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Shape

Color

Last time, I wrote about color.  Color attracts.  It always grabs my attention.  It pulls the eye.  But as this image illustrates, it is about more than just color.  This image is boring.  Mundane.  In fact, pretty awful to be displayed on a photographer’s blog.  But I hope it illustrates my point.  Color is a big part of my imagery.  But there are other important ingredients. 🙂

Rose
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Color alone will not make an interesting or compelling image

As the opening image illustrates, color, alone, will not make an interesting (and most certainly not compelling image).  Indeed it is so mundane that I didn’t copyright notice it or claim “artistic” credit.  I am sure I am not the first to have created an image very like this one.  So what’s missing?

Rocks, Lake Superior Shoreline
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

There are a lot of things that will bring interest to an image.  Line, horizon, animation (either illustrated, or in the case of many animal images, imagined).  I want to talk about shape today.

Elliot Falls
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

When I started to look through my archive for illustrations, I thought I was going to have a lot more illustrations that said “shape.”  I also thought about writing about “line.”  A topic to come.  But I was surprised that I was able to find many examples of line, or line and shape.  But fewer that shape alone provided the interest.  Some good examples appeared in the last blog.  The pottery in the shop in Istanbul was really all about color and shape.  Likewise the fans in Japan.

Shiawassee River, Owosso, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

The Rose image has plenty of color.  Two primary colors in fact; red and green.  A blob (or an uninteresting shape) of red and green would not be interesting.  As a photographer, its presence would perhaps pull my eye.  But upon closer inspection, it would not tickle my photographic fancy.

Parking Structure on Wabash Avenue, Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Nature presents us with unique and interesting shapes and textures.  The Lake Superior rocks image is another example of nature’s unique presentation of shape, texture and color.  This image might be interesting without all three of the elements.  Maybe the shape and texture would still make a viable image.  But the color attracted me, and the shape and texture of the image prompted me to make it.  Likewise, shapes make the Elliot Falls image in my view.  This Michigan U.P. waterfall is oft-photographed and it is difficult to find a unique perspective.  But the scallops in the sandstone really make this image.

Street Shops
Madrid, NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I was looking for color the morning I took the Shiawassee River photo.  The background was cluttered and not very picturesque.  So I started looking for reflections.  The shape of the log creates enough interest to the eye to make this image work.  Sometimes you have to “help” nature just a bit.  The Noyes Pond bubbles image is a favorite of mine.  Without the bubbles, you have another “record” shot of fall foliage surrounding a pond.  The familiar shape of the bubbles adds interest.  I must confess that although I was involved in making the bubbles, my photograph was not the primary reason for them on this morning.  This image was made in memory of a dear friend, and enthusiastic fellow Vermont shooter.  But I think George would have loved this image. 🙂 .

Moulton Barn
Mormon Row, WY
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Man made shapes often lend themselves to “shape” composition.  Architecture often lends itself to some dramatic images.  I visited Chicago several time over the years and always loved to walk around downtown in the early morning hours.  This well-known parking structure can be seen in the background of many images of downtown Chicago.  Its unique shape and physical prominence makes it visible from a number of viewpoint around the city.  Color once again drew my eye to the back street shops in Madrid, New Mexico.  Pastel colors abound in much of New Mexico’s architecture.  But again, without the juxtaposed rectangles throughout the image, it would be just a blob of color.  I liked that this image is made up of essentially all rectangles and straight lines.

Canadian Air Force
Fleet Week Air Show
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Shapes in a image can sometimes be serendipitous.  Without the contrails in the Canadian Air Force image, we would just see a handful of red dots in an shapeless, monotone sky.  The contrails make this image.

Starburst
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

And, sometimes you just have to make your own shapes.  The starburst image was taken at Christmas time of a lighted outdoor tree display in front of a large commercial building.  It just wasn’t doing it for me, so I played.  The image is shot at a slow shutter speed, on a tripod, while a zoomed the zoom lens.  But in the end, my favorite shapes come from mother nature and her random, unique artistry.  The Whitefish Falls image is but another nearly ubiquitous single drop waterfall in the Michigan U.P.  There are many of them that all look essentially identical.  To make a more unique image, I walked in close for my favorite “intimate” perspective.  I like the result as much as any shape I have ever shot.

