Castle Mountain Junction – Banff, Alberta

Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada is one of my favorite places to relax in the world. As someone who loves the outdoors and tries to capture its beauty through photography it is an absolutely amazing experience! One of my favorite places to watch the sunset is at the Castle Mountain Junction in between the town of Banff and Lake Louise. If I hadn’t read the Photographers Guide for Banff National Park I may have been deterred by the fence preventing access to the rivers edge around this junction. However, thanks to Darwin Wigget’s guidance in the book I knew that at some point in the fence (he accurately describes the location in the book) there is an area where people can easily pass through simply by undoing a latch. The fence is only there to prevent animals (deer, elk, bears) from crossing the ‘main’ roads and isn’t intended to restrict human access in any way. Unfortunately, they don’t clearly mark that so again the book is very helpful in that regard. An additional tip is that in the winter – the snow tends to bury these fences so I’d expect to spend ten/fifteen minutes digging the bottom of the fence out before actually being able to open it. When I took this photo I had to dig out around three feet of snow (with just my gloves since my rental car didn’t come with a shovel) since the person before me had gotten the fence open but failed to shut it behind them when they left.

Castle Mountain Junction – Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain Junction - Banff National Park

In exactly two months I’ll be up in Banff taking in the sights (hopefully without snow this time) and trying to capture the beauty for the readers of this blog. Stay tuned for future updates where I’ll plan on doing some video post processing of photos….my new website will allow for much greater flexibility in content.

Stepping Back in Time

Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan is about ten minutes from where I grew up. As kids we’d take annual field trips here but I never truly appreciated the history of the village and the adjacent Henry Ford Museum. There is so much history in between these two places – including the presidential limo that Kennedy was assassinated in, the rocking chair from the Ford Theater that Lincoln was assassinated in, the bus that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on during civil rights protests, an exact replica of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory (all buildings built in exact size and scale) that even Edison was amazed at since all of the details – like where varying chemicals were stored – were perfect.

Bicyclists at Greenfield Village – Dearborn, Michigan

Throughout the year, there are many people who work at Greenfield Village and dress in period costumes as the two above are. They were riding old bicycles from the late 1800s and early 1900s – I have gotten into biking the past few years and have a nice, light road bike that I’m sure weighs a fraction of these beasts. The other question that is pretty obvious is how the heck did he get all the way up there? Well just in case you wanted to find out (as I did) – there is a video posted by one of these riders showing how they get on the ‘Ordinary Bicycles’

Rainstorm at Oak Alley Plantation

We were in New Orleans recently for a few days of vacation – one of the day trips we took was a short drive out to the historic and very famous Oak Alley plantation. The historic home, and in particular the ‘Oak Alley’ throughway that lines the main walkway to the house from the road, has been featured in a number of TV shows such as Interview with the Vampire, Primary Colors, Ghost Hunter, etc…. We went with a tour group and when we left New Orleans it was sunny but with some storm clouds on the horizon – however, nothing seemed imminent from a storm perspective. Even when we arrived at the plantation home the weather seemed to be pristine – the sun was shining and I was excited to walk down the pathway and shoot the historic home through the trees. We hustled out there and I set up my camera – a few other folks had similar ideas and were mulling down the path doing there own thing – so I patiently waited for my chance to get a clear shot with limited people in the way. After a few minutes I just decided a ‘clear’ shot wasn’t going to happen because of the traffic so I was going to do a trick learned in one of Scott Kelby’s training classes which is to essentially take a handful of pictures focusing on different quadrants of the frame and just make sure that particular area is clear. Once you have a clear shot of, say the left 1/5 of the photo, that area move directly to the right and just work your way across the frame like that. After you have a number of shots that you think will work just take them all into Photoshop and blend the images together to give a ‘clear’ shot of the building with limited interruption from any human element.

Oak Alley in the Rain – New Orleans, LA

Oak Alley Plantation New Orleans Louisiana

After waiting for about five minutes for the path to clear I was still struggling to get that middle section people free…it was at that point that the sky above us opened up (without warning – no thunder, I don’t remember the sun really shrinking away) and hard, heavy, large rain drops started to fall on our heads. I asked my wife to grab my rain jacket and the two umbrellas that we brought ‘just in case’ so that I could keep everything (camera gear, myself and my wife) dry. Unfortunately, as she dug through her purse we came to the realization that we only had one umbrella and left everything else in my backpack at the hotel…so we had to make a choice – keep the camera gear dry or ourselves? Begrudgingly we decided to keep the gear dry – so while we sat there getting mostly soaked I took another couple photos since the walkway was FINALLY clear as everyone else ran back to the house.

