The town of Grand Lake sits on the western end of Rocky Mountains National Park, and is the gateway to the park for those entering on the west side of the continental divide.
The lake known as Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in Colorado and lies at an elevation of 8367 feet. Grand Lake is known as the headwaters of the Colorado River.
We spent three nights in Grand Lake, and used it as a base for our forays into Rocky Mountains National Park. It has more of an “outdoorsy” feel than some of the other towns we visited, and we enjoyed it very much.
We were a little concerned when we found out that our motel didn’t have air conditioning. There are few places where we would want to not have it. But the first night we were there the temperature dipped into the 30s, so all we needed to do was keep the windows open!
Our plan for the first full day in Colorado was to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans, and the mountain received about 8 inches of snow the night before our visit. It was interesting because it poured rain in Manitou Springs the previous afternoon, and when the skies cleared it was clear everywhere except the top of Pikes Peak, which was still shrouded in clouds.
When we got to the entrance that morning the ranger warned us that the road was not open to the top and offered us the chance to change our minds But we were there and wanted to see what we could see, so decided to take our chances.
The entrance part of the road is at an elevation of 7,800 feet – 1,000 feet above Mount Mitchell, the highest point in North Carolina! The lower part of the road is just like driving any mountain road – winding and steep in spots with a few nice viewpoints. Beautiful views, for sure!
We spent some time at Crystal Reservoir Visitor Center at Mile 6, which is at 9,160 feet. That was our first view of where Pikes Peak was, although we couldn’t see it, as it was still buried in clouds. The ranger there said that the road had been opened a little farther up, but that they still didn’t know if they would be able to open it to the top. We decided to press on and take our chances.
The higher elevations are where things get interesting. There are very few places to pull off, and on the day we visited most of the pulloffs were socked in with clouds. We made it to the overlook at Mile 18 – known as Sheep Sign because there is a sign there about Bighorn Sheep – where they had the road blocked. The ranger there said it was still snowing above and not safe to drive, so that was as far as we could go. It was snowing on us as we talked to him!
We had a little bit of vertigo and dizziness at the higher elevations. This is normal, and wasn’t helped by the fact that we couldn’t see anything to orient ourselves! This feeling subsided as we returned back below 10,000 feet, and we never had another problem with elevation the entire rest of the vacation. For that we were very thankful.
I did manage to get a few photos to document our visit. We’ll have to plan and visit again sometime when there is less of a chance of snow. We thought June was late enough, but maybe it will need to be July or August next time!
A group of co-workers and I often go out to lunch on Fridays. This past Friday we had a little larger group than usual, and while we were waiting for the elevator, one of the guys said, “gee, we may need to take a bus.” And I replied, “maybe we need to call an Uber.” The resulting exchange went something like this (paraphrased):
Me: We could call an Uber and have them bring a van.
40-Something Somewhat Tech Aware Guy: Have you used Uber?
50-Something Less Than Open Minded Guy: What the hell’s an Uber?
Me: I’ve used Uber several times, it’s great. Works well. You just pull up the app, it tells you where the nearest car is, tell it where you want to go and they come.
40-Something Privacy Sensitive Guy: How do you pay them? Do they have your credit card information?
60-Something Fox News Addict: Don’t you worry about getting kidnapped or murdered? What kind of background check do they do?
Elevator stops at another floor.
30-Something Hipster Guy gets on, someone we know. He hears the conversation and asks, “you guys talking about Uber? I work for them, good way to earn some extra money.”
We went on and took two cars. 50-Something Less Than Open Minded Guy wanted to drive because he doesn’t like to ride (also a Control Freak?) and 60-Something Fox News Addict drove (needed to get a Rush fix on the way).
That 30-second elevator conversation reminded me of how different our impressions of something can differ depending on our perspective. Our recent conversation about cameras is another example of how where we come from can impact our impression of something, our point of view and our opinion.
