Monday, November 30, 2009

Go Fly a Kite

Since the days of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s historic flight, the Outer Banks of North Carolina have been a haven for those fascinated with the “Spirit of Aviation.”

Flyers from all over the world flock to the dunes of Kill Devil Hills to relive those 12 seconds of powered flight on a windy December day in 1903. Some remain grounded as they tour the Wright Brothers Memorial, while the dare devils experience the thrill of unpowered flight from the top of Jockey’s Ridge on a hang glider.

At the base of Jockey’s Ridge is the hang gliding flight school run by Kitty Hawk Kites, the oldest hang gliding school on the east coast. The school was started in 1974 by John Harris to help young aviators learn the rapidly growing sport.

Over the years, Kitty Hawk Kites has branched out into unmanned flight as well.

This past Saturday marked the 20th Annual Kites with Lights Celebration, complete with an appearance by the jolly old fat man himself, Santa Claus.

It’s hard to find a day when the sky above the dunes isn’t littered with kites, but for the Saturday night after Thanksgiving, the sky comes aglow. As the sun starts to disappear behind Jockey’s Ridge, large kites with long tails of Christmas Lights, are sent aloft.

With Christmas music in the air and hot cups of cider passed around, the crowd settles in for a dazzling display that is truely unique.

Vacation Photos From Seattle: Catch of the Day

Just like every tourist that comes to Seattle, I wanted to see the guys throwing fish at the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market.

The Fish Market has been a mainstay at the Pike Place Market for almost 80 years. But it hasn’t always been “World Famous.”

The idea of throwing fish started as a marketing ploy in the mid 80’s to drum up business. John Yokoyama hired a consultant to help the near bankrupt business to survive. Throwing fish was one of the ideas that came out of that consultation.

After a few years, word spread about the “World Famous” fish market. It was featured on television news casts, newspaper articles and even an appearance on Good Morning America.

Soon every tourist coming to Seattle was visiting the market just to see a fish without wings sail through the air.

With their point and shoots and cell phone cameras, visitors gather around the fishmonger, waiting for that “someone” in the group to buy a little piece of Seattle to take home. The whole market seems to stand still as he yells the order to his coworkers, who reply in unison, repeating the order. Then, with the precision of a major leaguer, the fish is tossed to the back to be wrapped and packed.

But it’s not all work and no play.

For the next order, the fishmonger pulls a woman from the crowd. He positions her halfway between him and the back counter, convincing her to raise her arms like a goalpost. 

As she closes her eyes, the countdown commences. With each beat, he rocks the fish back and forth.




And the release.

Like a last second field goal attempt for the win, the crowd stands silently on edge as the salmon flies through the air, erupting in cheers as it splits the uprights.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vacation Photos from Seattle: This Little Piggy Went To Market

There weren’t many things on my list of places to see while I was in Seattle. The list was very short. It only had two places on it: Pike Place Market and the first Starbucks. We managed to hit both places at least once a day; usually more depending on the need for caffeine.

One of the first things we did when we got to town was make the five block walk down to the market. It was after 6pm and the market was relatively quiet, only a few tourists (us) lingering around.

Pike Place Market has been a mainstay in Seattle for over 100 years, since 1907. The market isn’t just one building. It actually comprises buildings over several blocks in what is called the Pike Place Market Historical District. It’s home to vendors peddling everything from big ass grapes, the occasional flying fish, honey crisp apples, chocolate pasta, wooden instruments, jewelry, t-shirts and flowers. And those are just the stalls on the main level.

Deep within the bowels of the market are little shops selling curios of all origins, even a headshop, which is divided into the under 18-shopping aisle and the 18-and-over shopping aisle. (Really, I just went in there to get a bulb for my lava lamp.)

There are also a plethora of restaurants and even a brewery in the market. You just have to find your way to them. And your way out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vacation Photos from Seattle: Variations on a Theme

I recently returned home from a trip to Seattle. This was my first trip to the Emerald City, a place I’ve been wanting to visit for a really long time.

So, in grand tradition, I’m going to show you pictures from my vacation.

