Rare Sightings in Obscure Places

Race TrackI’ve been to most places in Death Valley National Park, but there are a few of which I never visited. One of those was the Race Track.

Not available to those without a serious off-road vehicle and two and a half hours out on dirt roads, Michael became obsessed with making the trip.

The park ranger warned that getting stuck might result with having to walk 29 miles in rocks and heat to get help might be our fate.

Undaunted, Michael found a jeep rental place and for a mere $350 for the day, we hired a rock crunching, road eating, brain rattling driving machine and made our way there. As usual, we were just a little late the party. The sun was starting its rapid descent and we were just getting set up.

Disappointed but not defeated, we began walking the Playa looking for the iconic stones which moved seemingly under their own power, a feat even modern science can’t fully explain. We found several, but the sun no longer lit the best stone of all and we were not happy.

Disappointment comes with the photographic territory since there are no guarantees a decent image can be made just because we show up. It’s usually the latter, finding other than what we expected is sometimes better and more exciting than what was originally planned.

The Magic of Darkness

Race Track-2In the case of the sun, a decent facsimile is a good flashlight and a little handiwork: “painting” the artificial beam into the cracked, flat surface. It was fun to experiment with when finally we found a combination of light and dark which felt satisfying. It was never a one-shot experience, we repeated the process about a dozen times until we were sure we weren’t going to improve the last best attempt.

Darkness descended quickly and the sky began to glow a deep blue while a sliver of the moon showed up to help decorate the celestial theater where the performance would soon begin. Now that too was an experience we hadn’t expected as the glow of the Playa and the smoldering fire of sunset began to spread through the sky. WOW. What a show and what an experience as we now repeated the light painting but with an entirely different perspective.

Milky Way at Ubehebee CraterInvigorated by having created some really interesting images we decided to press on and shoot the Milky Way. Using our simulated sun sticks we lit the local waypoint carefully to show it in the foreground under the magnificent sky.

It’s hard to paint light evenly with a hand held flashlight and we tried several times until eventually we discovered that a single pulse of the break lights did a credibly job with little effort.

Now, onward to Ubehebee Crater to shoot the night sky. Upon arriving, we met up with a Las Vegas couple that were avid Astro-Photographers and were extremely helpful getting us set up. It was there I saw the Milky Way in all its grandeur for the very first time. It was there I made my first exposure of the night sky capturing its immense scope. I knew I was hooked all over again on turning my camera upward in the wee hours of the day’s end.

Back to our hotel at about 1:00 am gave us barely time for a long nap before the next sunrise shoot.

This photography stuff is tricky business and requires the voluntary surrender of a good night’s sleep. So when people ask me if I “relaxed” on vacation, I laugh. I generally come home exhausted and in need of 3 days sleep!

Now, you know, that rarely happens!

 

 

 

 

Miles to Go! Lets Start Early

Elephant Rock at Sunrise

Elephant Rock at Sunrise

One of the few actual plans made before arriving in Las Vegas was a morning sunrise in The Valley of Fire en route to Death Valley.

Leaving Las Vegas by 5:30 allowed us to arrive at Elephant Rock just in time to see the sun beginning to peek over the eastern red mountains.  We found our place about 60 feet above the road with Elephant Rock in our viewfinder. We rushed to get into position, as the sun rose rapidly behind her. It wasn’t long before I decided that shooting into the sun might make the type of image I had in mind, not sure if instead it would swamp my sensor and produce nothing resembling a photograph.

I forgot how quickly the sun raced over the shadow-covered earth to bathe her in yellow, golden goodness. And so it did, and we did our best to memorialize the events that day, that morning that undoubtedly will occur every day for a very long time.

Next Stop, Death Valley

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Chasin’ Light

Departure

A loud clap of thunder broke my descent into a deep sleep just 9 hours from my departure. Having planned another excursion into the unknown to capture a fleeting moment, I was hoping to part the momentum of time, long enough to trap a few stray rays of light on their way to eternity.

