2016 in Review: Twelve Images

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” (Ansel Adams)

January... time to look back, take stock, and look ahead.  Taking this advice from "St. Ansel" to heart, I have selected a set of twelve photographs (out of almost 5000 shutter clicks) from 2016.  These are not necessarily the "best" (whatever that means) or most popular on social media.  Instead, they represent waypoints that were significant to me on my photographic journey.  Here they are, in chronological order.

1.  Thread Cones

In March I made a return visit to the historic abandoned silk mill in Lonaconing, MD.  When I saw this rack of metal thread cones I immediately saw in my mind the image I wanted, and I ran through the rain back to my car for my 85mm f/1.8 lens.  This is one of my two or three favorite images of the year.

2.  Oil Cans

This image from the Lonaconing mill was also made with the 85mm f/1.8 lens.  I was drawn to the subtle patina on both oil cans and the sense of depth afforded by the out-of-focus machinery in the background.

These two Lonaconing images, plus six others from this visit and and my first visit to the mill in 2013, comprised a portfolio that was selected by a jury for inclusion in the "Portfolio Showcase 2016" exhibit at the Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester, NY in August 2016.  More Lonaconing images can be found in this gallery.

3.  Aria

June found me in San Francisco, serving as the photographer for the production of an episode of "Vireo:  The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser," a serialized opera being produced for television.  This episode was filmed on Alcatraz after the park closed for the night.  My assignment was to photograph the entire production -- from the boat ride to Alcatraz, to behind-the-scenes shots of performers, musicians, and production crew, to shots of the performances in progress.

This image, one of my favorites from that event, was shot through the dirty glass window of the open door of the main cell block.  I was able to frame both Greg Purnhagen (in the role of Doctor/Priest) and the steadycam operator recording his performance.  

4.  Caroline

I was able to get this image of Emma MacKenzie (Vireo's "mysterious twin Caroline") between takes.  The dramatic side lighting of the video lights caught her pensive expression as she awaited her entrance (in a straightjacket, seated on a hospital gurney and holding an odd skeletal totem) at the beginning of the scene.

5.  Vision of Liberty

In July I had the rare opportunity to spend a brutally hot day with a group of hard-hatted photographers on a tour of the unrestored Immigrant Hospital on Ellis Island.  The hospital was immigration "purgatory" where immigrants with health problems awaited a decision by the medical staff -- only those deemed to be healthy were allowed to immigrate, whereas the sick ones were returned to their port of origin.  I found it interesting that the Statue of Liberty was so clearly visible from many of the hospital rooms, an ever-present reminder of a hoped-for future that was not yet attainable.

6.  Aurora!

All of the remaining pictures in this selection are from our return visit to Iceland in late September and early October.  Unlike our 2014 trip, we had many days of excellent weather, beautiful fall colors, and the Northern Lights.  More extensive collections of images from the Iceland trip can be found in this gallery and in this album on my Flickr page

This year's trip was billed as "Aurora Madness" and it definitely delivered.  This image, taken during the night of the most intense aurora display, captures for me the essence of being all alone overlooking glaciers and mountains with the aurora dancing overhead.

7.  Blue Lagoon

No visit to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Jökulsárlon glacier lagoon and the adjacent black sand beach.  Here the "blue hour" light, just before sunrise, accentuated the natural blue color of the icebergs.

8.  Chill

Iceberg fragments carried out of the lagoon at Jökulsárlon are washed up on the adjacent beach made of black volcanic sand.  At sunrise these diamond-like ice fragments sparkle and glow as if lit from within.  Here, a long exposure softened the breaking waves to accentuate the sharp detail of the iceberg.

9.  Kirkjufellsfoss

Kirkjufellsfoss is one of the most iconic (and over-photographed) locations in Iceland.  During our 2014 Iceland trip we were here on a gray, rainy and windy day and I came away with no useful photographs.  This year the weather was more benign and I was finally able to get this image.  The moody look was achieved by conversion to black-and-white with a red filter to darken the sky and add drama.

