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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.”
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.
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! 🙂
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t take my own pictures of the tripod – these are all borrowed from B&H. Hopefully no one will mind.
When we travel I seldom go anywhere without my camera. Even in our hotel at breakfast I sometimes manage to find some interesting things to aim my camera at. One morning on our recent cruise I walked around the ship, looking for interesting little scenes. The car I posted at Christmas was an obvious subject, but sometimes it is the not-so-obvious things that make the most interesting photographs. I’m often aware of people looking at me and wondering what I am taking a picture of. Sometimes they ask.
We were somewhat disappointed with our time in both New Hampshire and Vermont, but it wasn’t the states’ fault. A low pressure system decided to visit about the same time we did, and other than a little sun at the beginning, it was mostly rain, fog and general cuck the entire time we were there.
Our first visit to New Hampshire actually occurred when we passed through the twenty-ish mile strip of the state that sits along the coast between Massachusetts and Maine. We stopped for breakfast at The Airport Cafe in North Hampton, which as you would guess, is a cafe at a small airport. One of the highlights there is a track attached to the ceiling that carries a parade of model aircraft around the restaurant, much like you would see a train running in some place. It was very clever, and from what little I know about conveyor systems, appeared to be very well designed. If you ever go there, I recommend the Cinnamon Streusel French Toast. Sugar coma on a plate! 🙂
After all of the lighthouses on the coast, it was nice to see something different: COVERED BRIDGES! We had identified a number of them along our drive from Asticou to North Conway, where we had arranged to spend a couple of nights. We visited bridges in or near the towns of Ossipee and Conway (Conway has at least three!).
The highlight of our New Hampshire visit was a ride on the Mount Washington Cog Railway, to the top of Mount Washington. When we woke up that morning, it was about 40 degrees and starting to rain. When we got to the parking area for the railway base station, it was 35 degrees and raining harder. We brought everything we could bring to try and keep warm, and it was just barely doing the job.
As we approached the top of the mountain, the rain was turning to snow and sleet, and at the top it was about 31 degrees in fog and a wintry mix with a 40-50 mph wind. Everything was covered in ice, including the ground, railings and walkways. Yikes!
We first went into the visitor center to get our bearings, then decided to try and find the actual summit. We went out on to an “observation deck” where the only thing you could observe were the ice-covered viewing machines! Finallly, through the fog we could see people climbing up some rocks about 20 yards from us and realized that must be the summit. So carefully made our way up, slipping and sliding as we went. The cool part was that everyone was helping each other, lending a hand or a boost when necessary. A couple in front of us was taking turns taking each others’ photo with their phone, and when I offered to take a photo of the two of them, they readily accepted. I then handed my camera to them and they shot a few of us. I was a little nervous handing my camera over in those slippery conditions, but it turned out fine. Other than getting a little wet from the snow and feeling like we were getting blown off the mountain, it was truly a memorable experience!
After returning to our car, we then explored the area, looking for photographs in the fog and rain. We then drove a portion the fabled Kancamagus Highway, but of course couldn’t see the views that make it so famous! That night, tired and chilled after an eventful day, we opted to have dinner in our motel room, stopping at a grocery store for meat, cheese, olives and wine. 🙂
The following day we headed toward Vermont, taking the “long way” through Laconia and Belmont before crossing the state line at Norwich, Vermont.
For years I have been seeing photographs of a lovely bridge, reflected in a pond and surrounded by – depending on time of the year – snow and Christmas decorations, spring flowers and fall colors. Karin Pinkham is a Maine photographer who has made several splendid photographs of this bridge. I didn’t ask for her permission to show her photos here, but several examples can be found on her website: Flag, Flowers, Fall, More Fall, Winter. Spend some time on her site – she does beautiful work.
I knew that this bridge was in Somesville, somewhere near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park in Maine in a place called Somesville Museum and Gardens. I imagined it as this idyllic place, hidden in a quiet forest with hiking paths and benches for contemplation and rest. Actually, it is right beside a busy road!
