Still In Kaua’i

We arrived in Kaua’i very late Saturday night.  It wasn’t until the next morning that we were able to see sights around us.  And what sights there are!  Even though we didn’t have an ocean view room, the view from our patio wasn’t that bad.

On Sunday, of course, we went to church.  Here is a shrine behind St. Raphael Church, which is the oldest one on Kaua’i.

They say it’s always raining somewhere in Hawai’i.  This week, I think, was a little more localized, and it’s fair to say that it was always raining somewhere in Kaua’i – usually wherever we were.  So, there were lots of clouds, odd lighting and the occasional shower.  Still, this meant getting some interesting shots when it wasn’t coming down.  It also meant having rainbows pretty much every day.

In the above image you can see one of the countless wild chickens with which Kaua’i is infested.  In a future post, I’ll probably relate the fairly amusing story of how the situation came to be.  For now, let’s just say that chicken-nado isn’t too far off.

Although Kaua’i is one of the quieter islands (read:  the opposite of Maui), there are still plenty of activities to enjoy.  For example, there’s fishing . . .

 Link to a full-res fishing photo

You can take the somewhat treacherous hike to Ho’opi’i Falls (making sure to eat some strawberry guava along the way).

One of the main things I wanted to accomplish during this trip was to get a picture of the Milky Way as seen from Earth.  The first several nights found the stars obscured by clouds.  This was profoundly frustrating because I repeatedly saw the stars and then ran to get my camera and tripod, only to return a minute later to find them completed hidden.  On Wednesday night, the trade winds were more favorable.

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The Wedding and “The Guy”

It was probably bound to happen sooner or later, and it happened last weekend.  The signs were there, but I didn’t recognize them.  Things just happened so fast.  Looking back, I might do things differently.

I was asked to bring my camera to a wedding and maybe take a few pictures.  Just for fun, you know, if I wanted to.  [Red Flag]  It wasn’t supposed to interrupt me being a normal guest at the event.  Everything was okay because they “had a guy.”  Some people in the know might read this so I won’t go into the 6-degrees relationship of “the guy” but things didn’t quite work out, photographically, like the wedding party was hoping.

Unless you have a signed contract ahead of time, and are getting paid, you might want to leave your DSLR at home.

Let me first explain that I know enough about wedding photography to know that A) It’s dead-serious and an important business and B) There’s a ton of stuff I don’t know (You know, I know enough to know what I don’t know.  Know what I’m sayin’?).  It was okay, though, because I wasn’t THE photographer.  They had a guy.  Well, the guy went missing-in-action immediately after the ceremony and wasn’t there to take some of the crucial wedding party pictures.  I wonder if, at this moment, the guy just didn’t care or if he thought screw this, this feels a lot like work.  He reappeared for a bit but was then totally gone right after that.  I mean, like, gone-gone.  Like, “The Guy” had left the building-gone.

It was funny because I could swear that the cake hadn’t been cut yet.  None of the dances had happened.  The bouquet hadn’t been thrown, and the garter was still safely on the bride’s, um, person.  Realizing these things, I had a sinking feeling.  The heavy strap around my neck suddenly felt like an albatross.  Everyone was looking at me, when they should have been looking at the new bride and groom.  Also, the needle on the record had scratched off, my eyes were caught wide open, and I hoped that there was nothing green and leafy stuck in-between my teeth.

Having a big DSLR hanging on my shoulder, the pleas went out for me to step in and do something.  What?  I thought I was just a guest.  Oh, Steve, just take a few pictures as a friend.  Well . . . my name is Steve . . . I do have a camera and such . . . and . . . heck, I’d like to be a friend.  And that was the moment I became THE photographer (Not officially, of course.  I didn’t know where “The Guy” was at this point.). No contract, people.  No preparation.  I had no idea who was related to whom and how important different people were.  I had NO FLASH and only a telephoto lens.  But I was the person with the biggest camera on the scene, so therefore . . . well, I had a duty to do.  We have a responsibility.

