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The 7-Year Itch?

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

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

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

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

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

Stone House; Manassas Virginia Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone House; Manassas Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I really enjoy writing this thing

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

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

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

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

Bernard Maine copyright  Andy Richards 2009

Bernard Maine
copyright Andy Richards 2009

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

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening

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

Ketchikan, Alaska Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Ketchikan, Alaska
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

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

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

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

It has gotten harder to do this

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

Chili Ristra, New Mexico   copyright 2008  Andy Richards

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

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

San Francisco Night Skyline  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

San Francisco Night Skyline copyright 2011 Andy Richards

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

Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

the challenge will be doing something unique

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

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time ……….

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I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

I have never been big on New Year’s resolutions. I have seen so many come and go and so much “resolve” with so little follow-through. Will I eat and drink less, achieve some needed weight loss, exercise more, be less critical of others and more charitable? I hope so, but I am not committing. For me, it is more like year – end “cleanup,” and looking forward to what 2012 brings. There are certain things that I always do and think about this time of year. As each year goes by, time seems to compress and each Fall seems busier than the last. I always look forward to – indeed key on—the Fall photography season—particularly, October, when Fall colors seem to pop in most of the continental U.S. With a busy “transactional” law practice, a regular “gig” as an adjunct professor at our local University, service on 2 local foundation boards and numerous other non-photography pursuits, the year-end seems to accelerate into Christmas, and then, come to a grinding halt for about a week between the holidays.

I am looking forward to what 2012 brings

Don’t get me wrong. I do plan to do certain things each year. Some of them pan out. Some don’t. And if I don’t set unrealistic expectations, I am not disappointed when they do not get done. Two years ago, during our annual Christmas visit to my brother in law’s house in Virginia, we planned a cruise to Alaska. Cruises are not generally thought by serious photographers to be the ideal way to see and photograph Alaska. So my goal was two-fold. First, I wanted to have the time of my life, with my family, and get the most out of the cruise. Second, I wanted to bring back as many “keeper” images as possible, given the limitations of the trip. It surpassed my expectations substantially.

Deer Lake, Michigan UP - Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

In October of the same year, I made a quick trip the Michigan “UP,” which was kind of “spur of the moment” and came back with some of my most successful ever “UP” images. I sometimes think being ready to “react” is the best plan. That same year I went to Vermont for a week. While there were certain weather and foliage timing challenges, I came home with several of perhaps my best “Vermont images” ever. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is the best plan. In both cases, I had made several previous trips and while I always found images, I never got the ones that I was really hoping for. Sometimes, just being persistent works.

Fall in Vermont copyright 2010 Andy Richards

During October of 2011, we planned a family vacation trip to San Francisco to visit my daughter who had recently re-located there. Again, my goal was to make the most of the limited photographic opportunity I would have. My wife might disagree with just how “limited” that was, as I was out in the city nearly every morning before sunrise. I was able to make the best of the situation I was in.

But this time of year, as things seem to wind down and then re-wind for another year of work and professional goals (I have to remind myself that my “day job” has little to do with photography and the demands of my clients and partners generally limit my ability to shoot whenever the spirit moves), there are certain things that I will do.

Sometimes, just being persistent works

Ido my final filing archiving of images. I borrowed from John Shaw, after attending one of his 2-day seminars a few years back, and now file my images very simply; one large folder, by year. I use Adobe Lightroom as my cataloging software, and use “Collections” to categorize images. I also populate the metadata template with copyright information and keywords, etc. All images are stored on a removable HD, and a complete copy resides on a separate HD, kept at my office 25 miles away. I used to think having offsite storage was a bit of overkill, until one of my partners had a home fire in November that burned his home to the ground with a total loss of everything but the clothes on their backs and their cars. Finally, I set up a 2012 folder for next year’s images.

San Francisco Bay Bridge copyright 2011 Andy Richards

I will plan some 2012 photo shoot goals. In February, I will cruise again in the Caribbean. This is not likely to produce major landscape photo opportunities, partly because of the family nature of the trip and partly because of the timing (likely to be on the cruise ship during the best light). I will carry my Canon G12 at all times though.

