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Liverpool; Not JUST the Birthplace of “The Beatles”

Liverpool Port
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Interestingly, our cruise was labeled a “British Isles” Cruise. Yet it was a 12 day cruise in which we really technically only spent 3 days in the UK. We also spent another 4 days in The Republic of Ireland. While it might be appropriate to call the Island of Ireland “The British Isles,” I think the majority of them would disagree.

The Vooo Lounge
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Be that as it may, with our pre-cruise days in and around Dublin, we certainly spent over half of our time in Europe in Ireland and Britain. The day following our Northern Ireland adventure, we sailed across the Irish Sea, to Liverpool, England. Perception often varies from reality, and my (admittedly ignorant) opinion of Liverpool was no exception. For my Michigander friends, I was thinking Flint (sorry to you Flintstones 🙂 ); to a perhaps broader audience, Newark (no, not Ohio 🙂 ). But I was wrong (as perhaps a visit to either Newark or Flint with one “in the know” might also prove).

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The primary focus of our day at shore was, not surprisingly, a several hour-long “Beatles” tour. But we were to also learn that Liverpool was an important seaport (particularly historically), and a rather thriving city, with some very impressive architecture, and an active pub and distillery culture.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Granted “borough” status by King John in 1207, it did not obtain its British City Charter 1880. Liverpool replaced nearby Chester, which was on the River Dee and further inland, as the major port for world trade with Britain, around 1207 ant thereafter was Britain’s primary northern port. During the Industrial Revolution, it served as a port and became a first-world manufacturing city. Liverpool also served as the point of departure for British and Irish Emmigrants – mostly to the U.S. In earlier times, Liverpool Port played a significant role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. While probably not among its prouder historical accomplishments, the result was a very diverse city, including not only influence from Ireland and Wales, but the largest black population, and oldest Chinese population in Europe. Trade with the West Indies eventually exceeded trade with Ireland and other parts of Europe, and in 171, the first commercial “wet” dock was built in Liverpool.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The ensuing growth and the industrial revolution soon made Liverpool one of the wealthiest communities in Europe, its wealth surpassing that of London a number of times during the early 19th century.  In the 180s the city was often referred to as “the New York of Europe,” and was a sought-after destination well into the early 20th century, attracting immigrants from across Europe. During the Second World War, Liverpool became a critical strategic point. The city was heavily bombed by the Germans, suffering a blitz second only to London’s. The “Battle of the Atlantic,” which proved to be a turning point in the war, was planned, fought and won from Liverpool. Most of the U.S. Troops brought into the European theatre were brought through Liverpool Port.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Sadly, in the 1970s, largely due to significant changes in the shipping of cargo world-wide, Liverpool began a decline, and for a period had one of the largest unemployment rates in the world. Resilient, however, in the late 20th century, the Liverpool economy began to improve and has been on the upward curve ever since. As you drive through the city, it impresses you as a very middle to upper middle class city in places. With a population nearing 1/2 million, it is hard to believe that its population was only around 500 in the 1700s.

Ma Edgerton’s Pub
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our visit was focused heavily on The Beatles history. That deserves its own blog, which will come next time. After our tour, we spent some time in the very cool main Railroad Station, a couple of downtown pubs, including the Liverpool Gin Distillery, and The Alchemist (a unique UK chain originating in London, where food and mixology meet), before boarding our ship again in to return to the Island of Ireland.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

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In Search of “Tripod Holes”

The Colosseum is one of Rome’s “postcard” images. It is very difficult to get without crowds and often repair/construction scaffolding.
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Ray Laskowitz’s comment on my recent post inspired me to think (and write) about this. His “been there, done that,” observation is insightful (as always).

This is probably my favorite shot in Rome. I turned away from the crowds and made “my own” image.
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

In the 1980’s and most of the ‘90’s, photography was a very different world. There were – seemingly – two different photographer groups out there: The serious (including pro) shooters with “sophisticated” equipment, training and experience, and “point & shoot” camera-toting tourists (not meant in a pejorative sense).

This is my hands on favorite shot in Venice. The “postcard” image would include The Grand Canal and perhaps the Ponte Rialto, where the crowds can be unbearable. This one was made early in the morning, on a back canal.
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

We used film. The point & shooters used color negative film and had prints made at the local drugstore. The serious shooters used a variety, including black and white, and color slides. Most of us had our developing done by either a local or mail-order photo processor. The serious among us worked hard for our images, scouting and studying locations and other photographs we saw. But there weren’t very many of us, and except for the very most popular sites, it was pretty normal to either have it to yourself or only be sharing with one or two other shooters on any given day.

Differing accounts put the number of “smartphones” in the world in use at between 2.5 and 3 billion. Billion!

And then came digital (of course, like all short writings, this is a bit of an oversimplification. But in general, I think these are valid observations). I have been as enthusiastic a cheerleader as anyone about the “digital photography revolution.” It has certainly made making images and showing them more convenient for me. And the “digital darkroom” has opened doors for me that I either couldn’t have opened, or at least not very easily.

The Golden Gate, of course, is the big bridge in San Francisco, and is perhaps the most famous and photographed bridge in the U.S. And, it is not too difficult to catch, since there are multiple perspectives to shoot it from. But “my” image is this one – The “Bay Bridge,” taken at first light, from the Embarcadero. I was there all alone.
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

But technology, we continue to learn, often comes at a cost. Differing accounts put the number of “smartphones” in the world in use at between 2.5 and 3 billion. Billion.

