Travel

Cowee Mountains Overlook Panorama

Cowee Mountains Overlook Panorama

A panoramic view of the Cowee Mountains from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I was spending a few minutes puttering around in my office this morning and I came across this image. I had just posted an entry that contained another image captured during this sunset, but I’m still intrigued by this shot.

While I was waiting for the clouds to turn brilliant shades of pink, orange, and red after sunset, my friend Tom and I were standing on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Cowee Mountains Overlook in western North Carolina just waiting for things to develop. As is often the case with me the shot that I wound up with turned out to be totally different from the shot I had anticipated. Sunset that night, while not a bust, certainly was not sensational. This, however, turned out to be an epic shot. Paraphrasing John Lennon among many others, sometimes life is what happens in the meantime.

For those of you interested in the technical details, I shot this with a Nikon D800 at ISO 400 with an aperture of f/5.0 at a speed of 1/500 second using my Nikon 24-70 2.8 at 50mm. I shot on a tripod with portrait orientation taking eight shots stitched together with the panorama feature in Adobe Photoshop CC with final adjustments made in Lightroom CC.

I wish it was a sunrise shot because it would make for great commentary on how I view the new year. So, let’s just go with the sunrise/New Year analogy even though this is a sunset shot..

Here’s hoping that 2016 is your best year yet. I certainly hope it will be for me and my family. In any case, may your relationship with your family, your friends, and God who created you grow in depth and vitality in the new year. Enjoy.

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My Favorite Images from 2015

An exercise that I love to engage in at the close of each year is to sort through my images from the previous year and post them. The images that I post aren’t necessarily my best images technically but are those that have grown on me throughout the year. In this case the images are all technically quite good (at least in my opinion) but also evoke some wonderful memories from 2015. So, in no certain order, here are my favorite images from 2015. Enjoy.

Tlaquepaque Entryway

The beautiful door and tile work of an entry hall in the Tlaquepaque development of Sedona

Sunset at the Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier glows brightly as the sun lights up the sky over the Pacific

Saguaro Sunset

Saguaro cactus underneath a beautiful Arizona sunset

Looking Toward St. Stephen's Church

Dublin’s Mount Street looking toward St. Stephen’s Church

Late Afternoon Light at Cowee Mountains Overlook

Sunlight streams across the valley between Blue Ridge Parkway and the Cowee Mountains in the distance

Ireland the Beautiful

Clouds and lush green fields as viewed entering Ireland’s incomparable Dingle Peninsula

International S-110

Faded paint, mildew, and rust grace the side panel of an ancient International S-110 truck

From Under the Canopy

Looking out onto the lush Irish landscape from an adjacent tree-lined road

Faded Paint Abstract - Blue

Fading and cracked paint on a junked vehicle at Old Car City

Dawn on Waterrock Knob

The sky turns a warm pink as the sun strains to peek over the horizon at Waterrock Knob

Dawn Breaks Over the Smokies

The dawn sky is brilliantly illuminated by the rising sun over Great Smoky Mountains National Park

City of Light

A view of the Eiffel Tower and Seine River at night

Atlanta

The facade of Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta

City of Light

City of Light

A view of the Eiffel Tower and Seine River at night

We finally come to my favorite image from our trip to France. I knew I wanted a unique (to me) shot of the Eiffel Tower but I didn’t know exactly what it could be. So, as we traipsed around Paris I kept looking for views that would incorporate as many aspects of the the beautiful city as possible.

As we walked from the Left Bank to the Right Bank I noticed that the Eiffel Tower was clearly visible from the Place de la Concorde. I spent quite a bit of time on the beautiful Pont de la Concorde shooting the unique street lamps and the view of buildings on either bank from there. While there I began to wonder what the view of the Eiffel Tower would be like at night with the Pont Alexandre III in the foreground. I had some luck the night before shooting Notre Dame and including a passing river cruise boat in the foreground (image here). I began to wonder if I could have an equally interesting shot doing so from the Pont de la Concorde.

We waited until after dinner and after most of the sights had closed for the evening. Then we make our way to the bridge to await sunset. Once again, I hoped for a brilliant sunset that would turn the sky all shades of brilliant pastels. Alas, that was not to happen this night. The cloud cover was simply too thick. In fact, as we waited for the lights of the city to come on, a fairly intense rain shower passed over us. We simply turned up the hoods of our rain jackets, covered the camera gear, and waited it out.

Finally, the rain had passed and the lights of the city began to come on. I wanted to take as long an exposure as possible so I stacked my polarizer and a neutral density filter on my 24-70 f/2.8 lens. At one point I set my aperture to f/22 in order to get a 30 second exposure. But, as the gloom deepened I had to back off that setting to keep my exposure from running up to two minutes or more. Even though I wanted the water to be rendered silky smooth and for the lights on the Pont Alexandre III to show as starbursts, I didn’t want a passing bus or other traffic to shake my camera and ruin the image. 30 seconds between bursts of traffic seemed to be the right setting for my shutter.