As unpleasant as the next few hours would be, I couldn’t, in good conscience, let the evening go away without at least trying to help.  This should be one of the most important events in their lives, and they’ll probably want some pictures of it later on.  I know the general flow of weddings, so I could kind of anticipate what would be happening next and where I’d need to be.  So, with big DSLR and telephoto zoom in hand (and speed-light at home), I set forth to attempt to do some good.

I couldn’t believe how many people have no problem standing in front of the guy with the big camera who’s obviously taking the big pictures.  Of course, I couldn’t ask any of these people to, you know, get out of my way, because I had no idea how important they were and I wasn’t the real photographer.

The whole evening was pretty much a blur.  (Warning about a total camera geek-out here)  The only thing that kept me calm was knowing that the one (again, telephoto) lens I had with me had a constant f/2.8 aperture.  Yes, it was comforting.  This was all outdoor, in the evening, with no flash.  Sometimes it’s the “little” things.

Immediately after being "pronounced"

Immediately after being “pronounced”

We could go through the standard images of bride and groom and relatives facing the camera, smiling in their finery.  But you probably don’t know these people, so let’s just look at a few of (what I think are) the more interesting images.

They are now husband and wife

They are now husband and wife

If you’ve seen my images before, you’re probably aware that I take precious few pictures of people.  If there are people in my images, they are almost always incidental.  One of the reasons I have avoided wedding photography is because it’s nothing but people pictures.  And there’s people facing the camera with forced smiles and then there’s people just being themselves.

The primary wedding party

The primary wedding party

If I were a crude, immature man I might make a joke about this being the moment after the money shot.  Fortunately I’m better than that.  Hey, speaking of mature, let’s take a look at the garter toss.

20140712-_DSC3968

Who’s next? (Get it?)

As much as I’m tempted, I’m not going to show the images that led up to this conclusion.  Let’s just say that I was surprised at the technique employed and actually had my mouth hanging open for a period of time.  Oh wait, did I mention that the man acting as Father-of-the-Bride is a touch insane?

Oppa Gangnam style

Groom and Father-of-Bride Dancing

Yes, these people are my friends.  I’m proud to call them such, and yes, I did have a good time with this.  Oh, wait again.  I’m pretty sure that I failed to mention something.  Just as the ceremony was starting, as the guests were settling down in their seats and voices were hushing, something completely random happened.  A 16(ish)-year-old girl pointed up to the sky and said, “Hey look!  An eagle.”

20140712-_DSC3608

Caw, yo

I’m not entirely convinced this is an eagle.  It seems a little hawkish to me.  But the moment happened, and I was lucky enough to have a camera with me.  Now, if only I had a longer telephoto at the time . . .

 

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4th of July on Vashon Island

Every year on The Island there is a fantastic fireworks show launched out in Quartermaster Harbor.  I don’t know who pays for this year after year, but it is a first-class display, enjoyed as a community event.  We all gather along the harbor for hours before the “real” show.  July in Washington means that the sun goes down pretty late.  It doesn’t get fully dark until after 10:00, so even if you show up at 8:00 (because parking is a bit of an issue), there will still be a couple hours to hang out and meet the neighbors.  Normally it’s pretty crazy down on the beach.

For one night of the year it’s legal to set off the big aerial fireworks, and people certainly do.  It can get a little dicey with so many so many explosives going off in every direction, but the danger just adds to the excitement as far as I’m concerned.  Did I mention that when the tide is up we’re sitting right on the road, with cars going by inches behind us?  That adds to the excitement.  After each volley finishes, I cross myself and thank God I’m still alive to see the next one.

Then the real show started.

I love fireworks so much.  I love the full sensory experience – the bright, colorful sight (obviously), the heart-shaking sound of the booms and the peppery, cordite smell that grows as the night goes on.  Light, smoke, bass and family all in one – who could ask for more from a free experience?

As a lover of fireworks and photography, I take shooting fireworks kind of seriously.  There’s a very limited number of opportunities to practice, so I try to make the most out of each occasion.  In case you’re interested, I almost always end up shooting at f/8 and ISO 100.  I set focus to almost infinity in manual mode on the bulb setting and use a cabled remote shutter release.  Being on bulb mode, the shutter speed changes with each exposure.  Normally my shutter speed is between 4 and 8 seconds.

