Monthly Archives: August 2011

Up early for no reason at all, or so I thought.

Pioneer Peak on the right. The pointed mountain in the far distance is Mt. Goode. This was taken from my deck this morning, after I'd visited with the creatures of dawn.

For no apparent reason that I could think of I awoke at 3 a.m. this morning & couldn’t get back to sleep. So, an hour later, I got out of bed & got dressed. After making myself a large cup of instant coffee I walked out to the studio then stared at my computer monitor for a while. That got kind of boring pretty quick. Then I remembered that I’d been wanting to try taking pictures of star trails and since the skies were clear, with lots of visible stars, I gathered up my camera equipment & went outside into the darkness.

After my eyes adjusted I picked out a likely looking patch of star studded sky, pointed my tripod mounted camera at it and stared an exposure of 4 minutes using a Nikon MC-36 remote release. At the end of the the exposure, when I looked at the LCD screen, I saw nothing but blackness.

“Hmmm.” I thought to myself.

So I tried it once more, but this time I set the exposure for 20 minutes. Then I sat down in a nearby chair to begin my long wait.

It was very quiet at that time in the morning. I could barely hear any traffic from the nearby highway. I like quiet, and I listened to it for a spell, feeling my shoulders relax as I closed my eyes and slumped further down into the chair to enjoy the sounds of nothing at all.

And how very nice it was.

Gradually I began to hear real sounds, sounds not man made. Owls, several of them, and in all directions from me seemed to be calling out to each other.

“HOOT HOOT…hoo hoo hoo,” one would say say. Then another, a little further away, would answer using the same exact phrase.

“HOOT HOOT…hoo hoo hoo.”

These conversations kept up more or less continuously and I really enjoyed listening to them.

But then, suddenly, I heard a much different sound, and much closer to me.

“Mehhhhhhhhh.”

At first I wasn’t sure I’d really heard something, so I listened closer. A few seconds later I heard it again, clearly this time.

“Mehhhhhhhh.”

It was a lonely cow moose in the nearby woods, calling out for another moose, a gentleman preferably, to keep her company.

She continued calling at regular intervals for quite some time. But she never did get an answer. Each moan she made sounded sadder, a little lonelier, than the previous one.

“Mehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” she cried.

But no one answered her.

No one at all.

“Mehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,”

I thought I could hear her sobbing between calls, but I wasn’t sure.

Finally, her calls got further and further away from me as she walked across the valley.

“Mehh.” I heard her say one last time. Then she was gone.

“So long.” I said under my breath, wishing her good luck & hoping she’d find some happiness very soon.

It was quiet again, except for the owls of course. They were still talking to each other.

Trying to decide who was buying breakfast I guessed.

Finally, it was time to end my exposure of the stars. This time I could actually see white lines on the screen, star trails I was sure, and was quite pleased with myself for that. It wasn’t exactly a breathtaking photograph, far from it I suppose, but at least I knew I could do it and approximately how much time to set the exposure for. Now, the next time I couldn’t sleep and the stars were out, I could give it another try, trying a little harder to be more creative perhaps.

By now it was getting much lighter out, I could see a brightness in the sky to my left as the sun crept up the backside of the distant mountains. Pastel colors began appearing in various regions of the sky too, so I just stayed out there on the deck, enjoying the rest of the morning, and taking many more pictures of another sunrise in Alaska.

I’m actually glad I got up early. I enjoyed feeling like I was a part of nature for a while.

Before the rest of the world woke up and started making noise again.

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Today has no plans for me

Good morning everyone. This is sunrise as seen from my home in Wasilla, Alaska today. A bit ordinary but still kind of pretty. Right now it’s rather pleasant outside, a bit of a fall nip in the air, and it smells nice and fresh, too. The temperature is 52 degrees, and as you can see from the picture, the sky is partly cloudy at the present time. Later today however the forecast is calling for more rain.

I don’t have any plans for today. Maybe I’ll think of somewhere to go to take some pictures, depending on the weather of course. If not I guess I’ll just hang around the old homestead & goof off.

I hope all of you have a pleasant day also. Take care.