10.  Arnarstapi Arch

The sea arch at Arnarstapi is on the southwestern coast of Iceland.  This photograph is the result of one of those rare occasions where I achieved exactly what I intended.  I found a high camera position to achieve visual separation between the arch and the rocks in the distance, and I used a 3-minute exposure with a strong neutral density filter to soften the movement of the breaking waves and accentuate the movement of the clouds.  I knew from the outset that this would ultimately be a monochrome image.

11.  Abandoned Farm

The modernization of the Icelandic economy over the past several decades has resulted in the abandonment of many rural farms.  This shot was not originally among my collection of most significant photographs, but I kept returning to it in my image review.  It speaks strongly to me of the changes that have occurred in rural Iceland.

12.  Oxararfoss

This photograph is the result of another second chance following a disappointing experience on the 2014 trip.  Here, the Oxarar River plunges over a cliff and flows down the rift between continental plates in Thingvellir National Park.  On the last trip I found this panoramic composition only with my iPhone; this time I was determined to revisit it with my camera.  On this day, the fading fall color of the low bushes along the river and the dark clouds added a sense of drama, as if winter were just around the corner.

 

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

In pulling together this set of images I was surprised to see that they represent only a handful of my photographic adventures.  There were many other images from other locations that did not make the final cut.  I am also surprised that none of the final twelve images were taken locally.  One of my resolutions for 2017 is to get out and about more in the Finger Lakes, camera in hand, to take advantage of the scenes and subjects that are close by.

The Other Side of Ellis Island

Last month I had the rare opportunity to join a small group of hard-hatted photographers spending the day shooting in the unrestored Immigrant Hospital on Ellis Island.

The hospital opened in 1902, serving as a detention facility for immigrants who were ill and therefore considered unfit to enter the United States.  After the hospital was closed in 1930 the buildings served as offices for the FBI, a detention facility for WWII prisoners of war, and finally a Coast Guard station.  The Coast Guard declared the buildings to be "excess government property" and they were abandoned in 1954.  However, recent fundraising efforts have allowed some of the buildings to be stabilized against further damage and decay, and parts of the hospital were opened to the public for hard hat tours in 2014.

Our day-long photographic tour, which involved access to parts of Ellis Island hospital complex that are still not open to the public, was arranged by photographers Tony Sweet and Mark Menditto in cooperation with Save Ellis Island and the National Park Service to raise funds for additional restoration work.

Here are some of the first batch of images from that day.

The Statue of Liberty, visible from a hospital room

The Statue of Liberty, visible from a hospital room

Hospital corridor

Hospital corridor

The hospital employed advanced methods in public health medicine, such as giant autoclaves used to sterilize mattresses.

Mattress autoclave

Mattress autoclave

For more than 3500 immigrants the journey to a new life ended on Ellis Island.  The hospital's autopsy theater was a teaching facility that drew medical students and observers from hospitals across the United States.

Autopsy theater

Autopsy theater

Cadaver refrigerator in the autopsy theater

Cadaver refrigerator in the autopsy theater

2015 in Review: Ten Images

My turn (a little late) for the photographer's conventional look back at 2015.  These ten images are not necessarily my "best" (whatever that means) or "most popular," just the ten that resonate the most with me.

1.  The (Un)Red Rose

This image was taken on a cold January night during an indoor macro shoot.  I was experimenting with off-camera flash to illuminate the rose from different angles.  I particularly liked this shot, but it was just too red!  Conversion to B&W shifts attention to light, shadows and texture rather than in-your-face color.

2.  Eagle Cliff Falls

Torrential spring rains created heavy flow in all of the waterfalls in the Finger Lakes.  This was my first visit to Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen (not far from the much more famous Watkins Glen).  Despite the rain and the sediment in the water I came away with this rare shot of the falls in full roar. 

3.  Seneca Sunset

This was taken at Seneca Yacht Club on a warm summer evening.  I was experimenting with using a new reverse graduated ND filter to balance exposures in shots where the sun is just above the horizon.  I think it worked!

4.  Boston Skyline Abstract

I was on the Boston Greenway in August shooting a large outdoor fiber art installation, but my eye was grabbed by the abstract reflection of the Boston skyline in the glass wall of the Intercontinental Hotel.