Now some of you may run for the home button on your browser. You’re probably the same ones that had to suffer through hours of your dad’s slideshow from the family trip to Lake Wobegon. The first three hours of episode one of the saga show him packing the family station wagon for the day-long tortuous affair of riding in a stuffy car with your annoying family, wishing you were in Myrtle Beach with your friends instead.

But I’m going to only show one thing from Seattle. It’s probably the city’s most recognizable landmark. It’s the Space Needle.

The Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and reaches a height of 605 feet. At the time it was built, it garnered attention as the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. It’s height helps when you’re intentionally trying to find interesting objects to frame with it.

What follows is a collection of photos revolving around the Space Needle. The tower is either the focus of the photo or an element in the background.

You can tell when your mom truly loves you. She stands next to you, in the middle of the street, in the pouring rain, snapping pictures just like you. That's love. Or, perhaps she's just as odd as you. Maybe that's where you get those peculiar habits of standing in the rain, in the middle of the night, taking pictures.

But for me, I prefer to think it's love.

Now, on with the show.

If you’ve made it this far, then you’ve survived the first installment of my vacation photos from Seattle. Episode two will follow in a few days and be presented in Technicolor.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Paint Me A Picture

I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been on a light painting kick.

It started about a month ago with the aqueduct in Roanoke Rapids and now it’s moved on to the Pisgah Covered Bridge outside of Asheboro, NC.

The bridge was built in 1911 over the west fork of the Little River. In 2003, the bridge was washed away by a flood. It was rebuilt a year later using a majority of the original materials.

Traffic no longer crosses the bridge. A new two-lane bridge was built in the 1950’s and the Pisgah Covered Bridge soon became a tourist attraction. It joined other landmarks when it was added the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

I got to the bridge a little before sunset. Another photographer showed up while I was getting ready. She was doing High Dynamic Range photos of the bridge and soon went on her way before the sun started to go down.

Meanwhile, I was setting up and getting all my gear in order.

I placed a couple of strobes with double CTO gels on them in the center of the bridge and used a snooted strobe and a spotlight to illuminate the outside.

I did an exposure test with just the strobes firing to get a ballpark idea of my f-stop. It ended up at 5.6 at ISO 200.

The exposure for the final picture I took that night was 424 seconds at 5.6 at ISO 100. That’s four seconds over seven minutes. Just enough time to run around blasting light and listening for traffic.

Each time a car would pass, I had to cover the lens with my hand or I’d have a light streak running through the frame. Sometimes I was 10 feet from the camera and heard the cars coming. And sometimes I was on the other side of the bridge and had to make a mad dash in the dark to get to the camera.

Sometimes I made it. And sometimes I didn’t. But nearly every time, I almost killed myself trying to make it to the camera in the dark.

Luckily, I was in the middle of nowhere and could hear a car coming from about half a mile away. I swear, by the end of the night, I could tell the difference between a Ford and Chevy.

The best part (or worst part, depending on how you see it) about light painting is that each picture you create with light painting is unique. There are never two pictures exactly the same.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Parkway Blues

Fall is the time of the year when the days get shorter, colder and you long for the warm confines of your home instead of venturing outside.

It’s also that time of year when the leaves on the trees turn a robust color and really show off their true beauty before falling to the ground.

In North Carolina there is no better place to witness this transformation than the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Parkway spans 469 miles from the Southwestern part of North Carolina, near Cherokee, into Virginia, where it becomes Skyline Drive.

Construction on the Parkway started in 1935 during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, receiving support from some of the New Deal agencies. It took fifty two years to complete, criss-crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains over 168 bridges and six viaducts and diving through the mountains by way of 26 tunnels.

All in all, it’s a beautiful drive that can be enjoyed just about any time of the year: fall - when the leaves are at their peak, spring - when the wildflowers begin to bloom after winter hibernation or summer - when other flowers like daisies and aster show their colors.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Aqueduct, Aqueduct, Goose

Ever since I visited Roanoke Rapids, NC, last year, I’ve wanted to make a picture of the old aqueduct used during the heyday of the canal that ran parallel to the Roanoke River.

