  Between year end activities in my profession, the holidays, and travel, it is often difficult to find time, inclination, and inspiration for posts.  As I reflect on 2016, and this blog, it seems like I have had more eventful years when it comes to my photography, and travel opportunities.  In some cases, like this 2014 image, I have been able to do “backyard” shooting.  But not this year, as I sold my “backyard” and traded it for a much less photogenic condo/apartment.  Part of the plan, here, is to free me up to travel to more interesting destinations, instead of maintaining the back yard :-).

"Backyard" Foliage Saginaw, MI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

“Backyard” Foliage
Saginaw, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

it seems like I have had more eventful years when it comes to my photography, and travel opportunities

But in many ways, 2016 was a personally eventful year for me.  I had my first ever serious surgery (good results).  We sold our home of 24+ years.  I have had a lot of travel back and forth from my new Michigan condo and our Florida home.  But photographically, its been less eventful than immediate years past.  Florida has primarily been a work – at – home destination, with the ability to relax and enjoy evenings and weekends in the Florida sunshine.

Palm Pavillion Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Palm Pavillion
Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

I did hit a significant milestone in the fall, with the publication of my second eBook, “Photographing Michigan’s U.P.”  As readers know, I collaborated with my friend and estimably talented outdoor and nature photographer, Kerry Leibowitz, and we are pretty happy with the result.  It represents a lot of work, and is, by its nature, a moving target.  We will talk in the years to come, about the best timing for updated versions.  In the meantime, I will look forward to my next opportunity to cross the Mighty Mac, and do further research.

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Upper Peninsula Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

As I looked for new blog topics during 2016, it occurred to me to do a review of my photography, year by year, from the beginning point of this blog.  It was a pretty interesting “journey” for me to go back and look at old imagery.  Beginning back in the late 1970’s, reviewing images made with an archaic cellulose material known as “film,” :-), and progressing though the early years of digital, to today, was fun.

Copyright Andy Richards

Copyright Andy Richards Fuji Velvia

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

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards Kodak ES100W

 I wish the best in 2017 to all of the readers here, and as always, want to express my thanks for reading here!

Things will ramp up again in 2017.  I will make my first ever trip to Key West and the Florida Keys.  I will spend nearly 3 weeks in the Mediterranean in September.  And who knows what other photo journeys I will make?

Castle Hill Lighthouse Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Castle Hill Lighthouse
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

But going back and reviewing my 2016 posts, there were certainly a few things were writing about and a few images worth posting.

Point Judith Lighthouse Narraganset, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Point Judith Lighthouse
Narraganset, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I did manage to sneak away for a long weekend to Rhode Island with my buddy, Rich.  There is lots of seacoast there, and it appears that the main attractions were lighthouses and boats.

Goat Island Light Newport, Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Light
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We were there, coincidentally, during the annual Newport Boat Show, and were able to see and shoot some impressive pleasure boats.

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

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

Newport Bridge Newport Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport Bridge
Newport Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In October, we spent another long weekend in Las Vegas.  I am not a gambler by any sense of the word.  But I made the most of it with my small camera and brought back some nice images.

New York, New York Casino at night Copyright Andy Richards 2016

New York, New York Casino at night
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Treasure Island Casino from the Venetian Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Treasure Island Casino from the Venetian
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I always try to close a year on an optimistic note.  I have watched with mixed amusement and chagrin, our national election process and its aftermath.  Social media has made it an experience different than we have historically observed.  I remain optimistic that our nations “experiment;” a republic based upon democratic principles, will continue, with all its warts, to be the best system in history; and that the USA is still a great place to live.  At the same time, I look forward to continued travel around the world, learning, observing, and appreciating other cultures (the vast majority of them 100’s of years older than ours and still apparently going strong) and people.

Fremont Street Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I wish the best in 2017 to all of the readers here, and as always, want to express my thanks for reading here!

Las Vegas Strip Law Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Las Vegas Strip
Law Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

“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.

“Old School” Vegas

Fremont Street Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

If you have: (1) never been to Vegas, (2) read my prior posts, and/or (3) been to Vegas, but never left the strip, you might be forgiven if you thought it was just one big, multi-million dollar, glitzy, over-the-top, tourist trap.

Freemont Street Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Freemont Street
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

You might be forgiven if you thought it was just one big, multi-million dollar, glitzy, over-the-top, tourist trap

Our first night in town, we headed north up the Strip to downtown Las Vegas and Fremont Street.  It is an entirely different “vibe,” and one that was more aligned with my lifelong idea of “Vegas.”

The Detroit Casino Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The Detroit Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

These are walk-around, handheld images and this environment really underscored for me the amazing technology that small cameras — and especially my Sony RX100iv — have incorporated into photography.  When I get into these situations, where I often need to point and shoot, or miss an opportunity, I find that this camera sensor does a pretty good job of capture.  I am able to set it to “auto” ISO and continue to shoot in raw mode.  When I get into post production, I am always impressed with its low-light/high ISO capability.

