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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.

 

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The 7-Year Itch?

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

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

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

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

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

Stone House; Manassas Virginia Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone House; Manassas Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I really enjoy writing this thing

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

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

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

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

Bernard Maine copyright  Andy Richards 2009

Bernard Maine
copyright Andy Richards 2009

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

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening

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

Ketchikan, Alaska Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Ketchikan, Alaska
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

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

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

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

It has gotten harder to do this

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

Chili Ristra, New Mexico   copyright 2008  Andy Richards

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

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

San Francisco Night Skyline  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

San Francisco Night Skyline copyright 2011 Andy Richards

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

Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

the challenge will be doing something unique

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

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time ……….

It’s Almost “That Time Again”

Shameless Plug: If you are thinking about shooting in New England this fall, please look at my eBook, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage” for detailed directions and illustrations of some of my favorite “iconic” places in Vermont to shoot. If you click on the “SCENIC VERMONT” Link in the upper left corner here, it will take you to a series of link for your preferred e-reader format. Thank You!

Pete's Lake Sunrise Hiawatha NF, Michigan UP Copyright Andy Richards  2012

Pete’s Lake Sunrise
Hiawatha NF, Michigan UP
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

I know. I am a “broken” record (for those of you old enough to even “get” that reference :-)). Every year about this time, I start to get restless and excited. And every year about this time, it seems that I am compelled to write once again about my personal favorite time of the year for photography. I doubt that I am alone. I suspect that the vast majority of photographers – enthusiast and working pro alike – would agree with this sentiment.

Fall is my personal favorite time of the year for photography

Color

Fall color presents itself in many ways, but in each of them, photographic subjects are in their “best dress.” My focus (pun definitely intended) has always been on landscape photography, so the fact that the flora turns to magnificent colors creates a wonderful and aesthetic background for any subject (when it is not, itself, the subject).

Warning – These are not “Stuffed Animals,” Cartoons, or “Disney” Characters!

For those less inclined toward landscape, the wildlife is also often at its best at this time of the year. Many of the large mammals mate in the fall, and they are in their proverbial “rut.” This means antlers and winter coats, and generally more magnificent looking animals. Because of the combination of the rut and the quest for food and shelter for winter, they are often less reclusive and less more likely to show themselves closer to the photographer (for those with an ounce of common sense – and for the rest of you, too J, there should be a significant warning in that statement) – these are not stuffed animals and they are not cartoon or “Disney” characters. They are wild animals who, if provoked, can be frightfully violent – indeed fatally so).

Bison in Grand Teton NP are relatively acclimated to human presence (but very dangerous nonetheless) Copyright 2011 Andy Richards Copyright Andy Richards  2012

Bison in Grand Teton NP are relatively acclimated to human presence (but very dangerous nonetheless)
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

And for some, there are other colors, which show themselves in jerseys, helmets, black and white balls, and such. 🙂

There is something “special” about the light in September and October

Light

The sun moves to a more oblique position on the horizon, and the days get shorter. Ironically, for serious landscape and wildlife photographers, shorter days are actually a boon! This means we do not have to drag ourselves out of bed quite as early to get that golden morning light. It also means we are less inclined to burn the proverbial candle at both ends, and often actually get to bed at a “reasonable” time each night, even when shooting. There is something special about the light in September and October. It is warmer and more inviting and “good light” is a critical ingredient to “good imagery.”

There is a foreign hosted site that has this one up on a promotional page

Craftsbury Common, Vermont
copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Conditions

While fall has certainly become a popular travel time of the year, it is still generally less crowded (particularly on week days) than summer, as children (in the U.S., anyway) are generally back in school and families back to the “work routine.” This often means that locations are more accessible to the photographer.

One of the things I marvel at is the variable conditions right here in the North American Continent. I know I haven’t begun to scratch the surface, and that there are places in the world that rival anything we have here, for Fall Color. But here in North America, I have had the pleasure to be as far west as California in October (though I have a lot of work to do to capture even a small percentage of its fall color – yet). I have been in New Mexico, where the intense reds of the rock formations set off against the yellows of the aspen and other variety of fall foliage is magnificent. I have been to Virginia, West Virginia, Vermont, Maine, Canada, and of course, my own Michigan U.P. I have not been to Minnesota yet for fall foliage, but I know it has some scenes that will compare well to the Michigan U.P., especially along its Lake Superior North Shore.