In most of the photos I have seen, the road is cropped out or well hidden behind greenery or with a low perspective. There’s a little parking lot, enough for about 10 cars, and there is always someone pulling in or out. It’s one of those places that few people actually look for but many people recognize. We were actually driving through town on our way to somewhere else, planning to find the bridge on our way back. When I saw it I said, “that’s IT?” But of course it was, just not in the context I had expected it to be.
The lesson for me is a reminder that not everything is what you imagine it to be. The power of photography, and particularly of composition, is to make a photograph of what something is, often without reference to its surroundings. It was an interesting place to see with my own eyes. I was not there at an ideal time, condition-wise, but I did make a few photographs to illustrate my points. I’m glad we took the time to check it out!
After our time in Hyannis we headed toward Rockport, Massachusetts. On our way there, we decided to stop in Plymouth to see Plymouth Rock and Mayflower II. I’m pretty sure the rock is just a rock that someone carved a date on, but the Mayflower II is quite impressive. We didn’t go aboard, choosing to not take the time or pay the admission fee. So I just took a few photos from outside. We also stopped by train stations in Easton and Stoughton, and visited the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lincoln where we learned about the opening battles of the Revolutionary War.
Continuing with our small coastal town theme, we looked for a place to stay in a town that was walkable, scenic and situated in a location that was close to other things we wanted to do. We liked the Cape Ann area of Massachusetts, as it looked to be fairly quiet but located in an area with lots of choices. We eventually settled on Rockport.
The town of Rockport is situated at the end of Cape Ann, on Sandy Bay. When I saw photos of the iconic fishing shack called Motif #1, I was instantly drawn there as a photographic destination. It’s about as cliche as you can get, often referred to as “the most often-painted building in America.” But what the heck? I’ll do a separate post on Motif #1, because there is a lot more to Rockport than just one building!
As we planned our trip, I realized that we would be arriving in Rockport on the day before a full moon. A little research led me to identify several good spots to catch the rising moon over the town, on the night before the official full moon. As it turned out, the inn we selected for our stay there was directly across the street from one of those places. Sweet!
While we were on Cape Ann, and one of the reasons we chose to stay there, we booked a whale watch cruise out of Gloucester. Gloucester is a much more commercial-oriented town, likely due to it having a more protected harbor area as compared to Rockport. That’s part of the reason we chose not to stay there. There are a number of places we could have chosen, but the more laid-back vibe of Rockport suited our needs better.
One of the great things for me about Rockport was the ability to get up and out before sunrise, walking around the town to take advantage of the many photographic opportunities. Besides the full moon and Motif #1, there was plenty of other subject matter. Mostly boats and boat stuff, but that was perfectly OK with me.
The one surprising and perhaps disappointing thing about our stay in Rockport was that many of the businesses had gone to off-season hours or closed completely. This was purportedly due to the lack of staffing, and while most places we visited appeared to be struggling a bit but managing, Rockport seemed to be impacted more by the lack of seasonal help.
It was most irritating that businesses did not keep their signage or their websites up to date. One restaurant we wanted to visit said they were open, but on the day we wanted to go they were closed. But the next night they were supposed to be closed, we walked by and they were open but full. We stopped at a restaurant on another night nearly an hour before closing time, but were turned away because they were understaffed. Across the street, another restaurant that was open was still welcoming walk-ins an hour after they were supposed to have closed.
One morning while I was out walking around I had planned to stop at a shop that was known for its strudel, hoping to surprise Kathy with a little treat for breakfast. Their website and sign on the door said they would be open, but they were not. So we had to forego the strudel and make other plans. First world problems, I know. 😉
Rockport is a nice little town. Now that we have “done” it I probably wouldn’t need to stay there again. There just isn’t that much to do, and maybe that’s the point. 😉 After our stay in Rockport, we headed north to spend 9 days in Maine. I have a lot to say about Maine! 🙂