Orlando This Year, Again

Every year my company puts together a conference for a week in some US city.  This year it was in Orlando, FL.  That’s the same Orlando, FL as in 2013.  This is the first repeating city we’ve had, but that’s okay.  Seattle is having the wettest year on record, and it was nice to get to sunny Florida for a while.

We don’t have a tremendous amount of free time during the week, so I try to make my outings count.  The Orlando Eye Ferris wheel was close to our hotel, so we took a quick Uber over there to check out the view.  My first thought was what view?

Disney World?  Universal Studios?  The ocean?  No, that’s the roof and parking lot for Lockheed Martin, with Universal Boulevard in the foreground.  And that’s the view from on top of the Eye.  A particularly loquacious Uber driver later in the evening (not our next driver, but the next-next one) confirmed that the city picked a terrible location for this attraction.  There’s noting to see except the Orlando Eye itself.

After the Eye, we got in another Uber and headed downtown.  Between the disappointment of the Ferris wheel and our discomforting second driver, we weren’t in a very good mood at this point.  All that changed when we arrived at Lake Eola Park right at sunset.  I’ve been told this hasn’t always been a pleasant place for families and those not looking to score drugs, but it was plenty comfortable when I was there.

Man, were there a lot of birds.  Swans (even black ones, which I didn’t know existed), geese of different varieties and ducks.  There was also a pigeon or two . . . million.  That’s one flock of pigeons alighting from a deck raining as I was taking the above shot.  It wasn’t planned.  This group of birds kept settling back onto the railing and then exploding off of it every few minutes.

The band this year was the Beach Boys.  Mike Love and Bruce Johnston gave us a private show that was very nice.  They’re getting up there in age, so there wasn’t a lot of dancing around, but they can definitely still play and sing.

Mike Love . . .

Bruce Johnston . . .

Modern technology gave them the opportunity to have the late Carl Wilson sign lead on one of the songs with the band backing him up live on stage.  I really should have made a note of which song that was, but I was so impressed with the synchronicity that I just stood there watching and listening and not really thinking.

I didn’t mention that the opening talk was given my Story Musgrave.  If you don’t know who that is, please do yourself a favor (really) and look up his life story.  You’d think it would be enough for a man to be a space-walking, Hubble-telescope-repairing astronaut, but he was also a neurosurgeon for over 20 years as well.  And those are only a couple of the interesting things he’s done.  Hearing him speak was inspiring and very motivational.  It’s with him that I took my first celebrity selfie ever.

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Quick Trip To Arizona

We started 2017 with a quick trip down to Arizona. The idea was to get away and take a break from the cold, wet weather in Seattle for a few days. Where were we in Arizona? Starting in Phoenix, highway 60 takes you east into Tempe. Tempe transitions into Mesa, and then mesa fades into smaller cities and towns as you move further east. It’s a multi-mile urban sprawl, and we went to the point where it almost peters out into desolation.  The road is called the Superstition Freeway at this point, and that was appropriate because we were traveling on, wait for it, Friday the 13th.

The Superstition Freeway takes you past the Superstition Mountains and the towns of Apache Junction and Gold Canyon. For the long weekend, we stayed at a house in the community of Peralta Trail, right in the shadow of the Superstition Mountains and perhaps a lost gold mine.

For this trip that was supposed to be a weather getaway . . . it rained. It rained hard and long. It was the divisional weekend for the NFL, so we did have a little something to do indoors. We got to see the Seahawks get knocked out of the playoffs by Atlanta.  🙁  Still, the temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than back home, and it was a nice change of scenery.

The nicest day was Monday, and that’s when we visited Lost Dutchman State park. The story of the Lost Dutchman (who was German) is an interesting one. From what I can tell, there is no fully-accepted story on missing gold, marauding Indians or Civil War-era intrigue. There are only myths and rumors and multiple rich stories that are probably just that – stories.

The park is very much a tourist destination, but it’s still fairly interesting and fun for all that. Our server at lunch was dressed like she just got off her shift at the bordello; you can buy all manner of knives, tomahawks and brass knuckles at the gift shops; and there’s a shootout with desperados every hour.

