Thursday, December 21, 2017

Welcome Winter

The winter solstice occurred at 11:28 am EST (16:28 UTC) December 21, 2017. The days get longer now, so celebrate with light and love on this shortest day.

Tree at Great Falls, MD

Thursday, November 9, 2017

American Landscapes: Water

Much of the west is dry, but we also saw beautiful coasts, rivers and lakes.

California Coast at Gualala

St Marys River at Pine Island, Ontario
Point Arena Lighthouse and marine sanctuaries, California
Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

American Landscapes: Hills

On our road trip we saw lots of lovely landscapes. Many of those that made us pull over to take pictures were mountains and hills. Not too surprising, since we live in the East and don't see much elevation in our everyday lives. I suspect that even those who see them often still get a bit of a thrill from the hills.

Hills, Southern Idaho
Powder River Pass, Wyoming
Devils Tower, Wyoming
Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Sunday, November 5, 2017

American Landscapes: Badlands

It's tempting to put badlands in quotes, because "bad" isn't the adjective that comes to mind: "strange", "tortuous", or even "severe" seem better. But apparently early europeans called them bad because they were difficult to traverse, and the name stuck.

"Extensive" is another adjective. The badlands cover more than two hundred square miles in North Dakota and South Dakota, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Badlands National Park respectively. A casual tourist can see wonderful sites but to see it all would take a long, long time. We were happy we could at least visit both parks.

The northern badlands were cloaked in haze from large fires to the west, but the vistas were beautiful nevertheless. A memorable hike led to a vantage point overlooking a group of grazing bison. My preconceived notion of the badlands as barren was wrong. They have colors, textures and life.

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Bison, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Jones Creek, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Yellow Mound Formation, Badlands National Park

Saturday, November 4, 2017

American Landscapes: Canyons

Susan and I took a long road trip to the U.S. West Coast and back, driving 8,200 miles over 38 days. Loving landscapes as I do, this journey thrilled me. The scale and variety of the terrain and vegetation kept us enthralled through many hours in the car, and made every hike unique.

Some of the most enchanting scenes were in canyons. One chilly morning in South Dakota we drove through Spearfish Canyon, where the Ponderosa pines on the hills were frosted and the cottonwoods at lower elevations still had their autumn yellows.

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota
Another morning found us in Twin Falls exploring the Snake River Canyon near the Perrinne Bridge.

Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls, Idaho
Wyoming had two canyons we loved: On the Wind River in central Wyoming, and Ten Sleep Canyon at the western edge of the Big Horn mountains.

Hillside in Wind River Canyon, Wyoming
Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming
Outside of Bozeman, Montana we hiked in Cottonwood Canyon along South Cottonwood Creek.

Cottonwood Canyon, Montana
There seems to be no end to the beauty in our country, let alone in our continental neighbor, Canada, where we also traveled. Pictures from north of the border in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

African Wildlife, part 3

Apologies for the multiple posts. There are so many animals to see, including a wonderful variety of birds. There was no way to get photos of them all.
Tawny Eagle, Hwange National Park
Lilac-breasted Roller, Okavango National Park
Saddle-billed Storks, Okavango National Park
African Fish Eagle, Chobe National Park
Woodland Kingfisher, Okavango National Park
Small mammals are harder to spot. One of the most unusual is the hyrax: a mammal that resembles a rodent but is in the same taxon as elephants and manatees.
Hyrax, Okavango National Park
Banded Mongoose, Okavango National Park

Sunday, April 23, 2017

African Wildlife, part 2

Every day on safari brought new sightings. Impala were the most numerous of the large animals and among the most beautiful. We saw other antelopes as well: kudu, tsessebe, waterbuck, bushbuck, red lechwe, eland, puku, Sharpe's grysbok, and klipsringer.

Impala, Okavango National Park
Kudu, Okavango National Park
Zebra were also a common sight, sometimes in the company of wildebeest. Apparently they are better able to spot predators using the multiple talents of different species.

