Pedernales Falls State Park

I just realized that for a post with a title of ‘Falls’, I don’t have a picture of the falls. Anyway, this was one of my better pictures for the day.

Anyway, we spent Wednesday afternoon/evening at Pedernales Falls State Park. It’s quite a pretty place, but when we first got there, the cloudless sky was making the dynamic range a problem. The water has carved all kinds of channels and pathways through the rock. The water was low enough that the upper sections of the rock in these channels was very light. The bottom and the water, was very dark. Too large a range for the camera sensor. I didn’t end up taking too many pictures of these channels. I took pictures of several other things.
Luckily the light was hitting this tree nicely just before it ducked below the horizon. Unfortunately, with no clouds, no sunset. Still, it was a fun day. I’ll have other pictures later.

Gorman Falls

We got to Bend State Park just as the sun was coming up. We waited a bit for enough light to be able to walk the trail to Gorman Falls. It is a pretty rocky trail, but probably still doable in less light. But it didn’t matter, as the light came around and onto the falls as we were there. This is just one of a bunch of images I have of the falls. I just wanted to get one up.

We are just heading out for the evening. We are going to be out late. I love shooting when it seems like the light is gone.

Those Damn Bats

We tried to see the bats under the Congress street bridge again today, but no such luck. No bats. Unpredictable nature. You would think that someone had trained them by now ūüôā So I bolted up the road to get a picture of the capital. There is a lot of light on this building, and the sky is just a little too dark. Couldn’t get a good balance. I was a little too late. Waited too long for the bats. Oh well.

We leave Austin Monday afternoon. No more bat chances.

The Austin Congress “Bat” Bridge

Unfortunately, no bats. There are supposed to be hundreds of thousands of bats here, but we got skunked. This the the Congress bridge in Austin Texas. We staked out a tripod location on the east side by the Austin Statesman parking lot. They have signs up telling people you can park here. There were a lot of people around, and even more from the bridge.

I had understood that we would see a cloud like mass of bats. I was hoping to get some slow shutter speed pictures. I figured the light would be low anyway at sunset when they are supposed to come out. I guess the temp or humidity wasn’t quite right for the bats, and they preferred to stay hidden under the bridge.

Nepal Star Trails

I took this picture only a couple of hours before I was sick for two weeks. Yup, I was up on a roof in a t-shirt freezing by the end of the shot. When I came down from the roof I was shivering uncontrollably, and shortly after that I was spending way too much time in the bathroom.

No, I don’t really think that this got me so sick. Probably the flu, or some food, or something, but I was quite sick for a few days, and didn’t really feel “fine” for about two weeks. Anyway, more on the shot:

It was taken in Nepal, in a little town called Bandipur, down a very windy road west of Kathmandu. I was on the roof of the guest house we were staying in.

This is a multiple exposure image. I was shooting at f/4.5, ISO 200, for 5 min per exposure. I took seven pictures of star trails from the same roof that a couple of hours earlier I had taken the sun setting in the mountains picture. I used a simple cable release, and a timer. I then put them together in Photoshop.

They went together quite easily. I just stacked the layers and set the blend mode of each layer to screen. That worked well for the star trails, as only the stars show through, the black sky doesn’t, and you have the trails.

I then added more canvas room to the image, put the stars at the top, the mountains at the bottom. When I had them lined up how I liked them, I had a few stars in the mountains. I then created a mask, and applied a gradient to the mask, white at the bottom , black at the top so the stars didn’t show up on the bottom. I played with that a bit until I got it looking the way I wanted.

Thats it. I have wanted to play with star trails before, but it is amazing how little light pollution it takes to ruin the image. Anyway, it was fun.

Within the Frame Kathmandu – A Review

A trip that spans two weeks, takes place in a far away place, and pairs you with 9 other strangers is a tough nut to review. I got sick, my camera broke, and my trip home was an endless nightmare. None of these things had anything to do with the instructors or the workshop, but they all happened, and it can sometimes be hard to separate the workshop from the experience.

Thankfully, I think I have the perspective to do that, but I will throw a couple of “experience” issues in there that I think are helpful at the end.

First off, this is a workshop for people that both want to travel, and want to improve their photography. This is not a run and gun bus tour. The first day David told us he wanted us to be bored. Let me explain. We were going to be in Kathmandu for several days. This was to give us time to slow down. How do you get past the “Look, a Monk – click. Look, a prayer flag – click.” syndrome? You give yourself time. And time we had. There was time to wander and take it in. Time to sit and talk. Time to hang out with the monks and other people in Kathmandu. This gave us time to “take it all in”, and allow us to dig deeper for more meaningful images. In the end, I never got bored, in fact, there were places I didn’t get to, pictures I was still searching for, and areas of Kathmandu I wished I had more time to see. But I get it. Slow down and experience the place, the images will follow.

