All posts by Tom Dills

Big and Little

Big and little. Allure of the Seas and Marella Discovery docked at the Port Zante cruise terminal in Basseterre, Saint Kitts

One of the things that always amazes me about cruise ships is their size! The loop in our neighborhood that I walk around some mornings takes 5 laps to make a mile. The walking/jogging track on Allure of the Seas takes only 2.5 laps to make a mile!

Marella Discovery is what cruise ships used to look like. She was placed in service in March 1996 as Splendour of the Seas. With a capacity of 1,830 passengers, she was considered state of the art at that time.

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, by comparison, holds 5,402 passengers. When she was introduced in 2010 she was the largest cruise ship in the world. That title now belongs to Wonder of the Seas at 5,734. That’s a lot of peoples! 😉

I just posted a gallery of photos from this cruise and our recent swing through Florida at my Adobe Portfolio site.

Walking track on the promenade deck of Allure of the Seas

Will Cruise For Photos

Early morning in Cental Park aboard Allure of the Seas

Yes, I’m still here. And thanks to those who wrote separately to ask if everything was OK. All’s well!

Kathy & I had a little “Caribbean Business” to attend to for a few weeks. We visited friends in central Florida, met up with a long-time friend of Kathy’s and her husband on a cruise for 6 days, stayed on the same ship for another 8 days, then visited with different friends in Florida on the way home. Got back, started attacking a long-neglected to-do list and here we are!

Early morning in Cental Park aboard Allure of the Seas
Early morning in Central Park aboard Allure of the Seas

Remarkably, we have no confirmed travel plans for the remainder of the year. But we are working hard to remedy that situation! Lots of possibilities in the works, to be sure.

View from the sun deck aboard Allure of the Seas

One of the things I love about cruising is the interesting variety of things to photograph. The ships themselves have plenty of subject matter, and in sailing to different destinations, there are always new things to see. I grabbed a quick handful of a few photos in order to end the drought, as it were.

Light fixtures in Dazzles night club aboard Allure of the Seas
Stairway reflections in the Royal Promenade aboard Allure of the Seas
Color changing ceiling in the Royal Promenade aboard Allure of the Seas

I’ll have some more photos and stories to share as I get things done over the next week or two, so stay tuned! 🙂

Shadows aboard Allure of the Seas
Aboard Allure of the Seas
Railing shadows aboard Allure of the Seas

Why We “Process” Our Photos

After (L) and Before (R)

Often, a non-photographer will ask me if I “Photoshop” my photos. My answer is usually something like “I don’t use Photoshop, but I do process my photos.” The follow up is usually some version of “why.”

As we photographers know, cameras today give us lots of latitude for exposure adjustments, which is what I use the most, along with straightening horizons (a lot!), removing dust spots (almost as much!), cropping, contrast & saturation adjustment, and more. And while it is possible to get way beyond reality, I tend to try – as we all do – to improve upon reality just a bit.

After (L) and Before (R)

Ansel Adams is credited with the words “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” A bit modest, perhaps, but that pretty much summarizes – with a bit of humor – what we do and why.

After (L) and Before (R)

Here are 4 photos I made at the summit of Haleakala that show what I mean. The ideal time to get even lighting in the crater is when the sun is directly overhead. But that unfortunately is one of the hardest conditions to photograph anything else! So I did my best to counteract the highlights and shadows in order to bring everything back to what my eye was able to perceive.

After (L) and Before (R)

No Thanks, I’ll Watch

Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui

There are a number of professions I have always been thankful to not have experienced. Anything requiring a safety harness or hard hat would fall into that category. Climbing trees with a machete hanging from my belt would double my resolve!

Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui

One day at our hotel we received notice that a crew would be trimming the palm trees the next day. As it turned out, they started working right outside our room as we were enjoying our morning coffee. It was interesting to watch, but I wasn’t about to consider a return to the work force.

Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui
Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui
Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui
Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui
Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui
Tree trimmers trimming the palm trees at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea, Maui

Doing My Homework

Big waves along the north coast of Maui from the Ho’okipa Lookout near Paia, Hawaii

One of the fascinating things about digital photography is that it is possible to take way too many photographs, edit them down to a reasonable number and still have multiples of the number of photographs we would have had in the film days. That holds true for our traveling, and especially true for our trip to Maui.