One approach I have always advocated is to get up close and look for a more intimate image. This – if you can do it – excludes crowds and other shooters, and is likely going to be “your own” take on a scene.
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Compare that with about 5 million in 2000 (my research may be a bit questionable. I had a hard time finding this information, but this was from a site that gave numbers of shipments of digital still cameras during the years 1999- 2018. Presumably, this would include DSLR cameras).

With the right foreground, a sunset or sunrise can always add mood to an image. This is an example of a shot where nobody goes – but I did 🙂
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Incorporate 3 billion smartphone users (they all have cameras, and so virtually all smartphone users have now replaced the “point & shooters” noted earlier), with the combustive growth of digital media and you have a true explosion of the conditions I mentioned in the early paragraphs of this blog. As I noted in the last blog, it is difficult for me to illustrate the difference between a small crowd of shooters in 2013 and absolute mob scene we encountered in 2017.

Honeymoon Island is a popular beach, but certainly not an “iconic” photo opportunity. But it IS a good photo opportunity for those famous Florida Gulf sunsets. The unrequested “pose” made this image a “keeper” for me
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

So what do we, as photographers, do now? I am as much a fan of the “postcard” iconic image as the next guy. Indeed, in an earlier phase of my photographic quest, I sought primarily those images. Even though somebody had already done it, I wanted to have “my own.” No apology for that.

I worked to get this “already done” image, even doing a bit of “photoshopping” to get it the way I wanted it.
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

However, there are some palpable certainties that come with the “new age” of digital and smartphones. One is that the opportunities to make these “postcard” images have gotten much, much more difficult. You will have to plan to be present at odd times (which can be difficult for a traveler that is not staying in a destination). You may have to fight the crowds, and thus, change the physical perspective of your images.

I have never been to the Jenne Farm, which is the most photographed barn in New England, but have heard the stories of having to “fight” for tripod position even before sunrise. Instead, my single favorite Vermont Barn scene is this one, which I learned about from a friend. There are not very many shots of it out there (yet).
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

And in the end, Ray is right. We need to get away from the crowds and the icons; away from the “tripod holes” already made by others. I have known it for some time, and my own shooting has (glacially, I admit) evolved in that direction. These days, I look for my own images of the place (those are much more, “my own” than a copy of the postcard shot). And many times those images are away from the crowds, or at the edges of the crowds. My best imagery seems to come when I can spend some time in a location and get out very early or be out late, when the tourists are in bed or in the bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, because of our chosen method of travel, which often puts us into places during mid-day. Even so, I have found images when I have been looking for them.

When Enough is Enough

Church in the center of Amalfi. When we visited this in 2013, there were very few people. In 2017, the crowd in front of the steps (mostly hidden from view) is 3 to 4 times as many people as are on the steps.
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Those (very few) who follow this blog have probably noticed that I haven’t been here lately. It has been a combination of things. I have been largely consumed for the past few months – transitioning to full-time retirement. With retirement came a permanent move from Michigan to Florida, and the days have recently been fully engaged with that process. At the same time, these events have conspired to keep me anywhere but behind the lens, or traveling. That will soon change. I have lots of new places to explore and photograph, and some trips on the horizon.

I thought it was time to jump back in here (or at least wade into the shallow end). I often look at other sites on the web for inspiration, information and ideas. A recent news item intrigued me. There is apparently a very small, very quaint and very photogenic street in Paris, where the residents have had enough. I am not going to name it, or link to it. The article notes that “accounts show pictures and videos of dance troupes, fashion shoots, music video crews, endless selfie takers and photographers using the street as though it were a public studio.” the residents have petitioned local government to close of the street and ban such activities during evenings and weekends, so that they can enjoy the very reason they live there.

Church in Amalfi
Copyright Andy Richards 2013
I could not get this same perspective in 2017 because I would have had to wade into a crowd of 100’s of people and try to hold my camera above the fray.

Recently, I have read that certain destinations around the world (like Santorini and Venice) are considering limiting the number of visitors per year. We have all read about the overload of visitors our own National Parks.

My photographer’s “knee-jerk” reaction would be to assign blame to the ubiquitous “smart-phone” toting tourist

So when is enough enough? My photographer’s “knee-jerk” reaction would be to assign blame to the ubiquitous “smart-phone” toting tourist. There might be a kernel of justification there. There is no doubt that there are many rather ignorant souls out there who trample, litter, and otherwise abuse photogenic sites. And they all carry smartphones, for the most part. But the reality is (and we have all observed them), there are some expensive, sophisticated-gear toting “photographers” who are equally guilty. And, as well, there are some pretty talented shooters who make wonderful shots with their smartphones.

Of course, I think I should be allowed to exclusively visit those locations. 🙂 How many of us have silently cursed the person(s) who walked into our just-composed scene (or who just won’t move out of it)? Indeed, I can think of at least one instance where my intently “working” the scene was keeping another photographer from getting his shot (until my companion gently suggested that I move).

Of course, I think I should be allowed to exclusively visit those locations

The point (there is a point? 🙂 ) is that none of us has any superior “right” to the scene. My grandmother used to tell me that the definition of “manners” is simply “consideration for others.” She was right of course, and as we continue to see more and more travelers and photographers (be they DSLR users or smart phone shooters), we need to become more patient, more observant, and yes – perhaps more courteous.

My ebooks often give some pretty specific directions to scenes. I also try to urge readers to consider the rights and privacy of the landowners and adjacent owners, and to make their images without leaving a “footprint.” It is part of what I mean by courtesy.

Right Time; Right Place Photography

Porcupine Mountains Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Recently, I went through a review and update of my LightCentric Photography photo website.  As I was systematically checking captioning information (among other things), a couple of the images made me pause and reflect on their circumstances as involving a particularly memorable moment of for whatever reason, just being in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes it was planned. Sometimes it was just serendipity.