Whitefish Falls
Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

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 🙂

O.k., I think I am safe here: “The Sun Also Rises”

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

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

When I — “tongue in cheek” — noted that I didn’t want to offend Hemingway and be guilty of the very thing I occasionally rant against, copyright infringement, an astute friend pointed out that it wasn’t Hemingway’s at all, but actually comes from the bible.  I am reasonably certain we are beyond the copyright expiration date for the particular author.  So there you go.  🙂

Sunrises reveal themselves in a number of varied conditions

Perhaps more meaningfully, my left turn into the topic of “sunrise” vs “sunset,” caused me to wonder just how many times I had ventured into the early morning, pre-dawn darkness, to try to capture the sunrise.  So I went back through my archives.  I was surprised (though I should not have been) to find that my sunrise images were far fewer than my sunset images.  I found about sixteen of them, most of which I had never given any serious post-processing.  I will use the next two posts to showcase some of them.  I will not say they are in every instance, my best work (in fact a couple were taken with lower-quality digital cameras in low light conditions — in a time when sensors were simply not as good as they are today).  The St. Thomas shot was made as the sun broke the horizon in the pre-dawn light, with a Canon G12 (which had a smaller and less capable sensor than my Sony RX100iv).  My Sony body is half its physical size.

St. Thomas, USVI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

St. Thomas, USVI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

I believe the images here illustrate some of what I said in the prior post.  Sunrises reveal themselves in a number of varied conditions.  Sunsets can often be colorful.  Sunrises are generally more subtle, but as the Otter Beach shot shows, there are occasionally glorious exceptions.  Cooler temperatures create fog and mist.  Cold temperatures create a cool look to the image colors.

Saginaw County Sunrise Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Saginaw County Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

The earliest recorded attempt I made at sunrise shooting was on a freezing cold morning in February, not far from my home in Saginaw, Michigan.  Saginaw is part of the so-called, I-75 industrial corridor, formerly known for its General Motors auto manufacturing plants.  But it may not be a well-known that it is also one of the largest agricultural areas in the mid-west.  As soon as you leave the city in almost any direction, there are farms and farmland.  This image was taken with my Nikon 35mm SLR camera and color transparency film.  Slow ISO speeds of such film dictated the use of a sturdy tripod and cable release.  The image here was scanned with an Epson scanner and is not the quality equivalent of the drum scanners that were used back then to digitize media in high resolution.  Even so, I am impressed with what modern “home-brew” digital technology can accomplish.

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

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

When my son was younger (me too 🙂 ), we used to do an annual late summer camping trip.  One of our favorite spots was a small National Forest Campground called Horseshoe Lake, in Lower Michigan.  One of my early “successful” attempts at sunrise photography was, perhaps, unplanned.  I have never been a fan of camping and especially, of sleeping on the cold, damp, lumpy ground.  So it was not surprising that I woke early in the pre-dawn.  I restarted our campfire and boiled a pot of water for coffee.  My son (like any pre-teenager) was sound asleep and apparently unfazed by the lumpy ground.  So I carried camera and tripod a few hundred feet down to the water’s edge and began looking for compositions.  I made a few images that morning, but the resulting shot was a bit of a surprise.  The image was shot on Fuji Velvia color transparency film.  A characteristic of this film with certain light conditions is to render blue.  While this was not my “vision” while making the image, I liked it well enough to keep it.  And it has been sold a number of times.  Who knew?

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

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

In 2009, my best friend, Rich, and our spouses made a week-long trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park.   We always have fun when the 4 of us travel.  But Rich and I are pretty unrelenting on our commitment to be out early.  This trip was no exception, and we picked our way down a little known path (we had found during prior daylight) to a rocky portion of Otter Beach, where both the image above, and the opening image were taken, several mornings, waiting for the elusive sunrise I think it was worth the wait when this one finally came.

Sunrise on the Gastineau Channel; Inside Passage Juneau, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Sunrise on the Gastineau Channel; Inside Passage
Juneau, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2010, we to our first cruise.  I was lukewarm about the whole cruise idea.  In my mind, cruises were about partying shipboard, buffets, and sun and fun in the Caribbean (which, it turns out, isn’t such a bad gig after all).  My wife wanted to do a cruise, so I agreed–as long as I got to pick it.  And I chose the Alaska Inside Passage cruise.  It turned out to be a great trip and we learned that cruising is a pretty comfortable way to see new places.

Inside Passage, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Inside Passage, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Another plus to going west is the time change.  Already a relatively early riser, the 3 and eventually 4 hour time difference had my wide-eyed before first light nearly every morning, as we cruised the inside passage.  The sun was pure gold the morning we approached the port of Juneau.  A day later, approaching Skagway, the rising sun lit the sky with multiple colors.