Early morning light on the beach near the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea, Maui

According to my Lightroom catalog I took 4,654 photos with my Fuji camera, 160 with my Olympus point & shoot – exclusively out of the airplane window, plus about 78 with my phone. I typically use the phone only for food, wine, airplane window shots, etc. But they back up into Lightroom and get stored there. I have mostly gotten away from other storage methods like Gooble.

Out of those nearly 4,900 photos I processed 749 “picks.” Why such a difference? Because out of those 4,900 photos, many of them were “burst shots” of action, like crashing waves, elusive whales, or dancers at a luau. I generally chose the “best” one out of each burst, and while some of the others might be photo-worthy, there isn’t a lot of point in saving multiple photos with slightly different splashes, poses or expressions.

Early morning light on the beach near the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea, Maui

Out of those 749 processed photos, I have posted a gallery of about half of them – on my Adobe Portfolio page. And those 330 or so photos are still the equivalent of 10 rolls of 36-exposure film, probably about the amount I would have carried back in the Dark Ages!

Early morning light on the beach near the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea, Maui

So if you are really desperate for entertainment, feel free to check out my gallery. The page also contains links to photos from our other travels from the last several years!

Early morning light on the beach near the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea, Maui

The Long And Winding Road…To Hana

“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours

Another “must do” in Maui is what has come to be known as “The Road to Hana.” It is marketed as some kind of scary beast that terrifies drivers and leaves them shaking in their seat belts. I suppose that might be true if the only roads you ever drive are 4 lane roads to the mall or interstate highways, but for the most part it wasn’t what I could call “scary.” Of course, (a) I didn’t drive, and (b) I have driven a few roads that I would consider scary! What the Road to Hana is, however, is quite beautiful.

“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours
“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours
“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours

The Road to Hana is actually a series of roads, only one of which is called Hana Highway. The loop essentially circles east side of the island of Maui which is formed by the Haleakala volcano. The loop is 52 miles long and reportedly (I didn’t count them!) contains 617 hairpin curves and 59 one-lane bridges. Hana is a town located on the eastern tip of Maui. We drove through Hana but didn’t stop, as it is mostly a little village with a few shops, restaurants and small motel. We did stop at quite a few places, including a black sand beach and several waterfalls. Along the roads are little villages, shops, roadside stands selling food and local crafts, waterfalls, beaches, scenic overlooks and much more.

“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours
“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours
“Out the windshield” photo of the Pulani Highway during our Road to Hana tour with Hawaiian Style Tours

We took a tour with a company called Hawaiian Style. They are locally owned and operated by a Maui native and his family.  The tour was nice because our driver, although he was a transplant from Idaho, had lived on Maui long enough to have a lot of “native knowledge.” Our driver and the company in general display a lot of respect for local customs, and go out of their way to yield to “locals” in order to earn their trust. It would have been possible to drive at least a portion of the road ourselves, but most rental car agreements expressly prohibit driving a rental car on the “back side” of Haleakala, where the road is rough and unpaved in sections, there are many places where the road narrows to one lane, and several spots that are subject to flash flooding. Plus, I wanted to be able to look out the window! I was fortunate to be able to sit in the front seat, and although that left Kathy not sitting with me, she did have her own window seat farther back in the van. She liked it because she didn’t have to navigate! I got some nice “out the window” photos of the road that I would not have gotten otherwise.

Wailua Falls, in Haleakala National Park, along the Road to Hana near Hana, Hawaii
Wailua Falls, in Haleakala National Park, along the Road to Hana near Hana, Hawaii
Kailani Flower Farm, along the Hana Highway near Hana, Hawaii

Touring the Road to Hana with an experienced operator is really the way to go. I might opt for a 4×4 tour where we were the only passengers, in order to be able to stop at more of the photo spots that could not accommodate a larger vehicle. We swapped places on the road with a number of them, and frequently saw them pulled off in places that would have made for great viewpoints. It’s all part of the compromise of travel, and overall we had a great tour and it was a fun and educational experience!

