The National Parks Traveler published my latest photography article. This month’s article deals with focusing on more than just “The Mountain” in Mount Rainier National Park. Click on the photo above to be taken to the article.
My last post described my New Year’s Eve experience in London. This post shows you the results. The fireworks display lasted around 11 minutes. I used my Canon 1DX and 16-35mm f/4L IS lens, set the ISO to 5000, shutter to 1/50 of a second, aperture was f/4 and I just left it at that for these photos. I had to use some noiseware (Imagenomic) reduction software during the editing phase.
Some of these images bring to mind an abstract painting. All of these images bring to mind an incredible event.
Los Portales Morning, Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas
My first vacation of the year was the last week of April 2014. I drove 13 hours from my home in southeast Texas all the way over to southwest Texas to Big Bend National Park…in one day. I wasn’t able to get a room in the Chisos Mountains Lodge for Saturday the 26th, so I instead stayed in the beautiful Gage Hotel in Marathon, about 60-some miles north of the park.
One of the main reasons I timed my trip for late April was because of the new moon. When I visited Big Bend back in December 2013, there was a gibbous moon, the light of which blocked out the wonderful stars and purple-white line of the Milky Way. For this trip, though, the stars out-performed themselves.
Starry skies over Casa Grande
Stars and the Milky Way over the Chihuahuan Desert
Stars and the Milky Way along Basin Road, toward the Chisos Mountains
I used three different cameras for these shots: my Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 1DX, and a rented Nikon D800. For the Canons, I used two lenses: 24-70 and 16-35; for the Nikon I used a rented 24-70. The ISO was 3200, f-stop was 3.2 and I varied the shutter speed between 20-30 seconds. I had to use manual focus because of the lack of light for autofocus. The images were all taken between 2-3AM.
The park’s most recent newsletter talks a lot about the starry skies in Big Bend, as well as the problem with light pollution elsewhere (which is why parks like Big Bend are so important). Many nocturnal creatures guide their lives by the stars and even by the straight line of the Milky Way, believe it or not.
If you ever have a chance to visit this amazing, out-of-the-way park, try to go during a new moon so you, too, can see the starry expanse of the night sky.
The Milky Way over the Los Portales rooms of the Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX
During my first night sleeping in my Bass Harbor rental cottage, I awoke at about 2AM and looked up through the skylight windows above the bed. I was not wearing my glasses and could see these bright little blobs against the black background of the night. After clearing my vision with the application of glasses, I saw those “blobs” were brilliant twinkling stars.
I had never seen the stars so bright – definitely not in my part of southeast Texas.
So I made a note to set the alarm clock for 1AM each morning. If I woke up and saw the stars through the skylight windows, then I would dress, grab camera and gear and drive over to the seawall (about 2 or 3 miles away) to set up tripod and work on my night photography.
The road to the stars. Looking back from whence I came. I was pointing the camera toward the seawall side of the road.
A sea of stars. That bright red light is a blinking buoy.
Early morning stars. The first night I took photos, they turned out horribly because I didn’t have the manual focus set correctly (and you need to focus manually). So the one image with the Northern Lights in it failed to turn out. On this night, I managed much better, but I think that yellow glow in the distance may be from one of the little towns and not the Northern Lights. I think I missed my chance at that for the remainder of the week.
And for those of you interested in knowing how I achieved these photos:
And of course, this was all on a tripod.
Every year, my company hosts its Employee Appreciation Party. When I first started working there some 14 years ago, it was a Christmas party held in December. But, as the company became more global (not everybody celebrates Christmas, you know), and realized that people make a lot of vacation plans during Dec/Jan, the whole party concept evolved and the date changed.
In the past, the annual party was celebrated at a hotel venue. This year, my company rented out an entire restaurant (and the grounds around it): The Downtown Aquarium Restaurant in Houston.
I didn’t attend the party last year, but this year’s venue sounded so intriguing, I naturally RSVP’d. I filled out the little form, indicating I would not be bringing a guest….in retrospect, I should have said I’d be bringing my Canon 5D Mark II as a guest.
Note to you Pixel Peepers out there: not all of these photos are – well – the best in the world – I’ve included them anyway ‘cause they still give you an idea of the event.
I ended up purchasing a large, black patent leather purse large enough to hold my camera and a single lens, so I brought along only my all-purpose 24-105mm lens. It served me well, but I give this advice to you readers who are thinking of photographing aquarium images: use a fast lens (f2.8 to f1.2). And, if you can, use a tripod. The largest f-stop on my 24-105 is 4, which means I bumped the ISO up and slowed down the shutter speed. Yes, I had noise issues, and yes, I had motion issues. Interior lighting was dim, and fish don’t pose – they swim. And, aquatic plant life moves with the currents. I did the best I could. I notice in Flickr that many aquarium photos were taken with a 50mm f1.4 lens.