Whittier, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Whittier, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

On the final morning of our cruise, I walked the rear deck of our ship, the Diamond Princess, and watched a dramatic sunrise under cloudy skies.  I was a convert to cruising, and we would cruise 3 more times between 2010 and 2013.

Sunrise in the Caribbean Royal Princess Cruise Ship Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sunrise in the Caribbean
Royal Princess Cruise Ship
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Florida Gulf Sunset

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

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

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography

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

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

Crystal Beach Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

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

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric

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

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

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

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

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

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

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

Honeymoon State Park Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Honeymoon State Park
Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

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

Narragansett Bay Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Narragansett Bay
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

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

2005 (part II) – My Vermont “Homecoming”

Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Copyright Andy Richards 2005

For the past several posts, I diverted from my series of “old” images over the past couple weeks to write a couple Fall Foliage – specific posts, and to self-aggrandize with my two eBooks covering Vermont and the Michigan “U.P.,” the two best fall foliage locations in the U.S. (in my ever-so-humble opinion 🙂 ).  I will return to the foregoing series for a few more posts, though I am rapidly approaching the point where I began regular postings here and I don’t plan to “bore” you with “re-runs.”  It will have to come to a logical end, soon, and then I will actually have to think of something new and creative to post about :-).

Fittingly, the next couple posts have a substantial connection with Vermont and foliage, so the “theme” will continue into foliage season.  For some time I had been regaling Rich with stories about the utopian Vermont fall foliage.  I had many memories from the years I lived there.  With its high percentage of Maples, and its mountainous territory, when things turn in New England, they really turn and present some truly spectacular color shows.

With its high percentage of Maples, and its mountainous territory, when things turn in New England, they really turn

While we were on our brief spring trip to the Michigan UP, we agreed it was finally time for Rich to visit Vermont.  My last trip to Vermont had been some 20 years ago and I was pretty excited to show Rich the “stomping grounds” of my youth, and really the birthplace of my own photography obsession.  So we planned our trip.

H. T. Doane Farm Bakersfield, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2006

H. T. Doane Farm
Bakersfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Traditionally, fall color “happens” in Vermont any time from the last 2 weeks in September to through the first 2 weeks in October.  It typically progresses from north to south and from the high mountains down to the valleys.  But that is a generalization, I have learned, from my own empirical experience.  There are pockets of the state where foliage happens out of sync.  I have always found good color in Peacham in the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont – sometimes getting there late and sometimes early.  The Village of Barton seems to share that character.  On the other hand, there are parts of Southern Vermont that seem to always peak in September.  Unfortunately, I have missed it every time I have visited those locations.

Big Falls Missisquoi River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Big Falls
Missisquoi River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

We used my aunt and uncle’s (H.T. Doane) farm in the northwestern part of the state as our home base for this trip.  My uncle’s advice was to come the last week of September.  In his lifetime of experience, that was our best percentage chance to see “the good stuff.”  My aunt and uncle were very generous people and I was always welcome (as were many other visitors over the years) to a bed, food and whatever other hospitality they could offer.  I had first lived on the farm in the 1980’s where I spent summers working.  I was anxious to go back and excited about the process of photographing the New England Color.  I spent a lot of time researching and one of the things I found was there was no really good resource for photographers.  During this (and every other) trip, I kept careful notes, and later recorded the information I gathered.  This eventually resulted in my eBook, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage.”  I digress, I know, but I cannot pass up an opportunity for yet another blatant plug for my own wonderful writing :-).

This trip was the beginning of a series of trips that would result in my Vermont eBook

Disappointingly, from a fall-foliage standpoint, this trip was close to a complete bust.  The magical color I remembered from earlier years just never happened in 2005.  As we drove through upstate New York and into Vermont, my heart sunk.  All I could see was green everywhere I looked.  During our week long stay, we drove all over the state to find color.   We started in Montgomery, seeking covered bridges and waterfalls, hopefully surrounded by brilliant fall foliage.  Not to be.  As you can see from the images, there was very little color and where there was, it tended to be Sumac bushes.  But we made the most of what we had.

