Postcards from France

Vacations are good for the sole…

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Cheers…

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NYC - The Good, Bad & Not-So-Memorable

“I wake up every morning and say to myself,

I’m still in NY… thank you God.”

~Mayor Ed Koch ~

Times Square - NYC 2018

Times Square - NYC 2018

The Big Apple… organized chaos at its finest. You can lament about the ridiculous price of rent, congestion, noise and the endless amount of broken dreams. Or, you can relish the pure magic and energetic pulse of a city in perpetual motion.

What is not open for discussion is the endless array of photo opportunities. Everything from the architectural genius of the Manhattan skyline to the cultural diversity of Greenwich Village to the brilliant mind of Frederick Law Olmsted and his vision of Central Park.

Over the years, I’ve survived a plethora of NYC experiences. Most of them good and a few… let’s just say have been comical or frustrating.

Let me explain.

The first memory pertains to a street hustler. Basically, a clown dressed as the Statue of Liberty and silently charging ‘rent’ for anyone who wants a picture of him with his fake torch and NYC arrogance. On this particular evening, he was poaching the street corner opposite Radio City Music Hall. Standing on a milk crate afforded him an elevated perspective above the holiday crowds. I simply liked him in the foreground of my photo. I thought I could focus on him and blur Radio City Music Hall, or perhaps reverse the order and let him be an out of focus silhouette against he marquee. Either image seemed acceptable.

Every time I raised my camera to my eye though, he’d either turn his back or raise his arm to block his face. My original thought was this must be coincidental? I’m shooting with a short zoom lens and probably 20 yards away from him standing among of thousands of tourists. He can’t be turning because of me? However, as I learned, every time I raised my camera to shoot, he’d change his posture to alter (i.e. screw up) my image.

After this game continued for about 5-10 minutes, I walked up to the individual and explained what I was doing. In short, I wasn’t looking to have a picture taken with him (which lots of tourists do). Far from it. I simply wanted him as part of my wide angle holiday perspective.

He politely bent over from his perch and told me, “No money, no picture.” Hmmm…. was my first thought. Then I gathered my senses and in the spirit of Christmas thought, let me offer him $2 for his time. He again arrogantly responded with “There’s a $5 minimum.” This is where I lost my wonderful disposition and we exchanged a few pleasantries. I thought a wresting match was going to commence between me and the Lady of the Harbor… or at least the one standing in front of Radio City Music Hall on a milk crate.

Another historic and life changing event included having my car vandalized on 86th Street. The car being vandalized isn’t mind boggling for New York. If it never happened to a local, you’re more the exception than the norm. A sad fact of life. The terrifying part was the sudden realization that my large Tamrac camera bag missing from the trunk. This actually made me nauseous. For anyone who remembers these large bags, they allowed you to carry two of everything. This included almost every piece of camera equipment I owned at the time… two Nikon bodies, two flashes, several lenses and various accessories. Everything was gone in an instance.

This ordeal haunts me to this day. It was a violation of monumental proportions that occurred within a two hour time frame. I’m still jaded by this experience and to this day and leave nothing of value in my car when in NYC. You might say, I’m once burned & forever shy.

Regardless of a few poor memories, optimism wins out in the end. Life deals you a lemon now & then and you simply have to roll with it. You keep looking at the bright side of the picture.

So, without further rambling on my part, here are a few favorite images over the years (click to enlarge)…

Cheers…






For the Love of State Parks

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

~ John Muir ~

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As the young girl at the park entrance scanned my card, she politely stated, “I’m sorry mister, but your card expired.” I quickly realized I forgot to renew my New York State Empire Pass at the end of 2018. The annual renewal process formerly took place in March of each year. However, since the State transitioned from a window sticker to an ID card, the renewal period changed as well. Unfortunately for me, I’m a creature of habit to a certain extent and I can’t seem to get on-board with the new time frame.

So, it was back to the house to log into my New York State Parks account and pony up $75 for 2019.

This gem of a card is now transferable between vehicles. Gone are the days of separate registration for each car. This always seemed a bit silly to me as there is often more than one person in your family would like to join you for a walk, hike or bike ride. Thus, you had to consciously take the vehicle with the sticker in the window to avoid the $8 daily parking fee.

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State parks are truly magnificent - a real treasure. Thank goodness for forward thinking individuals like Edward Harriman and Robert Moses. In New York State alone, there is a plethora of parks, beaches, golf courses, etc, at your disposal. Your Empire Pass affords you access to any one of these locations. Here are a few NYS facts & figures:

  • 350,000 acres of public land

  • 215 State Parks

  • 67 developed beaches

  • 35 swimming pools

  • 27 marinas

  • 40 boat launch sites

  • 28 golf courses

From a photographers perspective, this represents a gold mine of opportunity. New York State has everything from beaches to mountains to skyscrapers. Whether you choose a day at Jones Beach, Lake Ontario or White Face Mountain, you have plenty of choices. Believe you me, there will never be a shortage of splendid scenery.

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Photographers can sometimes be a fickle lot and feel exotic travel destinations are the key to good imagery. It’s as though anything new will automatically ignite your inner Monet. This is soooo far from the truth it’s comical. New places can certainly be invigorating, but good photography starts with you and your personal vision. Opening your eyes to opportunity and seeing what is being presented to you is key. We’ve all heard the expression, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Often times, the opposite is true with photography and you’ll have to “Believe it to see it.”

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One of my all-time favorite parks is right down the street from where I live - Rockland Lake State Park. The 1,333 acre park includes a four mile lake, bike trail, large pool, two 18 hole golf courses and plenty of room to move. It’s a peaceful oasis for locals and a weekend getaway for NYC folks as it’s only 45 minutes north of Manhattan.

Four seasons provide a splendor of photographic differentiation and an endless amount of possibilities. The park is so close to me, I could walk or bike ride to the main entrance. However, transporting a camera, a few lenses and a tripod is more convenient in the car. Hence, the park pass!

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So, if you’re not a frequent user of your State park system, it may be time for a second look. However, if you’re a regular like myself, every visit is a true blessing and full of endless wonder.

Until next time…

Cheers

Marco Polo & Beyond...

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

~ Mark Twain ~

Old San Juan - Puerto Rico

Old San Juan - Puerto Rico

The opening quote is quite intriguing to me. It also confirms the worldly knowledge obtained from traveling… cultures, religions, convictions, etc.

I believe Mark Twain also said (and I paraphrase):

“If you never leave your own country, you never got past chapter one.”

As my own desire for extended travel continues its thought provoking ways, I marvel at those who made a lifestyle of gallivanting around the globe before me. Call it what you want… sightseeing, voyaging, navigating, trekking, expedition, etc… I’ve become fond of the terms Wanderlust and/or Vagabonding.

So much so, I recently read the book Vagabonding - An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel by Rolf Potts for a better understanding of the restless soul. It’s an incredibly thought provoking book and leaves plenty of ideas to ponder. A few wanderlust seeds have been planted in the creative side of my brain. Now I’m hoping the right side can figure out the financing and logistics!

The author defines Vagabonding as:

(1) The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time. (2) A privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasizes creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit. (3) A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible.

Statistically, it’s the 18-35 year old age group that treks for extended periods of time. It’s logical that young folks take a gap year between high school and college or take a year off between college and the real world. It’s simple math… no responsibilities = where do you want to go?

Youth is wasted on the young… as my dad use to say.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

Many a travel book has been written over the years. Some modern day classics would include; The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, On the Road by Jack Kerouac and A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson. Before the choir chimes in, I’m sure there are plenty others worthy of mention, but I’ll keep a short list for simplicity sake.

One of the all-time classics from yesteryear would surely include; Livres des Marveille du Monde or The Travels of Marco Polo… published around the year 1300. It covers the 17 year old as he logs 15,000 miles and spends 24 years on the Silk Road traversing various parts of Asia and China before returning to his hometown of Venice. A true classic.

Another timeless tome is “The Innocents Abroad,” by Mark Twain. Published in 1869, he discusses his travels through Europe and the Holy Land. Samuel Clemens may have been best remembered as a writer, but he traveled extensively as well.