Kathy & I recently decided to take a long weekend to Waynesville, North Carolina, and I decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to try out the second of the two cameras that I have been wanting to try. While I wasn’t (and still am not) looking to replace my Canon gear, I have been wanting to try a few of the “state of the art” mirrorless cameras. I decided a while ago that of all the cameras to choose from, I was most likely to choose between the Fuji XT1 and the Olympus OMD EM1.
Back in January I rented a Fuji XT1 from Lensrentals and tried it out over a weekend in Charlotte. I wrote about the experience in a couple of posts, here and here. So for the weekend in Waynesville I decided to rent the other camera, an Olympus OMD EM1. Yes, I know the punctuation isn’t quite correct, but it’s too hard to get that alphabet soup arranged correctly!
Whenever the time comes to replace my current camera system, I know that my two priorities are going to be image quality and handling. The 5D Mark III checks all the boxes for image quality, and after 12+ years of using Canon DSLRs the handling and layout of the menus is second nature to me. My only real reason for giving that up would be to find comparable image quality and good handling in a camera that is smaller and lighter. I can get used to just about any menu system given enough time, so I’m not too concerned about that.
My impression from the Fuji was that I really liked the files. I felt like the image quality was very good, and that it would likely be a suitable replacement for the full sized DSLR. My only real objection was that the camera felt too small for my hands, and I never felt like I had a secure and comfortable grip on it. That could probably be solved with one of the accessory grips sold by Fuji and others, but I didn’t get a chance to include that in my rental. Since January, Fuji has also come out with a larger “pro” level lens that might give me something more substantial to hang on to.
Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, I had had a feeling that when I tried the Olympus I would really like how the camera handled but that I wouldn’t like the files as much. But I’ve been a fan of the more square aspect ratio of the 4/3 cameras since my 6×7 medium format days, so I knew that would be a plus. From the moment I opened the box, assembled the camera and lens and held it in my hands, I had the feeling that “this is it.” In fact, the entire weekend I was daydreaming about how I could get the Canon gear boxed up and sent off to trade it all in on the Olympus and a supply of lenses. I really liked the way it handled, and other than the 30 minutes I spent trying to figure out how to get the lens out of Manual Focus mode (little did I realize that the Olympus 12-40 has a “push-pull” clutch mechanism to change between auto and manual focus) and the well-documented frustration with the menu hierarchy, it was a breeze to use.
As luck would have it, I came home from a nice relaxing long weekend into a hectic week so my time to evaluate the files immediately was quite limited. I boxed up the camera and sent it back to Lensrentals, and downloaded the files to my computer. I snuck a quick peek at a few of the photos before heading off to bed, and was astonished to find that my initial impression was “yuck!” I even told Kathy – who had been patiently listening to me sing the praises of the Olympus all weekend – that my initial reaction was “leave your credit card in your wallet.” She was as surprised to hear it as I was to say it.
I’ve now had a chance to spend some quality time with the files in Lightroom, and my impression has improved significantly. I’m going to try to tread very carefully here, because (a) I’m only trying to describe my experience and am not trying to write a comprehensive review, (b) I know a lot of people whose photography and opinions I respect who use the Olympus, and I’m not trying to question anyone else’s opinion, and (c ) I am by no means a qualified camera tester.
In general I don’t find the image quality to be bad or anything, but my impression is that the files do not have the contrast, sharpness and color rendition that I get from my Canon cameras and that I saw in the Fuji files. They seem to be a little noisier than the Fuji files and I don’t feel that they have the dynamic range of the Canon or Fuji files. I suspect that this is due to the smaller sensor as much as anything. They seemed to require a little more sharpening and noise reduction than the Canon and Fuji files, and don’t seem to respond as well to large adjustments.
Admittedly I have not spent nearly as much time with either the Fuji or the Olympus files as I have with my Canon files, and I have processed a lot of Canon files over the years. I may have “gotten lucky” with the Fuji files, and given more time I might find the key to the Olympus files. But based on my limited experience with both of them if I had to make a choice I would probably have to choose the Fuji over the Olympus at this point in time. I would just need to find a solution to the lack of a grip, which I think would be pretty easy to accomplish.
