Wake Up!!!

General Thoughts
Christmas Cactus  © jj raia

Christmas Cactus © jj raia

The new year has not begun on a very productive note, especially in light of the fact that I have barely taken my camera out to photograph anything. I haven’t gotten my self up to photograph a sunrise and have been generally uninspired to tackle anything photographically. I suppose nothing sparked my imagination; nothing to get my mind working in any direction artistically, and I didn’t seem particularly interested in even trying. It wasn’t any kind of “block” that I imagine only writers have; it was simply nothing happened that brought on any artistic movement within me. I didn’t think anything of it, although I have been itching to get out and shoot something…anything. But an object at rest, namely me, tends to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. So I was simply exhibiting a simple law of physics as stated by Sir Isaac Newton in what I believe was his first law. So the first 6 weeks of the year have been a steady diet of nothing.

Over the course of the winter, we had some pretty heavy rain, and a Christmas Cactus we had in our screened porch, unknown to us, had been sitting in a tray of water for quite some time, and since discovering this, it has not been seen to revive in any way. Many of the “branches” lost much of their color, laying in a limp lump, and it appears the plant will not be coming back to life any time soon. Yesterday, my wife picked up one of the branches off the floor of the porch and placed it on the coffee table and it was like I was slapped in the face. WAKE UP!!! I immediately saw it along with some of the other branches, either in or through the throes of death, in an arrangement on the black panel of foam core I use from time to time as a still life background. My wife and I collected a few more of the branches and began playing with various combinations until we were satisfied with the arrangement you see above. I brought the grouping inside and placed them on the black board on a table by a bank of windows. I got out the tripod, used a polarizing filter to cut the glare from both the foam core and the branches to deepen the color and contrast. The windows were the only light source which I helped a bit with a small piece of white foam core to reflect the window light back into some of the shadowy areas. It wasn’t very difficult to get the proper exposure since I’ve done this procedure quite a few times by now ( -1 stop is a good starting place). The meter tries to overexpose the image by making the black into a brighter tone toward middle gray. Compensating one stop lower brings it back to the very dark value it is. I had to use a pretty high f/stop to keep everything tack sharp without focus stacking, which unless absolutely necessary, I try to avoid. A low ISO (100) to keep noise to a minimum and some cleaning up in Photoshop with a bit of work in Lightroom brought out the colors and textures of the plant and made the background completely black.

I hope this winter’s photographic hibernation has been broken and more inspiration slaps me in the face soon.





Final Fotos of 2018

General Thoughts
Chinese Lantern Tree No.1  © jj raia

Chinese Lantern Tree No.1 © jj raia

Trees have always been a prime subject for my photography, in all seasons and in all shapes. But during a recent first visit to the annual Chinese Lantern Festival in my hometown just before Christmas, I was a bit surprised that there were a couple of trees included among the varied and wonderful light sculptures. I had never visited the Festival before, and really didn’t know what to expect; but what I saw was truly amazing. I can’t imagine all the tedious work that must have been involved in making each of these displays of shapes formed with wire and wrapped with a thin, almost silky fabric, but see through enough to allow the varied colored lights inside to make the sculptures glow in the night.

Photographing them did present a few problems to overcome, mainly the throng of people, literally shoulder to shoulder, wandering throughout the festival. Backing up to include an entire sculpture was out of the question since people would then fill the space in front of you, thereby blocking the photo. And it was extremely difficult to isolate an individual sculpture from the myriad of others so closely spaced in the area. So for the image above, I opted to take a horizontal, two panel panorama taking the top first and then the bottom, and also keeping in mind the constantly changing colors of the lighted balls throughout the scene to match how were at one particular moment. As it was, there was an extra bit of work involved in post processing to eliminate some things in the distance that proved to be distractions, and in keeping with my photographs of real trees, I tried to be faithful to the main subject, and to display it in all its glory as it was.