In March, I will spend a long weekend visiting a friend in Yarmouth, ME, and hope to bring back some images of the Portland Head Lighthouse and the Pemaquid Lighthouse.

In October, I have the great privilege of acting as a guide for a professional photographer, teacher and workshop leader in my own backyard. I am excited about the photographic opportunity, as well as the hope that I absorb some wisdom from his workshop.

For a number of years, I have lamented that my “Winter” image portfolio is notably lacking. I have worked at re-arranging my work-schedule to become hopefully more efficient and plan to spend less Saturdays in the office and more time out shooting on weekends.

I wish everyone success and good fortune in 2012!

So, without any unrealistic expectations, I look forward to 2012 and what it will bring.   I do want to say thank you to a number of people for making my 2011 special.  I have made some really good friends in my travels to Vermont and on the SOV Forums and I thank you all for your friendship and support, including Al, Carol, CTYnkY, Phil, Brandt, Tim, Brian, Betsy, and anybody I forgot.  You all know who you are.  I want to thank James Moore for inspiration, critique, support and friendship.  Likewise Kerry Leibowitz.  Thank you to Mark Perry, who makes the MPEG forums happen.  Thanks to my best friend, Rich, who travels with me, puts up with my idiosyncracies and is just what a best friend should be.  There are many others and I certainly don’t want to leave anyone out purposely.  I wish everyone a Happy New Year, and hope that it brings you success and good fortune. See you in 2012!

I Hate Math

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

I hate math. Always have. I need a calculator to add 3 + 4 🙂which is funny when you think about it. I enjoy science–just not the math part, which I learned in college is a pretty substantial component of any scientific pursuit. I specialize in my law practice in Estate and Business Planning and Taxation issues. There is a fair amount of math there. Fortunately, it is generally simple math that my calculator and I are able to handle recently well. Complex algebra, geometry and beyond are what has always befuddled me.

What does math or science have to do with photography? In my last blog, I argued that photography is indeed art. Art and math couldn’t be more different—right? Right brain vs. left brain. Well, students of art will confirm that my statement is just wrong. The great classic artists were, as often as not, also talented mathematicians and scientists.

Don’t get me wrong. The technical matter is critically important. No matter how “left brain” you are, if you cannot get the technical part right, the image will not be successful. But the art of photography, in my view, presupposes that you have conquered that phase to an acceptable extent, and the technical has become reflexive.

But whether or not I like it, math permeates art. Recently, I have begun to significant attention to pictorial composition in my own photography. In particular, I am trying to apply the concept of balance to my imagery. Traditional art instruction teaches us about the concepts of “golden mean,” “golden spiral,” “rule of thirds,” triangles, and curves. I am trying to apply these principles in terms of balance. All are geometry and physics related. And, the art of composition, I have learned must take these mathematical concepts into consideration. In each image, the composer must take into consideration both horizontal and vertical balance. If a particular element of the image is visually substantial (this may be relative size, color, brightness, texture or contrast), some other part of the image must balance it, either in terms of being equally substantive, or by its distance from the visually dominant element. This can be a challenge in terms of trying to determine which elements of the scene to include and which to exclude.  In the image above, the long “arm” leading to the left “balances” the large mass in the lower right (this is a concept classic artists call the “steel yard “), giving horizontal balance.  At the same time, the reflections of the clouds in the water gives the image a certain vertical balance.

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Often, nature is not totally cooperative in placing the elements as we might like them. Having interesting skies, for example is paramount to an image which includes the sky. Sky is often necessary element in the grand landscape and gives us a sense of necessary perspective. The clouds trailing into the horizon on the Stowe Barn give balance to an image that just would not “do it for me” if the sky was a clear blue mass.

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

When composing using the rule of thirds, the graphic artist may have the advantage of being able to sketch his creation with perspective lines, fitting the elements of the image into the rule. As photographers, we have the challenge of trying to fit the rule onto elements that are already placed by nature. But there is good news here. These “rules” are almost universally based on the observation of some very talented classic artists of what often appears in nature. So, the compositional elements will often already be in our image. Our challenge is finding, and applying them. The curve of clouds in the sky in this photo mirrors the curve in the water in the foreground, creating vertical balance, while the sweep of the “S” curve from the lower left into the upper right creates horizontal balance in this image.