A leap of faith actually, that some random event will unfold at the exact moment I was to bear witness and record a version for all to see. That’s my journey: that’s my pursuit this late October 2014 Thursday, to accomplish something driven by passion, by vision and by a deep desire to express myself. Inside me something unknown, hidden, visceral, to produce an image that communicates more about me than about the place or event I witness.

I am chasing light, capturing it with my camera and like the notes on a musical staff, I will interpret those to show what I cannot freely express without a camera as my guide. I am going, once again, to photograph.

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The Sony Generation

As a dedicated Canon shooter for the last 25 years and “digitally” since the Digital Rebel was released over 10 years ago, I have loved working with my Canon equipment. Every time a new upgrade is released, I can’t help but get it.

The last major purchase for me was the Canon 5d MkIII and it’s been an incredible camera, powerful, well designed and completely customized now, finally… to my needs. Yet, as the years roll forward, everything seems heavier to me. I start to think about which lens to leave home, not “how can I cram one more lens into this bag” so weight is an issue.

Sony RX100About 2 years ago, I picked up a Sony RX100 camera that held promise as a super high quality micro-portable camera. It was certainly small, almost as small as my favorite pocket camera, the Canon S120.

Except it had a large, 20 megapixel sensor. I decided to get that Sony right before my trip to Jordan. I found the menu structure confusing and certain functions; like shooting in RAW didn’t work with other functions, like shooting an HDR image.

Unbelievable Low Light Quality from a Compact Camera!

Unbelievable Low Light Quality from a Compact Camera!

But I was impressed with its low light performance. The image of The Tea Man (above) was shot at a camp fire, at ISO 12,000 and with Sony’s image clarity technology, I was shocked at how well this came out. But for my other work, it wasn’t very useful, and still way too complicated for my taste. It felt like this camera was really a computer with an awkward interface to a sensor.

I was about to sell it when I had an idea. Why not convert it to InfraRed and see how it does? So that’s what I did. I converted the camera to IR and I took it with me a year later to New Zealand. If you’ve never been to New Zealand, it’s too beautiful to describe, you should go, look at my gallery here first of course and then go.

The Perfect IR Camera

IR landscapeSince I didn’t need any of the computer part of the camera, just the converted sensor and the manual control of shutter speed and aperture, I found a use for this megapixel mini-monster.

Flight1Even from a private plane, shaking as it was, hand held no less, this camera performed at a much higher level than I would have imagined. I’ve converted many a camera over the years to Infrared, this is – by far – the best of all.

 The Grand Divide

I found a use for my Sony RX100 as a light weight IR camera and my Canon 5D Mk III still had its place as my high fidelity, time exposure, night photography tool. It’s full frame sensor and incredible long exposure at ISO 100 noise reduction AND smooth, velvet like skies were not to be beat.

Now, back to my problem. How to reduce weight. And yes, there’s a birthday present in this story. My darling sweetheart Carol bought me (surprise, surprise) a new camera for my birthday, a Sony A6000. This is an APS-C size sensor with an incredible 24 megapixel sensor.

As you might guess, this was a candidate to take the place of my 5d MkIII and reduce my shoulder pain. The A6000 has a completely redesigned menu system which is far better than earlier Sony cameras, so right away I liked it. But unfortunately, Sony has overcomplicated the menus with too many useless options yet again.

Note to Sony: Let the photographer control the camera and get all those useless picture modes and options out of the way. For reference, see Canon 5d MkIII’s menus. Another note to Sony, what about custom functions? It’s HARD to switch modes in the dark!

Sony A6000 Hand-held, ISO 3200, wide open F3.5 1/20 sec

Sony A6000 Hand-held, ISO 3200, wide open F3.5 1/20 sec

As you can see, the A6000 has some wonderful attributes; high resolution, light weight and well made. It’s not very expensive, about $700 for the “kit” which includes a nice short-range zoom.

