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Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

I was in Sacramento, California in October. Beautiful weather, daytime highs in the upper 80’s and nighttime lows in the low 60’s. No humidity.

Because Sacramento is three time zones from my home, and because I normally get up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym, I found myself awake far before dawn every morning. Nothing better to do than grab the camera and go for some night shots.

My hotel, the Embassy Suites Riverfront, was right next to the iconic Tower Bridge, a gleaming golden drawbridge that, together with the State Capital, bookends Capital Mall downtown.

This is my favorite photo of many that I took in Sacramento. Here I am looking back toward the hotel. My tripod is straddling the guard rail, though I was quite safe from traffic. The traffic was light at this hour (6 a.m. or so), which allowed me to get some uncluttered light trails.

2 second exposure, f/8, ISO 400. Shot with my 18-55mm kit lens wide open.



Rails, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

Every month or so, a different member of the First Light Camera Club gets to have a sampling of their work featured on the club web page. This month is my lucky month. A slide show of twelve of my photos, favorites of mine and my Flickr contacts, are currently on display. Follow the link above and click “Featured.” Then leave a comment below and tell me what you think!

Shooting with Film

A photo of photos, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

I acquired my first DSLR camera for Christmas of 2010. It’s a Sony a230, which is an entry-level DSLR. I bought it* refurbished (though barely used) because it was inexpensive compared to the comparable Nikon and Canon Models. I also bought it because the Sony Alphas are compatible with old Minolta autofocus lenses, meaning I could save some money in building out my lens collection.

(* Yes, it was a “gift,” but my wife was kind enough to select what I wanted, because she doesn’t know much about cameras. Plus it was mostly my own money.)

A few months later my friend Cathy decided that she was done with her 35mm SLR camera, and she was going to sell it at a yard sale. She said that she thought the lenses were compatible with some digital cameras, and I informed her that indeed they were. In fact they were compatible with my Sony. She offered to give me the lenses, under the condition that I take her camera, too. (And a bunch of other stuff, like a flash and some film.)

I naturally agreed to these terms, and became the proud owner of a Minolta Maxxum 5, which is pretty advanced for the pre-digital age. This camera has many of the settings of my Sony (indeed, Sony purchased Minolta a few years back), though I didn’t know how to navigate them through the first roll. The biggest challenge was getting used to the fact that the photo wasn’t going to appear immediately on the back of the camera body. I would have to wait.

It took me several months to expose the first roll, and I just got it back the other day. Opening the package felt like tearing into a pack of baseball cards. I had no idea what I would find inside.

Though there were some exposure problems – which I fully expected, given that I went out shooting instead of reading the owner’s manual – I got a handful of decent photos, too. I’ve taken a lot of close-ups, mostly flowers, but a few seascapes, too. I’ve included a sampling with this post.

I started out the second roll with another of my favorite subjects, the moon. Because this can’t be done well on the “auto” settings, I took the time to learn how to use the camera. I’m excited to work through the second roll, now, and see what I’ve got.

Rosa multiflora

Hull's Cove, Bar Harbor, Maine

Frenchman's Bay, Bar Harbor, Maine

Being There

Vermont Moonset, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

I have a friend named Charlene who will occasionally comment on a photo that I post on Facebook. “You take such great photos,” she’ll write. “I need lessons.”
It’s a wonderful compliment, but it’s only part of the equation. One can take classes, or read books, or ask questions on Internet forums, and this will help you take great photos. But you also have to be there – you can’t take a photo of something that you don’t see.
Many of my better photos are of sunrises and sunsets. I also favor shooting the full moon. Often these are, from a pure technical standpoint, only fair images. But a fair exposure of spectacular light is usually going to be an impressive photo. I don’t take great photos of sunrises or moon rises because I’m a great photographer. I’m not especially talented. I get some great photos because I prepare for the opportunity and make a point to be there to capture it.
And so it was that I was climbing Montpelier, Vermont’s Hubbard Tower a couple of weeks back an hour before sunrise. The temperatures were hovering just above zero degrees, and I hiked up the steep hill via flashlight.
I made the climb because the full moon would be setting in the west just before the sun rose in the east. I love photos of the moon looking huge over the horizon, and I wanted to get some of my own. And the hour of this event (just before 7 am) was too convenient not to take advantage.
The truth of the matter is that this was the second time in about 14 hours that I had made this climb. The moonrise coincided with the sunset at about 5:30 the previous evening. Unfortunately there were no clouds to juice up the sunset, and the moon rose behind some trees that obscured that view.
Sometimes being there isn’t enough. You can’t will the magic to happen. (I should note that the obverse is also true. Magic light often happens when you’re not looking for it. It helps to have a camera nearby to take advantage.)
But the conditions were ripe for the moonset that Wednesday morning. Clear skies surrounded the bright, perfectly round moon as it gently lowered behind the Green Mountains west of the city. The moon obligingly dropped between Mount Ethan Allen and Camel’s Hump, perhaps the most recognizable peak in Vermont.

The moon sets behind Mount Ethan Allen

I was pleased with the photos I took, though the exposures could be more crisp. There’s more for me to learn, and more practice to be had. But it’s fun to keep trying, to challenge myself, and to live the stories behind the photos.

In Tight

808846, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

On Saturday, I joined other members of the First Light Camera Club on a photo field trip to Fort Andross, home of Cabot Mill Antiques and the Brunswick winter farmer’s market.

Most of my photos from the event are super isolated macros. I think the nature of these venues necessitated this approach. The antique mall is so filled with stuff, and the farmer’s market so filled with people, that wider views are too cluttered. So they are all up close – a mannequins hand, a bit of a trumpet, a close up of some beans.

This approach dovetails with my current approach to writing – my long-term approach as well. In my class, we talked about letting the work stand on its own rather than think about outside forces, i.e. the audience. In a different vein, Anne Lamott in her book “Bird by Bird” talks about looking through a one-inch window and describing what you see.

This isn’t meant to be “Joe’s Writing Blog,” though writing is a part of my original vision for this space. I’ll be moving back to more photo-centric posts in the near future. At the moment I am happy with my ability to focus closely on the tasks at hand.


Writers, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

The first week of the New Year I spent at a writer’s retreat at Kripalu in the heart of the Berkshires. The program was titled “The Writing Warrior: Deepening Your Writing by Bravely Facing Yourself.”

It was a powerful experience. 18 students, all but a couple of us complete strangers, came from across the Northeast (and one from Montreal) looking for a way to re-energize or re-envision their writing.

Laraine Herring, the class leader and the author of The Writing Warrior, set an open and welcoming tone for the class. Students were encouraged to tune into their bodies and breath, to release expectations and open up space for the writing to happen. Such a simple and profound approach.

On the third day the magic really happened. Strangers began to trust one another, to really engage in each other’s writing, and to share some powerful, profound, and deeply personal stories. It was remarkable, a day I will never forget, and a day that I will write about more in the future – I have 15 journal pages dedicated to that one day!

Of course I brought my camera with me, as I wanted to capture the beauty of the Kripalu grounds and the essence of the building. Unbeknownst to my classmates, I snuck back to the room a couple of times during non-class hours and took some photos to try to capture the experience. Photos of a circle of empty chairs fell a bit flat, but I was able to play around with a cup full of pens.

This idea seemed to have the most heat for me. The pens represent writing, of course, and the Kripalu label sets the scene. The fact that the pens don’t all face the same direction reflects the diversity of the group. And, though you’ll have to take my word for it, all of the pens are open, to show that we were all open to the experience and our writing lives.

I’m sure I’ll have more to show and say in this space in the future. A couple of my classmates have blogged about the week, and I invite you to read their take on the events, too.  Here’s Barb, and here’s Lindsey.  Two women who are at different stages of their writing lives, who shared incredible writing with the class, and whose unique perspectives can help color your understanding of this experience.  I’ve spoken in platitudes about my week at Kripalu to anyone who would listen (heck, I was even moved to poetry!), but it really was fun, energizing and invigorating.

Night Shift

Night Shift, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

People are constantly trolling along flickr looking for photos to use on their websites. I know, I’ve done the same thing. Every once in awhile they’ll come across my photo stream and see something they like, and they’ll ask to use it. Usually they are looking to offer no more than photo credit.

A few of times in the past I’ve said OK. At first I was flattered, and then I justified giving away the rights with the thought that I wasn’t likely to actively market that particular photo anyway, so I’m not really sacrificing income.

What I discovered was that allowing use in return “photo credit” is basically just giving the image away. So when I recently received another solicitation, for the photo in question, I decided to ask for a little cash for the trouble. And much to my surprise, the folks agreed! So what you see here is the first photo that I have ever sold. May there be more in the future!

Rainbow Lake

Early Dark, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

Before you know what serenity is, you must fly
In a small airplane
With canoes for feet
That takes you from deep in the forest
And carries you over a breathing map
With miles of trees and iridescent ponds
To deeper in the forest
Where no people are
Because the hike is too long
And the streams are too narrow

Before you know what serenity is
You must wake before dawn
And sit beneath the moon
Among the stars
And hear the drops from last night’s rain
Fall a second time
From the pine boughs
And listen to the loons greeting their friends
Who live on another pond
Miles away

(inspired by the Naomi Shihab Nye poem “Kindness“)

From on High

10×10 Brunswick

Maquoit Bay Low Tide copy, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

I’ve submitted two photos to the annual 10×10 Brunswick art show. This is a one-night fundraiser to benefit art programs in Brunswick’s elementary schools through the Arts Are Elementary program.

The show’s visual appeal requires all of the art to be displayed in 10 inch-by-10 inch frames. (The art is not limited to photography – in fact, photos are historically in the minority.) I have chosen two 5-inch square photos, which will be matted to fit the 10×10 frames.

Both images are sparse seascapes with prominent lines and curves, but the similarities end there.

The top image was taken at Maquoit Bay at sunrise. The tide is low and the water is glass calm. A few plovers can be seen wading and seeking breakfast. There is a gentle haze on the horizon. I’ve chosen to show this in black and white, to capitalize on the moonscape feel of the rocky mud flats.

The second image was taken at Land’s End, Bailey Island, just as the sun was setting and the moon rising. The waves are rough, crashing over the rocks. The sunset casts a reddish glow on the moon, and the graininess of the image lends an apocalyptic feel. This image also has fog on the horizon, but in this case it obscures the lower third of the moon.

My hope is that my images sell and help continue a flourishing art program in the local schools. (And I would get a cut too, which would also be nice.) I also hope that these images inspire other photographers and artists to find what touches them inside, and to seek a way to capture and keep it or share with others.

10×10 Brunswick is on September 30 from 5 – 8 p.m. The art will be diplayed at the Curtis Memorial Library on Pleasant Street, or St. Paul’s Church next door. If you’re nearby, do stop in and see me and all the other great images on display.

McLaughlin Garden

Hosta Leaves B&W, originally uploaded by Roadduck99.

I attended a Capturing Maine meetup at McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, Maine today. It was a fun time, with nine or ten of us in total.

Photographers from the Capturing Maine meetup group line up a photo opp.

The garden is famous for its lilacs, but those were a bit past peak. There are tons of flowers currently in bloom, including rhododendrons, globe flowers, forget-me-nots (everywhere), columbines, and the elusive Jack in the Pulpit.  There is a lot of interesting foliage among all the flowers.  Read more about it at Examiner.

Lenten Rose in bloom

Siberian Iris foliage

We also met the new Director, Ruth Copeland. She is an accomplished photographer in her own right.

These gardens were open to the public when they Bernard McLaughlin’s private garden. But I never really knew about them back then, even though South Paris is my home town. I’ve visited a couple of times in recent years. It’s a great place for photos, and a terrific excuse to go home and visit family.