Kit Carson National Forest Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Kit Carson National Forest
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Edit:  My friend, mentor and talented professional photographer, Ray Laskowitz makes a very important observation.  Because of the relative times of “peak” color change during the fall months, if you have the time and inclination (believe me, it is on my “bucket list”), you could chase color all over the continent for almost a two month-period from sometime beginning in September to sometime ending in November!FallFoliageMap2

Emotion

The season is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for me. I don’t mean to say that I am losing sleep, or that I am a basket case or anything :-). But it is always bittersweet, knowing that—at least where I live—it is a wonderful and exciting time of the year—but it is also the harbinger of things to come. The all too short fall display is really a signal for the end of nice weather, outdoor activities (except for the more hardy snow lovers among us) and warm weather. So I always want to try to schedule some time to soak it in and enjoy it during this time of the year. There are, of course, some “warm-weather solutions” to this “problem.” Some of you probably think that rather than whine every year about the coming of the apocalypse (o.k.; that is a bit dramatic – “winter”), I should do something about it (I have, but that’s for another time).

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

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

This year, it is even more bittersweet, because I am pretty likely to miss most of the show that I am so accustomed to. I will be in the Mediterranean during most of the end of September and probably not “free” to spend more time outside my “real job” this year. So I will be trying to live vicariously through my many photographer friends who will be shooting in those parts of the country that I normally would try to visit. It is, of course, a good news/bad news (overwhelmingly mostly good – as the upcoming trip is one of those “few-in-a-lifetime” events that my wife and I have been looking forward to for upwards of 2 years now). But part of my heart will be with the fall foliage shooters and I will be wondering what they are finding.

Reflection of Fall Color; Shiawassee River, Owosso, MI

Reflection of Fall Color; Shiawassee River, Owosso, MI
copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Good luck this season to all my friends (and all you shooters out there) and here’s to a grand, colorful, and meteorologically pleasant shooting season!

Barns (Part 3)

The Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming, is perhaps the most photographed barn in the West.
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

As we move west in our vast country, the look and character of barns changes. My only opportunity to photograph barns in the West so far has been in Grand Teton National park in Wyoming. I have read and viewed wonderful photographs of barns and farms in the Pacific Northwest; especially in the Palouse region of Washington. While this area is on my photographic “bucket list,” I have also read that many of the wonderful old barns are being razed and in some cases, replaced, with less photogenic new structures. I can only hope I will get there while there are still some left.

Thomas Moulton Barn, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
copyright 2012 Andy Richards

While in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming in May of 2012, I had the good fortune to photograph two of the more famous barns in the United States (indeed, the first “Moulton Barn” pictured is reputed to be the most photographed barn in the world), the “Moulton Barns” in Grand Teton National Park. While these barns are both traditional “Western” barns, what makes them spectacular is the backdrop of the Grand Teton Mountain Range. We got lucky, finding snow covered peaks. Unfortunately, we worked and worked for it, but couldn’t find any dramatic skies. I will be back there.

Rich Pomeroy contemplating his shot of the North Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

He thinks my judgment is flawed, but my favorite image of the second Moulton Barn is of my best friend and photo-traveling buddy, Rich,contemplating the magnificence in front of him.

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

When photographing these barns, it is easy to overlook a couple of the other barns nearby.  These barns are in an old settlement known as “Grovont.”  The first one is an old homestead just beyond the second Moulton Barn.

Grovont Barns, Mormon Row, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The other is directly across the road from the iconic first Moulton Barn. I am told there are some other photogenic barns and ranches in the near vicinity and will seek them out for sure on my next trip to Grand Teton NP.

Nik Viveza Software

I have been slow to adopt third party software.  My thinking has always been (stubbornly in many cases) that I should be able to do it on my own in Photoshop.  And I still don’t doubt that is true.  I should be able to.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I will be able to.  And perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t mean that I will be able to do so with the ease that some of these new programs afford us.  I have had a copy of one version or other of Photoshop on my computer since I started shooting digital images (before that, I experimented with the various “Photoshop Lite” products that often shipped with printers and cameras, or with a couple of the “competing” programs out there. I soon enough learned, though, that there really were no “competing” programs with Adobe Photoshop. In all probability, that is still true, although, Photoshop Elements gets increasingly more robust, and programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture have become pretty good photo editing software in their own right. But each time I begin to use one of them, I eventually find myself looking for one of the functions I rely on in Photoshop.