I’ll undoubtedly have more to say on the subject over the next week or two, and I will certainly post some additional photos and commentary as I get to them. I might actually bring myself to make a purchase at some point in the near future. But we have a big trip coming up in June and there is no compelling reason to rock the boat. Kathy & I will be taking our first-ever trip to Colorado in June, and I’m planning to go with the tried and true Canon kit. I know it well, am confident that it will give me the results I want, and other than schlepping it through the airports we will be doing most of our travel by car, so the size and weight will not be as big of a factor.
If you were hoping for a little bias confirmation bias, sorry for the disappointment. 😉
Kathy and I love to travel, of course, and while we aren’t the “world travelers” that some have made us out to be, we’ve seen our share of the world and we spend a lot of time talking about what kind of travel we want to do. We have our lists of places we “should” go, and all of those have varying levels of interest and priority. And of course there are places that we would love to go but probably never will. Some of our favorite memories are from places where most people would never bother to go. Of all the places we’ve been, a trip to Kentucky a few years ago still comes to mind as one of our favorite experiences. Who’da thunk?
Like a lot of things, what we do and what we enjoy has to come from within. We need to be able to take the time to figure out what means the most to us. What are our priorities, rather than a heavily cliché-ed “bucket list” developed by some magazine publisher to sell more advertising. Who we are and how we feel is a product of our own existence and our own experiences. Comfort level has a lot to do with what we are willing to try. Not everyone has that voice that tells us to step out of our comfort zones. But for those of us who do, we definitely need to listen.
Like a lot of people, I’m often tempted by the idea of “if I knew then what I know now.” But I try to keep a lid on those thoughts, because ultimately I didn’t know then what I know now, and my entire life’s experience ultimately contributes to where and who I am today. I can’t change the past, so the best approach for me is to look ahead, because that’s the only thing I have any degree of influence on – to make the best of what I have and who I am.
In many ways, this idea of comfort zone has parallels with the way we see the world. For those of us who are observers, we see things that other people don’t see, and sometimes others see things we don’t see. And we travel the same way. When I first started doing photography seriously I would sometimes get up in the middle of dinner, afraid that I was going to “miss” sunset. I’ve since learned that I’m always missing something, and that helps me reconcile the idea that I’m not going to get to “do” everything.
Kathy & I are very close to the point where we can decide to walk away from our corporate lives. Quite often we find ourselves feeling that that day can’t come soon enough. There are other days when things seem to go along fairly well and it feels like collecting a few more paychecks won’t be all that difficult. The difficult thing is going to be determining when the right time might be to call it quits. We have established many checkpoints that will tell we’re on the path. Some of those we have met, many we’re close on, but a few major ones have yet to be realized. But we have a plan and hope that when the time comes we’ll have the guts to say, “NOW.”
For me, my primary goal for what I want to do in retirement is to stay retired! If I end up doing some kind of work I’d like it to be for personal satisfaction rather than to pay the bills. The good thing is that there are a lot of rewarding things we can do that don’t cost an enormous amount of money. While they may not check other peoples’ boxes for fulfillment, they might be just fine if that was the alternative.
We’ve never paid a lot of attention to the “if money were no object” scenarios because it was always our intention for that not to be an issue. Not that we expect to never have to think about money, but the idea all along has been to have provided for a level of financial security that would allow us to continue living the life we have become comfortable with. And if that doesn’t work out, I suspect we’ll figure out how to travel and buy wine with whatever we do have! So for now, we hope to hold on to the jobs we’ve got for as long as we can, and every paycheck is a victory of sorts. Murphy’s Law would suggest that as soon as we decide for one of us to stay home, the remaining job we’d be counting on would go away.