This is a photography workshop for people that want to improve their photography. Not by being told how to technically take better pictures, but by learning how to take more meaningful pictures. You should already know how to use your camera before coming on this trip. There were varying levels of technical comfort with our cameras, but learning about what f-stop to use when isn’t really the focus of this trip. I am sure that some people asked more technical questions, and that David and Jeffery would have been happy to sit and explain some of these things, but there are no sit down classroom sessions on using your camera.

About the closest we got to that was a lightroom session where David covered some of the topics from his book Vision and Voice, which is about applying your vision through post processing to the digital negative.

There was very little “classroom” to this workshop. Most of the time we got together as a group was to eat, or for image critique. This was not a “hey, cool photo” have a pat on the back session. This was about becoming better photographers, and learning to look at images critically. What is the light like? Is¬†it hard or soft? What does that do for this image? Would a different position of the subject change how the light falls on them, and hence the emotional feel of the photograph? What lines are there? How do they lead our eyes? Would a moving of the camera position change¬†how powerful the lines draw us in? What does color do for this image? What would it look like in¬†black and white?¬†There were no perfect images shown. Some images¬†did a better job than others of telling a story, but¬†every image provided a starting point to discussion about what worked and what didn’t and why.

The real learning was in the shooting. By ourselves, with our cameras. Some choose to shoot in small groups of 2 or 3, but most of the time we¬†went out by ourselves. David¬†or Jeffery were not¬†standing there saying,¬†“shoot that”, or “do this” with your camera.¬†I am not saying they were not available, because several people asked them to go walk with them, and they were happy to do so. A few times I came across them while out,¬†saw them shooting and asked them about their process, but for the most part I was on my own.

What I was¬†trying to do while out on my¬†own,¬†was¬†to be mindful¬†of the image critiques we had just done, and¬†what I needed to add or remove from my own images to make them better. Sometimes I went¬†looking for lines, negative space, color contrasts, etc that had worked well for some images in the critiques. Some of the participants naturally gravitated to certain types of images, and I¬†found that I would try to look for an “Elly” or a “Jay” image, when that wasn’t something I would normally do. I would push myself to take images I wouldn’t normally. I would push myself to look for opportunities I normally wouldn’t take. I would push myself to interact and communicate with local Nepalies instead of just a click and run. I would push myself to be mindful of the force my vision,¬†and if my image was telling a story that made sense.

Again, that work I did, was¬†all by myself, with my camera. Not in a classroom, not with someone looking over my shoulder. I know that at times some thought that there wasn’t enough instruction going on. For me it was just fine. Don’t get me wrong, David and Jeffery were always there, always around, and always willing to answer questions. Interestingly, when I showed up I fully intended to pair up with them and not leave their hip pocket until I had it all figured out. It’s not how it ended up happening, and I think the struggle to make images that I took on by myself on the back roads of Bhaktapur made me a better photographer.

You can call it Murphy’s law if you like. It seemed like several of the people on the trip had multiple cameras. I had one D90. It died. A mysterious partial death actually. It wouldn’t shoot at anything other than wide open. I had to shoot at f/1.8 on my 50mm, f/2.8 on my 70-200, and f/3.5 at 10mm on my 10-24mm wide angle lens. Weird. I shot for a few days like that while I tried to figure out the issue and how to get a replacement. I lucked out and found a store in a more tourist part of Kathmandu that had a European version of the D90 (only differs by power plug and lack of warrentee) that I ended up buying. I only bring this up to say that you need to be prepared yourself. David was more than willing to help me out with his contacts in the US, and another participant offered me his backup camera, but this is not a Nikon or Cannon sponsored event. There is no case of gear that you can loan out, or save your butt in a pinch. Last time I travel with only one camera body.

How about things like accommodations and food? Remember, this is Nepal. Rooms are smallish, plugs might not work, power can go out, hot water can disappear, but you probably won’t care. It’s all part of the trip, and really not that much under the control of the WTF staff. It’s all a part of traveling, the adventure, the experience, and the treasure trove of stories you will accumulate. Have you ever lost power while you were in the shower? Have you ever gone for a bus ride with a goat? Have you ever had a huge important cultural festival happen outside your hotel window? With half the hotel on your balcony? Have you experienced some of the nicest kindest people on the planet. Have you sat and had a conversation with a Tibetan monk? Have you ever eaten Buff Momo’s? I tried to eat localish food quite a bit, and enjoyed most of it, but you be wiser to pick WTF Italy if you are overly concerned about food. On the other hand, mango lasi rocks, and a tomato basil pizza I had in Kathmandu was really good. So chil out, have a local beer cup of chi, and enjoy that you are actually in Nepal.