The highlight of the park, for me, was the Mystery Shack. Apparently the night before our visit, some people who probably spent too much time at the saloon broke into the Shack and sprayed the fire extinguishers all over the place. This made for an interesting smell as we toured the unsteady grounds and added to the, well, mystery of the place.  I really hope this is the first of many visits to Mystery Shacks around the world.  I want to be a Mystery Shack aficionado.

Although it was a short, rainy trip, it was still a good change of pace, and we enjoyed ourselves. Tommy can have fun anywhere, and he learned a good lesson about not playing with cactuses (cacti? whatever).  He learned that pointy things can be pokey and are not to be fondled.

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Epic Trip to Italy

The story of our trip to Italy is finally ready.  At least, it’s as ready as it’s going to be until I find more typos or decide to add something else.  This is the synopsis of our sojourns in Rome, the Tuscan countryside, Assisi and the Amalfi Coast.  It’s filled with anecdotes, a little history and even some photographs.  As long as it is, I still feel like it just scratches the surface of everything we saw and did and experienced.

Two Weeks in Italy

If you have any interest in reading about some other family’s vacation and looking at their photos, I really hope you’ll check it out.  How can you resist, right?  I know, maybe it doesn’t sound like much fun, but the experience really had me blown away.  These are my little descriptions of how I remember it. If you’d rather just look at the pictures, you can follow the link below.  That gallery will continue to be updated as time goes by.

The Italy Gallery

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Italy Highlights

I just got back from an epic two week trip in Italy.  It was absolutely amazing, but it will be awhile before I can get through all the pictures.  For now, here are some of the highlights.

Here we have Ponte Sant’Angelo, a bridge spanning the Tiber river, with Castel Sant’Angelo on the left.  This was an unplanned shot in that I didn’t set out to get it.  We were walking across an adjacent bridge, and I looked over to see this.  It’s an often-photographed scene, so I was lucky the sun and, especially, the clouds played nice and gave me a great view.

Next we’ve got one of my photographic white whales – the Bramante staircase in the gift shop of the Vatican Museums.  This is the modern Bramante staircase, as opposed to the ancient one.  Many thanks go out to Scott Kelby, who unselfishly shared 1) Where this is located, 2) When to photograph it with no people on it, and 3) How to be there at that time.  None of those things are obvious.  Would you expect that a fantastic work of art like this would be in the gift shop?  And this is the exit to the Vatican Museums, so it’s normally got lots of people on it.  We signed up to get into the museums early and, instead of the Sistine Chapel, I went straight to the exit to get this shot.

Our adventure in Italy wasn’t just in Rome.  We started with 5 days there and then spent 3 days in the Tuscan countryside, 3 days in Assisi, and then 3 days on the Amalfi Coast.  All this with two kiddos in car seats and diapers, plus all the baby accouterments.  Just in case we weren’t totally wiped out after all that, we swept through Paris on the way home, spending just 20 hours there.

There were lots of side trips along the way.  Driving from Rome to Buoncovento in Tuscany, we stopped and spent the day in Orvieto.  Here is the facade of the Duomo di Orvieto.

From our home base in Tuscany, one of our day trips was to Siena.  Of course I had to climb the almost-500 steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia to see how the world looked from there.  It looked pretty good.

The main feature you see is the Duomo di Siena (the Siena Cathedral).  More facades there, of course.

Assisi is yet another fabulous hill town.  Although the whole place is interesting, and there are several major features, you can’t help but be drawn to the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi (St. Francis of Assisi).  We were there toward the end of the special Jubilee year of Mercy, so there were a lot of people on pilgrimages in addition to the tourists.  The only way to get a shot of this basilica without a bunch of people in it was to show up at dawn.

At this point, it’s still hard for me to get my head around everything we did and saw and experienced.  It’s overwhelming in a good way.  I even started taking notes to keep track of everything.  If you’re curious about some of the details, you can take a look at this:

italy-tour.txt

Those are the running notes I’ve been taking and adding to.  It’s definitely a work-in-progress but gives you some idea of how epic this trip really was.  Time-permitting, I’m planning of putting together a full write-up of all the adventures.  And there were lots of adventures – Very few people speak English there, so I had to learn some Italian; I got stopped by the Carabinieri one night outside of Buoncovento; driving in Italy is totally insane, and I had to do it in a huge 9-passenger van.  Also, in Amalfi, this happened:

Oh yeah – While we were in Rome, we attended a Papal Audience.  This happens every Wednesday while the Pope is staying at the Vatican.  We did everything we could to receive a blessing from Pope Francis for our baby girl Claire and, well . . .

20161026-_dsc5731

. . . that’s our girl.  So I’d have to say that out of all the incredible things we saw and photographed, this one is my favorite.

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Accepting the Realities of Flash Photography

It’s been a long, sometimes painful, oftentimes disappointing, journey, but I wasn’t expecting to be an expert overnight.

Not all that long ago, when someone would ask me what I shoot, I’d always respond the same.  “Anything without people in it.”  To some degree that is still true.  I will always love shooting travel and landscape photography.  To me, capturing the beauty of the places I’m lucky enough to visit makes the memories more tangible and lasting.  Don’t tell my loved ones, but shooting pictures where people are the main subject used to seem like something I kind of had to do.  It’s not that I didn’t want to see friends and family in my pictures; it’s just that, well, I was a little unsure of my abilities to capture them in a good, shall we say, light.

Since light is everything in photography (which literally means drawing with light), I needed to harness all the light at my disposal.  This meant crossing into that mysterious and somewhat frightening world of flash photography.  Mysterious (you don’t see the light until the flash fires)?  Frightening (keep reading)?  Let’s take a look at a picture of Tommy out in my backyard.  The sunset light was good, so I wanted some of the ambient light in the scene.  I also wanted Tom to be properly exposed, so I knew I’d have to use a flash.  Here’s what happened:

20160806-_dsc1015

The ambient light is still visible.  There’s a foreground, a middle ground and a background.  You can see that flowers exist.  The horizon could be a little straighter, and Tommy needs a haircut, but all the elements are present for a good image, right?  I don’t think so.  That deer-in-the-headlights look is courtesy of putting the speedlight right on top of the camera and then blasting my subject (poor little guy) with it.  The hard shadows and light falloff did not add to the look I was hoping for.  This was the first of what would end up being many disappointments in my adventure with flash photography.

Just 10 days later, I had the flash off the camera, raised up and over to the side.  Tom was kind enough to give me another shot at it, and we were able to come up with this:

Serious Tom

Whoa, catchlights!  Better, no?  I put myself back into school-mode and read books and blogs.  I watched countless videos and poured over images I liked.  I studied the giants like Joe McNally and David Hobby.  This is the point at which I could show you all of the many disheartening mistakes I made along the way, but this isn’t that kind of a post.  You’ll just have to trust me – I didn’t just read a book, follow instructions and then, bang!, everything was awesome.  Remember when I implied my family would like me to take more pictures of them?  Well, I think I used up my goodwill with them standing in front of my camera.

It took practice, practice and more practice.  Here are some of my favorites so far of Sue, Amber and Gabbie:

Look, no glare in those glasses.  I still have plenty of learning to do and practice to put in, but these are far better than all those mistakes I’m not showing you.  Remember that David Hobby I mentioned earlier.  If you’ve read his Strobist 101 series, then you’ll probably recognize this “dramatic” lighting and pose of my most-patient model Gabbie:

Dramatic Gabbie

The addition of a reflector on the shadow side might have helped a little, but I think that triangle made by the shadows under her left eye legitimately qualifies this as Rembrandt Lighting. She’s patient alright. That Strobist post had us moving around our subject, getting the light at different angles.  Here’s her profile in case you want to pretend she’s looking at something.

Profile Gabbie

There’ve been more, a lot more.  I think I’m having more successes now that failures, but everything is a learning opportunity.  Being willing to incorporate flash into my photography has opened up a whole new world of possibilities.  I never thought of natural light as limiting, but it really was when that was all I had.  Unfortunately for my family, now no time of the day is outside shooting time.  Day or night, I can make good images if I’m willing to experiment.  Still, I’ve got to come out from behind the camera sometimes because I wouldn’t want to neglect this guy.

Big Blue Eyes

(catchlights!)

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