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:


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 . . .


. . . 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:


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


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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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