Longley Bridge Montgomery, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Longley Bridge
Montgomery, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

My research had unearthed the Arnold John Kaplan pamphlet that is referenced in my eBook and often elsewhere on this site.  This pamphlet was to become my primary research tool and the basis for the later eBook (with foreword graciously written by the late Arnold John Kaplan himself).  There were a handful of “iconic” scenes that Arnold had famously photographed many years ago and I wanted to visit them.  So, we set off looking for Peacham, Waits River, East Orange, East Corinth, and others.  We didn’t make it to all, but we did see many.  And, pretty uniformly, there was really no color :-(.

Waits River, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Waits River, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

We did find a hint of color (which I have been able to “tease” out in post-processing) at Peacham, and you can see it was trying to start in Waits River.  The other thing we found was what I note in the beginning of the Photographing Vermont eBookOne constant about nature is that it is constantly changing.  We found the back road up the mountain that would give us the near aerial shot of East Orange.  But we didn’t see the iconic shot.  A passing local noted that over the 20 years since Arnold had photographed it, it had all grown up (meaning trees).  I didn’t bring anything home that I though was worthy of display from East Orange in 2005, but I did return in 2006 and found an opening (partly because the foliage was mostly gone by the time I arrived) which gave me a pretty nice photo.

Peacham, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Peacham, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

One constant about nature is that it is constantly changing

We also visited the famous ski resort/tennis resort/tourist-destination of Stowe, and spent a day in and around Burlington, Vermont’s major city and university town.  The Old Red Mill (now a shop) is in Jericho, on the way to Burlington from the north, and we made it a morning destination.  Basically giving up on the foliage images, we knew this would be photogenic with or without colored foliage.  This is a tough shot as you have to negotiate a very busy road (full of commuter traffic), and scramble over a bridge on around on a steep, rocky embankment to set up for the shot.  The light was pretty hot by the time it was high enough to light the scene, but we were generally pleased with the resulting images.

Old Red Mill Jericho, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Old Red Mill
Jericho, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe is a short distance from the farm and is at the southern base of perhaps the most dramatic mountain (“notch”) roads in New England, passing over Mount Mansfield; Vermont’s tallest peak.  “Smuggler’s Notch” is, from Bakersfield, the shortest way South.  It unfortunately or fortunately – depending on your mission and point of view — also goes through Stowe, which can be a traffic nightmare in high tourist season.  Nonetheless, we found ourselves traveling through it almost daily.  We stopped for mid-day meals and occasionally dinner after the sun had set.  We learned a bit about the place, including that there was a “high view” shot of downtown Stowe.  Like so many of these, the shot we saw had been taken years back and new growth had all but blocked any view.  We found a trail that was very primitive and basically “bushwacked” our way down to a possible view late one night, guided by flashlight.  Believing it had potential, we arrived at dawn the next morning and schlepped our equipment down to the cleared plateau we had found.  Daylight came shrouded in a heavy fog that promised to be slow to lift.  We patiently waited for about an hour and a half as coffee got cold.  While waiting, an inspiration from a year ago (perhaps fueled by boredom) came to me and I started searching the ground for “leaf compositions.”  This leaf image and the covered bridge we photographed one morning while staying close to the farm, were combined later in Photoshop and became the official “logo” for LightCentric Photography (see the opening image).

Maple Leaf Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Eventually, we gave up and sought breakfast.  During breakfast, the sun finally broke through.  It was late enough in the year that we figured we still had some time before the light became untenable.  So with renewed energy, we decided to return to our spot and though it is difficult to find an area that is not blocked, the photo here is my best image of the Stowe Village (and yes, there has been some retouching 🙂 ).

Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

As we prepared for the long return drive to Michigan, we decided the last morning to stick close to the farm.  Waterville, only about 15 miles away (a very short distance in Vermont terms) has several covered bridges that are kind of hidden away.   We decided to start there on our last morning.  The lone tree with muted orange color in the resulting image is illustrative of our frustration.  But this image ultimately served as the primary image for my logo.

Montgomery Bridge Waterville, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Montgomery Bridge
Waterville, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

I would continue to return to Vermont every couple falls, and great foliage would continue to evade me.  But eventually, I found some and some years, spectacular results.

Chicago and back to the UP – (2005; Part I)

Chicago Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Looking back, its hard to believe I have already covered 3 decades, and perhaps more amazing that I am still looking at images from 10 years ago.  2005, in retrospect, seemed like a pretty eventful year of shooting for me.  It definitely ramped up from the past decade.  It proved to be only an appetizer of things to come.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, so more on the in the coming months.

I have a confession to make

For now, in April of 2005, we spent a long weekend visiting my daughter who then lived in Chicago.  My trips to Chicago were always fun, but as a photographer, I was always drawn to the morning light around the buildings on the “miracle mile.”  My friend and mentor, Ray Laskowitz once referred to them as “urban canyons.”  Very apt.  My first photographic “walkaround” happened during this April trip.  The opener here is a favorite of mine.  I like the gold planter, the colorful “peacock,” the morning light, and the general contrasts.  But I have a confession to make.  In the original image, the sky is grey.  This image just screamed for a blue sky, so I found one and replaced itCheater.  Fraud.  Yeah, yeah. :-).  Unfortunately, I probably cannot ever sell this image, even if somebody liked it.  I think NBC might have a problem with that.

Chicago Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Looking at my archives, I did not post-process very many images from that trip.  As this was a family outing, I only carried my Point & Shoot, Nikon Coolpix E500 (a small-sensor camera that, while raw-capable, has nowhere near the image quality the new Sony RX100 does).  But I may go back now that I have more capability with the modern ACR processing engine in my Photoshop software. As an example, I quickly post-processed this image, shot from the top of the Sears Tower, hand-held, through the thick plate-glass, with the Coolpix.  When I first looked at these images (now 11 years ago) I concluded they were unusable.  By then, I had learned (perhaps the hard way) though, to save them in hopes of better future technology.  With the current processing engine and armed with a bit more knowledge, I was able to make this acceptable for a blog posting.

Chicago Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Sometimes you just get lucky.  I have said before here that my family are not “early” people.  I am — generally.  It works out well for me.  When we travel, I get a couple hours most mornings of solitude to explore with my camera.  Just give me a good cup of coffee and some general directions and I am happy.  And in Chicago, there is a Starbucks on every corner, so I was halfway there.  That morning, as I wondered along Michigan Avenue, I happened upon a large gathering of uniformed men.  I learned that it was the annual Chicago Police parade.  I took several shots that I would call “keepers.”  But this one is the one I selected today.  :-).  These are not “Chicago’s finest.”  I think they might be state troopers.  The Black Uniformed Chicago Police were everywhere, also.

Just give me a good cup of coffee and some general directions and I am happy

Shortly after I moved to Saginaw, Michigan to begin my law practice, I met one of my very best friends, Rich Pomeroy.  Our relationship quickly bloomed from professional/business to close friends.  We were two different personalities, but we found we had many common interests.  We played golf together and we traveled for business.  Over time we sometimes moved in different directions, but we never lost touch – finding time for breakfast or lunch and maintaining regular communications.  For a couple years, Rich moved away from Michigan to Minnesota and we still found a way to get together, including a Minnesota trip for me to shoot with our mutual friend and photographer, Al UtzigBut the photography portion of our friendship didn’t start right away.

I gave Canada some of my American Dollars for a new tripod

Rich had cameras before 2002.  But I think his real enthusiasm to learn and shoot came with his earliest DSLR.  We did some local shooting together and then in 2004, did the long weekend trip to the UP I talked about in the last blog.  In the meantime, Rich did a couple trips and seminars on his own, including an eventful trip out to Wyoming for a workshop that resulted in us traveling there a few years later for one of my more memorable trips.  He has a talented eye and I have often shot with him, only review the “take” later, and marvel at shots I he saw that I had totally missed!  You can see Rich’s work at his Photojockey website.  He very graciously credits me with getting him interested in photography there, but he had many other influences and his own natural curiosity and drive to make great images.

Point Iroquois Light Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Point Iroquois Light
Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

In the spring, Rich and I took a quick overnight trip back up to Tahquamenon Falls to shoot it with snow and winter conditions.  While I did keep some files from that location, I concluded that the upper falls were just not photo-worthy in winter conditions with gray skies.  I think there is some promise around the lower falls and a little tributary that flows into the river there, but I had a catastrophic equipment malfunction there, breaking a leg on my tripod.  We ran into some birders later in the day and they told us my only hope for parts was to go over to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, a city large enough to support camera stores (I think I have probably beat to death the concept of the need for a quality tripod elsewhere here – not one of the big box store cheapies).   So with a change in plans, we headed for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, directly across the St. Mary’s River, which flows down from Lake Superior to Lake Huron.  There is a major drop right in this area, which would make navigation impossible.  So more than a century ago, the first Soo Lock was built (1855).  I don’t remember ever being in Sault Ste. Marie, and was favorably impressed with the small downtown area along the river.  We found a motel, checked in and then headed for the bridge to Canada.  We were pretty naive, considering it was fully 3 1/2 years since the infamous “9-11.”  But we were still a year or so away from mandatory passports in and out of Canada–a good thing, because neither of us were carrying ours.  We were able to get over to the Canadian Sault, where we found a relatively nearby “old school” camera shop, and I gave Canada some of my American Dollars for a new Bogen tripod :-).  Back in business.