There is still no competing software with Photoshop

In keeping with that (perhaps elitist) attitude, I have pretty steadfastly avoided any of the third party plugin software that has become ubiquitous in the digital photo world. My feeling has been that they really didn’t offer anything more than a GUI (graphical user interface) for functionality that was/is already resident in Photoshop. For the most part, I think that remains true. Plugins are truly that—plugins to be used with a “host” software.

But that has, in my view, all changed now, with the Nik software tools. Nik’s U-point technology has radically changed the way we can work with Photoshop. Before I get to that I want to acknowledge that I may have been wrong. There. That wasn’t so hard :-).  Seriously, here is where I have been missing the proverbial boat. Yes, most of the things done by the plugin software can be done in PS already. But it takes a significant amount of time, skill and patience; and the makers of much of the third party plugins have figured out how to do it much more quickly, easily, efficiently and accurately!

For a long time, I have been a follower and admirer of the late Bruce Fraser and his “heir apparent” (they were actually long-time, friends, colleagues and collaborators) Jeff Schewe. I read (really read) several versions of their books, Real World Image Sharpening and Real World Camera Raw, and used their recipes for PS Actions for sharpening. So it was only stubbornness that has kept me for all these years from obtaining a copy of Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener (Fraser and Schewe were part of the original Pixel Genius company). Now I have learned that I can fit most of my sharpening needs by running the plugin, which takes a few seconds, and in most cases, doesn’t even require any tweaking.

Likewise, I remained “from Missouri,” when friends and mentors told me about the Nik software plugins. I finally downloaded Nik Viveza and purchased “Nik Software Captured,” (the only current book, to my knowledge, available on the Nik Suite of software) after “playing” with the free download for a couple hours.

Nik’s U-Point Technology has radically changed the way we can work with Photoshop

Nik’s suite of photo software is different from other plugins, in that it offers a unique new technology that while it could probably be duplicated in Photoshop by someone who is far, far more proficient in both Photoshop and software engineering than me, it is not a “resident” feature of Photoshop. This special technology, U-point, is at its most basic, a very sophisticated, yet easy to use, selection and masking tool. I have spent hours, often frustrating, making complex selections, masks and layer masks of skies, trees, waterfalls, and objects in Photoshop; often with less than optimal results. One U-point “control point” and a couple of slider moves more often than not replaces those hours of painstaking selection these days for me.

The suite includes a set of plugin filters for color work (Color Efex), one for black and white (Silver Efex), a noise reduction program (Dfine), a sharpening program, and Viveza. They can be bought separately, or as a suite. If you are going to buy 2 or more of them, the suite probably is a no-brainer. In my case, I have not yet been persuaded that the other offerings from Nik are worth my time and $ (did I say I am stubborn?), so I only have Viveza so far.

A pet peeve of mine is how software (and, for that matter, cameras, stereos, etc.), often ship today with skeletal documentation, often in pdf form. I understand the pdf part. Publishing is expensive and I am all for saving another tree. I also understand that creating decent documentation is a time-consuming and potentially expensive process. But its still a peeve. For $100 plus in software, it seems like it would be nice to have a “how to” book ship with the software, instead of having to spend another $25-100 (depending on the program and the book) on a third-party “text.” There is pdf information about the basics on the Nik website. They also have a nice “learning center” with a number of videos that do a good job demonstrating it on specific images. But I would like to see a basic explanation of the theory and use of the software. I went to Amazon and searched for books on Nik Viveza. There is apparently only one book currently available: “Nik Software Captured,” by Tony Corbell and Joshua Haftel (Josh is a Nik employee). But if you are planning on using (or are already using) Nik Software, I recommend buying it. There is another book in the works, “Plug In with Nik: A Photographer’s Guide to Creating Dynamic Images with Nik Software” by John Batdorff, scheduled to ship in November or December. I have it pre-ordered at Amazon and will try to do a review on receipt and reading.