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Summit Lake at the top of Hatcher Pass

Summit Lake. This is the shot I finally decided I liked best out of the seventy or so I made during my two plus hours waiting for the sun to finally set.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening yesterday at the top of Hatcher Pass just hanging out, waiting for perfect clouds and sunset. I arrived much too early in the day, around 3:00 p.m. I think, and therefore had to find something to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t get discouraged and go back home. So I parked in a rather popular parking area, one that offered a trail to a hilltop overlooking Summit Lake, and spent most of the afternoon making silhouette photos of various visitors as they hiked along that trail. The clouds were dramatic, to say the least, and they made very interesting backdrops. These photos were really easy to take. I simply sat inside my pickup and shot through  the windshield whenever I thought the composition looked right. And since the wind was brisk and chilly outside I was more than happy to stay warm, listen to the radio, and eat my sandwich as I took pictures. It was a pretty pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

After a while though, I got bored, so I drove a few miles down the road and found some nice colorful early autumn leaves looking like they wanted me to take their picture. And I did. But then I began to feel some sprinkles of rain falling on my head. Since it was 6:00 p.m. by then I nearly decided to give up waiting for sunset, still nearly 3 hours away, and head back home. Sometimes I don’t like rain very much.

However, by the time I got back to the Summit Lake area the sun was shining again.

What the heck,” I said to myself, “I’ve been here this long, I may as well stay until dark and see what happens.”

So saying, I parked my pickup in a handy little pullout beside the road, gathered the gear I thought I’d need, including a tripod, then hiked up a steep, rocky, moss covered hillside nearby until I had a good view of Summit Lake, with a beautiful vista behind it where I hoped to see the sun set among beautifully colored clouds.

Two hours later, perhaps a little more, I was still sitting there. Waiting.

But presently the sun finally did go behind some mountains and the sky and clouds began taking on some color, not as beautiful as I’d hoped for, but colorful enough for some decent photos. Finally, sometime after 9:00 p.m., I realized it was getting dark, so I folded up my tripod and made my way down the hillside, being very careful not to slip on the wet moss and stones then tumble to the bottom of the hill. By then everyone had left and I was on the mountain all by myself, with no cell service. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the night up there by myself with a broken something or other.

But I made it safely, and at a little after 10:00 p.m. I walked into the house to be greeted by Schnitzle and Becky, who were just going to bed.

I was still cold from my photographic marathon, and pretty tired too, so I was more than happy to join them.

One of the silhouette photos I made from inside the cab of my pickup yesterday. I shot all of them in color of course, but later decided that I like them best in Black & White.

The small parking lot on the right is where I waited while I took the silhouette pictures. Visitors would walk along a well marked trail, where you can see two people walking in this photograph. When they'd reach a certain point at the crest of the hill the sky full of clouds would be directly behind them. It was then that I'd snap happily away.

When I grew tired of making silhouette pictures I drove a few mile away where I found some rather nice early autumn scenes. I liked the velvety cascading water and colorful autumn leaves combined together here.

Some distance away from the little stream I spotted this hillside covered with colorful Fireweed plants. A short hike brought me close enough to take this photo using a telephoto lens.

My beautiful surroundings, as I waited patiently on the side of a steep and slippery hillside, for sunset last night. That's summit lake on the left. The small hillside on the far side of the road is where many visitors would walk after I'd taken their pictures from inside the cab of my pickup.

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Have a wonderful day day everyone.

Hatcher Pass and Rain

I’ve been spending a bit of time on Hatcher Pass with my camera again. There was quite a spell when I just didn’t have the desire to spend much time up there because I felt that all of my pictures were beginning to look alike. And in fact, I’m pretty sure they were. But now that I’ve decided to return I’m finding new perspectives and new inspirations.

On Saturday Becky & I spent an afternoon around Summit Lake, and over on the Willow side of the pass too, taking a few pictures and just looking around. It was raining steadily, and the road and hillsides were busy with berry pickers, but we managed to while away about four hours anyway, despite those impediments.

I tried to fashion some rain covers for our cameras out of large baggies, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be applying for any patents on my invention. It worked, sort of, but was mighty unhandy and awkward to use. I guess I’m going to have to send off for one of those authentic rain covers I found on the Internet at fifty dollars each, especially since it looks as if it going to be raining from now on in Alaska.

I also made the drive to the top of the pass on Sunday evening and also Monday night. From my house I am able to see if there are any interesting clouds up there and it doesn’t take too much to persuade me to make the drive if there are. Besides, now that the sun is beginning to set a reasonable hour, I don’t have to stay up all night long waiting for interesting lighting for my photographs.

