My Favorites of 2015

A lot of my 2015 was spent taking pictures of a certain baby boy.  On March 1st my son Tommy was born, and from that point on he ended up being the subject of many of my images.  Of course, every picture of him is a favorite of mine, but this one was an artistic attempt when he was about 3 weeks old.

I also got to shoot a lot of my step daughter’s soccer games this year.  At one point I stopped travelling for work, so I was home and ready to shoot many more games this year than in the past.  As luck would have it, her team did better this year than any previous season, so that added some extra excitement.

Even with a new baby around, we still managed to take a few trips and see some interesting things.  We made it out to Kaua’i a couple of times, and I got to visit the Allerton Gardens again.  This time we were there for the sunset dinner, so I got to see the place at, you know, sunset.

On a different trip, we took a small plane tour and got to see the island from the air.  I guess that’s the post right before this one, but I’m surprised I didn’t share this image of the Na Pali coast before.  The rock formations are called cathedrals, and they are breathtaking.

We also managed to get to Maui this past year, but it was in November and very rainy at the time.  Really, it was much rainier than usual for Hawai’i.  That extra water lead to many scenes like this one of some very swollen waterfalls.

I was in my 30’s before I went to Hawai’i the first time.  I guess we’re making up for lost time now.  But after all, it is just the next state over.  I was 40 years old the first time I saw the Grand Canyon.  My son was 4 months old for his first visit.

Sedona, Arizona (where we were staying for the Grand Canyon visit) is absolutely beautiful and much greener than I was expecting.  I had the shot below printed huge at 36″x 24″, and it looked great.  It makes me want to get other big prints made.

For some reason I found myself in Atlanta in 2015, where I ran around trying to find shooting locations for The Walking Dead.

I managed to get some non-Waling Dead pictures in Atlanta too . . .

. . . and even see Eric Burdon and The Animals perform.

I finally made it up to Orcas Island in 2015.  The area around the San Juan Islands is endless with beauty.  This was a quick trip, so I don’t have a whole lot of images, but boat tour was sublime.

Speaking of “up there in the San Juans”, there was also a trip to Victoria BC in 2015.  Here is a shot that proves Tommy walked in foreign lands before he was a year old (dressed as  a football no less).

There was that wedding I ended up shooting in Michigan in the pouring rain.

And there was that trip to the farm in Rosemount, Minnesota.

Of course there were some images to be seen closer to home this past year too.  Like St. James cathedral in Seattle.

A cargo ship parked in front of Mt. Rainier.

This year’s 4th of July fireworks show on Vashon Island.

And toward the end of the year, I got asked to shoot the children’s Nutcracker performance here on Vashon.  I’ve always wanted to do this, but they’ve always had a guy for it.  This year was my year, and I may be shooting more Vashon Allied Arts things in the future.

So I guess it was a pretty full year.  Looking back, we apparently did a lot of things, and these are just some of the highlights.  Hopefully 2016 will be at least as exciting (in a good way).

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Soaring Over Kaua’i

The last time we were in Kaua’i, we booked a small plane tour around the island.  It was fantastic.  Although we did a helicopter tour over Maui some years ago, the plane tour was different somehow, and I think I liked it better.  Still, if you’re able to afford both, I’d recommend trying each at least once.

There were 7 people total on the plane.  This includes the pilot and our 7-month-old son.  He’s a good flier, but he fell asleep halfway through the flight.  I guess he wasn’t that impressed.  There’s no grabbing for seats on this plane.  They weigh each passenger beforehand and then assign seating to balance the plane.  The seat they assigned me was the co-pilot’s seat, and it was as cool as that sounds.

We almost didn’t fly at all.  The flight was almost cancelled due to inclement weather.  We flew anyway, and I was worried not about having an unsafe flight, but about not getting good shots of the island.  The website for this tour described it as a photographer’s dream, and I wanted to live the dream.  I thought the views would be obscured by too many gray clouds, and that turned out to be partially correct.  There were no clear blue and sunny skies, and there were a few times when the rain completely blocked the landscape.

I still managed to get a few good shots though.  Since we’ve been around Kaua’i a few times before (on the ground), it was neat to see things from this different perspective.  The pilot was great about pointing out pretty much everything on the ground.  You’re familiar with Waimea Canyon?  It’s “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”  I looks pretty cool from the air, even on a cloudy day.

Waipoo Falls is the big waterfall in the canyon, and it looks pretty darn cool from above.