For a lot of people, their biggest fear with retirement is that they won’t have anything to do. That is the thing that I worry about the least! Whenever we decide to walk out of that corporate world, I know that there is a whole lot of world out there to explore. And while I don’t have a chance of ever seeing it all, Kathy & I both plan to make a point of enjoying whatever we do see as much as we possibly can. That doesn’t take a list, and it doesn’t take a lot of planning, but I think it is a pretty good goal.
One technique that I’ve found works well for abstracts is to put my lens into manual and deliberately throw it out of focus. It’s funny, but as much as I love shooting abstracts I often forget to try that. When I was looking for an abstract for this month’s wallpaper, I wanted something that was about fall color. I came across a lot of shots, but then I remembered these. I only did a few of them but need to do them more often. I love the effect, as it is a lot like the results I get when I shoot moving water. But instead of the moving water making the patterns they come from the shades and tones in the scene.
Fall seems to be coming a little early around here. The weather in general has been very strange the last month or two. I hope everyone is able to enjoy fall wherever you are, or spring for those who are “upside down” on this earth 😉 .
This month’s wallpaper continues the abstract theme. I don’t have many landscape motion abstracts, and the ones I do have tend to be vertical images. Those would make good tablet or phone wallpaper but not so much on the computer screen. I do have a lot of moving water abstracts that I really like, primarily because I spend a lot more time shooting water at the beach than shooting mountains. Plus, making good motion landscapes is hard! It seems that I have a lot more luck getting water abstracts that I like. But no matter.
This image is titled Flat Rock, Morning, was one of my first print sales a few years ago and continues to be one of my most popular photographs. So out of the archives it comes to live for a month on your desktop if you so choose!
Kathy & I will be headed to the beach later this month, so don’t be surprised to see some more moving water photos in June!
Generally when I am in the process of taking a photograph, I have a basic idea what it is going to look like when I am finished processing it. When I’m sitting at the computer working on an image, it just sort of “develops itself.” Most of the time the direction I need to go with an becomes pretty clear to me. I open up an image in Lightroom, work on it a bit, and after a few basic tweaks it is pretty much done. Unless I’m going to make a print, there isn’t a whole lot more I do.
This particular photograph has me a little perplexed. I processed it exactly how I expected to. It’s a little more processed than usual, but there’s quite a lot of dynamic range going on here. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get comfortable with it. There’s nothing really “wrong” with it, in fact a lot of people would probably wish that they had taken it themselves. But for some reason I am struggling with it.
It’s a typical Cowee Mountains Overlook sunset. It’s got a nice sky, detail in the foreground, and there’s a lot going on. Too much, I think. It is a very “busy” image, as opposed to a lot of my photographs that are a bit more simplified. I’ve definitely processed it a lot more than I usually process an image. Maybe that’s it, I’m not sure.
I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that it doesn’t seem like it’s mine. It’s the sort of landscape photograph that I’ve taken for years, but I just can’t seem to connect with this one. No, I didn’t switch memory cards with someone by mistake, but it’s just such a departure from the type of photography I’ve been doing recently that I may just have to spend some time with it to figure it out. In the mean time, it just doesn’t feel like my style, and I find that interesting.
I’ve written lately about how I feel like I am in a bit of a slump, photographically. Many readers have made comments along the lines of “gee, I’d love to have a slump like that.” But I’ve recently come to realize what I mean by what I’ve written. What I’ve pretty much decided is that doing the kind of photography I like to do requires an investment of time, energy and dedication that, for a number of reasons, I just haven’t been committing to this year. And this applies not just to the shooting, but to the processing and printing parts of the process as well.
As much as I’d like to think I can, I can’t just show up at a place and take meaningful photographs. I can take photographs for sure, and many of them may be good technically. But to create photographs with meaning requires more time. I need to get to a place, get my mind and my heart tuned in to what is happening, and sometimes just sit for a while until I start hearing the voices. “Being open to the gifts” is what my friend Les Saucier likes to say. I can’t just pull the magic out of my camera bag, toss it out there and expect to take meaningful photographs.