The thing I like the most about the show here is the reflection in the water.  If you have access to my EXIF settings you’d see that most of these pictures were made with fairly wide angles.  We were practically right on the water.  The small town feel, the local flavor and the constant sense of terror all contribute to my warm feelings of this annual event.  Truly, I love the fireworks on Vashon Island so much.

Until next year . . .

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Photography in Victoria BC

I just got back from my second weekend in Victoria BC is as many months.  This is definitely my current getaway town as it is so close and provides plenty of photographic satisfaction, even when there for just a couple days.  Over at the PhotoCamel, I was asked about things to shoot in Victoria, so I thought I’d put together this summary.

There are a few different ways to get to this southern tip of Vancouver Island, off of Canada’s Pacific coast.  Since I come up from Seattle, the Black Ball ferry line out of Port Angeles Washington works for me.  In fact, if you can work it into your schedule, the town of Port Angeles can be your first place to start shooting.  It is a quaint (in a good way) sea town that is a bit lost in time (again, in a good way).  This is an international boat ride, so bring your passport and come early.

While you’re in Port Angeles, make sure to stop at Cock-a-Doodle Doughnuts for a treat.

Once you’re on the boat, it’s not time to rest yet.  Head back to the stern to get some shots of Port Angeles from the water and, more importantly, the Olympic Mountains.

You might want to wait back there for maybe 20 minutes as the scene changes the further you get from land.  After that, you can go back inside and rest comfortably on this peaceful ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Keep an eye out, though, for cruise and container ships you might pass along the way.

It’s a 90 minute crossing that ends with a lazy drift into James Bay in Victoria.  You definitely want to be on-deck toward the bow at this time.  The view of the hotels, apartments and city from the harbor is great.

The Empress Hotel

Entering the harbor, this will be your first view of The Empress, and, for my money, this is one of the jewels of Victoria.  I already wrote a little bit about it here, so I won’t belabor point now.  Even if you don’t stay at The Empress, you’ll want to spend some time walking around it and checking out the details.

The Butchart Gardens

Personally I think you must make time to visit the Butchart Gardens on every trip to Victoria.  Since it changes with the seasons, there will always be something new to see.  Bring along your macro/micro lens (I like my 60 mm focal length) and maybe a wide-angle lens.  If you go during the day, you don’t need to worry about a tripod.  Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours there so you have plenty of time to take everything in.  Once you get past the front gate, I suggest you head to the left and work the property in a clockwise fashion.  This will afford you most dramatic first look at the sunken garden.  Make sure to read the history plaques along the way to find out how this old limestone quarry became one of the largest and best gardens in the world.

After a full day at Butchart Gardens, you might want to have dinner at The Spice Jammer.  I’m not sure I’d eaten East African Indian cuisine before this, so I have nothing to compare, but the food here is incredible.  5-stars.  10/10.  I can’t say enough good things about the food and service here.  It’s on my growing list of must-dos in Victoria.  Make reservations.

Oak Bay

I’m undecided on whether or not it makes sense to rent a car for a weekend trip to Victoria.  I suppose if you stay at a hotel downtown (like The Empress), you don’t need one, but if you stay further out (like at the fabulous Oak Bay Beach Hotel), it could come in handy.  Either way, you’ll want to make some time to head over to the east side of the southern tip of the island to check out the Oak Bay area.

It’s actually the drive out there that is meaningful.  Take the scenic route from downtown there and back.  If you can arrange it, having a knowledgeable driver willing to make frequent stops along the way would be the best way to go.  This is where a car is really nice because I wouldn’t want to do this in one of those huge tour buses that are everywhere.  Make sure to look back from the road to see how the other half live and note that the stone walls around the most posh properties came from the quarry that would become Butchart Gardens.  It seems like there’s a scenic stop around every turn, so go slow.