Do you remember Hurricane Iniki back in 1992?  I wasn’t there for it, but they say it pretty much wiped out everything on Kaua’i.  This plane tour we’re talking about was in 2015, and you can still see huge swaths of land destroyed by that hurricane that haven’t fully recovered yet.

Then there’s something they don’t tell you on the website.  There was radio chatter – lots of it, from other tours.  Everyone in the plane had headsets on, and we could talk to each other and the pilot.  That’s how he would tell us about the spots down on the ground.  Apparently this is some kind of open channel, and everyone else in the area could hear us and our pilot.  And everyone else could chime in if they felt so inclined.  One person who felt very inclined to be part of our tour was our pilot’s buddy who was flying a helicopter nearby.  Most of his interjections were related to South Park.  Specifically, he had a penchant for talking like Towelie (the anthropomorphic towel character who was always stoned).  So, you’re going to have to imagine our pilot telling us in a professional-sounding pilot’s voice that we were about to fly over, for example, Mahaulepu Beach.  Then imagine some guy coming in over the headset, in Towelie’s high-pitched voice, saying, “If you’re gonna fly over Mahaulepu Beach, don’t forget to bring a towel.”

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Jerome, Arizona: An American “Ghost Town”

It’s tempting to relate the complete history of Jerome, Arizona here.  The town has an interesting, if rather violent and sad, past and a somewhat sordid present.  However, this is a photography blog, and I want to show you some pictures.  If you Google Jerome Arizona History you’ll find plenty of sites to read if you’re interested.  Let’s just say that the hills of this desert town are rich in copper.  The proliferation of electricity (which makes use of copper wire) and the needs of the first World War made this a huge, booming copper town.

Above we see some implements of early copper mining business.  Jerome’s mining and ore extraction process actually predates copper smelting technology, so that pot above simply heated up the ore, and workers poured off the good stuff at certain temperatures (some gold, some silver, lots of copper).  This pot is not without horrific, leg-melting accidents in its past.  There’s a joke about casting the first stone in there somewhere, but I’m too lazy to extract it.

Visually, the most striking aspect of the town are all the original buildings that still stand today.

It’s what happens when you play Another Brink in the Wall backwards.

Why are all these images yellow?  That’s easy.  It was incredibly hot and sunny when we were there.  When you’re in a desert town, at some altitude, and the locals are complaining about the heat, then you know it’s hot.  It was like being on some kind of Star Trek planet.  The heat was oppressive, the air seemed to dampen noise, and yes, it was yellow.

Perhaps I should put the word “stand” in quotes as these structures are barely clinging to the landscape.  Although everything looked like it was carefully positioned and crafted to look old and abandoned, I was assured that this is really how the town has settled over the years.  Let’s not forget that people still actually live here.

The architectural relics do exist and are fun to look at.  Some of the original structures were damaged in fires or other calamities over the years and have been rebuilt.  They’re still there too and in use today, but having four walls and roof isn’t quite as visually interesting.

There are also several places where ancient entrances into the mines can still be found.

Above, you see a mine entrance and a coal chute built right into the side of the hill.  It was implied that parts of the old mines are still secretly in use today.  Our tour guide made a point of extravagantly winking when he was ‘not’ explaining this to us.

Another fun structure is the old jail.

It’s fun because there’s mummified human bodies still in it.  Check out that car in the upper right corner.  It’s up an embankment and about 30 yards away.  That’s where this jail used to stand.  Over time, it has migrated, relatively intact, to its current location.

During our visit, we also got lectured on the subtle differences between a bordello, a brothel and a plain old whore house.  Apparently there are differences, and it has to do with cost and quality of, um, services provided.  One of the pictures above was originally part of a brothel.  Can you guess which one?  Hint:  When I took the picture, I was standing in the street, on top of a mass unmarked grave of hundreds of people whose identities are lost to history.

On a more positive note, due to some tenuous insider connections, we got a private tour of the Holy Family Catholic Church.  This afforded us access to places where people generally aren’t allowed to go, like the upper balcony.

