Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remembering the Fire

Today being Christmas eve, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.  In addition to being a time of celebration, for many of us this is also a time for reflection on the past.

It was 4 years ago yesterday that the sanctuary at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church was completely destroyed by fire.  

#N_16855 - Before the fire


I suspect that nobody who was present the morning of December 23, 2007 will ever forget that day.  It was like a bad dream waking up on Sunday morning 2 days before Christmas, learning that your church had been reduced to ruins in an overnight fire. 

After a lot of work, study and planning, a new sanctuary was built to replace that which burned and it opened on the 2nd anniversary of the fire, December 23, 2009. 

Yesterday, two years after the first service in the new sanctuary, a sculpture was dedicated to mark the place in history where the congregation moved beyond the tragedy of the fire to continue forward.  The sculpture was created by Jim Smith from a twisted, melted steel beam that was part of the roof support structure in the original sanctuary.  You can clearly see in the 2nd image above the steel beams melted and sagging from the intense heat of the fire.  

#N_111631 - The "Rising" by artist Jim Smith
Below are a few more images of the new church.

#N_78409 - Outside at night

#N_78851B - Inside Stained Glass

#N_78158 - Antiphonal Organ (fisheye view)
 The 60 rank pipe organ was built and installed by A.E. Schulter Pipe Organ Company of Lithonia, Georgia.  I created this image using a fisheye lens from behind the antiphonal organ.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Yosemite National Park - Part 2

#7D_1001 El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks at night
I'll start off with a my favorite night time Yosemite image, which was photographed from the area called gates of the valley. It is a small turnout off northside drive and offers a great view of both El Capitan and Cathedral rocks.  The image above is a 30 second exposure that was taken in near total darkness at f4, iso 200 with a 17mm lens.  Due to the long exposure, the moving water creates a nice blur as it flows over the rocks, and the stars in the sky are just beginning to form star trails.  Because there was no moon, an exposure this long was necessary to get enough light on the mountains. 
The next image is taken from the same exact spot but looking a little more to the right at Cathedral Rocks.  You can see the blur of headlights and tail lights from cars passing on the road in the distance, and also rocks lit in the river from headlights of cars pulling into a parking area behind me.  The light on the rocks was unintentional, but I could not control it.

#7D_998 - Cathedral Rocks at Night
The following evening we were photographing Half Dome from the Sentinel Bridge and this was the first time I used a graduated neutral density filter.  It worked wonders at equalizing the bright light in the sky so that I could get a decent exposure of both the foreground and background, without blowing out highlights.

#7D_ 1271 - Half Dome
Had I done a little more investigating on filters prior to this trip, I could have saved myself a lot of grief the first couple days we were there.  The filter proved invaluable in many different situations and made it a lot easier to get photos that would have been impossible to capture without it. 

Where I had been bracketing exposures the first couple days in situations where the light was too harsh, I found myself wanting to go back to places I had been and re-shoot.

As I had said earlier, there was not much water flow in any of the falls this time of the year, so it was not a priority to photograph them.  I did however, photograph several of the falls that were visible either from the road, or after just a short hike. 

Although these are not very good photos, I am including them just to show what was there.  I do plan to return sometime in the summer so that I can get photos of the falls with more water flow, and also take the longer hikes required to photograph Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

#N110753 - Bridalveil Falls (photographed from the tunnel on Hwy 41)

#N110494 - Upper Yosemite Falls

#7D_747 - Lower Yosemite Falls
We finally drove up to Glacier Point, which is about an hours drive from the valley floor, depending on where you start.  It was along this drive that I showed the coyote photo in the previous post.   It's a long and winding road climbing several thousand feet, but offers spectacular views of the valley once you get to the top.  The following images show the observation area as well as a view of the valley.

#N_110710 - This is the famous overhanging rock. Many photos have been taken here.

#7D_1261 - The observation area at Glacier Point

#N_110716 - View of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Yosemite National Park - Part 1

#7D_0976:  Valley View - El Capitan on left and Cathedral Rocks on right from the the Merced River
(6 second exposure at f8, iso 100)
As most of my close friends know, I recently completed 6 months of cancer treatment and my wife and I celebrated with a 2-week trip to California.  The first week we visited three national parks:  Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia;  and the second week was spent in and around San Francisco.  For all who may be wondering about me, I am fine as far as I know, and I will have periodic scans every few months to check and verify that I remain cancer free.   During this trip I was still a little worn down from the radiation treatments I had just finished 7 days before we left, and I had to stop and rest frequently during uphill hikes.  But in the next few weeks I should get my normal strength back, and hopefully I have seen the end of the lymphoma. 

