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The Rear View Mirror – 2017 in Review

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Most years, it seems like I get to this.  2017 was again, an eventful year, photographically and with related items.  This wasn’t a year when I planned a dedicated photo trip.  But I did manage to get to some new places, and back to some old ones.  For the most part, I carried my Sony RX100 small camera, and it gave me good service.

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I ended 2016, and rang in the New Year with a series of images from a small public pier, just up the road from our Florida home.

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In January, we visited a “bucket list” location; Key West.  It has held pull for me at least since I became a “Parrot Head,” and certainly after I read a couple of Jimmy Buffet’s novels.  We celebrated my January birthday at Louie’s Backyard, a rather elegant restaurant with a wonderful outdoor deck seating area, and a great menu.  The sunset was – as is common in Florida – pretty spectacular.  Key West is a destination for eating, drinking, and people watching.  I would not put it high up on the photographic destination list. 🙂

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

Speaking of sunsets, these images got me thinking how much I have always loved both ends of the day, but generally preferred sunrise to sunset.  It spurred another post featuring some of my sunrise imagery.

Tokyo Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Bay Bridge Sunrise
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

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

As I went through my image library, it occurred to me that some of my images had some things in common.  For example: Shape.

Whitefish Falls
Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Rocks, Lake Superior Shoreline
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

And, Color.

Shop; Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Shop; St. Maarten
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

And shape and color. 🙂

Just in time for Fall Foliage, my good friend, Carol Smith and I released our 2nd Edition of “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,”  which can be purchased via the link on this blog.  This is the cover image.

Craftsbury Common, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Finally, we embarked on our much anticipated, 3rd Mediterranean cruise.  The single most anticipated image for me was the opening image here of the whitewashed, blue-domed churches that dot the landscape of Santorini.  But there was so much more to see.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Positano; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Night Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As we ring in the New Year, I want to thank all the readers here, especially those who have the patience and perseverance to visit regularly.  I want to thank all those persons who mentor and support me in my photographic endeavors.  I want to thank my great friends (you know who you are so I won’t “out” you publicly), who traveled with us this year – we had a great time with great company.  As I said last week, I am very grateful for my blessings in life.  I wish to all, a Happy New Year, and a prosperous and successful (as you define “success”) 2018!

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The Amalfi Coast

Positano, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

This was our last port of call on our 2017 Mediterranean Cruise.  I looked forward to it, partly because the last time we were there was our shortened cruise, and we missed our tour.  While we did hire a cab to take us up the coast, our only stop that day was in the town of Amalfi.  This trip, we planned to go further up to Ravello, and then stop at Amalfi and Positano.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I have a friend who spent a week in Ravello one year, and highly recommended it.  Our guide knew that the best time to get us there was early in the morning, and he took us in on back roads.  We basically had the beautiful little mountain village to ourselves that morning.  That was the last time we would see that kind of serenity for the day.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I just walked around and made a few images.  I can see why my friend was enchanted with this little town and why it might be very relaxing to spend a few days here.

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

 

I was pretty amazed, both times I traveled here, to see how they build these communities into the the rugged mountainside.  And each of them have sweeping and beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

One surprise to me was how much this destination appears to have grown in popularity in 4 years.  We were there in 2013, about the same time of the year.  But this time, the crowds in Amalfi and Positano were at least double what we saw in 2013.  There is an incredible church in the middle of the square in Amalfi, that was nearly impossible to photograph because of the crowd of people.  I was able to get up over some heads and get a couple shot, and then isolate the tower.

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

It was pretty clearly the tourists.  There were few people on the beaches, even though the temperature was well into the 80’s.

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Positano, we were informed by our guide, is where the rich and famous go to be seen and to shop.  We spend only a few minutes here, walking down into the town among throngs of humanity, and high end retail shops.  We wanted to see if we could get a view of a church.  We weren’t really able to find a good view of it.  Most of my images were taken on the outskirts of Positano.  There road down into the city center is a kind of mult-circular, winding road.

Positano; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Positano; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

We finished out our day – and our cruise – dining in a nice restaurant on the outskirts of Sorrento, at a family-owned restaurant known personally to our guide.  Again, we enjoyed near-exclusive dining and wonderful, fresh, local Italian cuisine.