Black sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park near Hana, Hawaii
Black sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park near Hana, Hawaii
Black sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park near Hana, Hawaii
Pua’a Ka’a Falls in Pua’a Ka’a State Park. On the Road to Hana near Hai’ku, Hawaii
“Halfway to Hana” banana bread and snack stand along the Hana Highway near Haiku, Hawaii
“Halfway to Hana” banana bread and snack stand along the Hana Highway near Haiku, Hawaii
“Halfway to Hana” banana bread and snack stand along the Hana Highway near Haiku, Hawaii
“Halfway to Hana” banana bread and snack stand along the Hana Highway near Haiku, Hawaii

The House Of The Sun

Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii. In the distance are Mauna Kea (left) and Mauna Loa (right) on the Big Island of Hawaii

A visit to Maui would not really be complete without a trek to the highest point, the dormant volcano known as Haleakalā, or “the house of the sun.”

Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

In Hawaiian folklore, the crater at the summit of Haleakalā was home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui. According to the legend, Maui’s grandmother helped him capture the sun and force it to slow its journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day.

Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

The tourist literature would have you believe that the “proper” time to visit Haleakalā is at sunrise. But with sunrise around 6:30am, a 2-hour drive to the top with a need to get there early to ensure a parking spot, a 2 or 3am departure time would have been necessary. And with a partner who doesn’t do windy roads or mornings (especially windy roads in the morning!) the sunset option was the better choice! 🙂

View of the Visitor Center parking area from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
View of the Haleakala Visitor Center from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Views of the Haleakala Crater from the Pā Ka‘oao Trail. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii. In the distance are Mauna Kea (left) and Mauna Loa (right) on the Big Island of Hawaii

We did a tour with a professional driver, which for a first-timer or anyone a little nervous about the winding roads is probably the way to go. If I have a chance to go back, however, I would opt to drive myself, getting there earlier then staying well past sunset to see the stars come out. But that’s me, and for most people that would mean missing dinner! As it was, I was the last person on the bus. Although I was not late (I always promise a driver that I will always be last but that I will not be late! 😉 ) all of the other passengers were anxiously waiting for me, and I had barely gotten to my seat when the bus started to move. Sheesh! Of course, I was the only 1 of the 2 or 3 passengers out of 16 that had a real camera, and the only one with a tripod!

Sunset from Haleakala Visitor Center, Haleakala National Park, Maui
Sunset from Haleakala Visitor Center, Haleakala National Park, Maui
Sunset from Haleakala Visitor Center, Haleakala National Park, Maui. The near mountains are the West Maui mountains, in the distance is the island of Moloka‘i

The one thing that might be better about sunrise, is that depending on your vantage point you could compose the rising sun with the crater in the foreground. But since the crater is in shadow in all but the middle of the day when the sun is overhead, it would still be a chancy shot. As it was, I had to rely on a bit of processing magic to balance the highlights and shadows of the photographs I made.

Observatory and scientific instruments near the summit of Haleakala. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii. Our guide told us that the stucture on the left is part of the ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. The map says it is the ‘Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing Observatory’

So our visit to Haleakalā was just one of the many things that made our Maui adventure a memorable one. I didn’t actually take too many photographs, but the ones I did take I am pretty happy with!

Sunset from Haleakala Visitor Center, Haleakala National Park, Maui.

How Do You Pronounce Hali’imaile?

Pineapples Galore! Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii

At first glance, Hawaiian words, especially names, can be difficult to grasp. I’m still no expert, but it’s actually pretty easy when you pay attention. All of the letters are pronounced, and the vowels are pronounced only one way. The hardest part was parsing out a name like “Alanui Ke’ali’i” (ala-NEW-e kay-ah-LI-i) or “Upper Hamakuapoko Road” (hama-kua-PO-ko) in the 5 seconds between when you could read it on the road sign and when you passed it!

Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii

When we first started planning our trip, we knew that there were several places we wanted to visit around a place called Hali’imaile. We jokingly referred to it as “Holy Moly,” but not wanting to sound like ignorant tourists we decided to make an effort to learn how to pronounce the words property. Of course most of these Hawaiian words also have significant meaning, but we weren’t prepared to figure that out. When it mattered, a driver or guide would tell us the meaning!