Jerome, Arizona is called a ghost town, but it’s inhabited by many living people.  The term is used here not to denote a typical abandoned community, but rather in reference to the large number of actual ghosts that haunt the area.  After hearing some of the countless (often horrible, sometimes amusing) stories of the town’s history, I can certainly believe in a high probability of its being haunted.  The current locals swear by it, and some of them are very convincing.  However, if I ever spend a night in Jerome, I’d be more afraid of the building I was in collapsing on me than any paranormal activity.  But, I guess those two things don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

(Just kidding earlier about the mummified human bodies)

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Butchart Gardens on a Gray Day

Here’s a piece of uninteresting trivia:  Until recently, I’d never been to Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC when it didn’t rain.  For my most recent trip, it looked like that trend would continue.  Ultimately, though, it was just an overcast day, and it never actually rained.  A butt-filled sky is like a giant soft box for photography.  My butts diffuse the sunlight and make it easier to take pictures of delicate things like flowers

After my first visit to the gardens, I decided to make a choice for each subsequent visit.  I didn’t want to spend hours walking around with lots of camera gear, so I decided to use just one lens and, obviously, stick with it the entire day.  Since that first visit, the lens I choose has been a 60mm macro/micro lens.  This means I can focus very close to subjects, and it also means that sharpness should be edge-to-edge.  With a 60mm focal length, I’m sacrificing any wide-angle shots, like the view of the Sunken Garden at the top of the stairs.  It means I can get shots like this if I so choose:

Just because I’m using a macro lens, that doesn’t mean that every shot has to be clinically close up.  It’s still a 60mm lens, and that’s pretty close to the standard angle of view of a 50mm.  Even so, it’s just not wide enough to capture any type of sweeping vista, and I end up taking many similar-looking pictures.

Then the goal becomes finding only perfect blooms to shoot.  This isn’t very difficult at Butchart Gardens, but even that gets a little tedious after awhile.  The next thing I try to do is find unusual-looking flowers and see if I can make them look cool.

Please note that at this point I almost cheated and showed you a hypnotizing image I took on a previous trip instead of the most recent one.  Integrity won this time.

Instead of isolating single blooms, I might see if a bunch of flowers presents a nice-looking pattern.

But ultimately, we’re talking about flowers, and the world only needs so many flower pictures.  When I start worrying that my flower pictures look like everybody else’s flower pictures, I fall back on what, for me, has always been a solid plan:  Take pictures of bees!

There are other, hopefully interesting, images of flora in my Flowers Gallery, so maybe you want to check those out too.

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Greenery and Water in Arizona

I’ve spent very little time in Arizona, but that will hopefully change in the future.  I can’t wait to go back.  The environment in Northern Arizona is not what I was expecting at all.  I mean, come on, if you don’t live there or otherwise know about the area, is this what you picture when you think about Arizona?

Being from the Pacific NW, I had an aversion to the American Southwest.  I guess I pictured something from a Road Runner cartoon with nothing but sand and rocks and an overwhelming dryness.  That turned out to not be the case, at least in Sedona.

The above images were taken at Slide Rock State Park.  The next time I go there, I will definitely hike in with a tripod to take a long exposure and get the water silky smooth.  Although the temperature was above 100 (F) every day, this was not the dry wasteland I had in mind.

One thing I expected that turned out to be accurate was the beauty of the sunsets.  Sedona and the surrounding environs are replete with massive, beautiful rock formations that light up in the evening.  I was constantly reminded of the Mull of Kintyre lyric “Past painted deserts the sun sets on fire . . . ” because around every corner was something like this view of Cathedral Rock.

Just outside of Sedona there are a few Native American ruins that are worth seeing.  Montezuma’s Castle has nothing to so with the Aztec emperor (he was never at this place).  It was misnamed by the Europeans who stumbled across this 5-story dwelling carved right in the side of the rock.  This is in the heart of the Verde Valley, and agriculture and fresh water were abundant.

A quick drive from Montezuma’s Castle takes you to Tuzigoot National Monument.  I’m not sure if the Tuzigoot (pronounced TOOTS-ih-goot) were a war-like people, but I can’t image that name struck fear in the hearts of English-speakers.  Here we find the ruins of an entire community that also took advantage of the verdant Verde Valley.

Each of those chambers was a room for something – a bedroom, a kitchen, whatever.  I’m not sure how they entered and exited the chambers as I could discern no doorways, but I’m sure they managed.

There is so much amazing scenery in Sedona, that even the view from a parking lot can be cool.

Of course we haven’t even talked about the fact that the Grand Canyon is a two-hour drive from Sedona, or about the neat little town of Jerome that is just 30 minutes away.  Those places will be covered another time.  I’ll leave you with another shot of Cathedral Rock, set on fire by the setting sun.

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