5.  Fist Bump

This is another shot from Boston. We encountered this street drummer while walking through Quincy Market. I was happy just to listen until a little boy approached and wanted to join in the fun. The drummer gave him one of his sticks and then matched his beat to what the boy was doing. I scrambled to dig my camera out of my bag, but by the time I was ready to shoot the boy was done, except for the congratulatory "fist bump" from the drummer.  Again, I chose a grainy B&W treatment to remove the distractions of color and focus attention on the drummer's face.

6.  Warp Speed at the Beach

This image and the next two were taken during a workshop on Cape Cod led by Tony Sweet.  Here, a two-minute exposure (using a 10-stop ND filter) at Race Point Beach captures the streaming movement of the clouds against a static foreground.

7.  Come Back Next Year

These vacation cottages line the beach along Cape Cod Bay in Truro, MA.  When we visited they were quiet, boarded up for the winter.  The high contrast of the early afternoon light made this an obvious choice for a B&W treatment.

8.  Colors of Dawn

On the way to catch the sunrise from the Fort Hill overlook at Cape Cod National Seashore, I said "Try to remember to try some swipes."  This image, the result of a 6-sec horizontal swipe (hand-held), turned the pre-sunrise landscape into an abstract with layers of color.

9.  The Grain Wharf

Before dawn at the historic wharf in Coupeville WA -- one of my very favorite images for 2015.

10.  Sol Duc Falls

This image is my favorite from an October visit to Olympic National Park.  I actually photographed this location twice, two days apart.  This shot is from the second day, which followed a day of steady rain. Here I was finally able to break away from conventional compositions from this location.  I isolated the top of the falls, allowing me to use the lines of the flowing water to lead the eye back to the rich fall colors.

From Pixels to Paper

This is the irony of photography in the digital age: the number of photographers has exploded and the internet is full of images, but the majority of these images are trapped on computers, tablets and smart phones and are viewed only transiently, often on a small screen.  Only a tiny minority of these images ever escape from “pixel prison” and become printed, permanent things.

Canadian photographer David duChemin encourages photographers to print their work, hang it on the wall and live with it for a while.  Only then, he maintains, can one gain some perspective about the enduring value of any particular photograph.

More than a year ago I decided to listen to duChemin and get more serious about printing my photos just for me, rather than the occasional print ordered as a gift for someone. For a while I was seduced by the apparent economy of print-to-order services, but I was ultimately not satisfied with how faithfully the print reflected my on-screen image.  About a year ago I bought a dedicated ink-jet photo printer that will print images up to 13” x 19”.  Since then I have been on a journey, fueled by ink and paper, that has led me to a greater understanding of the relationship between the digital image and the print and greater satisfaction with my own printed products.  Although I am still a raw beginner with lots left to learn, my own prints now are much more satisfying that what I was able to achieve by ordering prints online.

The image above is one of my favorites from the past five years of photography.  It was taken on a winter afternoon in Brooklyn, looking down Washington St. toward the Manhattan Bridge and intentionally composed to show the Empire State Building framed in the arch of the bridge tower.  This photo was first printed for me by a local print-to-order business as part of a set of black-and-white images (some of mine, some of Carol’s) that we intended to display as a group, the “black-and-white wall” of our dining room.

After looking at it in this context for a while, I realized that the image needed to be both BIGGER and BETTER.  Some additional post processing work solved the “better,” and my new printer took care of the “bigger.”  The first image in this post is the result:  printed 13x19, matted and framed 18x24.  I was finally satisfied.


Recently, this image has been “on the road,” first as part of an annual exhibit of photos by members of the Finger Lakes Photography Guild in Canandaigua, NY, and currently as part of a juried show at the Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester, NY, where it was featured among the preview images for the show.  The journey from pixels to paper made it possible to share this image in new ways.

Bug Shots

You'd think an entomologist would have loads of insect pictures, but I have only a handful.  I found these four last week while looking for illustrations of macro and close-up photography and decided I liked them well enough to share.

Butterfly on thistle Nikon D90 + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro; Keuka Lake Outlet trail, NY.