The Nugget Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The Golden Nugget
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The Fremont Street area was crazy.  There were all the things you might expect from the stories you hear about “Vegas.”  Some of them were captured, but will not appear here  :-).  Some of it you just had to look and laugh.  The casinos here were packed with gamblers and the bars and streets with drinkers.  We were there on a Friday night on Halloween weekend.   I really cannot say whether our visit was a typical Friday night there, but it was certainly an interesting experience.

Fremont Street Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The main area was canopied, with imagery lit up on the canopy.

Fremont Street Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I don’t know if, or when I will be back to Las Vegas, but I suspect I will someday.  Until then, we enjoyed it.

Las VEgas Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Las VEgas
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Things that Couldn’t Stay in Vegas

The Strip Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The Strip
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

When you first walk out onto Las Vegas Boulevard, you are visually assailed with enormous architectural monuments to the various owner-developers of casinos.  These are not just big buildings.  They are acres-big complexes.  Big enough in some cases to get lost inside of them — at least momentarily.  And, not-surprisingly, they are designed to weave you through the gaming areas no matter where you want to go.  It would be easy to think that is all there is.

Starbucks Cosmopolitan Casino Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Starbucks
Cosmopolitan Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In the mornings, I get up early (especially when I travel to the west coast) and grab some coffee, and walk around to explore my surroundings.  I generally look for a Starbucks, unless I have intel that there is better coffee, and there never seems to be a shortage, wherever in the world I go (except Vermont 😦 ).

Aria Casino Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Aria Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We stayed at the Aria Casino and each morning as we walked out toward the strip, we walked through the nice courtyard here.

McDonald's Arch Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

McDonald’s Arch
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I began looking for unique images and sights and I wasn’t disappointed.  One of my favorites was the “old-school” McDonald’s arch right on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Mirage Casino Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Mirage Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I thought the images of Mirage and Harrahs were more whimsical and less “in-your-face” than many of the other casino complexes.

Harrahs Casino Las Vegas NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Harrahs Casino
Las Vegas NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I also found some nice areas to photograph at night that probably don’t scream “casino.”

Las Vegas Strip Law Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Las Vegas Strip
Law Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Like so many large cities everywhere, if you look for them you can almost always find something interesting to photograph.  One nice thing about nighttime is that the darkness often masks out unwanted elements in an image.  And, no, I didn’t photograph the building during an earthquake.  One of the huge challenges of city shooting where tall buildings are involved is perspective issues with wide lenses.  This is especially illustrated with limited equipment.  There are so many lines in this building image that it would be hard to find a way to get them all oriented properly without a high shooting perspective and specialized equipment.  But I still found it visually appealing.  We also went downtown to Fremont Street and walked around.  I’ll blog about that next time.

Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Thanks for reading

What Happens in Vegas . . . . .

La Vegas Copyright Andy Richards 2016

La Vegas
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

This image could either be your rear-view mirror as you come into Las Vegas, or what you see in front of you when you are on your way home.  Either way, it is hard not to be thinking of the popular phrase: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  I believe the phrase originated with Las Vegas.  But a photographer cannot go to Vegas and leave it all behind.  So I brought some  stuff back.  Some, I left behind. 🙂

Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

But a photographer cannot go to Vegas and leave it all behind

This was my first trip to Vegas.  Hard to believe.  Almost 60 years old and never been to the fabled city.  But see, I am not a gambler.  I did not put one penny in a slot machine or on any table the whole long weekend.  I have a 100% consistent experience with gambling.  The house always wins.  Always.

Casino Las Vegas Strip Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Casino
Las Vegas Strip
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In many ways, for me, the trip to Vegas was a trip to another big city in the U.S.  But it really isn’t like any other big city.  Indeed, for most visitors these days, Vegas is about “the strip,” a roughly 5 mile section of Las Vegas Boulevard that is littered with casinos on the east and west sides of the road.  A multi-lane street, the traffic on the Boulevard is at times, nearly grid-locked.  As you walk through acres and acres of casinos, you wonder what all those people are doing.

New York, New York Casino Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

New York, New York Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The house always wins.  Always

“Well, gambling, of course,” you might respond.  Yet I was struck by just how few of the thousands of people were actually in the casinos, at the tables or machines!  In 2015, there were more than 42 million visitors to Las Vegas.  Looking at some internet surveys (I know, their statistical accuracy may be suspect) is informative.  It appears that although approximately 75% of Las Vegas visitors do some gambling, only about 12% of visitors travel to Vegas for the specific purpose of gambling.  Many, many more come for conventions or just to vacation.  I have it on good local authority that a significant number of golfers also travel to Las Vegas for golf.  I wondered, as I walked through our casino, Aria, just how many total rooms are available in Las Vegas.  My later research indicates that on the strip alone, there are well over 60,000 rooms available.  When you look at the casinos, and realize that for the most part, the gaming areas are at ground level, you need not wonder whether that is correct.