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been other times and images. There have been too many photographic memories to cover, including trips to New Mexico, Alaska, New England, California, and around the world.

In some ways, the Porcupine Mountains image is my most memorable photo. Taken back in the days of film, I made this photograph on my very first “dedicated photography trip.” I spent a long weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) for the first time since my childhood. The trip was planned with much anticipation of fall color imagery.  For the most part, even though I was there during the first week in October, I was still fairly early for foliage, and was largely disappointed in that aspect of the trip. The trip motivated many more similar excursions to the U.P., mostly in the fall.  I arrived at “The Escarpment,” in the Porcupine Mountains late on a Saturday afternoon. From the Escarpment, you can view the Lake of The Clouds, which is often photographed – especially during peak foliage. Conditions were not what I had hoped for.  It was cloudy, with a 40 plus mph wind.  I had seen images of Lake of The Clouds, and that was my goal for this part of the trip.  Foliage conditions were just starting, and I just did not see the image I had visualized. To make matters worse, the forecast called for worsening conditions, with all-out rain by morning.  So I took a number of images, using a much faster shutter speed and lower aperture combination than I normally would have, bracing the tripod against the wind buffets with my own weight (seemingly counterproductive).  Unlike these days, you could not see a representation of the result on the back of the camera.  I would wait until I returned home, and the photographic processor completed developing my slides.  I didn’t expect much from this location. But on the light table, this one image jumped out at me. It is perhaps the only “keeper” from that take. As I viewed it, I realized that the contrast between the lingering greens, the precocious reds, and the developing oranges and yellows, was actually more visually interesting – indeed satisfying – than some of those images that I had seen that were a complete wash of fall color. There is a photographer’s saying:  “F8 and be there.” I don’t think this was F8, but I was there, and this is what I found. The image here, is prepped for printing, and may look a bit saturated. But I did not touch the saturation sliders in Photoshop.  Instead, I used an old technique (surpassed for most of us by plugins such as NIK Viveza 2), converting the scanned image to LAB color space and making adjustments to the A and B curves. This image has continued to be my best selling photo. It hangs in the main conference room of my law firm’s offices, and draws many comments.

Mad River
Waitsfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2006, after much bragging to my best buddy, Rich Pomeroy, about the “best fall foliage in the world, bar none,” he called my bluff and we took a week long trip to Vermont. We had take many business trips together before, but this was our first “together” photography adventure. I am delighted to say that we have made numerous other photo trips, and will make many more in future years.  But this one turned out to be kind of a bust. We went during the last part of September and very early October. All during the week, we wished we had waited a week, as the foliage was again in very early (almost non-existent) stages. We worked hard to find some foliage and though we had a lot of fun and made some memorable images, it wasn’t what we had anticipated. Determined to “find” those colors I remembered from my youth in the 1970’s in Vermont, I returned – alone this time – in 1997, a week later. During that trip, I spend a couple nights in central Vermont, driving along it famed Route 100. Mother Nature can be fickle, and the colors were – once again – not as nice as I had hoped (this time a bit past peak in many places).  One morning, I was headed for a waterfall that has turned out to be (in my opinion) unremarkable;  Moss Glen Falls in Granville. But on my way, I got waylaid by a vision:  some color off in the distance of a scenic turnout.  The turnout turned out (see what I did there 🙂 ) to be a nice series of drops in the Mad River. The Mad River is really just a stream or creek that is not really navigable.  It is also the namesake of “Mad River Canoes,” originally built by hand in Waitsfield, where this very same stream wandered through his back yard. A drizzly rain was falling, but I donned my wading boots and spent 2 1/2 hours shooting there.  The image here was actually on a return trip in 2010, when I brought Rich back to “prove” my assertions about Vermont foliage 🙂 . That morning was a magical time. I was all alone with the subject, which remains a really photogenic series of waterfalls.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, Rich and I made another memorable photo trip; this time to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor is a quaint little touristy town with just enough non-photographic things to keep our spouses entertained (well, for about a day that is – but we were there for a week 🙂 ). Acadia is probably one of the most photographed National Parks. There a numerous books about the Park Loop Road, and all the different photographic venues. Otter Cliffs is one, but it is most often viewed more distantly, from another cliff to the north.  From the vantage point, you cannot even see this cobblestone beach. I had a friend who strongly recommended that I “work” to find this spot, which is a cobblestone beach that is not well documented or marked (at least, it wasn’t in 2009). The directions in the books don’t really reveal it, but with some perseverance, and some insight from him, we did find it. We visited it for 3 successive mornings in the pre-dawn, before we got this one. There is really nothing like being in a location like this, literally alone, and watching the sunrise and the morning develop. It was a location worth “working” for.