More Santorini


There were, of course, many shots other than the blue-domed churches.  As the view from our cruise ship shows, the Island of Santorini (which is composed of 3 villages) is entirely build along the top of the volcanic rock (the Caldera) which comprises the island.  Santorini is part of the Cyclades Islands, and is approximately half-way between Athens on the mainland and the Isle of Crete

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In years past, the only way to the villages from the harbor was on foot, or by donkey up the steep, winding path shown to the left of the photo.  Pathways in the Village of Oia likewise show the steep foot paths down to the Agean Sea. The Greek Isles are full of white stucco buildings with very colorful accents, and often colorful flowers in addition.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The pathway up into Oia from the back side had traditional Greek windmills, and shops and homes that are very colorful and picturesque.  I am continually amazed at the Mediterranean methods of building shops and dwellings into the steep cliff faces.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Like the other Greek Islands, the inhabitants of the Island like splashes of color and particularly, colorful, blooming flowers.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

George took us to a spot that he believes is not well known to many tourists, but provides yet another sweeping view of the island.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

He also opined that, although the blue-domed church images are sought-after and iconic, he believes this image is the next “famous” Santorini shot.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

After seeing many gorgeous sights in Santorini, George took us to a local restaurant of the proverbial beaten path, and far from the tourist areas.  It was a beautiful, quiet, oceanfront restaurant with outstanding food and local wine.  Over the years, we have had a number of very good guides.  Indeed we have have an overwhelmingly positive experience with our guides.  But George will be one of the more memorable ones we have had, with a lively personality and a great enthusiasm for Santorini.  His quirky sense of humor can pretty easily be seen here.  I want one of these t-shirts 🙂

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

 

The Great Santorini

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I know.  Lame takeoff on “The Great Santini.”  But I have to say, Santorini was great, and everything I had hoped for.  This is the place where all of the images of the blue-domed, white churches are taken with the Mediterranean in the background.  And I took a lot of them.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

When doing my research for this destination, I was dismayed to learn that many of these shots are not easy to find.  Having been there, I am not sure I agree with these readers’ assessment, but a little local knowledge goes a long, long way.  Our guide (“George,” for the second day in a row – not the same George), it turns out, did some time as a professional photographer, and he not only knew where the shots were, but when to get us there so the light was most flattering (within the parameters of our time on the island, of course).  If I were viewing these images as a third-party, I might be inclined to accuse the shooter of overuse of his circular polarizer.  But I did not have a polarizer attached.  The Aegean skies are just that blue.  Like the domes.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

So, let’s get the blue-domed churches out of the way from the get-go.  It looks like Santorini will be a two-blog post.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

We started the morning at a spot very near where George picked us up.  It was a spot that he said was not well known, but it was our first blue-domed church, with our cruise ship in the background.  A nice start.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

George took us the opposite direction of most of the other tour groups, coming into Oia, where the churches and view are most prominent, from the back way.  Not only did this get us to the spots before the huge crowds came, but it was really the right place to be for the morning sun (though, as I have noted in previous blogs, we are rarely in a port during the best light of the early morning or late afternoon).

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Med 2017; Islands that start with “M”

Mykonos, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Malta.  A place I don’t think I ever gave any thought about.  When we originally decided on the cruise, the second stop was Ancient Ephesus, in Turkey.  But cruise ships aren’t going to Turkey anymore.  Sad.  Our world needs to change.  But that’s for another time.  Malta:  my first and only thought was “The Maltese Falcon.”  Turns out there is a falcon native to Malta that middle eastern falconers were partial too.  Which is where any connection ends.  Heck, I doubt Bogart even knew where Malta was. 🙂

Malta
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos.  It is a Greek island, which is appropriate, since this was a “Greek Isles Cruise.”  We (my wife and I) were there once before, on our shortened, 2013 Mediterranean Cruise.  Mykonos is very small, so we didn’t book a tour there.  In Malta, we just didn’t know anything about it, and had no idea what to do.  So we had two relatively free days, with an “at sea” day in between.  which was fine, because things got pretty hectic for the remainder of the cruise.

Malta
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Photographically, Mykonos is a pretty great spot.  Malta was o.k., but not photographically inspiring.  So most of my images during these two stops were made on Mykonos.  Malta is its own sovereign nation.  It actually played a pretty big role for allies in WWII.  It consists of 3 walled cities.  We were able to see two of them from our moored cruise ship.  Being an island, it is obviously very much a maritime society, and we were impressed with the vast number of small pleasure craft moored in the many harbors around the island.

