A Great Year for Astrophotography

Wow! As I sit here blurry eyed, I marvel at what a great year it has been for photographing the sky! And really…I can’t say how much this has forced me to extend my knowledge and perhaps even my skills as a photographer.

Flowers are filled with Color
Florida’s Colorful Flowers

Moving out of my comfort zone, essentially that of a flower/garden photographer, with a passion for macro photography, has been a challenge. Florida is just such a great place to appreciate all that color. It always seemed strange to me that there were people out peering at a black sky, usually in the cold, just hoping to catch a glimmer of a bit of space dust. And.. doesn’t this flower look like something from outer space?

 

But, the eclipse in April moved me into a whole different world, forced me to use a tripod and to learn an awful lot about using my Olympus 75-300mm telephoto lens. I also came to appreciate the available expertise there is on the topic.  Interested? First do what I did and find a local camera club.  The Florida Center for Creative Photography, ended up being a great resource for tons of advice.  Then of course there are the myriad of websites which provide advice to the astrophotographer. These include the biggies, such as NASA,  Space.com, and EarthSky.org,   But a Google search will generate a whole slew of professional and amateur photographers: many provide product reviews and detailed advice on settings and the like. All of these photos were taken with the camera set for manual photography.  Step-by-step information was definitely out there for this low-light photography.

This has been such a great year to just look up.  We have had a total solar eclipse,

a lunar eclipse (only partial in Florida, but full in the west) and three supermoons.

Boat and Supermoon
A Boat Watching the Eclipsing Supermoon

I can even say I learned a lot from my mistakes. I was able to watch the first of the supermoon rise, but in the absence of a critical piece of my tripod, I ended up with an orange blob. Well..at least I have the experience etched in my memory.

A bad picture
How Not to Take a Photo of the Supermoon

Really though, the sky has been the limit and this morning I was able to set up my tripod alongside like-minded folks on Clearwater Beach, set the Olympus OMD-EM5 to manual setting, set my ISO, and shoot the moon.

Supermoon over the beach
Supermoon Eclipse Over Clearwater Beach

Florida in January: A Great Place for Horsing Around

 

Opening the Lippizan Peformance

Central Florida  in winter is ideal for photographing horses in a variety of appealing settings. Not only will you enjoy our sunny days, but you will come away with some amazing shots. You can go to Tampa Bay Downs to see Kentucky Derby hopefuls; spend a day watching polo ponies at the Sarasota Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch;  marvel at the gorgeous Lipizzans practicing “Airs Above the Ground” at Hermann’s Farm. Other options include rodeos and fox hunts. Horse and rider make great photographic subjects as they appeal to a wide audience; these photos are portraits of the coordination and athleticism of horse and rider united to achieve a goal. To take full advantage of this opportunity, a telephoto lens would be ideal. Most of these photos are taken with an Olympus OMD-EM5  75-300mm lens.

Racing at Tampa Bay Downs
An Exciting Race at Tampa Bay Downs
Polo Players Ride Down the field
Polo at Lakewood Ranch

But in addition to the excitement of competition, there is an intimacy between horse and rider to capture as they work as a team. Most of the venues in the area have opportunities to capture these moments in stables or after events.  Below is a photo from one of the practice sessions at Herrmann’s Farm and a post-race photo from Tampa Bay Downs.

So enjoy our bright sunny days watching horse and rider work while you create some great photos.

Lipizzan Horse

2018 New Years Resolutions for the Travel Photographer

Sunrise

On the first of the year I sort through my photos from the previous year.  I’ve had various goals in doing this. Last year I vowed to be better about using titles and folders to make my collected photos more manageable. This year I decided to use this annual chore to inform a New Years resolution’s list for travel photography.  The next blog posts will be more congratulatory, as I did find quite a few hidden gems worthy of travel stories.

Well the first thing that I discovered was that I took far too many photos.  I made over 16,000 photos in 2017. So my first resolution for 2018 is to 1. Take fewer photos.  It’s far easier to reflexively photograph everything and then look at photos later.  Maybe, though, if I spend more time thinking about, composing and considering significance, I could reduce a lot of the “photo bloat” and improve quality.

I  find it unfortunate that I have traveled to some amazing places where I have been able to take boring photos.  I evaluated my photos to try to: 2. Identify and correct weaknesses. For me the thing that popped out of my year-end review was the flatness of my landscapes.  It seemed that no matter which of my lenses I used, I didn’t capture the majesty of the landscape.  This year I had been to Panama and the Colorado Rockies.  But my photos didn’t “pop” for me.  I can do better!

There probably isn’t anyone out there who can benefit from: 3. Being more organized. I missed out on photographing the December supermoon  because I had misplaced the tripod plate for my camera.  I also hadn’t even looked at a lot of photos that I had taken.  I guess I was too busy taking 16,000 photos to take the time to review and classify photos.