Chinese Lantern Tree No.2  © jj raia

Chinese Lantern Tree No.2 © jj raia

I was truly amazed at the intricately twisted and gnarly tree with all the panda bears “playing” on and around it. The “flowers” were constantly changing color and I found that if I timed it right, I could capture the change of colors and not have all the flowers identically colored. However, a second brighter image was needed to bring out the dark textures of the trunk and limbs to make them stand out against the black background. The two frames were easily merged in layers with a layer mask in Photoshop.

Swans at the Chinese Lantern Festival  © jj raia

Swans at the Chinese Lantern Festival © jj raia

Of course, there were plenty of other sculptures throughout the grounds, including dragons and swans, but they were a bit difficult to capture, and I did the best I could considering the crowds. But any subject always seems to look more dramatic with a black background.

The Other Outer Banks

General Thoughts
Streaking Clouds — Pea Island NWR, NC  © jj raia

Streaking Clouds — Pea Island NWR, NC © jj raia

For the most part, the Outer Banks is known for its beaches, and rightfully so. It is a string of barrier islands about 200 miles long stretching from the Virginia border along most of North Carolina, many miles of which, like the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, remain uninhabited and much as it has for millennia. In addition to the obvious lure of ocean sunrises for landscape photographers, the Outer Banks offers several historic lighthouses, the Atlantic Coast’s largest living sand dunes in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and a prime example of a maritime forest at Currituck Banks Reserve. The Wright Brothers Memorial is also located there and is well worth the visit to see where man’s first powered flights occurred.

One of the rather pristine areas I’ve visited a few times is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, on the south end of Oregon Inlet. Arriving early one morning in the dark and being the only car in the parking area, I began putting on some waders before taking the short hike through some dunes to the ocean. Then two or three SUV’s pulled in, parked right next to me and out poured a photo workshop!! Their arrival was encouraging to validate it being a good spot to photograph, but also in a way disappointing, realizing I would be sharing the location with so many others, and having to be concerned about intruding into anyone’s photo. They gathered up their gear and were off to the races even before I could get my second wader on! But I caught up to them at the shoreline, and in near complete darkness, they began shooting the hint of horizon light on this very cloudy morning. Long exposures needed for the dim light blurred the fast-moving clouds and the water making for a messy image. I liked the movement in the clouds though and ran over to a distant line of dunes to try something different (top photo). Looking west instead of east, I took long (25-second) exposures to blur the clouds as previously, and used my headlamp to illuminate the dunes themselves. In addition, I attempted to “spotlight” a small bush on the dune as a kind of focal point. Luckily, my headlamp has both a spotlight and a softer setting, and I made use of each in painting the dunes. Taking those photos in the several attempts to get the lighting right, was a race against time before the clouds were too bright to allow a single exposure long enough to sidelight all the dunes from both sides of the camera. So there was a lot of running around in the sand after each time I tripped the shutter.

Opposite Sunrises

General Thoughts
Ripples at Sunrise - Corolla Beach, NC  © jj raia

Ripples at Sunrise – Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

One accomplishment I hoped to achieve on last year’s photo trip to California, was to create an image along the coast of waves crashing among the rugged sea stacks during an epic sunset with shafts of sunlight streaking through a fiery sky filled with clouds. I wanted to fill the frame with the movement of the surf and angry sky that was typical of the images I’ve seen in the past and admired. But alas, during the entire three weeks of the trip, there was barely a cloud in the sky…the bane of any landscape photographer. I did get a few decent shots showing some movement in the waves, and did actually witness some color in the wispy, high-altitude clouds on one occasion, but for the most part, that single accomplishment went unachieved.