Miniature World

You’ve got to do this at least once.  If you’re into fine details and history (and who isn’t?), you need to check out this museum for the sheer magnitude of the effort that went into making it.  There’s something for everyone, and you should expect to spend at least 2 hours here.  Bring your macro/micro lens.  When shooting, try to get as close to the glass displays (without breaking the glass) as possible.  Not all of the displays are behind glass, and you can really get creative with your depth of field.

If you’re already downtown, now’s as good a time as any to head over to Dog Gone-It for a gourmet hot dog.  No matter how hungry you are, one Big Chihuahua is almost certainly enough.

Whale Watching

So far, I’ve only done this once, so you’ll have to take my advice with a grain of salt.  Actually if you ride one of the Zodiac-style boats out there, you’ll have to take a LOT of grains of salt, and that leads me to the first suggestion – bring protection!  For your person, you’ll want to dress warm, but not too bulky.  On the small inflatable Zodiacs they put you in these huge red suits that keep you relatively dry.  It’s no fun putting the suit on over a coat, so just where, maybe, a t-shirt and sweater underneath.  You and your camera will get wet, so you must bring a rain sleeve of some sort that will fit over your entire camera and lens.  This is ocean salt water, remember, so even if your gear is water resistant, the salt might still be a problem.  You might also consider putting on a UV filter because that would be easier to clean than the front element of the lens.  And please cover your gear the moment you get into the boat.  During the slow exit from the harbor was when we got the wettest.

What kind of camera gear do you want?  I suppose that depends on your goal.  There was a woman with us with a weatherproof GoPro, and several people had point-n-shoots.  There were even some camera phones in use.  Of course, I had a full-size DSLR and a pretty beefy lens.  This did not, however, turn out to be the gear I needed most.  Since we’re supposed to stay at least 200 meters away from the whales, you’ll want a pretty long telephoto lens.  I’d recommend something that can reach to 400 mm.  Even on the overcast day, light wasn’t a problem, so I didn’t need a huge aperture.  A telephototo that only opens to f/5.6 is probably the way to go:  It’s smaller and lighter than the ones with large maximum apertures, more things will be in focus with the smaller aperture, and if something bad happens, you won’t be out a couple thousand dollars.  You want a fast shutter speed, but I was in the thousandths of seconds the whole time.  Like I said, there was tons of light.

Let’s wrap things up here.  Of course there are many other photo opportunities in Victoria BC.  That’s why I plan to return regularly.  You’ll want to simply wander around downtown on a sunny day and check out the architecture, waterfront and China Town.  You should probably make time to visit Craigdarroch Castle.  And you’ll want to check out the area near The Empress at night.  I haven’t even mentioned the Parliament building, but it is just around the corner.  They light it up every single night, so that is definitely something to check out (bring a tripod for that one).

Cheers until next time,

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Feeling the Blues in Austin

At the North American conference that my company puts on every year, we always have a musical act on the evening before the final day.  In Austin, TX this year we were treated to Jimmie Vaughan and his Tilt-a-Whirl Band.  Jimmie is the older brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Jimmie is a fine performer and excellent blues guitarist.  For some years now he’s been showcasing the blues, ballads and favorites which have influenced him throughout time.  He actually has more than one album with that title.

Although capable of entertaining the crowd on his own, Jimmie was backed by a small, solid band that included Billy Horton on the upright bass . . .

. . . trombonist Mike Rinta . . .

. . . and Doug “Mr. Low” James on the saxophone.

Backing up Jimmie on the rhythm guitar was the dangerously calm and cool Billy Pitman.

George Rains was on drums, and Lou Ann Barton lent her uber-smokey voice to some of the vocals.  In spite of sitting right there in front of the stage, I didn’t get very good shots of them.

We enjoyed a night of hearing about our baby leaving us, our baby coming home and just missing our baby in general.  Sometimes our baby treats us historically well, and other times we been mistreated.  The numbers ranged from spirited, high-flying, almost rock-a-billy tunes to Jimmie’s creeping solo performance of Six Strings Down (aka Blues Stringer).  I’d have to say that the show was a great success.  Jimmie and the band are real professionals, even when dealing with the massive number of gigantic june bugs flying around and landing on them during the concert.

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