Burton Hill Road
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Vermont has a special place in my heart. Readers here know I make period trips to Vermont to photograph; usually during the vaunted fall foliage season. I wrote my first eBook on this very topic.  As I did my homework, planning each trip, researching and hobnobbing with members of the Scenes of Vermont forum, I “met” two of my wonderful friends, both of whom also happen to be talented photographers and writers. Al Utzig and I carried on a e-mail correspondence for several years before I finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person. We were good friends by that time and the face-to-face didn’t change that (for me at least – I’ll let Al be the judge of it 🙂 ). Carol Smith, who many of you know as my co-author for the current edition of Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” was a frequent poster on the Scenes forums and we were all soon to learn, an extremely knowledgeable and observant resource for wannabe Vermont photographers. She was of immeasurable help to me on the first edition and it was a logical progression for her to co-write a second edition which contains much more information, primarily from Carol. In the process we also became good “online” friends. In 2010, Rich and I returned to Vermont. I was there for a week, but Rich was only able to join me on the southern part of the trip for about 3 days.  This trip began with a group of us (particularly Al, Carol and me) meeting at Carol’s Barton house in anticipation of a next-day, early morning “tour,” led by Carol. This was my first face-to-face meeting with Carol, and to my surprise, she still loves me :-). We started at Bean Pond along the US 5 highway, for a foggy sunrise over the pond. The time and images were magical, but while Al and I gushed, Carol promised that the best was yet to come. And boy, was she right. The Burton Hill Road image is by far my personal favorite Vermont image, and perhaps my most “successful.” After others had left, Carol and her very patient husband, guided me around several other areas, including the Craftsbury Common image that appears on the cover of the Vermont eBook. But that morning is one of the most memorable times of any photographic trip. And I got to enjoy it with two of my very favorite friends.

Eagle in Flight
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Some years were big travel years for me. Others not so much. 2010 was one of those big years. In addition to another trip to Vermont, my wife, son and I went on our first cruise; the Inside Passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Whittier, Alaska. It introduced us to cruising (which to my surprise, I really liked), which has opened travel doors to us throughout the world. There were hundreds of images taken on that trip to Alaska, with some pretty great photographic opportunities.  But the most memorable image of that trip came as a complete surprise to me. We were signed up for a “deadliest catch” look-alike excursion (sans the cold and ice and heavy oceans). When we came ashore, one of the crew who met us saw my “big camera” and said “I see you came prepared. We are going to get some eagle photos for you today.”  Right. He was a tour guide. He certainly wasn’t going to promise me crappy photos.  🙂 I think we were scheduled to be out for 3 1/ or 4 hours, during which they talked about the history of these fishing boats (the boat was an actual boat used in the Bering Sea, just like the ones on the “Deadliest Catch” series, which had been shipwrecked, and then salvaged and retro-fitted with observation seating).  All very interesting, but no “knock your socks off” eagle photos. We saw some, but they were a long way in the distance. At the end of the cruise, they announced that they had a special treat for us, and took us by an uninhabited island, which was in native waters (by U.S. treaty) and therefore not subject to U.S. laws. As I looked, I saw a solitary eagle perched in dead tree. O.k. Then I suddenly heard “plop.” “Plop, plop.” The crew was up in the flybridge tossing bait into the water. The skies next to our boat suddenly turned into what I can only describe as a air to air dogfight as about 30 eagles all appeared, diving and often fighting for the food. I really wasn’t prepared and it all happened in about a 5 – 10 minute sequence. But in spite of my ill-preparedness, I was able to get several good shots. This one is my favorite. I doubt that I will ever get an opportunity to photograph eagles in flight from that close a position again. As our first cruise, it was hard to have it come to an end, with so many amazing and new experiences. But it did. It marked the end of a great trip – and the beginning of many more.

San Francisco Bay Bridge
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

In 2011, instead of a fall foliage trip, my wife and I opted to spend a week in California during the first week in October. My daughter lives in San Francisco, so we used that as a staging point, with an overnight excursion to Napa for some wine tasting. Lots of memories from that trip. My daughter’s place at the time was in downtown, south of Market Street (SOMA). She was just two blocks south of Market and just a few blocks west of the Bay Bridge, the Embarcadero and the eastern part of San Francisco bay. I was up early and somewhere on the street each morning by sunrise or earlier (the 3 hour time differential was a positive, making it easy for me to wake up and roust early). What I really noticed was the relative stillness, just before the world “wakes up.” I made numerous images of the Bay Bridge, which is a favorite subject of mine (I prefer these images to those I have made of the more famous Golden Gate). But this one, I think, best illustrates that early morning pre-dawn calm and stillness.

Blue Angels
Fleet Week
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

That trip had other memories. We made friends with a couple of the winery owners, and in later years would travel with one of them, to the Caribbean and to Ireland, as well as returning to the vineyard when back in California. But the unexpected and incredible opportunity of shooting the air show put on by – mostly – the U.S. Navy, during its San Francisco “Fleet Week,” is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We shot from the ground for over an hour as the planes flew low over us. I worked hard to capture a “bloom” from the jet fighters as they broke the sound barrier. Because sound and light do not travel at the same speed, it was touch to anticipate. I got just one. But am pretty pleased with it.

New River Gorge Lookout
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Returning to California, Rich and I were able to sneak in a quick 3-day trip to West Virginia’s Babcock State Park, to photograph the often photographed Grist Mill in fall foliage. While we probably missed the peak near the mill, we were able to find peak foliage around Boley Lake in the park. What made this trip special was my first opportunity to meet one of my photographic mentors and a great inspiration to me, James Moore. Jim is an uber-talented nature photographer with many sales and publications; primarily in and around West Virginia. We had become on-line friends a year or two before, and he had a group he was guiding there photographing earlier in the week. Jim was still there when we arrived, but left early the next morning.  We had a nice time to chat and he gave us some great insight about when and where to shoot in the park. In 2012, Jim did me the great honor of asking me to act as a guide for one of his photography workshops in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Jim had heard a lot about it but had never visited there. We spent a great week, learning, shooting, and watching the foliage develop from pre-peak to full peak conditions. Jim had some health problems later in life and sadly those of us who knew and admired him have lost touch. For the West Virginia image here, my model was Jim, and the New River Gorge lookout was one of his favorite spots in the park.