The image at the beginning of the blog is a shot of a pretty little waterfall on the North end of the beach at the Miner’s Castle area of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Here is the “before” image:

Eliot Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

think the “after” image looks clearly better. In the “before” image  the water (and for that matter, the image as a whole) has a color cast.  While often difficult to see on a computer monitor (especially a non-calibrated monitor or a laptop monitor), blues definitely come out in a print—sometimes to the point of ruining what looked on-screen like it might make a pretty nice print. This often requires us to go back into Photoshop and (in my case at least) engage in trial and error. For my purposes, putting the image up on screen or on my website did not justify the painstaking work that would be involved to sharpen this image and get it color-ready for printing, until there was a reason to print it. So often, my workflow involved a “quick and dirty” provisioning of the photo to make it “web” ready. Getting those blues out of the water involves a multi-step process in Photoshop. In Viveza, it only involved setting a few “control points” in the right places and working with the sliders (thank you to my mentor, James Moore, for some help on how to quickly, accurately and effectively remove the blue cast and for the most part, the magenta cast—Jim is a pro, a teacher, and an expert in digital development and fine art printing and offers one-on-one web-based instruction—I highly recommend Jim).

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

In my image of Oxbow Bend, taken in May of 2012, the original capture shown here demonstrates a high contrast look (reminiscent of Fuji Velvia, for those of us old enough to remember what that is), in which there are deep shadows. My friend, mentor and very talented fine-art photographer and printer, Kerry Liebowitz, recently showed me a blending technique, from the raw image using Photoshop and Photomatix HDR software and his “version” is noticeably better.  But what struck me was that at the same time he was demonstrating this approach, I downloaded the Viveza  software and was able to get the kind of results shown below, with a very short learning curve and to make the adjustments very quickly.

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

The Viveza version of this image is what persuaded me to actually purchase the software (NIK lets you download fully functional trial versions of all of its software).  Blending technique are a time-consuming and possibly trial and error process. There are others, too, like Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Blending actions. But this is so quick and effective, that it is hard not to see the value in it.

Being pretty excited about its possibilities, I next started going through some of my older images, to see what a difference I might see using the Viveza software.  This image of Tahquamenon Falls, made in the Michigan “U.P.”in 2004, is a prime example of a major improvement with only a few minutes’ work.

“BEFORE”” Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

As you can see from the comparison, the “before” image has retained the a color cast partly from the brown minerals in the water and partly from the complex reflections from the foliage and sky.  It is not really natural and the the crisp, inviting image I would like to see.

Some quick work with control points in Viveza, and some changes in saturation and contrast gives the “after” result.  I not only like it better, but think it is more like what my “mind’s-eye” remembers seeing from behind the lens.  Overall, I think is is a more pleasing image.

“AFTER”; Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

Viveza is so quick and effective, that it is hard not to see the value in it

Obviously, I have decided it is a “worthy” addition to my digital development workflow, and so I have now gone from saying “bah humbug” to heartily recommending that folks give Viveza a try. I know it will be a permanent part of my repertoire for the foreseeable future.

Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Better known as “Jackson Hole,” this little town is the center of commercial activity for the Grand Teton National Park. Jackson is not a “destination” city. The big draw here is outdoor recreation, including skiing in the winter (there is a magnificent and scary ski slope/life right in town), kayaking, canoeing, rafting, biking and hiking in the summer months; hunting, and even golf.

The park is in a Valley bordering the Easter Face of the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains. This valley is actually what is called “Jackson Hole.” In the valley sits a nice, small airport, capable of landing jets, the town of Jackson and the tiny communities of Wilson, to the West and Mooseto the North of Jackson (right at one of the official park entrances). There are also a couple very nice ski facilities, including Teton Villages, and a couple nice golf courses. In the bottom of this valley is the Snake River, which appears to have its headwaters just South of Jackson, and empties into Jackson Lake, at the North end of the Park.

Jackson, Wyoming; Gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Jackson is the “gateway” to the area, and holds the regions’ motels, restaurants and shopping. While there are lodging and restaurants outside of Jackson, the town is quaint and there are many “local flavor” restaurants that are well worth trying out. We had all but one of our evening meals in Jackson, and all of our breakfasts. Specialty restaurants like The Bunnery and Jedediah’s House of Sourdough are known throughout the United States, and often recommended (sadly, very recently, Jedediah’s in town closed—or maybe more accurately stated, changed. The link to Jedediah’s takes you to Café Genevie . There is a small, counter-service Jedediah’s at the Jackson Hole Airport, but it is not the sit-down eating we had been lead to expect at the former downtown location). Not a lot of information is available about this change, but both the Jedediah information on the web and the Genevieve information on the web talk about the rich history of the downtown location (a log cabin built in the 1800’s and part of the National Historic Register), without mentioning the other. Sounds like the parting of the ways may not have been happy. L

We did make it to The Bunnery one morning. My own take on this famous restaurant is that it is a very good bakery and the baked goods looked and tasted fabulous. The rest of the “breakfast foods” were good, but unremarkable (though it may be that I was just looking for something more “traditional.” They are known for their natural granola and pancakes and waffles, which I did not sample, were no doubt very good. Our staple while we were there (serving 90% of their breakfast menu all day) was The Virginian.