Soo Locks St. Mary's River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

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

Traveling back into the U.S., we did some research and decided to try to get to The Point Iroquois Light, a relatively nearby Lighthouse by dawn the next morning.  When we left Saginaw 2 days before, it was Spring.  Snow was melted and there were signs of things getting ready to bloom.  In the U.P. it was still late winter and there was plenty of snow on the ground (we waded nearly 1/2 mile through knee deep snow back at the Lower Tahquamenon Falls).  So that morning, we were shooting in 20 degree (fahrenheit) temps.  We had to keep warming batteries and changing them out.  But we were able to capture some nice images of the light and of a Lake Superior sunrise.  May favorite was the twilight image shown here.

With some time left, we headed back to Sault Ste. Marie (called “The Soo” by locals), and found a restaurant right on the canal with a view of the locks for breakfast.  As we were finishing our breakfast, we saw an upbound freighter moving toward us.  We later learned that the locks had just recently been re-opened from the winter.  We raced to the car, grabbed our gear, and then onto a very nice viewing platform.  It was still nice, early light and we made a number of captures of the Freighter as it came through and then exited the locks into the icy waters of Lake Superior.  Before we headed home to Saginaw the next morning, we were able to capture the sunrise over the bridge from the locks viewing platform.  This little detour was a pleasant surprise and I am surprised that I have not made it back there.  Some day.

Soo Locks St. Mary's River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

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

Next – My Vermont Homecoming

Broadening Horizons; 1997

1997 held “more of the same” (flowers and wildlife locally). But it turned out to be a big year for me (perhaps one of the biggest and certainly a turning-point in my photographic journey).  I made my first “photography-dedicated” trip (the first of 2 that year), spending a week in New Mexico.  That fall, I made my first fall-foliage trip to Michigan’s U.P.  I also photographed some of the beach areas of Nags Head, North Carolina, where we vacationed every summer for a number of years.  By now, I had been stricken with a serious case of NAS (“Nikon Acquisition Syndrome), exacerbated by NLAS (New Lens Acquisition Syndrome).  By now, I was carrying the “prosumer” Nikon N90s and an old F2 as my backup body.  For different reasons, those two bodies will remain in my memory as the very best Nikon gear I ever owned.  I had also managed a collection of lenses (perhaps the best of which was the Nikkor 60mm “micro” prime lens).  Most of my flower images were made with that lens.

Redrock Formation Jemez, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Redrock Formation
Jemez, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

1997 turned out to be a big year for me, photographically

My sister and brother-in-law had moved to New Mexico recently, and she and I talked about me making a trip out there.  In the Spring that year, I traveled to Albuquerque, and spent a week touring the state, with my sister as my guide.  We covered much of the state and saw some of the best of America’s outdoor beauty.  It was a trip that opened my eyes to the photographic opportunities there, and at the same time, underscored the limitations of my skills and experience.  The Jemez red rock shot is a prime example.  While I carried a split neutral-density filter by this time, I really didn’t have it down well and it takes some skill and patience to use it properly.  I don’t have the data and don’t remember specifically, but I suspect this image was shot with Fuji Velvia film, which was a very contrasty color negative film.  I didn’t get the exposure right here and the split ND filter rendered the sky much too dark.  While I tried to have a print of this made using a silver masking technique used in color printing labs in those days, the result was not what I would have liked.  It was not until many years later, when I was able to use Photoshop on scanned digital file of this image that I was able to finally make an acceptable print.

Ground Squirrel Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Albert’s Squirrel
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I was fascinated by the pointy ears on these ground squirrels which were all over Bandolier National Park.  A little quick research enlightens.  They are called Albert’s Squirrels and are pretty common from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico.  The ruins and the old cave dwellings once inhabited by the native population there, were a wonder to behold.  I didn’t do them justice.  If you are a fan, you might want to stop over at my Upper Peninsula eBook co-author, Kerry Leibowitz’s site, Lightscapes, and see some of his work.  He has some magnificent imagery of Bandolier.  We saw many great places in New Mexico and I made many images.  However, I returned to New Mexico for a week in October of 2008 and returned to many of the places.  It was a much more photographically successful trip, so I will save the remaining NM images for later.