Bellagio and Caesar's Palace Casinos Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace Casinos
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

As long as I can remember, I have heard from frequent La Vegas visitors, that it is a great, cheap, vacation.  Cheap slots and tables, and great food  and drink at cheap prices.  Not so much these days.  I would have to rank it up there as one of the 2 or 3 most expensive cities I have been too.  Those days are gone.  And over the past 30 years, Las Vegas has transformed from a hard-core, casino-based gambling destination, to a major convention/tourism/commercial destination.  The statistics show that the average Las Vegas visitor spends 2-3 hours gambling.  We were there for a “long weekend.” I would guess that is a pretty common visit.  So what do people do with the other roughly 37 – 38 waking hours?  They shop, they eat, they see shows, they sight-see and people watch.  I was astounded at the number of high-end name brand merchandise retail outlets.  And they are there, so people must spend money in them.  Have I mentioned that the house always wins?  Even when we don’t gamble 🙂 .

Shopping on the Vegas Strip Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Shopping on the Vegas Strip
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

But make no mistake.  Clark County’s gaming revenue for 2015 was still almost $10 billion.  The house wins.  Always.  I am told that the casinos in downtown Las Vegas and out toward the Summerlin complex are cheaper.  And, in my observation, the one night we spent on Fremont Street, downtown, those casinos, and the streets were packed with people.  So, overall, Las Vegas still fulfills its reputation as a gambling mecca.

Treasure Island Casino from the Venetian Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Treasure Island Casino from the Venetian
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

From the old-school, gaming-centric layouts of the older casinos, the “new” approach to casino design, is theme-based.  In earlier days, those theme were Treasure Island, Circus Circus, history-based Caesar’s Palace, etc.  Developers have spent billions to create European-themed casinos, like Bellagio and the Venetian.  Having spent some time on the real island of Venice, I was impressed at how realistically the Venetian has been able to portray that part of Italy.  I was also interested in the city-street atmosphere New York, New York created for its restaurant area (although it strikes me that it is relatively small compared to some of the other themes).

New York, New York Casino at night Copyright Andy Richards 2016

New York, New York Casino at night
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

It goes without saying, that Las Vegas basically never sleeps.  The nightlife is robust, with shows, nightclubs, restaurants, and of course, the casinos themselves.

Nighttime on the Strip Las Vegas, NV Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Nighttime on the Strip
Las Vegas, NV
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

As always, I wandered the streets in the early morning hours.  I captured some of my own “whimsical” images.  I will blog about them next.  Thanks for reading.

Newport and Boats; Is There Anything Else?

View of Newport from Goat Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

View of Newport from Goat Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

If your only information about Newport and Rhode Island came from my blog, at this point you might think it is just one big boat harbor.  But there is more.  One of the things I have learned about travel photography (perhaps all facets of photography) is that there are subjects that lend themselves to shooting with the time, equipment and access that many of us have, and there are simply subjects that do not.  And time, often also dictates shooting priorities.

Cliff Walk Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Cliff Walk
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Newport is home to many cultural additions other than its estimable marine industry.  There is probably no more famous “summer cottages,” than the “Cliff Mansions.”  And the Cliff Walk along the shore the houses those mansions is worth the shoe leather.  But it is really not a photographer’s prime destination.  It may lend itself to a few shots for travel purposes, but not for general-purpose landscape photography.  Perhaps given a little more time, particularly during sunrise and sunset hours, I may have had a different take-away.  As it is, I made on image that I thought had some potential, using the sweep of a decorative wall as a prop.

Cliff Walk Mansion Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Cliff Walk Mansion
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The mansions are, in my view, hampered by a lack of access.  What I mean by that is I could no go where I wanted to to shoot them. Many of them are publicly owned, but they are also fenced.  From the cliff walk, it is difficult to get a perspective for making a good photograph.  It would require, at the very least, access to the grounds.  And perhaps it would also require some more specialized equipment such as ladders and wider lenses.  And like so many public places, even where access is possible, it is usually not so during the “golden light” hours.  Given proper time, research and contacts, I have no doubt some great images could be made of these mansions.  We were also disappointed to find that nearly everyone had ongoing maintenance, with scaffolding covering them.  Lets hope that maintenance yields some great results for those who come later :-).

Cliff Walk Mansion Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Cliff Walk Mansion
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The entire area, of course, is one big series of beaches and points and islands.  We drove a number of the beach roads.  From one very high view, I was able to capture a very interesting reef formation covered with colorful green marine growth.

Rock Reef Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Rock Reef
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I have mentioned Goat Island, in the context of the lighthouse, actually known as The Newport Harbor Light.  Early Newport settlers used the island as a goat pasture.  The island also housed a fort which changed from Spanish to colonial, to British and back to U.S. military holdings over its history, finally housing a torpedo factory for the U.S. Navy.  In the 1960s,he island was sold to private developers and the Newport Hyatt Regency stands there today along with some restaurants.  The light is still active, and is part of a very nice walk around the island and the hotel complex with great views of the bay and back toward Newport Harbor.

Goat Island Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016