Oxbow Bend
Snake River, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

2012, marked yet another photography trip with my buddy, Rich (and spouses). We joke a lot because I am a “planner” when it comes to these trips. I have usually figured out what I want to shoot, how to get there, how long it will take, and what time of day to be on site. For the most part, Rich is happy to let me do that, and quite often comes home with the better image. 🙂 A couple years before, Rich had attended a photography workshop in Jackson Hole, and the Grand Teton National Park. We both wanted to go again. This time I showed up and Rich was the guide. What a fun and memorable week with many great photo opportunities. As an old school photographer (or maybe just an old photographer), when it comes to scenic shots, I think in terms of a print. What we all want to bring back is a “wall-hanger.” Over the years I have made, printed and framed a number of my images. None has been better that this image of Oxbow Bend. We arrived here (I think the second time) in the pre-dawn hours and there was frost on everything. As the sun rose, the warmer water temps created a wonderful low fog over the bend in the river. May some white cotton-candy clouds would have enhanced this, but it was a great morning and I knew walking away from this shoot that this would be a wall-hanger.

Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

2013 was a huge year for us. My wife came from a military family, so she had done some limited world travel as a young person. But in our adult lives, we had not traveled out of the U.S. except for a couple trips to the Caribbean, and Canada (which really doesn’t seem like it counts 🙂 ). We decided to kick our cruising up a notch, and booked a Mediterranean Cruise. In many ways, it may have been the most memorable of all of our cruises. It was our third cruise on the Princess Lines, and we were booked on their newest, and best ship. We were excited to see the world over the next two weeks, disembarking from Venice and ending in Barcelona. The cruise ship decided it wouldn’t cooperate, and our cruise was cut short. There was, however, a happy ending to that.

Gondolas
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

As is our custom, we planned to spend 3-4 days in our originating port city before boarding the cruise ship. We walked around Venice for 3 days and boarded the ship thankful for an immediate “day at sea,” exhausted.  But what I can say about Venice is that it is wall-to-wall “eye-candy” for the photographer. I have hundreds of Venice images, but the two shown here represent moments that separate themselves from the others.  The Gondolier was a case of right time, right place. I was looking for shots, and heard them coming. I found this setup and was blessed with wonderful early morning sunlight. The covered gondolas is not original on my part. I had seen at least one other photographer do this. What it would need was very early light in order to make an exposure long enough to capture the motion of the rocking gondolas. This meant either very early morning, or evening. I chose morning because there would be less people, and less activity on the Grand Canal, producing just some gentle rocking. I use this image on my Facebook LightCentric Photography Page Cover.

Lombard Street
San Francisco
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

In 2014, we returned again to San Francisco for several days. I made more trips to the Bay Bridge. I also walked to the San Francisco Giants ball stadium. My daughter took us to Lands End, to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective, and to Jones Beach. But what I remember the most is walking from our SOMA location, all the way across town and uphill to Lombard Street (the famous s-curved, brick-paved, switchback street that is a “must photograph” when you visit). I made the usual images (except for the nighttime shot with the streaky headlights). Then I looked for something else to shoot. A unique perspective that possibly nobody else had ever done. I think I might have been successful.

Sailboat
Narragansett Bay, Newport
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In 2016, I made a last minute trip to join my buddy, Rich, who was in Newport, Rhode Island for business. I flew in on Thursday evening and we spent two days shooting.  Friday morning, I was on my own and walked around the downtown area and the wharfs, making lots of photos of boats, buildings, etc. Everything was a more or less nautical theme. That evening we went to shoot a lighthouse that Rich had found earlier in the week (Castle Hill Light). This was a photogenic lighthouse, and as we often do, we arrived early to scout best perspectives for shooting. And then we waited on the light. It is often worth waiting for the absolute last of the light to see if anything magical happens in the sky. To our west, the sun set over Narragansett Bay, with beautiful orange skies, but no real photographic interest. But as we watched and waited, this white sailboat approached and passed. Knowing a little about sailing from my past, I made note of the wind, and calculated that the boat (it was actually a large, tour charter boat on the last leg of the day) would come about and come back toward us. I quickly swiveled my tripod head around, took some metering measurements, and waited to frame the boat where I wanted it to be.  I knew I would get 2-3 shots at best of this quickly moving boat.

Tokyo Tower
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

2018 has been kind of a slow year, photographically. But we absolutely made up for that in 2017. In July, we spent a week in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. We saw many amazing sights and I did my usual early morning walking around both cities. I was intrigued by Tokyo Tower, lit at night, and worked hard to find a good place to photograph it from. I took a few from a couple different places. But it turns out that the best I could do was through the window of our Tokyo Hotel.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In September, we made our 3rd, and much anticipated Mediterranean Cruise. We again spent several days in Venice. One of the other places I had seen and wanted to shoot was the Greek Island of Santorini. We had a wonderful tour guide, who happened to also be a photographer, and he the right time and place for us to be to get shots I am certain I would never have found without his help, in spite of the research I had done.  Did I mention that Venice is “eye-candy” for photographers? Ditto Santorini.

Well.  This was an interesting exercise for me.  I tried to keep it to not more than 15 images. There were many more that perhaps fit the bill. And I am sure there will be more to come. As always, thanks for reading.

 

Twilight; Sunrise or Sunset?

Sailboat; Naraganset Bay Sunset
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Sunrise, sunset; Sunrise, sunset; Swiftly flow the days …”, voices the chorus of men from Fiddler On The Roof.  I am not sure it has any relevance, but whenever this topic comes to mind, I cannot help but conjure this earworm.