Bandolier National Monument Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Bandolier National Monument
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I have come to see all but a few filters as gimmicky

My family had tradition from sometime in the 1980s, of spending a week on the Beach at the Atlantic Ocean.  My wife and her brother and his in-laws all lived in the Washington, D.C. area, and we ranged from Delaware, to Ocean City, Maryland for the first few of those year.  Eventually, as families grew and the need for larger rentals became an issue, we migrated this summer trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  By now, my photography “fire” had been restarted, and I was not about to travel to a new place without my gear and some planned early morning excursions.  I took a number of images during those years.  This year, I was playing around with filters, and had an orange split-density filter.  I made the image here with it (I also made the image without the filter).  Perhaps including this one, I have come to see filters — by and large — to be gimmicky.  My own rule of thumb is to never put anything in front of a lens unless you need it to enhance the image.  To me that means a polarizing filter or a neutral density (full and/or split).  I do not use other filters in most cases.  But for some reason I kept this one.  Maybe I was just “feeling orange,” when I was culling.  :-).

Nikon N90s Fuji Velvia Nikkor 60mm Micro f16; 1/6 sec. Sunset Grad

Nikon N90s
Fuji Velvia
Nikkor 60mm Micro
f16; 1/6 sec. Sunset Grad

Because my in-laws lived in the Washington, D.C. area, we generally combined a trip to visit them with the beach trip, driving to D.C. for a few days; then to the beach; then back to D.C. before returning to Michigan.  The D.C. area has a lot of natural wonder of its own, not to mention historical areas.  Over the years, I was able to visit a number of (mostly Northern Virginia) places to shoot.  One of them was Great Falls National Park on the Potomac River.  There is a Virginia side and a Maryland side.  Each has some pretty photogenic views.  In 1997, I visited the park on the Virginia Side.  One of the most impressive drops I have ever seen is at Great Falls on this side of the Park.

he Spout, Potomac River Great Falls National Park Copyright Andy Richards 1997

he Spout, Potomac River
Great Falls National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Sometimes luck plays a big part in imagery

Known as “The Spout,” it is a favorite for thrill-seeking kayakers.  As you can see, it is not for the unskilled or for the faint of heart.  I had just finished shooting the “scenic” shown here, when I saw a flash in the sunlight.  A couple kayakers were in the water and heading directly for the spout.  I didn’t have the longer lens on at the time and knowing that a scramble to change quickly would be futile, I missed any real opportunity of capture.  But for a heart-stopping few seconds, the kayaks, one by one, completely disappeard in that water.  And then, out they squirted.  What a ride.  Opportunity missed?  I went back to my framing and shooting of the “scenic.”  Sometimes luck plays a big part in imagery.  A couple minutes later, I saw some activity down the bank.  One of the kayakers was climbing up to me and hailed me, asking if I had gotten a shot.  I explained that I didn’t have the correct equipment set up.  He said, “I can do it again if you want.”  Sure!  The only thing he asked was for a copy of the image.  What you see here is the result of luck and patience.

"The Spout" Great Falls National Park Copyright Andy Richards 2012

“The Spout”
Great Falls National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

1997 was a “turning point” for me because I began to have some success with my imagery.My trip the the “U.P.” was over a long weekend with some good weather for a couple days and then “bust” for the rest.  I may have been my last ever “bad-weather” trip.  I have been very blessed with good weather on almost all of my photography trips over the years, since.  Both trip yielded some successes and some shots I wished I could repeat.  I did have a second opportunity to shoot New Mexico in later years, and many opportunities to shoot the “U.P.”

Nikon N90s Nikkor 28mm; polarizer Fuji Sensia II 100 f16; 1/5 Scenic, Vol. 2, #85