I don’t know for sure yet if I’ll be going back up today, since it is presently raining and the clouds around here are low and gray. But conditions could change, I guess. I’ll just wait and see.

Below are a few of our photos in Hatcher Pass from the past few days.

Here's Becky photographing some flowers on Saturday using the DIY raincover I made for her camera using a large baggie and a rubber band. It worked, kind of, but it's not something I plan on marketing right away.

Here I am photographing an old bus that's been rusting away among a grove of spruce trees for hundreds of years...or at least fifty anyway.

A really nice picture that Becky took of some Daisy looking flowers.

Berry pickers, two of many that dotted the wet hillsides last Saturday. I really wasn't this close, in fact I was so far away they didn't even know I was even around. I just cropped the very center out of the picture to make it look like I was right there with them.

On Sunday afternoon it was nice at my house but, as I found out, raining furiously at Hatcher Pass. I kept driving anyway and as I topped a ridge I saw this spectacular scene before me. It lasted just long enough to pull to the side of the road and grab a few pictures. No time to even set up my tripod.

My pickup parked in the road in the rain, just after I shot the previous photograph. Obviously it was very wet up there.

This is from last night. I photographed from this exact location for over two hours, until the sun had set. I was really hoping for more spectacular lighting in the clouds, but this was about as good as it got. Still not too bad of a picture though.

Have a nice day everyone. Hope it’s not raining at your home. Unless, of course, you want it to rain.

 

Alaska skies clear again…but only briefly

Central Alaska's Pioneer Peak on a summer evening in late August. A close look will reveal a flock of Ravens flying across the scene from left to right.

I took advantage of a break in the weather late yesterday afternoon, spending a pleasant hour sitting on my deck enjoying the view as magnificent cloud formations rolled across the Chugach Mountain to the east.

Meanwhile though, I could hear great peals of thunder coming from the north, to my left. Over there just a few miles the sky was dark and intimidating as a thunderstorm rolled my way. For a little while I thought I would be forced to retreat inside the house, but luckily the storm passed well behind behind me and I was able to remain comfortably relaxed in my chair, enjoying the vista spread out before me.

It was nice seeing blue sky and watching pretty clouds for a brief spell. I found myself wishing that the weather in Alaska could always be that way.

But alas, this morning it is raining hard again.

As expected, I guess.

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Art Prints

Rainy Days And Rainbows In Alaska

Portion of a rainbow as seen from my house on Sunday evening. The rest of it never appeared so I assume the pot of gold was at the other end.

There’s not a whole lot for me to write about today. Becky and I didn’t do anything special photographically over the weekend. She cleaned the house and I….well, actually I didn’t do much of anything except try to stay out of her way while she cleaned. She sure can make our house feel mighty comfortable.

But there was a rainbow late on Sunday evening, or part of a rainbow anyway. Most of it was hidden behind some low storm clouds that were moving across the valley.

I took a series of pictures over a period of a half hour or so using my Nikon D300s and the Vivitar 70-210 manual focus lens that I talked about in the previous post. Even though it is substantially smaller and lighter than my big Nikon 80-200 lens, the pictures I’m getting from it are very comparable in quality. And, for some reason I haven’t yet pinpointed, the colors seem nicer, too. It’s quickly becoming a favorite I think.

I took all of yesterdays rainbow pictures while hand holding the camera. ISO was set to 200 and aperture on the lens was f 8. I’m not sure about shutter speeds, but probably somewhere around 1/250th. or 1/500th. of a second.

The one thing that bothers me about the lens, and makes it even more difficult to use, is the fact that the focusing ring doesn’t quite stop at infinity, it goes a tiny bit beyond, causing the images to be ever so slightly soft. I’ve done some experimenting and can now, by lining up certain marks on the lens barrel, get infinity focus pretty darned close, but being forced to take my eye away from the viewfinder is still a bit unhandy.

I guess that’s about it for today. It’s cloudy again and the forecast is for more rain in Wasilla. What a surprise. I may go out somewhere to look for something photographically challenging anyway if the clouds are at all interesting and not just flat gray as they have been recently.

Have a good Monday everyone.