So what is in Hali’imaile? First, it is the home of Maui Gold Pineapple Company. They are very proud of their home-grown pineapple in Maui, to the extent that they generally don’t sell beyond the island. Their fruit is sold all over the island, and wherever someone served pineapple, it was likely Maui Gold. But their picking method requires that the fruit be sold and used within 5 days for optimum freshness. Beyond that it gets turned into juice and used at the distillery that is conveniently right across the street! Ever had pineapple vodka? It’s pretty good!

We did a tour of the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm with a guide named Mo, who has lived in Maui for about 20 years, moving from California. A lot of people in Hawaii are from elsewhere, and now we know why! Mo talked with a confidence that sounded like he could be one of the owners, but I suspect that he is just a knowledgeable and enthusiastic employee. He did a nice tour, showing us pineapples in various stages of growth, how to make new plants from old pineapples, and slicing a fresh picked pineapple for us to taste.  Yummy! After the tour, we were all offered pre-boxed pineapples that were carry-on friendly. We declined since we weren’t leaving for over a week. And we got plenty of already-cut pineapple in other places!

Pineapples Galore! Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Mo, our tour guide, slicing a fresh pineapple for tasting. Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Pineapples Galore! Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii, Hawaii

After the pineapple farm tour we visited the Hali’imaile Distilling Company. Their main product is vodka made from pineapple juice. Because vodka is generally odorless with a neutral flavor, it can be hard to distinguish tastes, but the Pau Vodka had just a hint of pineapple sweetness. Even the Bourbon Girl liked it! They also make a flavored rum using local ingredients including Kona coffee, a whiskey that is made from blending Kentucky Bourbon with some local hooch, and a gin made with Hawaiian botanicals. We didn’t bring home any of their souvenirs, although we did make a point of seeking out cocktails made from their spirits!

Maui Pineapple Tour at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile Distilling Company near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile Distilling Company near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile Distilling Company near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile Distilling Company near Hali’imaile, Hawaii

Also in Hali’imaile is the Hali’imaile General Store. No longer an actual store, it is the name of a restaurant owned by James Beard Award recipient and celebrity chef Bev Gannon. We had lunch there and the poke’ was excellent! 😉

Hali’imaile General Store restaurant near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile General Store restaurant near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile General Store restaurant near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Hali’imaile General Store restaurant near Hali’imaile, Hawaii

So how do you say Hali’imaile? Sound it out: holly-e-ma-EE-lay. Now you know Hawaiian! 🙂

Former Wells Fargo Bank at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii
Former gas station at the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm near Hali’imaile, Hawaii

The Myths of Maui Luau

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii

We had 5 specific things we wanted to do in Maui, besides lounge by the pool and have Tiki drinks. 😉 We wanted to go to a Luau, see sunset on Haleakala, go on a whale watch, drive (ride!) the Road to Hana, and see the big waves on the North Coast. Anything else we did would be a bonus. We did a lot!

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii

Luaus are very popular with tourists to Hawaii, and there are many to choose from. Our travel agent recommended the Myths of Maui Luau, which from what I could gather is a smaller event, but still very good. We heard lots of comments from folks on our other tours, and of course everyone chose the one they chose for some reason, and generally thought theirs was the best. But I’m pretty sure they are all good!

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii

All luaus will have food, and although the authenticity of the food may vary a bit, it is all pretty good. The pork that was served at our dinner was pit cooked, as they do in Hawaii. The fish, though, was not local. It was some kind of Asian fish that is common to the island, but it was not caught off the shores of any Hawaiian island. Oh, well.

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii. Yes, it’s a little noisy – ISO 12800!

The performers were excellent. There were only a dozen or so, and with costume and prop changes that managed to tell a number of the stories that make up the history and culture of Maui. The narrator explained what they were doing and why, and that made it very interesting.

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii

We had sprung for ‘VIP’ seating, which gave us a table that was literally ‘front and center.’ It was a perfect spot to photograph the performers, although there were times when I could have used a wider lens – they were that close!