Nikon N90s
Nikkor 28mm; polarizer
Fuji Sensia II 100

In early October, I made a long weekend trip (my first since I was 11) to Michigan’s upper peninsula (we “Michiganders” have always just called it “the UP.” [“youpee“].  Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula is pretty commonly known.  If you have never been to the area, you may not know that there is “another Michigan” which is long and narrow east to west, and spans portion of 3 Great Lakes (Michigan, Huron, and Superior).  Over the years, I have come to know this peninsula fairly well.  And yet, I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of its photographic potential.  The trip began a life-long love of  this photographic wonderland, and I have made many trips up “over the bridge” (The Mackinac Bridge spans “The Straits of Mackinaw,” a narrow transition between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and the separation between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan).   One of my pro friends often quotes one of his mentors:  “To shoot great images you have to stand in front of great things” (I am sure my paraphrase is a bit off, but you get the idea 🙂 ).  That has certainly been a factor in my success.  And the UP has a number of different natural phenomena, depending on whether you are near the lakeshore or inland.  Along about 1/2 of its northern border (the entirety of which borders the southern shore of Lake Superior), has been dedicated as National Park land, and is known as “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.”  These very accessible area has some really photo-friendly locations.  Inland are some truly wondrous ponds set in a National Forest setting.  Waterfalls abound.  On the lake shores there are Lighthouses and Marinas.  My travels up there, and my note keeping, together with a dearth of available research materials led me to write my second photography eBook, Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, (co-written with my friend and talented photographer, Kerry Leibowitz) .

Known for its sandstone cliffs, perhaps its most famous formation is “Miner’s Castle,” right outside of Munising, Michigan.  Munising has become my primary “headquarters” for most of my U.P. shooting excursions.  I arrived here late Friday afternoon on a warm, sunny fall day and stood and waited for the late afternoon sun to light this up.  There is a viewing platform from which this perspective can be easily shot (an thus, you will see this image repeated many times if you do a Google search for it).  This image is dissappointingly soft (which may be a function of the scan).  But it is unique today for one reason.  The view can see the 2 “turrets” on the so-called castle here.  If you visit this site today to photograph it, you will no longer see the turret on the right.  A few years ago, natural erosion of the sandstone caused it to fall in.  In some future blogs I will show images of it as it occurs today.

An additional disappointment for that trip was that, although the scene is photogenic, I wanted to see ripple free water (as you can observe here, you can see to the bottom), good light, and some interest in the sky.  It would take me many trips before I finally got that combination.  But I did, and that image is the cover image on on the Upper Peninsula ebook.

Munising Falls Fuji Velvia Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Munising Falls
Fuji Velvia
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Waterfalls abound in the U.P.  I have made a run at about 60% of them.  Some are not really photogenic.  Some are difficult to get to.  Most of the falls I have shot are either in and around Munising, around Escanaba on the southwest border of Michigan and Wisconsin, and to the far western side of the U.P.  I have yet to tackle the western rivers.  They are on the “bucket list.”  There is one that is probably the “granddaddy” of all midwestern waterfalls that is on the northestern corner of the U.P.; Tahquamenon Falls (the Niagara Falls of the west).  I made several trips there in later years and it will be featured.

The last part of my trip was ALMOST a bust

But perhaps my favorite of all the shots I have made over the years is the image here, of Munising Falls.  I got the lighting just right and have taken others here a number of times and not been able to duplicate it.

Presque Isle River Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Presque Isle River
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

The last part of my trip was almost a bust.  The northwestern part of the U.P. was my “main attraction.”  My destination was Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park.”  There is an iconic shot there of a wide spot in The Presque Isle River flowing through the park, from way up high, surrounded with foliage.  It is aptly named, “Lake of The Clouds.”  A google search will reveal some pretty impressive images of this scene.  But none of them are mine :-).  It is a long shot from my home in Michigan and a long shot even from Munising.  To date, I have made one trip there.  And as I approached the escarpment from which you see this scene, the weather had deteriorated, bringing in clouds and a steady 30-mph wind.  Conditions were difficult and I had to literally lean on my tripod to get a still enough base to shoot.  Also, the fall color was still in its infancy — not the conditions I had hoped for.   I made some shots, and decided I could only hope for a better chance at sunrise.  This chance never materialized as I awoke before sunrise to a steady, hard rain that showed no signs of abating.  But before I left the escarpment that night, I scouted around and saw the image shown here.  I really liked the composition, but again, had been looking for better foliage turn.  I took a couple “for the record,” not really being overwhelmed by them.  But back home, on the light table, they jumped at me.  There was some real interest here with just a few “firecracker” trees turned in a relative sea of green.  This image is my best selling image, has been sold for use on websites, printed and hung in several offices around Michigan and continues to garner interest, almost 20 years later.  This was one of those instances when I was looking for the iconic shot and found my own (arguably better) image.

Note that on a number of the images in the last couple blogs I have included technical information.  I promise to stop doing that when we transition to digital.  But since I have commented on film and film-based bodies, I thought it might be interesting information for these few blogs.