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I think I like these old lenses

As of late I’ve been toying with a couple of old manual focus lenses I pulled out of a camera bag I’ve had stored away for quite some time. Both of them date from the late 1970′s or early 1980′s. One is a Nikon 50mm 1.8 Series E normal lens and the other is a Vivitar Series 1, 70-210mm 3.5 Macro focusing zoom lens. Both of them are in reasonably good condition, fairly clean, and definitely usable.

I attached the 50mm to my D300 first, then I walked around the yard trying to get a feel for focusing a camera manually again. It’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve done that on a regular basis and, truthfully, it was quite hard for me to do. I kept wanting to just start shooting away, forgetting that the old lenses were going to hand me back some responsibility for the pictures I wanted to take. I couldn’t just let my automatic camera and lens do all the work any more.

I almost gave up and stored them away again within the first fifteen minutes because of that.

But I hung in there, and now I’m really glad I did because once I settled down, after I started taking my time like I used do do back in the old days, that old glass began to reward me with some beautiful images. I was caught totally off guard as I looked at each image of the LCD screen. For the most part they looked beautiful. Sure, I had a lot of bad images, poorly exposed and blurry because of too slow of a shutter speed. Many were badly out of focus too, mainly because these old eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. But intermixed with the bad pictures were a few that seemed like real eye poppers to me and I couldn’t wait to put them on my computer monitor for a closer look.

The zoom lens was even harder to re-master because it was a lot harder to hold steady. At first it gave me nothing but blurs  because I was trying to shoot in the shadows of late afternoon. When I moved back out into the bright sunshine though, things got a lot better. I began to see some exciting results, although sporadic, on the LCD screen again. It took a while for me to figure out the Macro feature on the lens, in fact I had to look online for instructions, but once figured out I had quite a good time with that feature.

Both of these lens work quite well on my D300s. I simply set the shooting mode to A (Aperture Priority) then manually set the aperture on the lens. I found that anywhere between f5.6 and f11 work quite well on both of them. Luckily, the Nikon body will set the exposure automatically, although I’m only able to see what it’s doing through the viewfinder since the information is not available on the top screen for these lenses. All of the pictures here were shot hand held at ISO 200. Unfortunately, I’m not able to tell you any of the exposure details because they are not recorded with the image as they are with today’s modern lenses.

Heck, I can’t even tell you for sure which lens was used for what image, even though I’m pretty sure I remember fairly well.

I think I pretty much love these lenses. Using them takes me back a few years, back to when I had to know a little something about photography if I wanted to take good pictures…. more than I need to know nowadays, anyway. It just seems right to turn a focus ring again, watching things slowly change in the viewfinder until my subject suddenly pops into focus. But it’s not sharp focus right at first. To achieve the sharpest focus the focus ring needs to be slowly turned, first one way and then the other, from almost out of focus on one side to almost out of focus on the other, using shorter and shorter movements each time until “Bingo” there it is….perfect focus.

That’s how I did it for years and years and, well, it just feels good doing it that way again. I’m not saying that using old manual focus lenses is for everyone, because I know it’s not. The modern, automatic way is good too, and it has certainly made photography a lot easier and quicker for today’s hurried up pace. As a matter of fact, I’ll still use my auto focus  lenses for wedding and portraits and things I do for my customers.

But when I’m shooting thing just for my own pleasure, like nature and landscape shots, I think I’ll go back to the old way again.

At least for a while.

Following are a dozen of the images I took using my old manual focus lenses during the past two or three days.

Enjoy.

I don't remember exactly where I found this seed pods on my property. I'm pretty sure it's from some flowers we planted and not wild ones. I do know for sure that I used the macro setting on the zoom lens for this shot.

I photographed this cluster of fungi in the forested area of my property using the 50mm lens.

While I was sitting out on the deck I heard thunk. When I looked around I saw this poor guy lying beneath one of our picture windows that he'd flown into. As I reached down to pick him up I noticed he was still breathing and one of his feet was twitching, so I picked him up and carried him into a shaded area. Lying him on my knee I stroked his head as I talked softly to him. For five minutes or so I didn't think he would make it, but then he managed to close his beak and open his eyes to look around. In a little bit he was able to stand on wobbly feet. Not long after that he spread his wings and flew into a nearby spruce tree. I felt good about the whole incident, but I was mightily surprised too. He sure looked like a goner when I took his picture. Taken with the 50mm "normal" lens.