I could also have saved myself a good deal of aggravation by  4. Being a better planner. In my posts on Panama, I mentioned how I ended up visiting Panama during the rainiest month because I hadn’t properly researched the weather or really even Panama until after I made my flight reservations. Though my travel plans for 2018 have already been solidified, again in a kind of random fashion, this year I will prioritize, research, and yes even pre write a draft of some of these blog entries;

Everyone needs to 5. Seek feedback. Social media used to be the way to go.  Sad to say that ship has Cruise Shipsailed as the entire world posts photos to Instagram and Facebook. I don’t have an answer for how not to get lost amongst the billions of photos being posted, but perhaps acknowledgement of success via payment or contests is the way to go.

6. Photos in the Moment,  I need a great camera phone. I already posted on the need for all of us to become expert phone photographers.

 

Exit

 

 

 

Which Camera Phone Should I Buy (Part I)?

Taking a Photo With a Phone
Phone Cameras Are Everywhere

Many photographers look down on those folks  with their phones taking pictures. We chuckle as we are sure they won’t ever get high quality photos. But lately, for me at least, the value of a high quality camera phone has become obvious.  First, as I have become more active in social media, I have come to realize that my trusty Olympus isn’t my first choice for posting. Sites such as Instagram and Snapchat require mobile technology.  Posting to Facebook requires that I download to a computer from my camera and then post.  A phone provides  access to the photo, basic editing, and immediate posting for all of the various social media sites. Secondly,  phone cameras have improved remarkably in just a few years.  My husband takes some amazing photos with his phone, even under adverse conditions, such as low light.

My current phone works fine but  Microsoft has announced that it will no longer support Windows Phones.  Sad, since over the years, I saved hundreds of dollars by using Windows phones. But even if the Window phones weren’t dying, I would need to make a change. The camera on my phone is fine for “pictures of my morning run”,  shared with my Facebook Friends, but not so much for my more business-oriented Facebook page, Florida Traveler. And sometimes when you are out and about, all you have is a phone to record a great shot.

I did an initial Google search to check out the current reviews for camera phones.  PC Magazine has a  ten best rated cameras list.  Interestingly they  were all Verizon CDMA phones. My preference, though, is to go with an unlocked GSM phone (my current configuration).   My recent trip to Panama convinced me of the value of the flexibility of GSM.  My T-mobile service worked great all over Panama, with no tweaking or extra charges.  Since I have been an Apple User all of my computer life, an iPhone would be my preference as it will be compatible with my existing iPad and MacBook Pro.  However, a $999 iPhone X is well outside my budget. So, I will use the upcoming blog posts to scan the landscape and do a personal cost-benefit analysis of  camera phones to identify a replacement for my Windows Phone.

Stay tuned to see what I decide.

 

Two “New” Small Chicago Musems

Well a museum that has already been open for nine years isn’t exactly a new museum, but for a native anything that I didn’t visit on a YMCA field trip as a child, I classify as new.  I left Chicago for other parts during the 1980’s but have visited pretty much every year since.  Of course, visits with children tend to usually include lots of family events and visits to those tried and true museums I visited as a child.  But life moves on and since the kids are grown, we decided that the time has come for new explorations.

Unlike the lucky folks who live north, when we South Siders visit the central city it always requires planning.  Driving has never been an option. Even less so now that every Chicago parking spot requires an investment. Traveling downtown by public transportation usually means caging a ride from a willing family member or a long, tedious bus ride.

Riding the El in Chicago
Riding the El in Chicago

On this last visit when the weather was looking good, we caught a ride to the Orange Line and set out for the north loop. The Driehaus museum and the  recently opened American Writers Museum  are less than a mile apart and  we thought would be a great way to spend a day in the city.

We started at the Writers museum.  The lobby is lovely (despite snide comments in many reviews), with nifty elevator doors and a great looking guard desk. Ordinary, perhaps, when built, but now unique.

Museum Lobby

The American Writers Museum requires a slow ambling view, or you may miss the point here.

As with many small museums, one needs to look up, down and all around to truly appreciate the setting, as designers must work within a small space.  The museum entry has a ceiling covered in books and all walls display important info.

Museum Entrance
Look up at the Entry Canopy

The main hallway has authors in a chronologically ordered timeline.  Walk too quickly and you will miss moving the informational blocks to study different aspects of the writers. Clearly many of the authors will be known. I found it to be great, that I had somehow missed knowing about a few of these authors.  Flip the blocks and find out more or take a photo for future research. Each author has an in-depth discussion of why they were significant. I just started reading a book by Francis Parkman, one of America’s first travel writers.