#7D_1166:  Cathedral Rock - Photographed from a meadow north of the Merced River
(1/100 second at f9, iso 200)

My wife and I had never been to Yosemite or to San Francisco, so this was a special trip in several ways.  My main objective was to enjoy the beauty and try and get a few pictures at the same time.   Yosemite did not disappoint.  It is beautiful in every way and it is surely a place I will visit again in the future.  I plan to return in the summertime when there is higher water volume in the falls.  Since I was not in shape to do some of the longer hikes required to see Vernal Falls or Nevada Falls I was not planning to photograph them on this trip anyway.   There will be a better time for that when there is more water flowing, and when I'm back in shape and able to enjoy the long hikes.   I pre-planned where we would go to take pictures each morning and evening to take advantage of the good light.  In between those times, we explored the valley and photographed some places that were not so dependent on the light coming from any particular angle.  It was also fun to photograph some of the same places during the daytime, and then again under the stars at night.  In the next post, you will see some of the night time photos.

#N110735:  Coyote
(1/250 sec at f4.5, iso 400)
I had not expected to see much wildlife on this trip but to my surprise, we came upon a coyote one afternoon on the drive up to Glacier Point.   I was able to fire off a few shots out of the rolled down car window and I think the photo above is probably the best one.   I also took a few shots of a deer I saw when we stopped to photograph El Capitan.  Those two photos are below.

#N110810 - Deer
(1/160 second @ f2.8, iso 400)
#N110805:  El Capitan
(1/640 sec @ f4, iso 200, -2/3 EV)
The next image was taken from the swinging bridge. It shows Cathedral Rock in the distance, with the Merced River in the foreground. I really liked the contrast of colors in this scene.

#7D_1181:  View from the Swinging Bridge
(1/500 @ f6.3, iso 400)
Next is an image of Half Dome photographed from Cook's Meadow, with a large elm tree in the foreground.  From this location, you can see several of the notable Yosemite landmarks simply by looking in a different direction.

#7D_0906:  Half Dome from Cook's Meadow
(1/250 @ f8, iso 200, -1EV)
Next is a photo of El Capitan with its reflection in the Merced River, photographed from Cathedral Beach.  This image was difficult to capture and it took my widest lens, a 15mm fisheye, to fit the entire reflection in the frame.  Some of the barrel distortion from the lens has been removed in photoshop.  This was a very cold morning with temperatures in the 30's and after about an hour my numb fingers told me it was time to get back to the car and move on.

#N110571:  El Capitan from Cathedral Beach
(1/200 second @ f8, iso 100, 15mm fisheye lens)
Of course, no trip to Yosemite would be complete without the classic photo below taken from just outside the tunnel on highway 41, commonly referred to as 'tunnel view'.  This is probably the most commonly photographed scene at Yosemite.

#7D_1267:  Tunnel View
(1/500 @f7.1, iso 200, with 2-stop graduated neutral density filter)

In the next post, I will show some of the waterfalls and the night time photos, as well as some views from Glacier Point, looking down into the valley from above.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to Birding...

I have been itching to get out with the camera lately, and today I finally pushed myself a bit and went out to photograph birds.   I did not have my usual stamina, and found that I had to stop and take a rest every hour or so.  But it was nice to get outdoors and once again occupy myself with something I really enjoy doing.

I was able to get a few decent photos, including one of a roseate spoonbill chick.  Prior to today I did not have any images of chicks of this particular species, and it was difficult to get this one due to twigs and branches obstructing my view to the bird as it hobbled around in the nest.  But waiting and watching for quite some time finally paid off and resulted in the image below.  You can contrast this image with of the adult spoonbill below it.

Roseate Spoonbill - chick

Roseate Spoonbill - adult

The next image is a cattle egret in full breeding plumage.  It's quite amazing how a fairly boring white bird transforms itself into the colorful version you see below in breeding season.

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

Next is a young tricolor heron.  As the bird gets older, the browns will turn to blues as seen in the top image in this article.

Tricolor Heron - juvenile

Finally a great white egret both perched and in flight.

Great White Egret

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Elizabeth in Soft Light at Dusk

Last weekend I traveled to Cocoa Beach to visit relatives and witness the final launch of space shuttle Endeavour.  The shuttle photography was challenging as we were looking in the direction of the light and it was only the low cloud cover that prevented lens flare and made it possible to get decent phots. 