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So, as I continue my own Wanderlust thoughts and rationalize getting an extended journey on the calendar, I have plenty of inspiration to read… and/or re-read.

Turning a thought into reality will require some work.

Cheers…







In Search of Eagles...

“In an eagle there is all the wisdom of the world”

~ Lame Deer ~

This past week, I was gently reminded that photographing wildlife is vastly different than shooting a sporting event. The latter occurs during a designated time at a specific location. You show up, snap a few frames and go home when the final whistle blows (okay… maybe it’s not this easy, but you get the point).

Eagles on the other hand, play by their own rules. They don’t play in the same arena each day. Don’t respond to whistles and can sit on a branch far longer than you can sit on your rear end waiting for them to take flight. A simple fact of life.

Nyack, NY

Nyack, NY

Photographing them requires a keen understanding of their patterns and a tremendous amount of patience. Unfortunately, I’m lacking in both of these areas. I anticipate going to the local hot spot, waiting a few minutes and then being able to photograph an aerie (yes, I had to look this word up!) of eagles with talons extended fighting over food with one another on the ice float 25 yards in front of me.

Boy, if it were only that simple.

Nyack, NY

Nyack, NY

On the bright side, I have learned a few things about the bald eagle to better prepare me for my next photographic outing. For example, the majestic bird of prey with it’s white head was designated our national bird in 1782 and can only be found in North America. They almost became extinct largely due to the legalizing of the pesticide DDT in 1972. Fortunately, various conservation efforts were successful over several decades resulting in eagles making a comeback. In 1999, they were so abundant, they were removed from the endangered species list.

Hudson River - Bear Mountain Bridge - NY

Hudson River - Bear Mountain Bridge - NY

Ironically, it’s only fitting the bald eagle is thriving in the West Point region of New York State. The Hudson River is an idealistic place for this majestic symbol of freedom and can often be spotted on campus. The Hudson River provides a vast array of food and shelter and lends itself a natural habitat.

I can’t imagine I’m ever going to be an expert on photographing bald eagles, but I’ve come a long way in a short period of time.

Cheers…





Holiday Book List 2018

Every year during the holidays, I inevitably get one or two questions regarding my favorite photography books. I always pause for a moment before answering as I segregate them into three categories… new, favorites and classics. They’re all a bit different and cover different topics. Some are instructional and others are purely world class imagery.

I’ve always enjoyed reading and find the holidays a great time of year to catch up or simply add a few more titles to the nightstand. Ironically, there’s always another book I want to get to and there never seems to be enough time to read everything that intrigues me. Toss in a few books on becoming a better writer, and I’m further behind.

So without further commentary… here are several books (a bakers dozen) worthy of your time. I won’t attach hyper links as I don’t know if you prefer hard books and/or ebooks or Amazon to Barnes & Noble. Your choice…

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Happy holidays…

Cheers

Something Old, Something New?

Ah yes… the magic of marketing.

Where else can you see/read/hear an advertisement and then impulsively find yourself shelling out money for something you probably didn’t need in the first place?

We’ve all been there and I’m as guilty as the next person. Going to Starbucks several times a week for a $3 coffee is my brilliant example. It’s ridiculous when I think about it. I can buy an entire can of Chock Full O’Nuts Coffee (Cuban Roast if you’re curious) for $9.99. It affords 90 cups of coffee for about $0.12 per cup. I choose to go to my local Starbucks though and plunk down $3 per visit.

I must be an idiot.

Giants Causeway - N. Ireland (Sony Rx100 IV - 1/80th, f5.6, ISO 400)

Giants Causeway - N. Ireland (Sony Rx100 IV - 1/80th, f5.6, ISO 400)

I’m starting to think the same logic applies to buying camera equipment. It’s the dangling carrot in my world. The thrill of the hunt… chasing technology… new cameras & faster lenses.

The reality is everything from a smartphone to a medium format camera will take good quality images these days. They all put an incredible amount of creative flexibility in your hands. With technology advancing at a break-neck pace, new models from every manufacturer are released on an annual basis. So much so, Apple brilliantly builds iPhone suspense around their latest & greatest upgrades which seem to take place every September.