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

For dinnertime dining, there are numerous choices and we obviously could not try them all. The well-known Million Dollar Cowboy Bar has a restaurant in the basement. My advice: Go into the bar and have a drink or two and enjoy the ambiance. We walked in to the bar briefly and saw the saddlery bar stools and the interior of the bar. Pretty darn cool. We went downstairs (and downhill) from there, to The Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse. The menu demonstrated to us why the “million-dollar” name was apropos, and the food was again, unremarkable for the million dollar pricing.

Around the corner, however, is another local favorite and pretty well-known location; The Silver Dollar Bar. This bar/restaurant is attached to and part of the famous, traditional Wort Hotel which is right in the middle of the downtown, just around the corner from the town square. Food and drink were very good, and prices, as resort-area restaurants go, reasonable (we were in Jackson during their “shoulder season” – after skiing, but before Memorial Day Weekend — and they had a 2-for-one special going to try to continue to keep things going during off times).

Wort Hotel, Jackson Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

If you are looking for a change of pace from the “cowboy” steaks kind of dining, we found Pica’s, an authentic Mexican family restaurant. The food was both reasonable and excellent! There are other touted fine dining establishments we would have liked to try, like the Snake River Grill and the Gun Barrel Steak and Game house, and many others. There will be more trips.

“Downtown” Jackson, Wyoming
copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Jackson is a fun little town to walk around in and see the “sights.” In addition to the ubiquitous T-shirt shops (has anyone else noticed how they are not only the same design and manufacture, but often exactly the same? The “Moose-themed” apparel we saw in a couple of the stores were identical to what was being sold in Bar Harbor Maine!), there are some very neat local flavor shops, including the impressive, three-story gallery of famous Western photographer, Thomas Mangelson, and the law office of (formerly famous) Gerry Spence. There are also some nice local outfitters, and a real, small-town camera shop with actually stocked merchandize (I have to laugh at the “yelp” remarks about how the store is overpriced. Duh–its in Jackson, Wyoming!).

Shops in Jackson, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Rich Pomeroy (taken with my Canon G11)

In the middle of downtown is the town park or square. Its most remarkable feature is the “antler-arches” at each of the four corner entrances. It is a very nice place to sit and enjoy a sunny afternoon, to wait while other family members shop, or just to use as a rendezvous point.

Antler Arches; Jackson, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

As photographers, we have little “down time” on a dedicated photography trip. And, frankly, for shopping, a 2-hour “once-through” and you are done. But as a place with some good restaurants and bars, and a truly “Western” themed feel, it was not a bad place to spend the downtime we did have.

Town Park/Square; Jackson, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Our Wyoming trip was short. Too short to get a real feel for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  We knew that going in, and planned, at best, a one day-trip into Yellowstone with our main focus on Grand Teton.  But you just cannot travel all that way (for two of us for the first time) and not at least drive up and see Yellowstone.

Mineral Pools; Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

So, if you are going to Yellowstone, in the afternoon, for a single, day-trip, it seems reasonable, that you would make its most famous of all sights—Old Faithful Geyser—the main destination.

Small Geyser Erruption; Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The drive into the park was pretty impressive. The road follows the Lewis River much of the way up to Yellowstone Lake, and there are spectacular deep gorges and canyons. It was mid-day sun and I was driving, so we only captured those images in our minds.

Mineral Pools; Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Timing is everything. We rolled into the parking lot for the Old Faithful Lodge and as we walked out toward the geysers, Old Faithful Errupted.

Mineral Pools; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

After watching this spectacular site, we walked the boardwalk around with many small geysers and hot springs. I was carried only the G12 point and shoot, but was able to capture some interesting abstract images of the mineral springs and a couple small geysers.

Small Geyser; Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

My next trip to Yellowstone will be in the Fall, and though we will concentrate on the plentiful wildlife that abounds there, we are bound to see some of nature’s wonderful landscape also.

Small Geyser; Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards