The Blue Angels Practicing

Many of you know that I normally travel for a living.  A little over a month ago I was assigned to a local project here in Seattle.  Although I get to spend the night in my own bed at the end of each day and don’t have to worry about airports, there is now a daily commute.  Between the water taxi and the bus, I spend about three hours total commuting every day.  It’s a trade-off.

There is one perk I hadn’t previously considered.  My current job is in the South Lake Union area, which is right next to Lake Washington.  Lake Washington is where Seafair happens each year in Seattle, and there is an airshow that involves the Blue Angels.

I lugged my camera gear from Vashon Island to South Lake Union.  It was hot, and I got sweaty in weird places because of the straps, but I think it was worth the effort.  A couple of us spent our lunch hour on the roof of one of the company buildings.

This was a practice run, so it wasn’t the actual show.  Still, when these F/A-18 Hornets fly around it doesn’t matter if it’s practice or not; it’s really loud and really cool.  And, of course, Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone has been stuck in my head ever since.

Keep in mind that we were on top of a building near Lake Union, and the the jets were mainly flying over neighboring Lake Washington.  We spent a lot of time looking up into a very bright empty sky, wondering when the planes would loop around our area again.  We also spent some time thinking about when we should go back to working.

There were only five planes this year instead of the usual six.  This was because there was a fatal crash recently that is still under investigation.  I think it would be very challenging to go back to doing this intense, dangerous work knowing that one of your comrades recently lost their lives doing it.  Of course, you’d never know that from how awesome the show is.

There was one bit of disappointment for me though.  Towards the end, between runs, I figured it was time to go back to work.  I didn’t know if there would be any more runs out to our area, and we’d been standing up there for some time.  So I headed inside to make my way back to my own building.  As I was waiting for the elevator to come, I heard the roar of the planes going by right next to where we’d been standing.  I rushed back outside, but by the time I got there, all that was left were the smoke trails of a very close fly-by.  These smoke trails went right behind the Space Needle.  I stood there for a moment looking at the scene with a heavy heart.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’d missed the opportunity to capture an iconic shot of the Blue Angles flying around Seattle’s main landmark.  For a time, I felt like I needed to move onto the rooftop and actually live up there until the opportunity came again.  I’m still pretty bummed that I missed it.

Since I had my camera gear with me, I decided to take some shots of the city on my commute home.  Here’s what I see every evening as I leave Pier 50 on the King County Water Taxi.  At least, this is what it looks like in the summer.

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Available for Weddings

I shoot weddings now!

There is no dedicated page up yet for rates and packages, so this will have to serve as the only notification for now.  My rates are very reasonable, so please send me an email at:

steve.tosterud@gmail.com

 . . . for more information.  Please let me know the date, location (indoor, outdoor, both), and any style considerations you may already have in mind.  Schedule permitting, I can be available for rehearsal dinners, parties or any other gatherings in addition to the ceremony and reception.  We can talk about prints, photo albums, keepsakes and owning the digital files.

For now, I’m available on Vashon Island and the greater Seattle area.  We could discuss the rest of Washington state and parts of Oregon as well.

Although I specialize in capturing artistic and almost candid moments, I will certainly document your special day to the fullest.  I understand that this is meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime event that must be captured thoroughly and beautifully during the one opportunity to do so.

I’ll perform all post-processing to ensure everyone in the party looks their best.  Special requests are fine too if you want someone to look a little better than their usual best.  We can style the images any way to like from a vintage look to classic or modern.

Your wedding will be as important to me as if it were my own.  Although I may not know you personally now, I can assure you that creating the images to remember your day will be my only priority at that time.  I will never over-book or otherwise spread myself too thin to deliver you the total attention you deserve.

Please contact me soon so I can take this one detail off your plate and begin planning how I will make your special day beautiful for a lifetime.

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Denver’s RiNo District

A while back I found myself being driven to Mile High Stadium, which is now known as Sports Authority Field, but which I will continue to call Mile High Stadium.  My company had rented out the entire building for the roughly 600 guests of our conference (we barely fit).  It was a wonderful chance to shoot a nearly empty NFL stadium.

You may notice that there are no goal posts in the image above.  Upon further inspection you may notice other details that are inconsistent with an American Football venue.  My opportunity to shoot this came in the off-season, and the field was setup for a lacrosse match.

That aspect was a little disappointing, but still, how many times will a person get to do something like this?  Not many, and the Broncos were even the Super Bowl champs at the time.  In spite of the field setup and the rainy weather, it was still a pretty awesome experience.

But this isn’t a story about getting to shoot Mile High Stadium.  This is about the car ride over there.  We were being driven by the event coordinator, and she knew a few things about the city of Denver.  Admittedly I wasn’t super excited to take pictures around Denver.  We wouldn’t really have time to get out of the city to see the natural wonders, and I didn’t think Denver offered too many things worth taking a picture of.  I asked our driver about photo opportunities and ended up being totally wrong about sites to see within the city.  One of the places she recommended was the RiNo District.

This is the River North Art District, and you can follow the link to read more about it.  What piqued my interest was mention of graffiti.  My buddy Arif and I hopped on a pedi-cab and told our driver, Eden, to take us to the RiNo District graffiti.  She wasn’t sure exactly where we should go and dropped us off in the vicinity of what she thought we wanted.  After just a few minutes of wandering around, we found what we supposed is the main alley for street artwork.

It was incredible.  There was block after block of the most amazing graffiti I’d ever seen.  I’m a little torn about posting these images I made of other people’s artwork because I only took the pictures; I didn’t make the art.  So I hope you visit Denver’s RiNo District some day yourself.  It’s hard for pictures to do it justice.  Here’s Arif trying to get in a scene.

It was a totally immersive experience.  We felt like we were on a different planet while we walked along the alley.

I gather this is some kind of urban revitalization project.  The buildings we walked past were apartments, restaurants, music venues and, of course, art galleries.  We even heard a spin class taking place on the other side of one of the walls.  This wall, as a matter of fact:

And these were tight places.  Without a somewhat wide-angle lens, there’d be absolutely no chance of taking in an entire scene.  Remember, this is an alley, not a street, so there’s very little room to compose.

If you’re not planning a trip to Denver any time soon, I really hope you’ll visit my Urban Decoration gallery and check out more images from this area.  Right now, that gallery is almost entirely made up of pictures from this one place.

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Live in Denver

Every year in the Spring my company organizes a concert for us and a few hundred customers.  This year the conference was in Denver, and the performer was Don Felder from The Eagles.  If you’re unfamiliar with the history of the band, I’m not going to get into a whole “who is Don Felder” thing here.  Perhaps names like Don Henley and Glen Frey are more well-known, but Felder was a core member of the group, wrote Hotel California, and, like the rest of them, fought famously with his band mates.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too sure how this show would turn out.  I thought it might be like seeing an Eagles cover band.  It was not like seeing an Eagles cover band; it was one of the best shows we’ve ever had.  Many people said it was the best show, but I’m still partial to The Animals from last year.  Whether or not it was the absolute best concert we’ve ever had, there’s no denying that it was truly and excellent performance.

In addition to Don himself, his backup band was an all-star group of musicians.  The keyboardist played with Stevie Nicks, and the backup guitarist played guitar for both The B-52’s and The Goo-Goo Dolls.

But let’s talk about the bassist for a moment.  It’s not easy to upstage a former Eagle, but this guy came close.

He had arms like tree trunks and the face of a cage fighter.  By contrast, he’s an operatically-trained vocalist who sang all the high notes.  He did most of his parts in a beautiful falsetto that belied the fact that he looked like he could literally tear your limbs off your body.  He was a pretty good bass player too.

Shooting this show was not without its challenges.  The location was a place called Mile High Station, which is just around the corner from Mile High Stadium (now called Sports Authority Field).  Like all our shows, it was an intimate venue that afforded us close, personal access to the band.  It took me awhile to figure out why it was so hard to get good shots, but eventually I realized that the stage was physically lower than normal.  Even though I was only feet from the performers, I still had to contend with people in front of me.  I wasn’t about to bully my way past those who were dancing in the very front row, but that meant I had a lot of heads to maneuver around.

In the above image, that woman is conveniently blocking the water bottle Don had attached to his mic stand for the whole show.  Most of the time, though, I had to dart out through the front row, snap a few pics, and then fade back into the crowd.  Although I tried to be courteous, I still probably upset a few people.  And, oh man, there were smart phones.

Not only was there a sea of phones up throughout the whole show, but people were constantly running up to the lip of the stage and turning around so their fiends could take a picture of them getting in Don Felder’s way during the performance.  The band was really cool about it, but I was a little embarrassed.  This is rock royalty; show some respect.

Of course, he finished with Hotel California.  Don switched guitars between almost every song, but for the finale he actually introduced his famous double guitar.

He plays the opening, acoustic-sounding, part on the top neck and then rocks out the closing solos on the bottom.

It was a fantastic show.  We’ve now had several great concerts in a row, so I can only hope that next year continues the trend.

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The Greatest Hits of Kaua’i

Visiting Kaua’i has almost become a process of going through standard motions.  It’s like going to a favorite restaurant and always ordering the same thing.  You know there are other things on the menu, but it’s hard to not get the thing you know you like.  So a week in Kaua’i has settled into “We have to do this, and then we have to do this, and then this,” and then the trip is over.  Oh well, like the menu item, I know what I like, and I’m never disappointed.  For example . . .

We always drive to Hanalei.  Since we like to stay in the Po’ipu area, which is on the southern tip of the island, the journey to Hanalei in the north is about a far as you can drive on Kaua’i.  So the drive itself is part of the experience.  It almost sounds silly to say this, but a week in Kaua’i usually involves more than one stop at my favorite roadside lookout point – The Hanalei Wetlands.

It’s a great view of the valley right by the road.  Among other things, taro is being grown down there.  I hate to ruin the magic for anyone, but it turns out that Puff the Magic Dragon did not live in Hanalei.  Once you get up there, you will have to decide on eating at one of two fabulous food trucks.  You can get great kālua pork at Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. or opt for an incredible grilled sandwich at Trucking Delicious.  To make matters worse, the best shave ice on the island is right there too, so save room and visit Wishing Well Shave Ice.

Of course, the Hanalei Wetlands isn’t the only roadside turnout that we check out every time.  Also on the way to Hanalei is a tiny wide spot in the road, right around a sharp curve.  If you’re not ready for it, you’ll drive right past it, and only a couple cars can be stopped there at any time.  This overlooks Halalei Bay.

Down on the southern end of the island, you can find the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i.  If you can afford to stay there, more power to you.  We’ve never stayed there, but we always make a point to walk past it around sunset.  The resort is massive and sprawling.  The whole thing is beautiful, but there is one particular place where I always (always!) try to get a perfect shot.  I’ve never felt like I fully captured the scene, so it’s become a bit of a white whale for me.  A very colorful white whale.

It’s truly a riot of colors.  The flowers, the trees, the water and the buildings are almost overwhelming.  The shot above is just one part of the expansive landscape.  There’s a lot more to it.

Of course, no trip would be complete without a visit to our favorite secret beach at Papa’a Bay.  We only know about this place because of a Photo Adventure Tour we took a few years ago.  Even though we’ve been there a few times now, it’s still hard to find.  Once you succeed in getting to the nearest area to park, there is still a somewhat treacherous hike down to the water and then over the rocks.  It’s totally worth it, though.  It’s beautiful, pristine and has always been empty of any other people.

There’s the Kilauea lighthouse.  I think this is a photo-op destination for a lot of people.  It’s nice, and there’s a bird sanctuary on the cliffs nearby, but I wouldn’t say this is a must-see for us on every visit.

The Allerton Gardens, on the other hand, is a definite must-visit-every-time destination.  You might think that once you’ve gotten a tour of a garden, that would be that.  But this place never fails to deliver.  We’ve taken the standard tour as well as the sunset dinner tour where you get to go all the way down to the Allerton House on the shore.  Both are very pleasant in their own ways.  Even though it is ultimately a bunch of trees and flowers, it always seems a little different.  They have species here you wouldn’t see anywhere else, and there are so many stories of the history of the garden itself and the many movies and TV shows that have been filmed on the property.

Ke’e Beach is at the end of the highway on the north end.  You can pronounce it like “key” if you want, but I think it’s kay-ay.  It always seems to be so crowded you can’t even park, let alone relax and enjoy it.  Once we get there, the most common thing for us to do is turn around and head back the way we came.  Not too far back along the highway is a much more pleasant beach that never seems to have many people.  There’s a nice stream that runs into the ocean for smaller kiddos to play in the water.  It’s safe and calm, but you can move a couple hundred yards further on and enjoy more exciting crashing waves.

There are different ways to fly over the island with multiple helicopter and plane tours.  If you end up visiting Kaua’i more than once, I’d recommend trying each out because they afford different experiences.  As I mentioned in Souring Over Kaua’i, the radio chatter between the pilots can be almost as entertaining as the landscapes.

Speaking of souring over Kaua’i, that’s one of the best ways to view the rugged Na Pali Coast.  This is the end of the highway on the south end of the island, so you need to hike in to get anywhere.  It’s almost impossible to take in the whole scene except from the air.  You could also get on a snorkeling tour that sails past the area.  That’s also a good way to see Na Pali.  One of these days we’ll have to hike into it and see it from the inside.

And, of course, there’s Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.  It’s certainly not as big or deep as the actual Grand Canyon, but it is not without its own charms.  It’s tropical after all.  The trick here is that there’s a long, winding drive up to the canyon that is not for the faint of heart.  Actually, driving is not super difficult, but it’s easy for someone to get carsick.  It’s worth it, though, but I do not recommend a tour for this one.  In fact, you will want to time your arrival to avoid getting there when the tour buses do.  If you arrive around lunch time, you’ll be jockeying for position with hundreds of tourists.  Don’t forget to stop along the way to check out the waterfalls.

On the way back from Waimea Canyon, you might as well stop and check out the Wailua River.  In fact, you may even want to get on one of the boat tours of the river.  That’s something I do recommend doing at least once.

So there are a few things you can do in Kaua’i.  There’s lots of other stuff, but that should get you started.

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