I absolutely HATE rain and I was pretty miserable being soaked the rest of the day (my wife was a trooper!) but I do think the picture turned out well. The wet pavement leading up to the house combined with the mist/fog in the trees adds an element to the photo that didn’t exist in the other ones and also isn’t in most of the other photos found of the plantation home online. It gives it a feeling of being a special moment even though I’m sure it storms there every day in the summer most people aren’t idiots like me standing out there pressing the shutter still while rain drenches them.

Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

In early January I had an overnight layover in San Francisco so I decided to rent a car and drive around the city to take some pictures (had to beat sleeping at the airport?!). I quickly Googled the best places to view the Golden Gate Bridge and this was one of the angles that popped up – Fort Baker in Marin County. Getting here is a bit tricky because you have to quickly navigate off of the main highway (Highway 101) just past the end of the Golden Gate Bridge and then wind down beneath it to an ex-military base. Some of the other viewing points that I drove around to were quite busy but this one was practically empty and there was only a small parking lot which leads me to believe this is a somewhat hidden viewpoint of one of the Golden Gate Bridge – one of America’s most recognizable landmarks.

The Golden Gate Bridge in Black and White – San Francisco, CA

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California

It was a very sunny day but I wanted to try and smooth the water a bit so I put my ten-stop ND filter on and took a few shots. When using a ten-stop ND filter it is hard to judge on your LCD screen how the images are turning out so it is imperative to take numerous versions of differing exposure length. This was a 15-second exposure and was the one I liked the best even though the water isn’t perfect. I took a few others that were longer but everything was just overexposed. After I processed it in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efx I took it back into Lightroom and re-adjusted the blacks and whites in order to bring out more details in the shadows to add more texture to the rock in the foreground underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Riomaggiore from a Sailboat in Cinque Terre

While in Cinque Terre we spent an afternoon cruising in Mediterranean Sea. The weather for most of the day was pristine until a late afternoon storm kicked up some rain for a brief spell. Otherwise the views we had overlooking the five cities from the deck of a boat were amazing. This is the ‘first’ of the five cities of the Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore – and is often cited as being the most beautiful of all the cities in the chain (some say it is the most beautiful city in all of Italy). I’m not doubting that given all the colorful houses and at dusk I’m sure it looks amazing. We unfortunately were unable to spend an evening there as it sold out long before we started planning our trip a mere months before. We stayed in Monterosso which is on the other side several miles away and which in my opinion was just as beautiful.

Riomaggiore from a Sailboat in Cinque Terre (Italy)

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre Italy

Alot of people take a day and hike the five villages of Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Riomaggiore but unfortunately the rains from 2011 wiped out a large chunk of the ‘easy’ hiking path cut along the coast. As a result the hiking route was a much more lengthy (with many more up/down hills) that would have been challenging for even the fastest hikers – let alone two city folks from Chicago. That’s the primary reason we decided to go the boating route which was much, much more relaxing. I think it was a good choice!

Dream Lake at Sunrise – Rocky Mountain National Park

One of my favorite places to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Dream Lake area. It is relatively easy to access as the hike is only a few miles but the views of Hallett’s Peak are spectacular. The best time to be in this spot is at sunrise on a relatively clear day when the first rays of light are hitting the peak. It is so quiet and peaceful – in fact despite being fairly popular around midday – I’ve never had to battle anyone for position in the early morning hours. Unlike Glacier National Park though there isn’t a coffee shop directly nearby so you have to be sure to get your coffee the day before. Usually I wind up packing a few pre-made bottles of Starbucks, a bagel and some fruit so I can have a snack while sitting around this area for an hour or two before hiking back down to the car.

Dream Lake at Sunrise – Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake at Sunrise - Rocky Mountain National Park

Started booking my August business meetings today and I’ll be heading out to Denver for a Friday meeting. The past few meetings have been in the middle of the week so I’ve been unable to leverage a weekend trip to Rocky Mountain National Park – I think I jinxed myself last year when I bought the Annual Pass instead of the single week one. It was only $20 – $30 more expensive and I figured I’d be back at least three or four times before it ran out….however, this will be my first trip back since last November.