Zebra, Okavango National Park
Wildebeest, Okavango National Park
Cape Buffalo, Okavango National Park
Vervet Monkeys, Chobe National Park

Thursday, April 20, 2017

African Wildlife, part 1

On our safari tour, we were fortunate to see many animals. The national parks we visited, Chobe and Okavango in Botswana and Hwange in Zimbabwe, are well-endowed with wildlife and not much traveled by least, in comparison to some U.S. national parks. The animals are protected and so (to varying degrees) are not too shy of people or their vehicles, making close approaches possible. Our guides were uniformly skilled and knowledgeable, increasing our chances of finding our "prey" in the bush.

And find them we did. It's a thrill to see them in their own environment. Each species has a character of its own, a combination of appearance, movement, social groupings, sounds and preferred habitat.

African Leopard with Impala Prey, Okavango National Park
African Elephant, Chobe National Park
Lion Pride with Two Juveniles, Chobe National Park
Hippos, Egrets and Hippo Corpse, Chobe National Park
Southern Giraffe, Okavango National Park

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

South Africa Landscapes

Everyone who's been to Africa told us to go. We spent three weeks in southern Africa during March and April 2017, mostly on a "safari" tour in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, with several days by ourselves seeing the sights in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa.

It was an amazingly successful trip. The wildlife is the big draw on these tours. We saw lots of it, including four of the "big five": Elephants, lions, cape buffalo, and leopards (number five, rhinoceros, have been wiped out in the areas we visited.) Others included giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, impala, kudu, baboons and all sorts of birds. The weather was nearly perfect, and our guides and accommodations were splendid. So, to everyone who encouraged us to go: Thanks! I'll get to wildlife photos in a future post.

The landscapes were also wonderful. Our safaris were in national parks, so they are largely undeveloped. Our vehicles traveled on dirt roads (or off-road) and those roads were often the only visible evidence of people. Even where we weren't in parks we saw amazing terrain. This first photo is a view of False Bay from Cape Peninsula, near the southernmost tip of Africa. I hadn't realized how much topography we would see on our drive south from Cape Town.

False Bay from Cape Peninsula
At the south end of the Cape Peninsula is Cape Point, which towers above the Atlantic and Indian oceans. From there you have a wonderful view of Dias Beach and the Cape of Good Hope.

Dias Beach and Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town lies at the foot of Table Mountain National Park, in one of the most beautiful city locations anywhere. A cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain opens incredible vistas.

View from Table Mountain

Driving southwest from the city center along the coastal Victoria Road affords views of the Twelve Apostles peaks, which are part of the same sandstone range as Table Mountain. You also see some of the priciest beach real estate in Africa.

Twelve Apostles

Sunday, April 16, 2017

OT: Downsizing, con't.

Our trip to southern Africa is behind us (and if you've never been there, and have the slightest inclination, go). As discussed in the previous post, I bought a used Lumix GX7 with a 20mm kit lens and a new Lumix 45-150mm zoom to shrink my traveling gear. Here's how it went.

We spent eleven days on safari in three countries (Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and several more days sightseeing in Cape Town and Johannesburg. On this trip "safari" meant several hours each day in four-wheel-drive vehicles on dirt roads, looking for and viewing wildlife. Had we been on foot, the lighter camera gear would have been essential. But the tours wisely do not allow tourists to wander on foot: wildlife is wild, and can be dangerous. But still, I enjoyed having the lightweight pack, and strolling around the cities it was much appreciated.

I've gone through the images and for the most part I'm happy with them. They do look "different" than images from my Nikon D750, but it's not easy to describe. Part of the difference is likely due to vibration control. On one hand, the Lumix stabilization seems less effective than the Nikon's; on the other hand, the Lumix spent a lot of time in bouncing vehicles. On the third hand, most of my images were taken when the vehicle was stopped. And somehow the color rendering looks different, at least until post-processing has been applied.

The autofocus on the Lumix didn't always do the job. Part of the problem, I know, is trying to shoot animals lurking in bush or high grass: it's hard for the autofocus to know what the subject is. And I'm at fault for not learning how to use the different autofocus modes correctly. The manual focus mode is easy to engage and provides a magnified view of the center of the image. It was useful for careful work but annoying when I couldn't figure out how to turn off the magnifier.

As I feared, battery life was nothing like my Nikon. You need only heft the Lumix battery to know that its capacity is smaller. Two batteries were essential, and I often turned off the back-of-camera display to conserve power. I usually preferred the viewfinder anyway. Faster battery charging would be nice, too--why should such a dinky battery take three hours to charge?