Butterfly on thistle

Nikon D90 + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro; Keuka Lake Outlet trail, NY.

Only the first image was taken with a true macro lens, the Sigma 150.  On a crop sensor camera like the D90 it makes a great "bug stalker."  Unfortunately, when I upgraded to a D7100 I found it was incompatible with the Live View autofocus system of the new camera (important for shooting on a tripod), so I sold it.

The remaining three images were "opportunity shots" taken with a variety of all-purpose zoom lenses. In each case, I got as as much as I could at the longest focal length and then I cropped afterward for the best composition.  I'm surprised at how well this approach worked even with the 12-megapixel D90; with modern higher resolution digital sensors you can really throw away a lot of pixels and still come away with something.

Bumblebee on coneflower Nikon D90 + Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, The High Line, New York City.

Bumblebee on coneflower

Nikon D90 + Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, The High Line, New York City.

Bug sex Nikon D90 + Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Garden of the Gods, CO.

Bug sex

Nikon D90 + Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Garden of the Gods, CO.

Hummingbird moth Nikon D90 + Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Anthony Road Winery, Penn Yan, NY.

Hummingbird moth

Nikon D90 + Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Anthony Road Winery, Penn Yan, NY.

These images make me want to shoot more insect pictures.  The first image, in particular also makes me want to get a new "bug stalker" macro lens.

“Congratulations, you are a winner!” (Huh?)

Photo contests are everywhere these days, and for the most part I ignore them.  However, I recently learned that my entry to one contest was deemed a “winner.”  The entire process — from the decision to enter this particular contest through multiple layers of judging — caused me to think about my photography in a different way.  I’ll elaborate below…

First, some background on this particular contest and the image in question.  I am a member of Nikonians, a large and diverse international community of professional and amateur photographers who use Nikon equipment.  A number of Nikonians web forums hold monthly or quarterly themed competitions.  The theme for the May 2014 contest in the Travel Photography forum was “carnival,” selected by the winner of a previous month’s contest.  I decided that some of the images from our trip to Venice during Carnevale in 2012 fit this theme and submitted two shots of individuals in elaborate and traditional Carnevale costumes.  One of these images (below) was selected as a “finalist for the month” (again, by the winner of a previous monthly contest), then selected as the monthly winner by a poll of those visiting the Travel Photography forum, and finally selected by a jury of eight experienced photographers from among more than 100 monthly/quarterly winners of the themed contests and challenges during 2014 as one of the “ten best of Nikonians 2014” images.

Venice Carnevale:  Eye Contact

Venice Carnevale:  Eye Contact

What is it about this image that caused it to be selected, through three rounds of judging, from the literally hundreds of images submitted to the various Nikonian forum contests?  The composition is simple, the pose is classic (thanks to the model, not to me!), and the colors are rich.  However, I think it is the eyes, engaging almost confrontationally with the camera, that make the picture distinctive.  (When I posted the picture to Facebook, a friend commented that it was “unnerving, but in a very cool way.”)  Her eyes reach out to make, almost demand, a connection with the viewer.  A more difficult question is:  how can I make images of my more usual (and inanimate) subjects that also connect powerfully with the viewer?

But then, who are the “viewers” of my images?  I am not a professional photographer and have no desire to be one.  I got back into the photography game five years ago primarily to please myself by taking something more than just snapshots, but I would be lying if I said I did not derive satisfaction when others see and respond to my photos.  Still, I have no desire to play the popularity contest game that is 500px these days or accumulate lots of superficial “likes” on Facebook or Flickr.  In the end, this is the liberating beauty of being an amateur:  I can make the photos I want to make, share them where and when I want to share them, be thankful if some people find value in them.  Being a “winner” in a photo contest is important to me because it demonstrates I’m not just talking to myself through my photography.  That’s enough for now.

Looking back, looking ahead

Here is is the first day of 2015 and I am still catching up on last year's website chores.  After a break of a few months, I have now finished working through my Iceland "keepers."  Here are the last five images, which also appear in my updated Iceland 2014 gallery.