This leads me to my technology delusion… or dilemma: How often do I upgrade my equipment? As a semi-professional, there are many items to consider. The most obvious are: cost, quality, sensor size, weight, megapixels and frames-per-second (fps).

Advertising doesn’t make the choice(s) any easier. Nikon is “At the Heart of the Image” while Canon wants you to “See Impossible.” Basically, both of these market leaders hope you upgrade your camera equipment on a regular basis.

W. Nyack, NY (iPhone 7 Plus)

W. Nyack, NY (iPhone 7 Plus)

The smartphone is unquestionably the camera of choice these days for the masses. This may not be the professionals choice, but I’d venture to say everyone uses it for wireless transfers and then posts to social media. So, while it may not always be your first choice in capturing an image, it’s certainly part of the process. Overall, it’s a brilliant camera despite its obvious limitations. Statistics seem to indicate there are more pictures taken with an iPhone every year (1.2 billion) than every other camera combined. Considering the iPhone didn’t even exist at the turn of the century, this is truly remarkable.

Army Football - Canon 7D Mark II (1,400th, f3.2, ISO 125)

Army Football - Canon 7D Mark II (1,400th, f3.2, ISO 125)

For the DSLR and/or mirrorless enthusiasts.. bigger is better. The larger the sensor, the better the image quality. Period. However, the new top of the line cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony will set you back $3,000-$5,000 each. Depending on the genre of your photography, this cost is a major financial hurdle. Gone are the days of travel assignments where you were well paid to shoot original content. Today, plenty of wire services (i.e. AP, Getty, Reuters, etc.) are selling regurgitated contractual photos for $5 each. Sadly, this has permanently altered the publishing landscape and the photojournalism industry.

Personally, I have a few different cameras in my bag these days. They all take good quality photos and tend to fill different needs.

  • iPhone 7 Plus - Everyday use - always with me

  • Holga 120N - Medium format film camera. Light leaks. Fun plastic camera

  • Sony Rx100 IV - Lightweight travel camera. Zeiss lens. One inch sensor

  • Canon 7D Mark II - Everyday use & sports camera. APS-C sensor. 10fps

Army Football (Canon 7D Mark II - 1/250th, f5.6, ISO 500)

Army Football (Canon 7D Mark II - 1/250th, f5.6, ISO 500)

So, as I look to add another camera body to the mix primarily for sports use, I struggle with what to buy(?). Sadly, the only full frame camera with great quality and adequate fps in the Canon line up is the 1Dx Mark II. It’s considered the professional camera and retails for about $5,000. There’s no doubt it’s worth every penny, but a far cry from the $1,800 price tag on the 7D Mark II. I’ve occasionally rented the Canon 1Dx Mark II for sporting events in which a full frame sensor was desired (i.e. Army/Navy football).

I may be the exception when it comes to upgrading equipment. I usually don’t feel the need to follow the ‘newer is better’ cadence so prevalent in the industry. Some advancements are truly ground breaking (i.e. film to digital, image stabilization, etc.); however, most advancements are minor refinements or slight improvements that truthfully won’t improve your creative vision or artistic ability.

This reminds me of the analogy about the golfer buying new clubs with a $1,000 budget. He would be well advised to buy clubs in the $400-$500 price range and spend the rest of the money on lessons. Sadly, the reality is they will purchase $1,000 clubs and take zero lessons. What is the end result? Yup… you guessed it… they now hook their tee shot a little faster and drive the ball an additional 30 yards into the woods. Blissful ignorance at its best.

In most areas of life, I’m very pragmatic. I’m under no false pretenses that a new camera is going to improve my photography skills. Similar to the golfer, if my pictures currently lack an inherent quality, a bigger, faster camera isn’t going to change anything. I’ll simply take more crappy pictures at an accelerated rate. Time to sign up for more workshops!