If you want to hit and shoot as many places in Nepal as you can, this is not the trip for you. If you want to have the time to experience the place, and absorb the culture and people while taking photographs, then this is a workshop for you.

If you want someone to hold your hand and show you where to stand, what height to put your tripod, and when to press the shutter, you may be disappointed by this workshop. If you want help to understand what goes into a powerful photograph, and be given the oportunity to try to make those images yourself, then this is a workshop for you.

In any workshop, you get out what you put into it. I think that really applies to this workshop. To get the most out of this workshop, to improve your photography in a short period of time, then you really need to put in effort.¬† I have been to other workshops where if you get up early, get in the cars, find the location, set up your tripod with the other 25-30 people, it is hard to get a bad shot. You won’t get a great or unique shot, but artistically, it is easy to coast. Without making the effort in the Kathmandu WTF, you won’t come home with pictures you are happy with. But if you come on this trip with the desire to improve your photography, give David and Jeffery the benefit of the doubt, put in some honest critique of your work, you can’t pick a better trip.

I am very happy I went on this trip. David and Jeffery recognize that you are spending real money and want to make it a great trip for you. It is not a cheap endeavor, but considering the small participant count, and the access to the instructors, it is a great value. If you read this and think “exactly, I would love this type of opportunity to work on my photography,” then I bet you would have a great trip too.

My Trip Through Paris de Gaulle

In case anyone thought I was picking on Delhi yesterday, I thought I would wine a bit about Charles de Gaulle as well. I suppose that things get more frustrating when you are on your way home, but this airport was really trying my patience.

I get off my Air France flight from Delhi to Paris, and look for my connecting flight, a Delta flight to Minneapolis. Luckily I was sitting beside a nice man on the flight who was going to Atlanta, and he knew that we were switching terminals, so we headed down the hall and down the escalator to the buses. At the bottom of the escalator is a small room that is rapidly filling with people. There is no bus, and people can’t leave to stand outside, there is a guard, but people keep coming down the escalator. We lost all bits of personal space, and this from two people that had just come from India. We waited while two buses that no one wanted came by, then when the bus we ALL wanted came, there was a mini stampede to the door. Obviously we didn’t all get on. More waiting.

I finally got a bus and we got to the next terminal. It didn’t seem “next door” by the way. Good job we didn’t try to run for it. I got the the terminal and started walking around. There was nothing on my ticket about the connecting flight, and nothing on any boards about a Minneapolis flight. Finally I found someone to ask, and was told to take the light rail to the other part of the terminal. Sheesh. Found that, went in the correct direction thank goodness, and came out in an area that was unsecured.

Fabulous. I got to go through security all over again. I had a lovely French woman ask if I had anything in my bags that was electronic. I said all of it. She figured I didn’t understand, so she asked again slower. I said “All laptops and cameras.” She said “take it all out.” “Seriously” I asked? “Yes, and hurry” she replied. Ha, I thought, if you want me to pull out everything here, I am not going to make things easier for you. I pulled out a blue plastic bin, and began taking things out one at a time. “Hurry sir” I heard. I took my cameras out first. “Hurry please sir” I heard again. I took my lenses out one by one. “Monsieur, the line is long, hurry please.” I started pulling out cords one by one, and putting them neatly into the in bin. The agent came over pushed the bin through the scanner, closed the lid on my camera bag, and pushed it in. “Go now,” she said. “Sure, no problem” I replied. I stuffed everything back into my bag as quick as I could, and got out. Don’t think I lost anything.

I then went and sat in the area you see in the picture. I wanted to send an email home. I saw a Wi-Fi logo, but when I got there I discovered that you could use their computers for a fee, but not your own via Wi-Fi. Really? The logo seems a stretch. So I wondered over and bought a small hot chocolate and a sprite for $8 US. Wow. I would love to know what those things normally cost in France. Maybe there is a lot of taxes. Maybe they just gouge travelers. Who knows.

I finally got my boarding call, and got in line. There was a gentleman looking at tickets, and telling some of us to go to a different line. The thing was, there was only one gate agent, and she was confused that there were two lines, and the other longer line was pissed that we were getting special treatment in a shorter line. He finally came back to us shrugging our shoulders wondering what was going on. Then he spoke the other gate agent who finally understood. She pulled out a computer terminal, and started giving those of us connecting from a non European destination the 3rd degree. I had to present my green card even, and answer the usual questions about who packed my bags and if I had anything dangerous on board like nail clippers. When the gate agent asked me where I had packed my bag, I was tempted to say just over there at security, but I figured she meant Delhi, so that’s what I said.