Another B&W shot:

This image is another example of color detracting from impact.  The bright green foreground grass and rusty red roof of the hut pulled the eye away from the strong textures of the building and surrounding rocks.  Conversion to monochrome puts the emphasis back on these textures:

Abandoned hillside hut near Stokksnes.

Abandoned hillside hut near Stokksnes.

"Underground" church:

This peat-roofed wooden church, partially dug into the soil, was reconstructed in 1884 on the foundations of a 14th century building.  It is still in use.

Peat-roofed church at Hof.

Peat-roofed church at Hof.

Another image from Fjallsarlon:

This more intimate iceberg lagoon lies below the foot of the Fjallsjokull glacier.  It took me a while to find a way to process this image that yielded the subtle colors and the serenity of the reflections.

Fjallsarlon and Fjallsjokull.

Fjallsarlon and Fjallsjokull.

More from Jokulsarlon:

Our first visit to the famous iceberg lagoon coincided with the setting of the midsummer sun in the northern sky over the Breithamerkurjokull glacier.  This intense golden sunset provided the sidelight for the other Jokulsarlon sunset image in the gallery.

Midnight sun over Jokulsarlon.

Midnight sun over Jokulsarlon.

The next day gave us close-up views of the icebergs, including this one containing an ice cave illuminated by sunlight transmitted through the ice.

Jokulsarlon, beneath the ice.

Jokulsarlon, beneath the ice.

Looking ahead...

In 2015 I hope to shoot more often, print and exhibit more of my images, and blog more frequently!

Adventures in iPhoneography

I’ve now owned three different iPhones, but I did not pay much attention to their cameras until recently.  That changed, however, when I went to Iceland earlier this summer on a photo workshop led by Tony Sweet.  Knowing that Tony is an “iPhone art photography” guru (he’s writing a book on it), I upgraded to the iPhone 5s before the trip and challenged myself to shoot with the iPhone as well as my camera throughout the trip.  Here are some things I learned:

1)  Sometimes the iPhone gave the only useful image from a location — as at the base of the triple falls at Kirkjufell, where I was unable to keep the lens on my Nikon clear of water drops no matter how often I wiped it.

Triple falls at Kirkjufell.

2) When I pulled out the phone at a location after being “done” with my camera I found compositions with the iPhone that I had missed.  For me the moral of this story is to be more diligent about working locations!

Abandoned farm near Bergamot; iPhone HDR

3) Processing images on the iPhone using the apps that Tony introduced and demonstrated gave me a chance to play with effects that I might not try (or have tools for) in my Mac-based postprocessing environment.  Using the iPhone to shoot and process helped me “get loose” and become more open to a variety of creative urges.  The challenge for me is to bring some of this spontaneity and sense of play back to my DSLR shooting and processing.

Svartvengi geothermal power plant; multiple effects  using Snapseed

4) The iPhone is a great tool to explore panorama compositions — either with the pano function of the  Camera app or by stitching a series of separate images together using an app such as Autostitch — before going to the bother of setting up camera and tripod.

Hoffelsjokul panorama; multiple exposures assembled with AutoStitch.

Jokulsarlon panorama; iPhone camera pano.

Since returning from Iceland I have struggled once again to remember that the phone is also a camera (old habits die hard!), but I now know that even when the only camera I have is the iPhone I can still make images with impact.

Pike Place Market (Seattle, WA); multiple effects using Snapseed.

Lost in Iceland, Part 2: Images and challenges

Finally I've been able to work through many of the images from our Iceland trip.  This new gallery contains a baker's dozen of my favorites, with more to follow as I process them.  This first set represents the "low-hanging fruit" -- images that were relatively straightforward to process and for which I had a clear vision of the final product.  The ones I'm still working on need more thought, more effort, or both to achieve the end result I'm looking for.  The image below is a bonus -- I could have included it in the gallery, but I needed something pretty for the blog!

Midnught sun over Myrdalsjokull

Putting together this gallery caused me to reflect again on the workshop experience and the various challenges I faced trying to make these images.  Here are the four most significant challenges:

Challenge #1:  Everything is new!  This is, of course, a challenge whenever faced with photographing a new location, but Iceland is such an unusual place that the sense of novelty was enhanced.  This is why making a first visit with knowledgeable local guides makes such a difference.  Without Einar, Raggi and Tony to put us in good shooting locations we would have seen and done much less and missed some very cool things.