Making “Sense” Of Photography

The blue cast, fog, snow and water convey "cold" in this photo of Icy Straits, Alaska

As photographers, we often try to “depict” or illustrate nature as we see it. Sometimes this yields very dramatic images. Other times, the images just don’t seem to justify what we saw and experienced when on site. I believe each of our senses influence what we experience as a photographer when we are at the scene. How do we effectively re-create some of these sensory observations in a digital image, or on film? The viewer cannot actually experience the sounds, smells, and physical feelings we experience at the scene, so our challenge is using elements in our images that imply those sensory experiences.

Hazy sun and warm orange and yellow color conveys a humid, warm feeling in this Atlantic Ocean image.

Sight is obviously the sense we can easily re-create (even manipulate) photographically. We use colors and contrast to please the eye and exposure techniques to suggest motion. We use perspective and objects strategically placed in the frame to give a sense of size and place. We use familiar objects to create visual or emotional perspective. These are all tools that deal with photography’s primary sense – vision or sight. And, they are commonly the discussion of photographic texts.

But what about the other senses? Can we photographically depict them? It probably requires a prior sensory experience the viewer had from which she can either directly relate or extrapolate. However, I don’t think is has to be an identical experience. We can all think of familiar scenes which can conjure some of the other senses. Photographs of a carnival or a fair, especially if it includes elements we relate to familiar sounds, or foods may trigger our sense of hearing or smell. When photographing those types of scenes, will it benefit the photographer’s photographic “vision” to consider those elements? I know that if I see a steaming cup of coffee, my mind can image the smell of fresh hot coffee. Likewise, a steaming bowl of soup, or a hot dog or burger on a flaming grill, can suggest a sense of smell and taste.

It is easy to image motion and sound, and possible to "experience" both moisture smell from this image of Bartlett Falls, in Vermont

We use texture and color in our photographs to depict senses. Rough and smooth textures can certainly create an illusion or memory of touch. And we routinely refer to colors as “warm” (yellows and oranges) and “cool” (blues). As we use those colors and textures, it is possible to consider how they work together to convey these “senses” to the viewer. We may also use weather and atmospheric conditions to convey senses. Wind, dust, fog and waves all convey senses of smell, touch and sound. Salty air, or dust created by certain activities may also recall the sense of taste.

The dusty condition created by "chaff" in this Fall harvest image conjures both the feeling of dust in the eyes and nose, and a familiar smell (for those who have experienced agricultural production).


Water

Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Water is one of my favorite photographic subjects. Water is essential to the world we inhabit, and the one we photograph. Water covers nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s surface. So it is not surprising that water is often an obvious part of the images we capture. But there are also some very subtle ways in which water occurs photographically.

There is almost always a connection with photographic images and water

There is almost always an indirect connection with photographic images and water. Water is used in many industrial applications for heating and cooling, as a solvent and cleaning agent. Indeed, water has been referred to as “the universal solvent.” Water is also an essential nutrient for humans and most other animals, as well as the majority of plant life. Thus, whenever we photograph wildlife, people or flora, it is likely that water has played a part. Water is often the basis for recreational activity, including swimming, boating, canoeing and kayaking. And what about skiing and snowshoeing? Even when water is not a primary element, there is still an indirect connection. For example, photographs of desert sands and other arid environments signal to us the lack of water.

The water droplets on this daylily add photographic interest and suggest the healthy growth of plant life following a fresh spring rain.

Photographically (and scientifically) water takes on 3 forms, each of which present unique and inviting photographic opportunities. Water in its liquid form is perhaps what first comes to mind. As such it is probably the most often found reflective surface for reflection images. I routinely look for ponds, rivers, pools, fountains and even puddles for reflections, either as an image in and of itself, or as a foreground object of interest.