We were then kept separate in two lines that snaked around and around until we got to another gate agent that looked at our tickets, said “Bonjour, good morning” merged us into one line, and sent us to another escalator. Turns out that most of the “gates” are not at the terminal. You have to take a bus out onto the tarmac, where you wait until you are allowed to cross to the plane. Seriously, this was starting to seem more India than India. At this point I was too tired to be frustrated, and just wanted to get on the plane and sleep.

I was settled in, and falling asleep when the captain came on and told us that one of the pumps that pressurizes the cabin was not working. Judging by the weather front at North America, when we hit it, we would not have the ability to pressurize the cabin enough, and the masks would drop, and some low level distress signal would go out. We were an hour into the flight. We turned around – the captain didn’t put it to a vote – and we headed back. We maneuvered into our “gate” from before that is just a parking spot on the tarmac. And there we sat. I am not sure how long we were there. I stood up in the aisle and pretended to make small talk with the people returning from a two week bus tour of Italy. They were discussing if this South Italy trip was better than the the North Italy trip from a couple of years ago. No final decision could be reached.

We ended up pushing out from our “gate” with less than 5 minutes before we would have needed a crew change. The pilots on board would have had to work for too long once the delay and the actual trip were taken into account. If we would have had to wait for a new set of pilots to get out of bed and get to the airport, I think I would have flipped out. Well, at least just flopped down and started to cry.

Thankfully, my wife was checking the arrival times, and knew that I was late. There was no connectivity on the plane at all. Oh the joys of travel. You really do need to accept that delays, over anxious gate agents, lost bags, crazy connections, and stiff necks are the norm. Then when you finally do get to your destination and you bag actually shows up, you are so overjoyed that you almost forget the rest of your most recent adventure.

PS. A great big hug from my daughter didn’t hurt either

Delhi Airport Makes no Sense

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Note: I completely forgot about this post I had ready to go. I could’t get internet access in the Delhi airport, and forgot to post it. I’ve been home for a week, but here’s the post.

I had originally hoped to get another day shooting in Old Delhi at the end of our trip. I had arranged for an early flight from Kathmandu to Delhi, and 12h later, my flight home. I didn’t plan on being sick. I don’t currently have the stomach for walking around, and need to be close to a bathroom.

As luck would have it, a couple of others were on the same flight to Delhi as I was, and we talked about getting a hotel where I would just crash, and they could walk around. But I wasn’t too excited about an hour drive each way, and one of the others was getting over being sick, so we thought we would just hang out in the airport.

That wasn’t a good plan.

The Delhi airport security which look like army officers with big ancient guns said we couldn’t just go to departures from arrivals, we had to go outside first. Fine. We go outside and try to get back inside.

Nope. Can’t come in before 6 hours before your flight. Umm, why? That’s the rule. We have to go to the visitor lounge. Lounge is putting it nicely. It is a glassed in area with uncushioned chairs. Not exactly lounging.

So how about changing my ticket? I headed to an entrance again and said I wanted to buy a ticket. Only via Air India and partners. So I showed him my ticket and said I wanted to change it. Not at this terminal. No ticketing for Delta or the European partners. I would have to go to terminal 2. What? But the flight leaves from this terminal? “Yes.” This is a new airport. You can’t by a ticket, or change a ticket, or get here early.

“There is no problem!” the man at the gate said. “You have a good ticket, you wait in the lounge, then 6 hours before flight you check in, and then wait for your flight. There is no problem. You have good flight. You no need to change.”

Sigh. India and I don’t always see eye to eye.

My Newari Potter

Newari Potter

 

I have been to see this man several times. He is a potter in¬†?Bhaktapur¬†Nepal. He speaks no English, and judging by how he speaks and who he speaks to, most other Nepalese don’t understand him either. So far I have understood hand gestures for “come sit”, “give me money”, “I can’t work the power is out”, and “I am going on a smoke break.”

The above shot is not what I want. I want him working on his craft. He asked for this picture in fact. And then asked for a print. I am bringing it tomorrow morning. We leave tomorrow for our next stop as well. I have one more chance to get the shot I am looking for. I don’t want him posed. I want him working with some sort of expression or gesture that will help make the photograph. Pressures on.

There are a few other pottery makers around. I photographed a couple of others that occupy the stall next to him as well. But they were wearing American style T-shirts, didn’t have the Newari hat, and had no where near the great face that this man has.

I do have a couple of shots of him, but nothing that stands out yet. That’s how photography goes. Sometimes you get shut out, but there is always tomorrow. (Fingers crossed)