This was taken with the zoom lens set to its macro feature. Since I was hand holding the camera I had to take lots of shots before I was able to get the right area sharply in focus. This was one of only two that were usable, out of twenty or so taken.

This is the view I have when I'm sitting in my chair on the deck on a nice day. Sadly we're having fewer and fewer nice days as summer draws to a close here in Alaska. That's a little bit of fresh snow on the top of Pioneer Peak in the near distance. Taken with the 50mm lens.

Another grouping of fungus from the forested area of my property. I'm fairly certain that I used the 50mm lens on this one, but I can't say for sure.

I liked the way the evening sun was back lighting this cluster of birch tree leaves, and I really liked the detail in the one I focused on in the upper left corner. Taken with the 50mm lens.

This single raspberry was photographed with the zoom lens set to its macro setting. Depth of field is ridiculously shallow using macro with this lens and I had a hard time keeping things in focus as I hand held the camera.

I used the 50mm on this raspberry shot, and it was a little easier than than the previous one to hold in focus. I love the colors these old lenses dish out.

I critically focused on the far right petunia, throwing all else out of focus with a large aperture on the 50mm lens.

For this photo, taken with the 50mm lens, not only did I use selective focusing but I also used spot metering on my Nikon D300s, taking the reading from the bright, sunlit yellow area of this potted pansy.

The chair that I sit on when I'm out on the deck. It was fairly early in the morning here, and it was getting some direct light from the rising sun. This is one of the first pictures I took using the Vivitar zoom lens, mainly to check its sharpness. I was pretty pleased when I saw this.

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Thanks again.

 

Thunderbird Falls In Chugach State Park

Thunderbird Falls in Central Alaska.

A portion of the well kept trail leading to Thunderbird Falls.

Thunderbird Falls is about a half hour drive from our home in Wasilla. The trailhead is accessed from the Old Glenn Highway near the Eklutna Lake road. From there it is only a half mile hike to the falls along a well developed trail. The first 200 yards of the trail is a fairly steep climb but after that it levels out and the hike through the forest is pleasant.

Becky and I decided to visit the falls on Saturday afternoon since the weather looked pretty nice, and because just sitting around the house was causing me to get on her nerves. Also, too, because I had never been there in my 25 years in Alaska and Becky had been there only once, way back in ’89.

There was a lot of color in the forest alongside the trail, most of it green. We paused often to take pictures of it.

The parking lot at the trailhead was pretty much full, with only a couple of spots open when we arrived. There is a $5.00 per day fee charged for parking and I was lucky enough, or perhaps unlucky enough, to have exactly five one dollar bills in my wallet to pay the fee.

As we began the short hike it became obvious that we were not going to be alone. The trail was a busy place and we continually met groups of dogs and their people as we hiked along, occasionally stopping to take pictures and breathers.

Advice written on a rail.

Eventually we came to the nicely built viewing platform from which we could see the falls about a hundred yards distant. They are nice falls with lots of water tumbling over them.

From the viewing platform we walked back down the trail from whence we came then took a side branch leading down the hill to the base of the falls. Here again we met up with many dogs pulling their people back up the somewhat steep hill with a leash.

Up close the falls are somewhat more impressive, with more

Red berries along the trail, a sure sign of autumn.

and louder rumbling and a considerable amount of mist being flung about. I ventured closer to them, using wet and slippery rocks as stepping stones, then took several pictures using a slow shutter speed, trying to make the flowing water look silky and cool. I finally got one that was only a little blurry. By the time I got it, however, my lens had become speckled with droplets of mist so I gave up and made my way back to where Becky had been watching me, fearful I might slip.

Unaware of my stealthy presence Becky checks her pictures as she walks down the trail.

It was a nice getting out of the house and into the fresh air for a couple hours as we did, but by the time we arrived back at our home it was raining again. Hard rain, too. But that was okay. We’re getting used to it. We just ignored it as usual while Becky fixed us some tasty bologna sandwiches. Then we just settled in for the rest of the day, she in the recliner reading a book on her Kindle and myself on the couch, watching the Mariners on television.

Just another rainy Saturday in Alaska.

Near the base of the falls. I ventured even closer by skipping lightly across those stones behind me.

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