Fountain in front of Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas

Water in motion is equally captivating, in my view. One of my favorite subjects is waterfalls. Whether a steep, powerful cascade, or swirling rapids, moving water can present some intriguing compositions. We use shutter speed to control the “look” of the water. There is something beguiling about silky, dreamy, flowing water blurred by slow shutter speeds of 1/15 second or longer. Use of neutral density filters in front of the lens can achieve even slower shutter speeds, further blurring the movement of water, or controlling light conditions to produce the slow effect. Moving water can also contain swirling reflections; a double benefit in my view.

Mad River, the namesake for "Mad River Canoe," is really just a small stream, not navigable by canoe. However, this part of the river contains several series of dramatic drops and riffels, making is a wonderland for photographic images

Other times, the photographer may wish to do exactly the opposite, using very fast shutter speeds to “freeze” the powerful or whimsical motion of moving water. Thundering waterfalls or high, splashing waves are sometimes exciting subjects. I used a fast shutter speed and a burst of exposures to capture this crashing wave on the rocky shoreline of Acadia National Park.

Atlantic Ocean surf, Bar Harbor, Maine

Light is clearly the secret to compelling images. Nothing reflects and shows light at its best like water, especially if it is moving.

Bartlett Falls, Bristol, Vermont: Getting a "just right" shutter speed in difficult, but dramatic lighting conditions makes this image unique

Water takes another fascinating form as a gas. Clouds, ground fog, and steam rising off water surfaces are all mesmeric elements in photographic art. These conditions come with a combination of elements. Generally, a rapid change in temperature, preceded by extremely moist circumstances, creates fog or steam. I look for a cool, clear morning following a particularly rainy period, for example, to create these conditions. Also, a precipitous change in temperature will create fog. When in Vermont in October, 2010, I followed the remnants of a tropical Hurricane which dumped several inches of rain on the state. Cool morning temperatures created wonderful ground fog conditions every morning.

Cool early morning temperatures following a heavy rainfall created magical atmospheric conditions for this image

Foggy conditions and clouds filter sunlight and often create vivid coloration in skies. Changes in weather conditions will often yield some of the most dramatic skies one can imagine.

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont

In its frozen form, water has great photographic possibilities. The obvious is snow. However, ice, icebergs, flow ice and icicles all can be entrancing. And frozen water can even make dirt look interesting!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier National Park, Alaska

Thanks for reading………

Whittier

Port of Whittier, AK

Our arrival at Whittier was bittersweet.  It marked the end of our cruise and of a great time.  Wittier, on first glance seems unremarkable.  There are few or no individual homes here.  There is a high rise apartment building.  There is a very nice harbor and the port is completely surrounded by mountains.  The only access to Whittier is by a tunnel through the mountain which is one way only and is shared by train and vehicular traffic, or by water or air (floatplane only).  Previously primarily a commercial-industrial port, one of the cruise lines determined that it was a good deep water port which avoided the congestion of nearby Seward and provided a good way to carry cruise line passengers by rail or bus, either to Anchorage to depart Alaska, or on up into Denali National Park.  It looks like a nice place to sail or fly into and a nice point of departure for some of Alaska’s wild beauty.  And its hard not to argue that it is gorgeous in the early morning.

Dawn in Whittier, AK

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay

The rest of the cruise was a slight change of routine.  After departing Skagway at 8:30 in the evening, we were aboard ship until the end of the cruise in Whittier.  The next 2 days involved cruising in Glacier Bay NP and then in College Fiord, north of Whittier.  Both involved up close and personal views of glaciers, as well as some pretty impressive wilderness.

Snowcapped Mountains, Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park has the distinction of being the only U.S. National Park that is accessible only by air or water.  Nearly all wilderness, there is one visitor center and a couple of reservation-only rustic guest cabins.  While I have read much about kayaking in the park, the bay is huge and the water deep and cold.  Such a visit would, in my view, take a particularly hardy soul.

Floating Glacial Ice, Glacier Bay

In the mouth of Glacier Bay, we were joined by National Park Service employees who came aboard for the day to educate us on the park.  The waters in the bay are thousands of feet deep.  We cruised from the mouth, all the way north to the Grand Pacific Glacier, some 65 miles!

Margerie Glacier