Gripes aside, I think I'll keep the Lumix. I'd like to have a wide-angle lens (one traveler I chatted with likes her Olympus wide-ish zoom). Meanwhile I should retrieve the Nikon from the closet so I don't forget how to use it, AND keep using the Lumix so I DO learn it. Wish I weren't such a lazy photographer.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

OT: Downsizing for the road

Anticipating another overseas trip--to Africa, this time--I'm once again toying with buying a travel camera. Regular readers may recall (Hah! Just kidding. I know there aren't any regular readers, except bots) that I've been down this road before, in this post and others.

Our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel, is very strict about luggage on this particular trip, small aircraft being involved. So strict are they that weeks before the trip they sent us each a mandatory duffel bag. That and a daypack are all you get. Susan and I have traveled enough by now that we're able to pack lightly and efficiently, so the duffel isn't a terrible inconvenience. We're trying out some "packing cubes" to help us organize but it seems manageable.

The daypack, however, presents a problem. My daypack is my camera bag: a Lowepro Fastpack 250. In it I carry my Nikon D750, Tamon 24-70 zoom, Nikkor f4 70-200 zoom, my old Nikkor 50mm normal, and the usual array of batteries, charger, filters, extension rings, SD cards, pens, pencils, flashlight, etc.

There are actually two problems. First, at 13 pounds the weight of this kit is becoming unpleasant. Second, I need more space in the camera bag for non-photo stuff like rain gear and carry-on necessities. On past trips I'd sometimes shift a lens or two into my suitcase if they weren't needed that day, but a floppy duffel bag isn't the place to keep lenses. The Lowepro is close to the carry-on size limit for this trip, so a bigger pack won't work either, even if my aging back could handle the weight. What to do?

You gearheads can guess where this is going: mirrorless micro four thirds cameras. They've been around a while...long enough for capable used ones to appear...and they are small and light. I've taken the plunge and purchased a used Lumix GX7 with the Lumix G f1.7 20mm kit lens and a new Lumix G Vario 45-150mm f4-5.6 zoom.

There will be compromises involved. Battery life will be one. In Vietnam I was draining a battery before lunch shooting with the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II and I fear the GX7 may have the same problem. It seems to be the price of using electronic viewfinders or screens in lieu of optical. I'll probably spring for a second battery, but at $49 they aren't cheap. My 24-70mm Tamron, which is my primary landscape lens, will be staying home and I'll miss it. Image stabilization might not be as good as my full-frame gear, and I doubt the low-light performance will be as robust.

The positives will outweigh the negatives, one hopes. Lighter and smaller gear are the main attractions. I'll have a 300mm (equivalent) instead of the Nikkor 200mm that is a bit short for wildlife work, and it will weigh in at 234 grams instead of 922 grams. The camera body and normal lens are similarly slimmed. A feature I look forward to trying is the truly silent electronic shutter mode. Combined with a rotating eyepiece it should make candids and street-shooting less intrusive. And if everything fits easily and feels light, I might see fit to take a monopod along.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Backwards, Forwards

Digital imaging has brought so many capabilities we never dreamed of in the film era. Today I used Lightroom's metadata filter to bring up all of the images I made in 2016. The total is 5,789. Could I select just one as my favorite of 2016?

I took time to scroll through all of them, for a couple of reasons. First, some images look much better when I haven't seen them for a while. (Why is that? Maybe because I recover the "first impression" that made me shoot it originally but which can get lost when working too long on an image. Or maybe because the additional inspection increases the chance I'll see something I missed before, not that each of five thousand will get many seconds of review.) I found several to fiddle with, including two that wanted to be black and white:

Milford Sound

Sydney lamppost

The second reason for looking through all of them is, of course, the chance to remember where I've been and what I've seen this past year; to re-visualize 2016. Susan and I traveled to Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. There is much to recall and review, beyond the photos I've already posted from those trips. But one shot from close to home at one of my favorite locations, the Great Falls of the Potomac, seemed worth a second look:

Kayaker at Great Falls of the Potomac

So the look backwards was worthwhile. Truth be told, though, I knew all along which image I like best from 2016. This shot of Kata Tjuta in central Australia still makes me happiest.

Kata Tjuta
Looking forward, I wish you and yours much happiness in 2017.