In summary… we’re always running after new technology. It will always be a step ahead of us. What to buy & when will always be a central theme. The psychological desire for bigger & better seems to be human nature (dare I say an American trait?); however, the grounded part of me will stay in my comfort zone. A few decisive factors will always include;

  • Be realistic

  • Buy what you can afford

  • Make do

Starbuck’s - Montvale, NJ (iPhone 7 Plus - Portrait Mode)

Starbuck’s - Montvale, NJ (iPhone 7 Plus - Portrait Mode)

In the meantime, it’s time to get outdoors and find some creative inspiration.

Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome (feel free to leave a comment).

Cheers…

















Destination Anywhere

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Over the last 200 years, there have been a plethora of monumental events... world wars, political upheavals, famine, mass exoduses, etc. and yet families still have petrified roots in one particular region of a country. So, there's always a bit of jealousy when friends travel to Europe to visit family. Me on the other hand, I look at the globe without boundaries. I guess this could be viewed as sad in a sense, but enlightening at the same time.

As a result, when it comes to planning vacations, destination anywhere is my rule.

I've had the good fortune of trekking to some wonderful places over the last decade. Winter vacations always have a skiing orientation while summer travel is couple related with lots of sightseeing.

Everywhere from Maine to California and Ireland to Switzerland have made the agenda. It's always gratifying to start the process every year... select, plan, execute and cross the destination off the list upon returning. 

Mark Twain once said...

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

I wholeheartedly agree.

I'm non-discriminate when it comes to traveling, exploring or sailing away. There are so many places to see in this beautiful world of ours, where you go is essentially irrelevant. 

Growing up as an only child, I had plenty of boyhood dreams. They usually involved becoming a professional athlete in some capacity, but the realistic ones were focused on traveling to exotic locations.

My parents had Scottish/Canadian/German/Irish ancestry but no specific region(s) abroad to call home. As such, I consider myself a mixed bag of ethnicity with an American bias.

 

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Every destination has been unique and light years apart in visual aesthetics & historical relevance and yet all have been equally as memorable.  The small fishing villages of Maine are classic New England and offer world class charm. Greece, on the other hand, is so rich in history, it's hard to wrap your head around 2,000 years of civilization.

Church of Panagia - Mykonos, Greece

Church of Panagia - Mykonos, Greece

Plenty of friends have a home field bias when it comes to traveling and prefer to stay in familiar surroundings. I guess our country is so big & diverse, they don't feel the urge to travel outside our borders? Or, maybe anything before 1776 is irrelevant? Although I'll never know for sure... and will never impose my views on them... I do think they're missing out on a meaningful element of life.

Rossnowlagh - County Donegal, N. Ireland

Rossnowlagh - County Donegal, N. Ireland

In my experience(s), I've come to the conclusion, international travel offers an astonishing path to self-discovery. Not only is it good for the soul, It's truly enlightening & educational on many levels. Everything from culture, food, language and even politics (especially these days) comes into play and challenges your core beliefs. Many will remember the self help books of the '80's discussing getting outside your comfort zone to allow for personal growth. Most of these books never directly mentioned travel; however, I think it's fair to say the indirect benefits of globe trotting meet this criteria.  

Portland Head Lighthouse - Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Portland Head Lighthouse - Cape Elizabeth, Maine

So, you might be asking, "What have I learned or discovered in my journeys?" Several things would be the correct answer. However, at the top of the list is NOT knowing a second language. Every time I go to Europe, I'm quickly reminded of this fact. I understand Europe has numerous countries next to one another with different languages. Simply based on geography, you're bound to learn one, if not two, purely by osmosis. If NY, NJ, CT and MA were different countries with unique languages, I would probably be fluent in several languages as well.

Zermatt, Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland

Years ago... and for some unknown reason... I opted to take French instead of Spanish classes in high school. What a dummy. To this day, I scratch my head at this decision. Not only did I grow up in an area of New York with a Latino influence, I never had a chance to use my French and it rapidly disappeared. To make matters worse, I was well aware of Spanish becoming the dominant language in the world.

I'm not sure if I was ignorant at the time, but a dunce hat seems appropriate in hindsight. 

Lastly... I hope to continue my travels as it broadens my outlook on life & humanity. Who knows, I may even finally learn a second language as well.

Cheers...