Otter Cliff Sunrise
Otter Beach, Acadia NP
Bar Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Something I read recently got me thinking about this topic (and, since it has been more than a month since I last was motivated to blog, it seemed like suddenly – finally – there was a subject to write about, on which I have experience, an opinion, and perhaps some gems of wisdom). As I did some quick and dirty internet research, I was a bit nonplussed to find that it was not my own original thought.  But I will go on anyway. 🙂

Horseshoe Lake Sunrise
Huron NF, Glennie, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Photography topics and opinions can be a rather polarizing subject (see what I did there? ) 🙂 . Canon vs. Nikon.  People vs. landscape.  Digital vs. Film.  Handheld vs. tripod.  Long vs. short lens. And of course:  sunset vs. sunrise.  Like the other debates, I find it a bit humorous that anyone would bite on the “which is better” question. And while we may have a preference, the true answer is obvious enough:  both.  And aptly, the title intro: “Twilight” also means both.

Inside Passage, AK Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

It is, of course, conventional that the “best” time to photograph is during the so-called “golden hours” which occur shortly after sunrise and last for perhaps and hour and begin again, perhaps an hour or 2 before sunset. I used quotes around best, purposely.  I am not sure there is a single best time to shoot and in my world – more often than not – it is “when you can.” Indeed there are wonderful illustrative photos supporting the merits of shooting before and after the sunrise and sunset.  But here, I am talking about shooting the sunrise and sunset themselves.  Or at the very least, subjects directly bathed in it. Like so many of my images shot in rapidly developing conditions, some are of that “f8 and be there” variety, and others are planned and even re-shot.  The sailboat on Narragansett Bay is the former. I was photographing a lighthouse when the image began to develop and I had to just react quickly to make this image. The Otter Cliff shot, on the other hand, was the product of planning – before I left Michigan, and on several mornings while in Acadia National Park.  It was also shot, and re-shot, trying to achieve the optimal sunrise. Both seem to have worked for me. But there is always a component of planning for any photography. Here are some thoughts on that preparation – mental and practical.

Little Stony Man Sunset
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Practical Considerations:  There are multiple considerations for why you might want to shoot a sunrise, sunset, or both. On a practical level, there are considerations of subject and location.  Some locations obviously are affected by their orientation. Whether your subject faces east or west may factor into the decision of which time of day is best. In order to be ready to catch a sunrise shot (or shots), it is really necessary to be on location before the sun actually rises. This may mean hiking in to a location in the darkness.  It most certainly means scouting the location in daylight, and making some calculations about where the sun will be when you make the actual image. Software programs like the Photographers’ Ephemeris, can be an invaluable tool for this planning.

Soo Locks Sunrise
St. Mary’s River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Distractions are another important practical issue. It may well be that this phenomena is the single biggest reason why I have many more early morning images than sunsets. The main distraction is family and friends (and it may be more correct to point out that a photographer, if she is not careful, may be the distraction). This is particularly an issue during vacations and travel. My wife and I, and occasionally friends and family, enjoy travel. In recent years, we have traveled to a few parts of the world, and we certainly look forward to more of the same. But sunrise and sunset shooting presents a challenge in these circumstances. It is the rare non-photographer friend or family member who has the patience to accompany a serious photographer to shoot. Sunrise means early rising, which often makes for a long day. Sunsets invariably occur at the dinner/cocktail hours of the afternoon or evening.  For many of us, family and friend social time is important (perhaps more so than photography). My wife is not an early riser, so I have found that I can sneak away for some early morning shooting without disrupting the day plan much of the time. Sunsets are harder.  I have come to the conclusion that sometimes, I just need to go off by myself (or with a like-minded companion) on a “dedicated” photo excursion. I guess it is all about balance.

Clearwater Sunset
Clearwater, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Aesthetic Considerations:  Aesthetics will always influence this decision. For example, I mentioned orientation above. This factor is also influenced by your desired lighting (i.e., backlighting, side, or front lighting). Perhaps one of the most significant aesthetic considerations involves compositional elements. For many years, I have sought “pure” landscape locations (“pure” meaning primarily to me: no people in the frame). These days, it seems that all the good locations are populated by tourists and other “viewers.” The vast majority of them are not serious photographers and it can often be a near-frustrating challenge to make a desired composition without someone in your frame.  With only a few exceptions, sunrises do not pose this problem. Only the unique “tourist” is out at that time of day.  Indeed, I have found that, even in my travel shooting in populated areas, that early mornings are the most productive for people-free imagery. As I have grown older, perhaps wiser, and more tolerant (my wife might disagree with this last characterization 🙂 ), I have concluded that there is often some merit in including people in imagery.

Aix-en-Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Photographic Considerations:  As I researched this aspect of the “sunrise/sunset” dichotomy, I learned – not surprisingly – that atmospheric conditions influence the photographic result. Sunrises generally have the characteristic of being clearer, cooler air. This is partly due to climatic conditions (is is usually cooler at sunrise than at sunset), and partly due to ambient influences (natural and man-made).  This often results in a lighter, photographically “cooler” and more contrasty image. The natural conditions are also more like to produce fog and mist – often low and dramatic.  A  significant exception to this may be the “marine layer” which is found along the northern west coast, where fog can be found almost any time of the day. But generalizations often trap us. The Horseshoe Lake image (one of my most successful sales images) was made during sunrise behind a cloud which produced a very diffuse, pastel light – in spite of the fact that the blue tint seems cooler (the blue tint is a characteristic of the film I used that morning – Fuji Velvia – in that kind of light condition). Likewise, cloudy conditions in the early morning produced a pastel-like light for the Alaska Inside Passage image. The sunrise image of the Bridge behind the Soo Locks perhaps exhibits more, the characteristics noted here. The morning was crystal clear, making conditions right for the sunstar image produce by the very small aperture, shooting directly toward the sun.