Challenge #2:  So much daylight!  I knew we'd have very long days so close to the Arctic Circle and just after Midsummer, but the experience was quite disorienting.

The weather for June 26 in Reykjavik.  (Photo:  Carol Soderlund)

The weather for June 26 in Reykjavik.  (Photo:  Carol Soderlund)

As you can see from the Weather Channel on my iPhone, we had 21 hours of daylight.  During the first part of the workshop in particular we took advantage of the long days -- on one day we shot at 7 different locations over a period of 15 hours, ending up at two successive iconic waterfalls after midnight. This was one of those times when I wished I could get along with a lot less sleep.

Challenge #3:  Staying on task.  This challenge was the product of the novelty of Iceland and the length of some of our days in the field.  To jump out of the bus, grab the tripod, and take advantage of the photographic opportunities in front of me at location after location required a degree of concentration and focus (pun intended) that I had not anticipated.  It was exhausting but also very rewarding.

Challenge #4:  Photographing extraordinary locations in ordinary (or even mediocre) light.  It can't always be sunrise or sunset (even at Midsummer in Iceland!).  How do you make the most of mid-day light or the gray and featureless skies that we encountered during the stormy second half of our workshop?  For me, the answer was to think about shooting with a black-and-white image in mind.  Almost half of the first 13 images in the gallery wound up being more satisfactory to me in black-and white.  For example, I like the image below well enough, but I think the monochrome version in the gallery is much stronger. 

Abandoned farm, color version.

Abandoned farm, color version.

Working through the "raw material" that I shot on this trip to get the first set of finished images has given me a chance to savor the whole experience again.  Definitely, I'm going back to Iceland!

The photo workshop experience

I recently returned from spending a weekend with 11 other photography nerds -- a "Waterfalls Boot Camp" workshop in the West Virginia highlands led by Joe Rossbach.  Although we certainly photographed waterfalls (as you can see from the image below), we also shot at a number of other cool locations.  We also spent time learning more about Joe's post processing workflow and techniques.

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, WV

I had time on the long drive home to reflect on why I value photography workshops.  For me, a workshop is successful if it introduces me to a new place, teaches me new techniques, and allows me to meet new people who share my passion for photography.  This workshop was a winner on all three counts.  I had never been to the highlands of West Virginia before -- but I will certainly go again.  Given the title of the workshop I thought I might learn some new things about waterfall photography, but the real technical benefit for me was learning about Joe's exposure blending techniques.  The image below is a "classroom exercise" in applying his techniques to blend two different exposures of the same scene.

Evening light at Lindy Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, WV

Finally, it was just a great group of people to spend a couple of loooong days with.

The "firing line" -- early morning shoot at Spruce Knob Lake, WV

The "firing line" -- early morning shoot at Spruce Knob Lake, WV

Of course, the instructor is the key to the success of a workshop.  Joe Rossbach has shot and led workshops in this area many times, and he was able to adjust the schedule each day to take advantage of weather that ranged from (boring) clear blue skies to thunderstorms.   He delivered a quality workshop experience for a group that varied in both photographic expertise and physical ability. He is definitely on my list of instructors for future workshops! 

Morning reflections, Spruce Knob Lake, WV

The lure of abandoned places

After seeing Bodie, I was hooked -- I needed to find more opportunities to photograph places where civilization has been abandoned to the elements.  In the summer of 2012 we took a workshop with Tony Sweet that provided a chance to shoot inside Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned prison in Philadelphia, plus an early morning "bonus shoot" at another Philadelphia location.

The bonus location turned out to be a place known locally as the "Graffiti Underground," a pier jutting out into the Delaware River that had been used to transfer coal from trains to ships.  This site had been abandoned and subsequently appropriated by graffiti artists, paintball players -- and photographers.