After shooting a series of exposures in the growing dark, this one is my favorite. The Eiffel Tower is vibrant. A passing river cruise boat adds an interesting streak of color on the Seine. The lights on the Pont Alexandre III add some interesting pops of color. And, the reflection of those lights adds a lot of interest to the river itself. There’s still enough remaining daylight to show some texture in the sky. Overall, I’m very pleased with the shot. I hope it conveys some sense of the beauty of Paris, city of light.

Louis XIV on Horseback Sculpture

Louis XIV on Horseback Sculpture

A lead reproduction of an altered Bernini sculpture of Louis XIV

I think I could have spent a full day photographing just the exterior of the Louvre. It’s an incredible architectural masterpiece and filled with statues, ponds, and all sorts of other gorgeous artwork. I had to be satisfied with a brief hour or so, though. I spent that splendid hour mostly in the courtyard looking for interesting angles to shoot the glass pyramids added by I.M. Pei in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, none of those images really came out as I had hoped. Fortunately, this image of Louis XIV on horseback did come out as I had hoped.

I used my 70-200 lens to isolate the statue against the beautiful facade of a wing of the Louvre. the overcast skies eliminated any harsh shadows. I was left with an almost monochrome image that is loaded with texture and details. I like the image very much. I hope you do too.

Louvre Courtyard Repetition

Louvre Courtyard Repetition

lampposts in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum

Even though we didn’t have time that we wanted to dedicate to exploring the collections of the Louvre, I at least wanted to visit the courtyard and see the iconic pyramid added by I.M. Pei. I visited Paris in the mid-1980s but the pyramid was added over the visitor entry area in 1988. Since I had seen the Mona Lisa and other treasures on a prior visit and my traveling companions were not as interested in visiting museums, a visit to the courtyard would have to suffice.

My intention was to visit the courtyard at night, but I found some other shots with even more potential and relegated this visit to the daytime. Even though the weather conditions were sketchy – rain was imminent and there was significant overcast, I was still able to make some satisfying images.

I like this one because of the repeating elements. I spent quite a bit of time photographing some of the other repeating elements on the facade of the Louvre including the columns of the portico and the statuary on the cornices. Even the windows and doors had a very symmetrical design that was appealing. The difficult part of photographing those was shooting above the dense crowds that crammed into every nook and cranny of the courtyard. Being there at night would likely have eliminated most traces of people. Alas, I would not be back this night or for quite a while so I satisfied myself with images above ground level. Hopefully you can enjoy this one in the series.

Silver and Gold

Silver and Gold

Eiffel Tower key chains in bins are found throughout the streets of Paris

Perhaps this is too simple an image but I really enjoy it. So, I hope you will too. African nationals cover the major tourist spots in Paris like locusts. You literally can’t move a hundred feet without encountering someone offering to sell you a replicate of the Eiffel Tower in various sizes from tiny to quite large. These key chain versions were in a stall near the Place de la Concorde. I assume they are sold in droves because there are literally too many to count on the streets.

Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea

Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea

This beautiful fountain is located in Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg

Paris truly is a photographer’s paradise. I could wander around in the city for days and never run out of subjects to photograph. So, with only two full days to visit, I had to choose my subjects judiciously. After doing a great deal of research and after choosing the major attractions I wanted to visit, I began to fill in our itinerary with “secondary” sites. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but there are prime locations in Paris (the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, etc.) and then there are dozens of other equally fascinating locations. Since we would be spending some time in the 6th arrondissement, the Jardin du Luxembourg seemed like a worthy destination.

It turned out to be a good choice. We visited on a beautiful Saturday morning when the locals were beginning to fill up the park. We saw a dance class in a weathered old gazebo, parents strolling with their children, a cadre of runners old and young getting in their runs, a college group running some sort of fun run holding all sorts of quirky items (wine bottles, baguettes, hula hoops, children’s blow-up toys, and many others), and the toy sailboats being set up in the pool in front of the Palais de Luxembourg. It was a wonderful glimpse into the lives of workaday Parisians enjoying a perfect spring Saturday morning.

I had a field day capturing as much of the atmosphere photographically as possible. In fact, I had wandered through most of the garden when I decided to explore the last remaining corner. That’s when I stumbled upon the Medici Fountain. It says something of Paris’ beauty that something as beautiful as this fountain simply doesn’t warrant a mention in most guidebooks!

I apologized to my traveling companions – including my long-suffering photography widow of a wife – as I set up my tripod in order to capture the scene in front of me. I wanted to capture the fountain and its reflection in the pond, but I also was intrigued by the fountain itself. I’ve included an image of each for you do decide which one you prefer. After twenty minutes or so of waiting for the wind to calm and tourists to pass by, these are the results. I can only hope you enjoy viewing these images a fraction as much as I enjoyed my time in the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg.

Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea - detail

A closer view of Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea in Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg

Notre Dame at Night

Notre Dame at Night

A view of Notre Dame from the Pont de la Tournelle

This is one of those images that almost never happened. Before every trip, I mentally or physically make a shot list of locations that I want to visit. It probably isn’t surprising that Notre Dame was on my list when we visited Paris. Specifically, I wanted to visit Notre Dame at night. I had seen an awesome image of the cathedral at twilight with moody skies overhead. The image had been converted to black and white, but I could tell that the composition was one that could work for me as well.

So, at the end of a long day, I found myself encamped at twilight on the Pont de la Tournelle. I quickly realized that I wouldn’t have my moody skies. The day had turned overcast and the cloud cover was lingering into night. Strike one. Of course that blocked out any openings in the sky that could have created a magical, colorful sunset sky. Strike two. Then, as any texture in the clouds disappeared into the gloom, the lights on Notre Dame didn’t come on. Strike three… almost. After waiting somewhat patiently for 45 minutes after sunset, the lights illuminating Notre Dame finally began to flicker on.

To be honest, I didn’t notice the lights at first. I had many moments of false hope prior to that. The river cruise boats that ply the waters of the Seine have their own bright lights that illuminate the buildings along the Seine as the boats pass by. Several times I thought that the building lights were coming on but it was only the river boats illuminating the cathedral as they made their way down the Seine.

Fortunately, I was able to use the river boats to my advantage. By the time I was ready to make my image, I was using exposures of thirty plus seconds. Since the boats were brightly illuminated they would show up well in my composition. With a thirty-second exposure a passing river boat would create a long brightly colored streak as it passed through the scene. The image you see here was created exactly that way. I waited for a boat to pass the Pont de l’Archevêché to begin my exposure. By using an aperture of f/22 I was able to create the starburst effect you see on the street lights of the bridge and streets beyond. It’s not the image I had in mind, but it’s still a unique view of incomparable Notre Dame. Enjoy.

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

The interior of Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel built by Louis IX to house Christian relics.

Although I had visited Paris many years before, there were a number of sites that were on my short list to see again or for the first time. Sainte-Chapelle was a site that I didn’t even know about when I visited thirty years ago.

Without rehashing its entire history, Sainte-Chapelle was built by Louis IX to house relics of the cross that he purchased in the 1200s. In addition to its use as a place of worship for his court, Louis had a passageway built between his residence and the chapel making it his personal sanctuary as well.

The beauty of the stained glass is truly befitting a monarch. It is said to be – and I concur – the most beautiful stained glass in Europe. The chapel holds no furniture so the focal point is clearly the stained glass.

The chapel is also relatively small. No more than a couple of hundred people can fit into the space comfortably. Fortunately, people were appropriately quiet and respectful while we were in the room. They spoke in hushed whispers as they craned their necks to take in the splendor of the architecture. Because of the relative quiet, it was easy to overhear the comments of others. My favorite exercise of the late afternoon was to hang out in the back of the room and wait for people to emerge from the cramped spiral staircase into the relative enormity of Sainte-Chapelle. People had to crouch to avoid hitting their heads on the curve of the stairwell and look down to make sure their feet made solid contact with the small stair steps. Inevitably, people looked up from their crouched posture as they entered the chapel and all made the same type of exclamation, “Oh!”, “Oh my!”, “Wow!”, or something similar. The architecture really is that beautiful. I definitely will be back the next time I am in Paris. Enjoy.

Paris Magazine Covers

Paris Magazine Covers

A street display of old Paris Magazine covers

Although I captured a lot of images in Paris, I was only there for two days and really didn’t make a dent in the universe of potential composition. Even though we had been in France for a week, I got on the plane at Charles de Gaulle airport truly regretting that I couldn’t spend a few more days there. I can’t really explain why but the city seems to have a new and visually stunning sight around virtually every corner.

So, even though I had a blast photographing there, I knew that there would be loads of scenes that I just wouldn’t have a chance to experience. So, as we were making our way to Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle, I was pleased to see a series of street vendors selling all things related to Paris. There were books, paintings, oddities, and all sorts of other goods that screamed Paris all in a few linear blocks.

One vendor had an entire stall selling old magazines and French literature. One section of magazines was full of colorful colors highlighting the nightlife of Paris in a bygone era. The covers advertised attractions of the city such as the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, and many others. To me, the magazines were a representation of the night life of Paris and a beautiful splash of color. The owner of the booth was kind to allow me to take several shots of her collection. I chose to include this image because it evokes a sense of the playful, frolicking aspect of the city. Enjoy.