Sunset, Florida Gulf
Honeymoon Island SP
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sunsets, in addition to being generally physically warmer, also occur after there has been a day-long accumulation of airborne pollutants and wind-blown particles. Predictably, this often produces a more diffuse, softer, darker image. This sometimes results in surprising colors and it is rare that there aren’t variations from day to day. In my new home base on the Florida Gulf Coast, I hope for partly cloudy conditions as the sunset draws near, as that promises often spectacular colored skies, which are both pastel and brilliant at the same time. It is also sometimes the case that building storm conditions can produce dramatic conditions, especially when backlit by the setting sun.

Sunset over Cruise Ship
Carribean
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

What was interesting to me from my research was the science of all of this. Not really the technical side, but what it produces. I think I probably got the most insight from a painter’s website. The advice there and elsewhere to painters was fascinating. For sunrises, painters were advised that the clear skies of dawn yield more brilliant reds and oranges, and their palate should include yellow, bright orange, pink and blue, and emphasize the contrasts using dark blue on the sky and yellow on the horizon.  For sunsets, they are advised to use warm and dark saturated reds, oranges, magentas and purples.

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

Personal considerations:  Some years back, I made a quick trip back to Vermont in late summer, to attend a funeral. On Sunday morning, I was invited to go to church with family members and friends.  I politely declined. I wanted some contemplative time, and I had packed some gear.  Instead, I left my motel room in the predawn light, in to photograph a waterfall I had been to many times in my youth, but never photographed. Arriving there just after sunrise, I climbed down a steep pathway and was rewarded with this beautiful waterfall and exclusive occupancy of the area.  Except for the pounding water, there were no other sounds and no other hint of humanity. My family and friends were in church, but I am certain that I was with God!

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have, in years since, often experienced this feeling of awe, being alone, or nearly alone as the world comes awake. It is a soul -cleansing experience for me. I know for others, getting up that early and mustering out is not a pleasant or desired experience. Ironically, that is good for me. As I get older, I understand the reluctance to rise that early 🙂 .

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning.
I’d rather be here than in church any day!
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I do appreciate though, after a long, good day, being there to watch the suns last rays of the day.

Sunset; Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

More B&W Images

Nightime Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Since last week, I have acquired ON1’s newest offering:  ON1 Photo RAW 2018.  A version or two back, the ON1 folks moved from their “Suite” Of layers and effects, to a raw converter suite, which competes with Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, and the like.  The “develop” module in ON1 Photo Raw allows for essentially the same basic raw adjustments as Lightroom and Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), as far as I can see (Capture One offered me its suite a couple years back at no cost as some kind of deal they have with Sony for Sony camera users – while I have played a little with it, I was too lazy to try to learn a new interface at the time, but I suspect the raw conversion there also has a lot in common with these other programs).

Nighttime Canal
Venice, Italy (“toned”
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

For the Moment, one thing ON1 offers, is the ability to purchase and own standalone software, where Adobe has essentially now moved entirely the cloud-based model.  There were a lot of us in the beginning that were very wary of the online model.  Some of us still have some misgivings, though I will say I have been using Photoshop CC for a couple years now and really haven’t found a problem with it – yet.  I do like the periodic upgrades they push through from time to time, and I find that it generally works pretty smoothly, even with my low RAM Microsoft Surface, when I am not able to work on my desktop PC.  ON1 is seeming to bring the best of both worlds to entice Adobe users.  It intelligently loads (if selected) as a plug-in to both Lightroom and Photoshop, and the process of moving between the software is “relatively” seamless.  I say relatively, because some of the layer-based files can be tricky and it takes a bit of a learning curve to understand what is going on (a curve, I will readily confess, I am at the very low left end of 🙂 ).  The other thing that intrigues me is the ON1 browser/cataloging capability.  I have used LR for cataloging only for the most part.  I may look at migrating that function to the ON1 software.  But that is another topic for another time.  I wanted to play with the ON1 software, primarily for B&W images, but I can see that I will be working some with other aspects of my color images in the software.  But for now, the images here were made using some of their templates, and one with my own conversion.

The ON1 Software presents a learning curve for me; one I confess I am on the low end of

The Venice Canal is the canal where we stayed for our 5 days in Venice in September, 2017.  My buddy and traveling companion, Paul, saw the color version of this image and thought he might like a B&W Print.  So I thought I would play with it, using a couple of the “templates” that are built into ON1’s Black and White conversion process.  I used their masking process to “paint” in some texture and detail in a couple areas and to paint areas lighter and darker.  Otherwise, they are just two different templates.  The second image adds a little “warming” color, which still retaining the monochrome overall image.  I am not sure which one I like, though I tend to lean toward the more dramatic and stark B&W in all these images.

Navy Ships
Fisherman’s Wharf; San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

One of my goals in the Navy Ship image was to work a bit with the color channels to see how they affect the image look.  Most of the color version here is pretty much a neutral or slightly darker gray.  But there were a couple of red objects, and on part of the ship on the bow that was bright green.  I fiddled with the sliders a bit to brighten those colors for some contrast to the otherwise gray.  I also darkened the water a bit.  This pre-set template I used here is called “Paparazzi” and it reminded me of some of the B&W images I made back when shooting for our college newspaper many years ago.

Navy Ships; Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The second version is one I actually made first, using NIK Silver Efx in Photoshop.  In this case, I really preferred the ON1 version above.  I suspect that with enough knowledge, I could achieve essentially similar results in either program.  But I am warming to the ON1 software and process as I continue to use it.