Check out the word waterfall!  This, on the surface, looks to be simple phrases lighting up. A look through the camera lens reveals a 3D multimedia sculpture.

Book Scroll
Jack Kerouac’s Scroll of On the Road

A special exhibition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road included the original scroll. I’m a fan, but I did not realize that one of my favorite books was written in this fashion.  Very cool!

After a lunch at Protein and Kitchen Bar, a favorite, we set out for our next museum

A pleasant walk across the now sparking Chicago River (a shock to those of us with long memories) lies the Driehaus Museum.  This museum, housed in the former Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson had spent most of the twentieth century as headquarters for the American College of Surgeons. Philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus purchased the building in 2003. After a five years restoration,  the building now appears as it did in the 1800s.

Dramatic Entrance to the Driehaus Museum

The building houses surviving furnishings paired with elegant, historically appropriate pieces from the Driehaus Foundation  Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. The first floor houses the collection and the second floor a rotating gallery.

Poster
Posters at a Special Exhibition

On this visit the gallery exhibition, an Art-Deco poster collection, featured five different artists.  The guides in the museum were incredibly helpful, offering many additional insights.

They have an amazing collection at the museum as the tradition of the time amongst the wealthy was to employ as many different crafts people to decorate and buy as many things as they could afford in order to impress their peers.  These buildings would have been completely packed with paintings and other artwork.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to these two “new” museums and look forward to finding more of these small gems.

I took these photos with an Olympus Tough as I was traveling light this trip.

Tiffany Lamp
The museum Houses an Impressive Tiffany Collection

St. Pete Beach: My Favorite!

 

Pass-a-Grille
St. Pete Beach

Yes, there is an actual place called St. Pete Beach. It isn’t St. Petersburg Beach and it isn’t even part of St. Petersburg. The Beach sits about as far south in Pinellas County as one can be and it is my favorite beach. Pinellas County has 130 miles of beach   fronting the Gulf of Mexico, with some islands thrown in for good measure. No one can say that we don’t have our pick of beaches. If you arrived here looking for a beach, there are many lists of best beaches published, but these are flawed because repetition of a beach will actually cause the beach to be retired from the list. Often the list will be limited to one beach per state and many of Florida’s beaches have long since been retired: You may just be seeing the runner-ups.  Arguably, I am talking about the strongly held opinion of one person here, but it seems to me that in talking with friends, many locals consider the section of St. Pete Beach called Pass-a-Grille  to be our best beach.  In our mind runner-up beaches include Honey Moon Island State Park  and Ft. De Soto.  St. Pete tends to get the nod from locals because of the reduced hassle factor.  It is one of the last remaining beaches on the Gulf where you can simply drive to the beach; open your car door; and walk across a short boardwalk out onto the beach.

Pass-a-Grille Beach
Another gorgeous sunset

This is great if you have a lot of stuff, need easy access to restrooms, have mobility challenges, or have small children. Though you will have to pay to park right at the beach, free two-hour parking is often available nearby.   It’s just up and out here to a wide sandy beach.  Not only is this beach easy to get to by car, you can also travel there via a charming trolley

Central Avenue Trolley
Trolley awaits passengers

or direct bus from Downtown St. Petersburg.  Still thinking about it, well consider that the beach still sits on a quiet, lightly-traveled road, easily crossed to choose from one of a number of restaurants with amazing views and good food.  One restaurant, Paradise Grill, even sits right on the beach. Rent beach equipment or buy what you need in the shop.

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Perhaps, that is what makes this our favorite…it combines the peace and quiet of the beach with a small town Main street. Combine all this with some of the best sunsets, and you have beach nirvana. Sunset photography is, well, it’s a Gulf thing that even most locals do on a fairly regular basis. St. Pete Beach guarantees locals and tourists, alike, great swimming, photos and food.

Sunset in St. Pete
Sunset in St. Pete

Chicago

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We head back home today. Nasty weather ahead with a tropical depression. We’ve shoehorned a lot of touristing between visits with family.  Back in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up in Chicago the Gold Coast Cost Art Fair on the near-north side was the only art fair in the city. Bookshops weren’t all that common.  Street fairs were unheard of.  Now-a-days, Chicago has art and street fairs every weekend.  Sometimes more than one. And..bookshops continue to thrive. Chicago is a photographers’ fantasy world with all kinds of cool and interesting stuff to photograph.

 

Chicago Building   Hot Dog!   The Bucktown Art Fair on the North Side, and the Port Clinton Fair in Highland Park were great places to shop! Who knew there were two-story food trucks?

Bucktown Art Fair Port Clinton Art Fair

As always we visited our favorite book stores: Half-Price, Book Table and Open Book Bookshop.

Open Book Bookstore

We’ll be back again before the snow starts to fly.