The section of the Roanoke River at Roanoke Rapids was known as Moratuc or “river of death” to the Native Americans living in the area. The canal was constructed in 1823 as a way to bypass the treacherous rapids, including construction of a stone aqueduct over Chockoyotte Creek.

The canal was later sold and renovated for hydro-electric power, adding an additional four feet in depth.

I was really interested in using light-painting to photograph the aqueduct. So on one of my first days in Roanoke Rapids I scouted the location to see if I could actually pull it off.

(The aqueduct during the day)

To get to what I thought would be the best place to set up my camera and tripod involved navigating my way down a steep bank of what appeared to be leftover rocks used to build the aqueduct.

(No big deal I thought, except when it came time to climb back up in the dark.)

One of the coolest apps I have on my iPhone is a program called PhotoCalc. It gives a wealth of information about exposures, depth of field and even guide numbers for your flash. One of the features that I find handy is the Solar Calculator. This feature gives you times for sunrise and sunset, along with telling you when twilight begins and ends, all customized to your exact location.

With this info I was able to plan my shot.

I got to the aqueduct about an hour before sunset and climbed down to the creek below, getting ready for nightfall.

To light-paint the aqueduct, I had planned to use a mixture of flashes and a spot light I had bought at Walmart.

Rule number one for planning a shoot with a rechargeable spot light: make sure it is fully charged. Rule number two: bring a backup.

Not long into my light-painting, the battery died and I didn’t have a backup.

I was now stuck at the bottom of the aqueduct in the dark and quickly trying to come up with a Plan B.

My plans were rapidly falling apart.

The spot light had died and the flashes I had distributed around the aqueduct to give me accent lights were creating more problems than solutions.

I really didn’t want to call it a night though.

My really only other option was to do the light-painting with one of my flashes.

By now the sun had set and twilight was long since over. If I didn’t start making pictures soon, I was going to be out of luck.

To cheat a little bit, I set my camera to balance for tungsten light, put a double CTO gel on flash and went to work. This gave me a blue cast to the sky but pretty much negated the warming effects of the gel.

(The aqueduct light-painted with a flash and the camera balanced for tungsten)

At this point I wasn’t picky.

My results were decent but could be better.

After leaving the aqueduct, I drove straight to Walmart and bought another spot light. As soon as I got back to my bed and breakfast, I put both of them on a charger.

Not one to give up, or perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, the next night I made another trip to the aqueduct; this time with two spot lights and a clearer idea of how I was going to do this.

What a way to spend the night.

(The aqueduct light-painted with the spot light and the camera balanced for daylight)

(The aqueduct light-painted with the spot light and the camera balanced for tungsten)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mother Hubbard, Your Cupboard is Bare!

There’s nothing more welcoming than coming home from a trip and sleeping in your own bed.

For the first time in a week, you finally get a decent night’s sleep. There’s nothing like sleeping nine or ten hours without being roused by a knock at the door, “Housekeeping.” You wake at your own leisure and slowly make your way to the refrigerator to start the most important meal of the day. And then it dongs on you. Mother Hubbard, your cupboard is bare!

Luckily, I had a product shoot from a recent trip that I needed to do.

Malt O Meal just opened a facility in Asheboro, NC. They make a plethora of hot and cold cereals and my task was to shoot a product shot of one of them. My choice.

I opted for the Honey Buzzers. They’re just like Honey Combs but come in this ginormous two pound bag that could feed an army. Or one hungry photographer.

Most of our product shots are just that; simple product shots on a white background in all its packaging glory.

Of course with food, we have to do a little more work.

I made a quick run to the store for a few props: OJ and some milk.

So I got the two pound bag and shot it.

Then, I poured some Honey Buzzers in a bowl with a spoon and set glasses of milk and orange juice behind. (Hey, it’s part of a complete breakfast.) All the while I’m munching on handfuls of cereal. Shot that from a few different angles. (Designers have to have choices you know. Of course they always choose the wrong one, but that’s a different story.)

I finished those off and now it’s time to eat.

Got down to the bottom of the bowl with just a little milk left. Instead of going for another bowl, just dropped a fresh buzzer in the bottom and shot an almost finished bowl of cereal. (Great for stock.)

Then I helped myself to another bowl.