Barns; Glen Haven, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The “D.H. Day Barn,” in Glen Haven, Michigan is just off the coast of Lake Michigan.  I spent a couple hours here one autumn afternoon, intending to photograph the barns in front of a wash of fall color.  The color was nice, but not spectacular.  But there was a lot of color in the foliage to the right side of the image.  I also like the repetition of these barns which get physically small, and recede in the distance as well.  This is one of the few images I have made in the past couple years that I thought would render well as a B&W image someday.

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

I worked this image in ON1, using the “develop” and then “effects” modules from a raw image.  After adjustments to contrast mainly (I used the “dynamic contrast” filter), I converted this to B&W.  The ON1 effects module uses layers (much like the adjustment layers process in Photoshop CC) to add these “filters.”  Each layer has a lot of individual adjustment capability within it, and there is a great masking brush set of tools to achieve local adjustments (I am being repetitive, here, but I am just beginning to understand the potential of this software and trying to compare and contrast how it matches up to Photoshop.  But I see myself using both softwares for the future).  I wanted to do my own conversion here, rather than using a pre-set template.

My goals were to bring out the color contrasts in the sunlit area; build a little drama in the sky, preserve and highlight the white barns, contrasting against the black roofs, and enhance the texture and brightness of the grasses in the foreground.  I feel like I succeeded in all but the last, in the ON1 program.  I am sure I could have accomplished that too, with a little added knowledge and experience in the ON1 program.  But I have to catch a plane in a couple hours to head back to the frozen tundra of Michigan :-).  So I got a little lazy, and to the image back into Photoshop and my trusty NIK suite, adding some brightness and structure to the grass. I am new at this.  Be gentle 🙂 .  But I was pretty pleased with the result.  Lots to learn and looking forward to more experimentation with this stuff.  As always, thanks for reading.

More “Playing”

Canal, Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

I “discovered” the “oil painting” look primarily by accident. I was post-processing images from my first visit to Venice back in 2013 and while working on this canal image, was using NIK’s ColorEfx Pro plug-in to Photoshop to “enhance” color.  There is a filter in that program called “Detail Extractor,” which my friend and talented photographer and Photoshop user, Al Utzig, had once recommended I try.  As I played with this filter, I saw the effect, here, which reminded my of an oil painting – especially the buildings in the background.  But as I played around with it, I was not able to reproduce that effect over the entire image.  That was o.k.  I rather liked the kind of “hybrid” nature of the image.  Enough so that it is printed quite large, framed in gold, and hanging in our Florida Living Room.

The lesson here is to take advantage of the fact that some people much smarter and more talented than I am have already done the heavy lifting

This experience intrigued me enough that I have played around a couple times with other images, and set them aside, for a time when I had more time and interest in “working” them. Over the holidays, I have been spending a little more time working with the idea of making some of my photographs into “paintings.”  My blog a couple weeks back was my “freshman” foray into this area.  This image was made using the NIK Color Efex Pro Plugin’s “Detail Extractor.”  Those who saw it a couple weeks ago may have read my friend, Al Utzig’s comments and note that I took his suggestion and removed the “halo” that was present between the mountain tops and sky.  While I rather like this image, it was not the “look” I was seeking.  There is too much luminance and saturated color, especially in the umbrellas in the foreground and the people in the image.  Too “photo-realistic.”

Amalfi Coast
NIK Color Efx
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Photoshop already has many features that allow painting and filters that add different “looks” and textures to images.  But I have never found them easy, or intuitive to use.  There is, for example, an “oil paint” filter that has been in Photoshop for some years now.  I thought that it would convert a photographic image into at least a basic oil-on-canvas look (something like the conversion to B&W that can be done).  I expected work would have to be done to make it look like I wanted, but at least a basic start.  That was not my experience.  Try as I might, I could not make the filter look like my vision of a painting, though the one here came closer, only after I really worked it with some layers, and added a texture layer, to at least give it a canvas look.

I did what I always do.  I bought a book :-).  While that was interesting and entertaining, it was still not really helpful for “hands-on” tinkering.  Indeed, many of the example projects in the book did not work the way they were “supposed” to in the book.  But one think I did pick up was that most of the stuff that was getting closer to the look I wanted, was made first, by using another software program; Corel Painter.  As I looked at more and more examples, I saw that others were using this software and that it was really designed with tools for doing some of the things I wanted to do.  So maybe the lesson here (I learned it with NIK some years back) is to take advantage of the fact that some people much smarter and more talented than I am have already done the heavy lifting.  I looked at Painter 2018, but the $450 (discounted!) price tag was more than I wanted to jump into.  But I did find Painter Essentials (for those who, like me, early on looked for an affordable alternative to Photoshop – this was before Lightroom – and started with Photoshop Elements, I think this is a comparable choice).  I am using the free trial right now, but think I will purchase it and the $29.00 tag is more palatable – at least to a beginner.  Will I jump to the “pro” program?  We will see where this goes (probably not).

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Corel Painter Essentials
Copyright, Andy Richards 2017

Using the “auto-paint” feature on the Amalfi Coast image, I immediately started to see results more like I had imagined.  I have a lot to learn about this fairly simple program.  One of the things it does in its default mode is to add edge effects, like the image here.  I tried a couple different “paints” and ultimately, was drawn to this one (“colored pencil”).  But it still wasn’t the final look I wanted.  So I used this image as a layer on my original photograph, and blended it into the photograph.  After playing with some adjustment layers to work with the sky, clean up some color and saturation issues, and to add some blur to the final result, this is the composite I came up with.  It has a few “issues,” but it is much more what my “mind’s-eye” saw as a painting of this scene.  This is new for me.  There are probably many of you out there who have this down far better than I do.  I would be happy to hear from you.

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Composite
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I will be back at this 🙂