The Aquarium is a three-story restaurant/aquarium with three floors of drinking, dining, and fish tanks.
When one gets tired of eating, drinking, and watching the scuba diver feed the fish (btw, that glass is 5 inches thick),
one can go back down to the first floor, exit the restaurant, and tour their “mini-aquarium” via a separate entrance. Thanks to it being our company party, everything was free and included admittance to the mini-aquarium, the white Bengal tiger enclosure, the rides – ferris wheel, carousel, train ride through the shark tanks, and some other crazy ride – and the arcade area. On a regular day, everything at that place has a fee.
This is the view from the 3rd floor balcony, location of their more formal dining area.
It was a chilly night, so these things emitted a lot of heat and were kinda neat, too.
This is a train ride (which I didn’t take and now wish I had) moving its passengers around the perimeter of the grounds and underneath the shark tanks, so that you can see sharks swimming around overhead. Hindsight is 20-20; if I ever go there again, I’ll ride the train.
Following are photos taken within their mini-aquarium exhibits. I found out later that part of that tour is devoted to snakes and spiders. I didn’t see that particular exhibit becuase it was located in a room off to the side which escaped my notice. Too bad, because a tarantula photo might have been an interesting capture.
Poison dart frogs. The most dangerous things are usually the most beautiful.
Specifically for the party, the restaurant had set up various drink stations in rooms off to the sides of the aquarium tour route, and in other out-of-the-way locations. I took this photo of stacked wine glasses along the aquarium route, across from the mock-Mayan (Aztec? Incan? Toltec?) aquatic ruins. They wanted to make sure we founded good uses for our two drink tickets the company gave to us.
My friends and I wended our way to what I call the “aquatic petting zoo”, where we could pet the sting rays. I thought that was totally cool! Those rays were like dogs! As instructed, we used a single finger to stroke these creatures, and when we stopped, they would clamber up for more. The docent told us stingrays are social creatures and gathered around where ever the humans were standing (of course, I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they probably associated humans with food provision). Stingrays feel soft and sort of “gooshy”.
One of the highlights of this little self-tour was the white tiger enclosure. Ok, I admit, I don’t like going to zoos because it drives me crazy to see large animals in small enclosures (although I’ve been told things have changed since I last visited a zoo). It bugs me to think of these large, wonderful creatures being bored, either pacing back and forth or just sitting looking downcast. So, it was with mixed feelings that I chose to visit the white tiger enclosure. But, I really really wanted to see an animal that I would never otherwise have a chance to view.
I was pleasantly surprised at the size and look of the enclosure (remember, this is in a restaurant). It was pretty spacious (there are other enclosures for the tigers away from the general public’s view), with things for the tigers to do (big balls, water, trees to climb in).
There is a seating area in front of the glass wall (for the protection of the humans, of course).
This is Reef. He’s a Bengal white tiger, one of five of which the Aquarium takes care. The speaker gave us some interesting facts and figures regarding these gorgeous big cats. In the wild, they have a life span of about 10 years, while here in captivity, they can live up to 20 years – makes sense, as there are none of the survival stressors in captivity that the cats have out in the wild.
To me, they looked healthy, non-bored, and not nervous. Reef, as a matter of fact, has no problem posing for his adoring human fans. And I had a front row seat with a zoom lens and a full-frame camera. So as you can see below, I had great fun capturing images of this gloriously beautiful guy.
From the tiger enclosure, my friends and I wandered outside to the rides and arcade area.
After my friends and I parted ways, I stood in a verrrry long line waiting my turn for a photographer to capture a photo of me – we were promised a free 5×7. After about 10 minutes of waiting, I decided I could do without the free photo. My feet were killing me (damned heels ).
Happiness is a pair of white tiger house shoes.
As I was hobbling toward the valet parking, ready to go home after 3-1/2 hours, I noticed a fellow employee wearing white tiger house shoes (I call ‘em slippers) with her party dress (photo above). After snapping a photo of her clad feet, I asked her where she got those comfy-looking things. She told me she was not too proud to be wearing these with her dress, and remarked that very few people could successfully carry off that look; she could, of course, and probably I could too, if I decided to purchase them at the gift store.
So I hot-footed it (oh yeah, my feet were on fire) over to the store and purchased a pair. My feet thanked me profusely as I wandered around the restaurant’s lobby on my way out to valet parking.
I had a great time at the party and hope they use this same venue next year (because by then, I’ll have a faster lens, more comfortable shoes, and will visit those areas I neglected, in addition to re-visiting places I photographed this year).