Underneath the coal pier

The early morning light, reflected off of the water on all sides, brought an ethereal beauty to the heavily tagged and paint-splattered concrete pillars.  This gallery contains a few of my favorite images from that morning.

Eastern State Penitentiary, hospital wing corridor

I could have spent the entire morning at the Coal Pier, but the main event of the workshop lay ahead.  Eastern State Penitentiary, in urban Philadelphia, was established in 1820 as the world's first true penitentiary -- designed to inspire regret or penitence in criminals rather than solely for inflicting punishment.  It was used continuously, first as a penitentiary and then as a more conventional prison, until it was abandoned in 1971.  Notable inmates included "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and was opened to the public for tours in 1994.

Our photography workshop gave us access to parts of the  decaying building -- including the hospital wing -- that are off-limits to most visitors.  The photography was challenging because the original philosophy of the penitentiary included bringing natural light from windows and skylights into the cell blocks and individual cells.  The broad dynamic range of light, from deep shadows to direct sunlight, provided an opportunity to work on HDR (high dynamic range) photographic and processing techniques.  My favorite images from Eastern State Penitentiary are in this gallery.

Blame it on Watkins Glen

April 29, 2010:  the day I decided I needed a new camera.

We were giving visiting west coast relatives a tour of our area, with an obligatory stop at Watkins Glen State Park to see the gorge and waterfalls that are iconic features of the Finger Lakes.  My camera at the time was a Nikon Coolpix P5700, a glorified digital point-and-shoot with some DSLR-like features.  As I tried to take pictures of the water flowing through the Glen I became increasingly frustrated -- I could envision the image, but I could not make the camera capture it.

I had been researching cameras, intending to upgrade to a DSLR before a planned trip to Glacier National Park later in the year, but my frustration in Watkins Glen was the last straw -- I ordered a new Nikon D90 the next week.

Of course, a new camera by itself was not the whole answer.  The images I wanted to capture were long exposures of moving water, which required a few additional items:  tripod, ball head, remote release, and various neutral density filters (think sunglasses for the camera lens, reducing the amount of light that reaches the sensor).  By the time we went to Glacier I was sufficiently equipped to try my hand at "slowing down the water."

Avalanche Creek, Glacier NP

The image at the left, from the Glacier trip, was literally my very first effort to put the new equipment to work.  Although there are things that I would do differently now, I still like this one a lot.  However, this image must have been beginner's luck.  I obviously underestimated the height and steepness of this particular learning curve, and it was a long time before I was able to make the camera output approach my vision with any consistency.  I have collected some of my favorite waterfall pictures in this gallery -- judge for yourself if I'm making progress.

I did not return to Watkins Glen again until last October, when I spent a couple of hours early one morning walking the Glen in relative solitude and looking at it, for the first time, through photographer's eyes.  Although my primary objective was to scout for future photography trips, I stopped to shoot in three locations.  I didn't think I had captured much of value, but I kept returning to one image (below).  After some post-processing work it has become one of my top 5 favorite images of 2013.

Carnevale in Venice

Recent news about Mardi Gras celebrations led me to look back in my photo library for images from our visit to Venice during Carnevale in 2012.  We used an international conference in Rome as an excuse to take a few days to see Venice for the first time, not realizing that our visit coincided with the last week of Carnevale!

Grand Canal at sunset

The crowds were unbelievable!  Of course, one of the main attractions was the people in elaborate costumes -- generally surrounded by photographers.  The image below shows the "Queen of Hearts" on the move across Piazza San Marco, stalked by photographers.  We joined the party, and I was able to get several good images of elaborate costumes that are posted in this gallery.

The "Queen of Hearts"

Even diners in the restaurants lining Piazza San Marco got into the act...

Dressed for dinner

...as did the locals.  We found a local family taking pictures along the Grand Canal, and they graciously allowed me to photograph their children in costume.

All in the family

All in the family

And, if you forgot a costume you could always visit one of the shops, perhaps for something like this:

Costume shop

Costume shop

To beat the Carnevale crowds in Venice, we took a vaporetto to Burano, one of the "suburban" islands in the lagoon that is known for lace-making and its colorful houses.

Reflections of Burano

Reflections of Burano