Tuesday, March 17
I don't normally use flash, but I forgot to turn it off when taking a photo of this tree during an early evening walk through the neighborhood. Somehow it managed to highlight only the tree and its petals and not overwhelm the nighttime setting. Cool. I'll have to keep experimenting with this one.
When Mel came back from San Francisco armed with macaroons, they were so colorful and tasty-looking that I took them to the backyard so I could harness the sunlight for a photo shoot. I played a lot with composition, trying to find the best way to represent the macaroons while limited to a 50mm lens and a see-through, busily-patterned table. Initial experiments revealed that the macroons' allure was heightened by seeing as many of them in frame as possible, and positioning them diagonally proved the best way to do that. The table pattern served to offset them nicely. I only wish I'd been able to line up the angle of the macaroons with the angle of the diamonds. Whenever I tried, the table's legs would peek through, and I decided I'd rather have a clean background than matching parallels. And again, f/8 was my friend.
After the surplus of great photography subjects during my month of traveling, I was at a loss of what to photograph when limited to my own home. I decided to test the limitations of what I could and could not capture inside at night with poor lighting. Murray's food bowl is only in focus because I set the camera on the floor for stability. If I were to do it over, I would isolate the focus even more so that everything is blurred except the big "dog" in the middle.
Taking photos at the California Academy of Sciences was quite possibly my most frustrating photo experience to date. I had both my DSLR and my point and shoot with me, and neither could capture the colors and vibrance of the fish on display, not even using the aquarium settings! It made me miss my old Olympus point and shoot, which took beautiful photos of the jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium last summer. In the end, I did manage to get a few good photos, although most were of people, not fish. I am now more thankful than ever for the copious amounts of trial and error that digital photography allows.
Our last full night in Alaska meant our last chance for an aurora sighting. Predictions of activity were high, but the weather was poor. We decided to push the odds in our favor by going on an aurora tour that took us high into the mountains and away from any distracting city lights. Heavy military surplus pants, parkas, and boots neutralized the danger of being deterred by cold. Our plan worked -- in the early morning hours, a small, green band of the northern lights broke through the haze of clouds on the horizon! The long exposure setting enhanced what our eyes could only dimly see. The mission was a success, but the thirst for a more dramatic display lingers. Next year, maybe Norway ...
We spent the day at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, located about 55 miles outside of Fairbanks. It operates year-round, with many hiking, camping, and rafting options in the summer and dog-sledding, snowshoeing, and aurora viewing in the winter. After a morning of relaxing and reading in the steamy, sulfury water of the springs, I spent the afternoon wandering and taking photos. I like this one because it evokes the balance of power between the two seasons: despite the overwhelming dominance of winter, the memory and promise of summer are still evident.
The solar winds weren't strong enough for us to see the northern lights during our first night of aurora watching. I had fun playing around with my camera and tripod anyway. Most of the photos from that night were taken at a dog mushing arena away from the aurora-obscuring lights of downtown. The cold eventually got to us after a few hours, so we packed up and drove back to the hotel with the car heater roaring at full blast. Once we got there, I braved a few more minutes of the below freezing temperatures to take this photo of the full moon and the rings that had appeared around it during the drive.
We spent the morning at the North Pole! It was the North Pole in name only, as it was located about 10 miles south of Fairbanks, not at the actual north pole. But that didn't mean the town didn't play the part well. Streets had holiday names like "Santa Claus Lane," the walls of the Santa Claus House were decorated with kids' letters to Santa, and even sign posts for welding shops featured candy cane spirals.
This was taken at the Ice Park in Fairbanks, Alaska, site of the World Ice Art Championships. In addition to amazing one- and multi-block sculptures from some of the world's best artists in the field, the venue included mazes and slides to entertain kids of all ages. This set of slides was tucked away in a far corner of the park, but with the laughter and delighted screams bubbling out of it, it was by no means hidden. I spent about twenty minutes taking photos of all the activity. This is my favorite. I like the way the ice slides absorb the colored lights and the contrast between the static foreground figure and the movement in the background.
Sunday, March 8
Another day spent in transit. I did not want to take any more airplane photos, either or the cabin or out the window, so I focused on finding subjects in the airports themselves. With all the people using the power outlets and work stations (including the three of us, who spent a good amount of time looking for an available spot to plug in), I was struck by how truly mobile and technology-dependent our society has become. Somehow, the images seemed to be more resonant in black and white.
Friday, March 6
While wandering around Skywalker Ranch today, I made a point and shoot discovery -- how to blur the backgrounds so the foreground object is in focus! You use the digital macro function but don't limit the frame to just the object you want featured close up. I'll have some fun playing with this.
Thursday, March 5
I've posted so many photos of destinations recently that I decided that my photo today would be of the method of transportation. This is the interior of my Virgin America flight from Washington Dulles to SFO. Virgin has a different in-flight service and entertainment format that most airlines, and judging by my experience and by the conversations of other passengers I've overheard, their innovations seem to be working. As you can tell, they also have a different look -- black leather seating and purple mood lighting. It gives the flight a very modern, space-age feel. I'm not sure I like the head you can see in between the seats at the bottom. It ruins the clean look of the photo, but it also conveys that the plane was in use. Thoughts?
My flight from Buenos Aires deposited me at JFK in New York City at 6:00 am. The next step was to get myself from there to the Upper East Side in my hazy post red eye state. I saw this steam cloud while I was waiting for a train to take me to the Jamaica subway station. The rising sun was perfectly positioned behind it, resulting in an ever-changing array of translucencies and shapes.
Wednesday, March 4
Welcome to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. I took a high-speed ferry across the Rio de la Plata to see the buildings and cobblestone streets of the town's historic quarter (barrio historico) that were declared a UNESCO hertiage sight in 1995. The town was cute and picturesque, but the real highlight of the trip for me was renting a bike for the day -- leaving only payment with its owner, no collateral or liability forms! -- and biking up Route 1 to the Bodega Bernardi Vineyard and back. I shared the road with cars, trucks, mopeds, scooters, other bicyclists, even the occasional horse and wagon. I have a lot of photos from the day, but I thought this one captured the sense of place best: old but with some aspects of modernity, unhurried but purposeful, and welcoming.
I thought I'd become really good at taking the surreptitious photo on this trip. I had it down to a science. You scope out the scene, see something interesting, maybe apply a little misdirection, and -- bam! -- you get a cool photo of something you don't see everyday. It's a helpful skill to know, especially when you're not quite sure how to say, "May I take a photo?" in the language spoken by everyone around you or are unable to understand the response you get when you do ask. So imagine my surprise when I took a quick shot of this antique cart in Palermo SoHo and its proprietor not only noticed, but became very excited. I was a little worried until he grabbed a photo off the cart and posed so I could take a photo of him! His quirky character, his mostly unbuttoned shirt, and the old wedding photo in his hand go well with the jumble of oddities he was selling.
Tuesday, March 3
This is Buenos Aires Playa, also known as Buenos Aires Beach. The funny thing is, it's not so much a beach as an imported strip of sand. And it doesn't sit on the edge an beautiful, blue ocean with waves and shore break; it overlooks the muddy, calm of the Rio de la Plata, the widest estuary in the world. It was bizarre to get there and see picturesque, white sailboats in the distance on top of very brown water. Weirdness aside, it really was a great place -- the day was beautiful and sunny with just the right amount of breeze; umbrellas and chairs were provided; and the portenos (people who live in Buenos Aires) were out in full force, playing soccer and volleyball and sipping their ever-present yerba mate.