I could go on and on about it, but there are lots of reviews if this camera on the web already. Here’s the point I am making. The era of the large SLR may be coming to an end. Naturally, there will always be a place for that type of camera but as these more miniature cameras show up in 2nd and 3rd generation releases, it will be harder and harder to ignore them.

You may have seen stories about this new micro-four-thirds camera system, they are available from multiple manufacturers. They are small for sure but their sensor size is 1/2 that of a full frame camera. While excellent for some applications, they won’t replace my Canon 5d MkIII and that’s what I am eventually looking for.

What Should I do?

If you are reading this article and have an older generation camera you were thinking of upgrading, check out the Sony cameras I mentioned in this post. I personally would go for the A7r if you can afford it, but if not the A6000 is excellent for many different types of photography.

If you can afford to rent, try them both; the A7r and the Sony A6000 and see what you think, I doubt you will be disappointed with either one.

Upgrading to a Full Frame Sensor in a Small Package

Part of why I called this article “The Sony Generation” is because Sony has really leapfrogged the rest of the industry. The new Sony A7r really is a full blown SLR equivalent in a smaller package. The 36 megapixel sensor produces stunning images and the low light performance is spectacular. They have really leap-frogged the rest.

Sony A7r

I didn’t buy one, but I want one. This is the 1st generation and I should wait. There are still some things my Canon does better, even at just 22 megapixels, than this new Sony. Yet, it’s very temping to change brands and go with lighter weight, higher quality images as some of my photographer buddies have done.

What do you think?

Are you going to switch?

Have you already done so?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing.

On my next trip, I will rent one and I will report back.

 

 

 

The Last New Zealand Post

Queenstown Harbor from Helicopter

Queenstown Harbor from Helicopter

On January 3rd 2014, I set out with my friend Ron Rosenstock in the midst of a severe winter blizzard, that shut down the airport, to travel to New Zealand. Not knowing what to expect I traveled in mystery. I left knowing that I would photograph for 2 whole weeks, and that was enough.

The trip is over, I am back home, I’ve returned  having visited a beautiful country with stories to tell and pictures to show. It was worth it, a lifetime experience.

I made some wonderful images. But, you decide for yourself, check out the gallery!

 

 

 

 

Queenstown Stories

Submerged Trees

So a Hobbit walked into a bar…. No.

There were three guys at the Prancing Pony and one disappeared…. No.

Or how about a walk among the Ents? If you are not following me then you didn’t see The Lord of the Rings, which has blessed this country with an everlasting fame. Today I looked up and saw the place where Isengarten was mythically located. But right behind that beautiful forest was a river and there were these sunken trees, you see… Never mind.

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You’d Never Know….

Trees and Mountains-3

It was New Zealand.

It’s just another beautiful place. I’m starting day 9 of a 15 day trip and I am noticing that my thoughts are more about being here than being home. It happened yesterday as I realized my mind was more focused on my surroundings than on my inner world. The inner world is quiet now, the outer world is bigger, brighter and more sparkly than before.

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To See

Flight1

I don’t know how to describe the feeling of low flight through incredible landscape and to see what is possible through the eyes of an infrared camera, it really is just so different. On Thursday I had the privilege of being invited to take a 50 minute flight though in the Mt. Cook area of South Island, New Zealand. Because of the IR effect, you can see through haze for miles.

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Eternity

Ocean Rock

I don’t think I can say much more than the title of this post. When I arrived at Maukatia Bay Beach, with it’s black sands and ancient stones, I just couldn’t imagine how long this must have been here. It was the eternity that held my interest as I watched the surf roll in and out, on and on, forever.

New Zealand and the Volcanoes

EruptionsIt’s no secret that much of this area is an active volcano zone which is part of the “ring of fire” throughout Asia. New Zealand is more active than people think. Today’s visit to Waimangu Volcanic Valley is one of the world’s newest geothermal systems, active for just around 100 years. The rich colors which permeate the surface come from different ores, fungus and algae which thrive on the hot springs and salts.

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