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii

We really enjoyed the show. I took lots of pictures, especially at the end with the fire performance. It was quite impressive – we could feel the heat coming off the torches – I can only imagine how hot they would have been to hold. I have no idea how one would learn to do that, but am certain that it involves lots of practice, and more than a few burned limbs!

Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii
Myths of Maui Luau in Lahaina, Hawaii

The Peak Design Tripod – A Mini Review

Folded view

I think we would all agree that there is no “perfect” tripod, any more than there is a perfect camera bag, or a single do-everything lens. Kathy likes to remind me that there is no such thing as a too-large diamond 😉 and the same might generally hold true for tripods. But sometimes a tripod can be a little too large, particularly for travel.

A few years ago I sold my older and smaller Gitzo tripod, which was pretty good for travel, ending up with just a Big A$$ RRS tripod and ball head as my only camera support. And that is great for a large majority of our travel, as lately most of our travel has been by car, and it is no big deal to make room for a B.A. tripod. But while the B.A. will kinda fit in a large suitcase, it is really overkill and takes up a lot of space. And yes, I could check it separately with our other luggage, but that means another bag, etc. Enter the interest in a travel-specific tripod.

I had read about the Peak Design tripod, but when it came out I dismissed it because I thought it was pretty pricey, I already had a really good tripod and had not come across a situation where I really wanted something smaller. But when I started thinking about our Hawaii trip I wondered about buying something more suitable for packing. I mentioned this to Kathy, and being the wiser of the two of us, she asked me if it was possible to rent one. Well, duh-huh! So I checked out Lensrentals and sure enough, they have them to rent, for a (large-ish) fraction of what one would cost to buy. But the cost was still less than buying a cheap tripod that I probably would not be happy with.

OK, so much for the long-winded intro.

Folded view 2

I rented the carbon fiber model, which sells for $600. It’s a little lighter than the aluminum model, and I’m sold on the advantages of carbon fiber in a tripod. It folds up into a neat little package that takes up about the same space as a re-useable water bottle. And it comes in a nice cloth carrying case with a detachable shoulder strap.

My biggest concern was whether it would be stiff enough. I tested it at home and was impressed by how solid it felt, even though the lower legs are pretty skinny. The only time I had trouble with movement in the field was a few times when I extended the center column. But I hung my backpack on the hook and it settled right down.

My second concern was whether the tripod would be tall enough to prevent me from having to do contortions to see the viewfinder. I’m proudly old school and tend to keep the screen folded closed and compose through the viewfinder. But it was tall enough that even extended the minimum amount (when closed, the head is nested on top of the legs, so you have to raise the center column slightly in order to be able to adjust the head) I was easily able to use the viewfinder. No problemo!

The leg locks are really cool – they are grouped together on each leg so you can pretty much open them with one movement. On my rental model they were a little stiff, but they can be adjusted with the included tool, which I would probably do if I owned one. The legs generally extend easily, although on my model one of the sections was a little stiff, as though it had been bent.

Nice leg lock system

The camera mount – it’s not exactly a ball head although it functions like one – takes a little getting used to but is very user friendly and holds the camera securely. I used an L-bracket instead of the included camera plate, and was pleased with that combination. I don’t think I would like to use the stock plate with the camera “flopped over” for vertical shots. There is an option to replace the standard head with another head, but that would make the tripod longer and kind of defeats the purpose of the design.

Closeup of head

I’ve been using Peak Design straps for several years and have been very happy with them. I don’t yet own one of their backpacks, but am seriously considering one. I thought the early versions were kind of ugly, but the newer ones look pretty nice. This tripod is elegantly designed, well made and I can imagine it being an “only” tripod for many people. Unless you are shooting with big glass, in high winds or in rushing streams, it would probably suit most uses. I especially like it with the X-T4, even with the 55-200 lens.

Will I buy one? Possibly. I was quite impressed and can see me using one again. If I had one I could take it just about anywhere without worrying about making space. Would I replace my B.A. unit? Probably not, but if I owned a Peak Design tripod and got used to using it, you never know.

Extended view

I didn’t take my own pictures of the tripod – these are all borrowed from B&H. Hopefully no one will mind.