But the evening before I enjoyed some of the best light I've ever experienced with my camera in my hand.  After enjoying a fantastic home cooked dinner with Liz and David, we went out cruising on a boat before sunset and were washed in some fantastic soft light.  I took advantage of that for nearly two hours, shooting away with Elizabeth and trying to create some nice images.  Balancing fill flash with ambient light in this situation was so amagingly easy that it was fun.   It's not difficult to see that I could really enjoy  doing a lot more of this kind of photography.  It was so much fun creating the images you see here with almost no effort.  And obvioulsy it helped to have such an attractive subject in front of the lens.   Thanks for your willingness to pose for the photos, Liz.   I hope you like the results....

[click on any image for a larger view]

I decided to post this to share a look at some of my favorite images from that evening with anyone who may be interested.  Thanks to David, Elizabeth, and Patty for a fantastic weekend, for wonderful company and a lot of just plain fun.  It was the perfect weekend and a sort of escape for me, having just been through my 2nd round of chemotherapy.  And thanks again to Liz for posing for these images.  

More images can be seen at the link below:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour - STS 134 Final Mission

Program notes: Click on any photo to see a larger version.  Prints are available from a link to my web page posted at the bottom of this entry.

The story continues.  I managed to get back down to the Cape for one last chance to see Space Shuttle Endeavour launch on it's final journey, and everything went fine with the shuttle lifting off on time at 8:56am Monday.  I have just chocked one more item off my 'bucket list'.

On this visit, I was at the "turn basin" viewing site, which is a few hundred yards in front of the VAB Building, approximately 3 miles from the launch pad. This is the closest I've ever been to witness a shuttle launch.  On previous outings, my best attempts had come from the NASA Causeway, which is about 6.5 to 7 miles south of the launch pad.  One advantage viewing it from the turn basin is the smoke plume from the solid rocket boosters does not obstruct your view as it does from the Causeway.

Due to the low cloud cover, the shuttle was gone in just about 22 seconds from the time it lifted off.   Usually I am able to follow it through my lens and photograph the solid rocket booster separation, which does not happen until well beyond 2 minutes into the flight.  On this occasion, we could not see the shuttle at all after it ascended above the first cloud layer.
So this time it was over quickly.  We arrived at around 5:30am and staked out a spot to shoot from within the relatively small area that was roped off for spectators, then we waited about 3.5 hours to view the launch.  This launch was spectacular.  It's much more exciting from this distance, and the ground felt almost like an earthquake as the loud rumble from the shuttle shook everything in sight.  Light was not the best for photography, with the sun about 20 degrees to our right and up roughly 30 degrees off the horizon at launch time.  But the low cloud cover actually helped a bit to cut down on the lens flare I had been seeing through the lens prior to when the clouds rolled in.  At least we were not shooting into direct sunlight, which would have made it next to impossible to get any decent photos. 

I owe a special note of thanks to Cindy's cousin, David Turko who obtained the NASA pass and then invited us to join him and his sister Patty for the launch.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend which also included a boat cruise at sunset Sunday, when we took advantage of some fantastic soft light to do a photo shoot with David's better half, Liz.  You may see some of those images in my nest post.

While waiting for the launch we visited with folks we met, and we monitored the light.  As the conditions constantly changed we discussed camera settings in hopes that everyone would be able to get properly exposed photos.  Exposures can be tricky, especially if one is used to shooting in aperture priority or shutter priority mode.  I avoid those settings and shoot manual exposures so that the bright flame of the solid booster does not affect the metering of the camera, and therefore change the exposure.  I have seen many people ruin photos by not taking this into account.  For anyone who may have been unfortunate it that regard, I have made prints available from a link at the bottom of this post. 

During our wait we especially enjoyed meeting Alyson and 3 of her friends, who we learned all who work for the American Cancer Society.  After I lifted my hat revealing my bald head, and told them I was fighting non-hodgkins lymphoma, we ended up having a lot to talk about, and they were all very helpful and supportive.

I am disappointed that the shuttle program is coming to a close, and there is no other program ready yet to go behind it.  This is also going to be devastating to the central Florida economy as all the NASA employees begin to loose their jobs over the next month or two.  

I cannot help but believe there is enough fat and waste in our federal budget that could be cut in order to provide funding for projects such as NASA.  Our space program over the years has resulted in many discoveries and innovations that have led to scores of products we use in our every day lives, such as teflon used to make cookware, and many, many others.  It is a shame that a program that has been so vital to us is now dying due to lack of funding and what I believe are misguided priorities. 

A larger variety of photos of this launch can also be seen on my main web page here:  along with the availability to purchase prints.