Mykonos
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos is one of the best known popular Greek islands.  It is a popular beach destination for the citizens of the Mediterranean.  Most of the island is comprised of either retail shops, hotels (which are built into the unique architecture), and private dwellings.

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

There are many backstreets, and all of them are created with the “cobblestone” look (which is really cement).  I am always take by the colors they use to set off the white stucco buildings everywhere.

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos is also famous for its distinctive windmills (though we did see them again in Santorini and Rhodes).

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

From my perspective, since we had been to Mykonos, I was keying for the next couple destinations, Rhodes, Santorini and the Amalfi Coast.  Some pretty great travel was yet to come.  Next up, Rhodes.

What’s In The Bag (Today)

Tokyo Dawn Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Tokyo Dawn
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

There should be little doubt to the reader here that I have hit a bit of a dry spell when it comes to both topics and photography.  🙂  We have had a very mild winter here (so far) and the part of Michigan I live in is pretty flat, and pretty brown this time of year.  It is also cold.   That creates an atmosphere in which it is difficult to get motivated to go out and shoot.

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

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

Usually when this happens, I start going through old images, and come up with something.  I think I have kind of beaten that to death, so I started going through old blog topics, from the early day forward.  A couple of patterns come up.  I have addressed the IP issues of photography a fair amount.  I have talked about digital processing.  I have talked about my travels, and I have talked about “gear.” 🙂

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

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

Gear is a funny thing.  It is a part of every photographer’s evolution from a beginning shooter forward.  At some point we fall in love with gear and begin to think it is going to make us a better photographer.  Eventually we learn that it doesn’t really do that at all.  We buy cheap gear because we cannot afford the real high quality stuff in many instances.  Then we look back and realize that we spent at least as much on the different iterations of cheap gear as we would have spent on the quality gear in the first place (this is especially true of lenses and tripods).

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

And then there is the evolution of gear.  My starting point was a 35mm SLR film camera with a turn-hand winder, and without a built in light meter.  Today I carry the physical equivalent of a P&S for 90% of my shooting.  But in between ……. 🙂 wow.  Reviewing a couple old posts, I had to laugh.  In 2011, I waxed philosophical about “less is more” [“In the Bag” (getting ready for Spring)].  At the end of that blog, I listed the gear in my “bag” in 2011.  LOL.  All in, that was about 15 lbs of gear (not to mention the bulk of schlepping that stuff around).

Flag Detail The Acropolis Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Flag Detail
The Acropolis
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Today I travel mostly with my Sony RX100iv weighing about 1/2 lb and pocketable.  When I do need a tripod, my Sirui T-025X carbon fiber tripod weighs about 1/5 lbs, and its (just under) 12 inch folded length fits in my carry on bag.  It is plenty rigid enough for a light P&S camera.  But I have used it with my bigger cameras, too.  You may need to brace it, but it will still be better than no tripod in those instances when you are simply unable to pack one.  I would say “less is more” fits my today’s mode better than it did in 2011. 🙂

Temple Rokuon-Ji Kyoto Japan Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

My point, though, is that photograpers and technology both evolve.  The RX100iv was not in existence in 2011 and there was simply no equivalent (the RX100 debutted in June 2012, but it was not even close to the camera the later iterations — especially the III, IV and V — were).  At the same time, the more I traveled the less pleasure I found in lugging all that gear around.  It is a lot of trouble in most cases.  I have to confess that I still keep my Sony a7 DSLR-like body, a couple of lenses, and a larger carbon fiber tripod, which I use for “dedicated” photography outings.  I am still able to fit the body and lenses in a carryon bag, and the Sirui 3204x tripod, with a folded length of 20 inches, fits rather easily in a checked bag (I have also carried it on in a carry-on size suiter suitcase).  Even that gear weighs about 1/2 of the 2011 bag.

Clontarf, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Every image except the last one (a7) here was taken with the small cam.  For purposes of my photography and vision, I do not think it has suffered by shedding weight and numbers of equipment 🙂

Truth in Photography (Here I go again)

Birch Clump Hiawatha NF; Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Birch Clump
Hiawatha NF; Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

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

“truth isn’t absolute”

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

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

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

 

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

Goat Island Light Newport, Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Light
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

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

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

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

Fayette State Park Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

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

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

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