Mostly what this requires is an investment of time. Time partly to allow things to happen, but also time to get to a place in plenty of time for whatever is happening. Sunsets are a good example. I can’t just show up at a spot 10 minutes before sunset, pull out the camera and start taking amazing photos. Sometimes the best photos come well before the actual setting of the sun, sometimes as much as an hour before, such as when the sun is moving behind a low-lying layer of clouds and casting sunbeams, or highlighting ridgelines as they recede into the distance. Often by the time the sun sets all the magic is gone. Occasionally, the magic is just beginning at sunset, as the real color begins to appear after the sun has gone below the horizon. But I need time to “tune in,” to see what is happening, and to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it.
The other way that my photography requires an investment of time is in having plenty of time to enjoy myself. Kathy & I enjoy good meals at nice restaurants, both at home and when we travel. That generally doesn’t involve sitting at an overlook with cold chicken and potato salad. Sometimes it does, but not usually. So in order to do a little bit of both, it’s often necessary to have more than just 24 hours in a place in order to really do it justice and to find that balance between sunset on the Parkway and dinner in Waynesville (or wherever). One of the ways that this year has differed from previous years is that we have been taking more 2-day weekends and fewer 3 or 4-day weekends. This results in less time in a specific place, and I find that this takes time away from everything. I don’t like to feel like the clock is ticking while I am photographing. And the smaller window of opportunity that is dictated by a shorter weekend makes that clock tick like a parade of Harleys going by! With less time, success is more dependent on luck than creativity, and I don’t work so well when I am depending on luck.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means several things. First and foremost, I think it means that I need to do a better job of managing my time so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to do the kind of photographic work I find most inspiring while also finding time to do the other things I love. Photography and fine dining aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Some times of the year they are, so I’ll need to work that out. Sometimes it will mean a nice but late dinner, and sometimes it will mean cold chicken on the Parkway. The other thing it means is possibly traveling less frequently but for longer periods of time. And perhaps staying longer in one place instead of trying to see multiple locations and moving around constantly. I generally shy away from what I refer to as the photographic “death march” and don’t do a lot of good photography while I’m driving down the road. Give me a place to sit and chill for a while and I’m more likely to get inspired.
I’ve done some good work this past year and hope to do some more before it’s done. This year has been a little weird for a lot of reasons, and I’m looking forward to settling back into my usual routine next year. We’ll see where that leads, but I’m hoping it will lead to more fulfilling photography for me, and less of my whining about it to Kathy!
Kathy & I visited Marion, NC this past Saturday during their annual Mountain Glory Festival. This particular festival weekend is the only Saturday that Bruce’s Fabulous Foods, one of our favorite eateries, is open. The are typically a Monday-Friday lunch-only restaurant. We get there as often as we can, but their schedule and ours don’t often overlap.
After our yummy lunch, we spent some time walking Main Street and checking out the vendors and performers. We came across this guy, The Sidewalk Juggler, also known as Kyle Brown, who is a professional juggler. This guy is good!
I think the thing that impressed me the most was the effortlessness with which he performed his act, smiling and joking with his audience all the time. It’s clear that this is someone who truly loves his job. This is evident not just from the constant smile on his face, but also because only love for your profession would inspire someone to work the number of hours that he obviously had to work in order to learn to do what he does.
This is hard work, and about as tough as it can get, I think. Completely dependent on the generosity of others through their tips, his performance truly makes or breaks his livelihood. But talk about a portable skill! This guy can work anyplace where there are people! As I understand it from his Facebook page, his territory is ‘Western North Carolina.’ Check out his page and his YouTube videos.
My photos hardly do him justice, but I managed to capture a few frames that show the passion and concentration that this guy obviously has for his work. I didn’t really appreciate it while I was taking the photos, but later on I thought about it and realized what a dedicated effort someone like this guy has to put into his profession.