Outside the Golden Hours

General Thoughts
Tide Pool at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME  © jjj raia

Tide Pool at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME © jjj raia

For the most part, color landscape photography takes place during the times surrounding sunrise and sunset. After all, that is when the light is most advantageous for sculpting the elements within the frame if you are shooting in the right direction where side-lighting wraps around subjects, and the light is much warmer. The middle of the day is not utilized much because the light is much brighter and more harsh, and most folks tend to spend that time with the camera in the bag waiting for the next opportunity for the “good light”. Tide pools tend to be one of the things that can be better photographed during midday because the overhead light shines directly into the recesses and really make the colors pop. Using a polarizer easily gets through any glare on the surface of the water and accentuates the colors below as in the image above  discovered at Little Hunters Beach. Not all tide pools have this astounding red coloration, but when I find them, I am immediately drawn to them as being quite unique. The addition of the kelp made it even more interesting.

Low Tide at Seawall — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Low Tide at Seawall — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

But very often, if there are cliffs around these beaches, parts of them are in shade, and the even illumination there will offer opportunities to work with the bluer tones that a clear blue sky will provide, especially later in the day when the eastern sky is to your back and shooting into the shade.

Kelp at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Kelp at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

One note about these particular tide pools during this day at Hunters Beach, the water contained within them was not stationary. The level of the ocean was about the same as the tide pool and therefore the fluctuations from the wave actions made the kelp sway with those motions. So in this instance, a higher ISO was used to freeze the movement and the use of a tripod was helpful because once the shot is set up, you can step away from the camera and observe when the movement had momentarily stopped. It just made it much easier to accomplish and spared my back from continually bending over the camera.

Kelp and Tide Pool - Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Kelp and Tide Pool – Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

Just wandering around and observing the various textures and patterns in the rocks and cliffs, as well as the variety of things you might find there can offer many hours of photography. Whenever I go on a photo trip, I try to keep searching every minute of the day for subjects to record. I can rest/eat/sleep when I return home. Not to say I don’t do any of those things during the trip, but for the most part, trying to keep photographing is the highest priority. The photograph below utilized a polarizer to eliminate any sheen on the rocks and let the color show through. If you find that there is no difference as you spin your polarizer, there is no harm in having it on your lens and you can dial in the minimum affect. If a real blue tint is desired, on a clear blue sky day, take off the polarizer and let the blue of the shadow be recorded, or you can warm it up by using the shadow white balance if it’s available on your particular camera.

Kelp and Rock at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Kelp and Rock at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

The Tarn

General Thoughts
The Tarn Reflections No. 1 — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

The Tarn Reflections No. 1 — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

During the 1993 trip to Acadia National Park, The Tarn never even entered into my notes nor did it even reach any research into locations to consider photographing. However, with the availability of the internet now, it came up and knew it was a place I wanted to visit for it’s potential. The first scouting of it was during a rainy afternoon, and the sedges growing from the water took on a reddish hue on their tips and it showed it had great possibilities when/if the sun shone on the mountain foliage and reflected in the waters still in the morning shade. The juxtaposition between the warm hues of the fall foliage and the cool tones of the grasses in shade would be wonderful to play with in designing each photograph.

The Tarn Reflections No. 4 — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

The Tarn Reflections No. 4 — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

At first there was disappointment that the red tips of the sedges were no longer as vibrant which was probably attributed to the more saturated colors when they were wet from the rain that first day I visited the spot. But there were still plenty of photos to be had just walking along the banks and shooting down with a medium to long lens. The first area I shot was an easily noticeable S-Curve in the reflections and surrounding sedges. It was also a benefit that the group of lily pads in the lower left created a gentle focal point to begin the journey through the frame. But the scene was entirely dependent on your position along the shoreline; walk a few steps either left or right, and the curve was lost. It can be helpful to continually walk along the pond/lake in both directions to get differing viewpoints and see things that may have been missed on the first try. Lily pads floated in various spots, more densely in certain areas, allowing for choices in what became the dominant element of the image; either the reflections, the grasses or the lilies.

The Tarn Reflections No. 3 — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

The Tarn Reflections No. 3 — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

Acadia — Day 7

General Thoughts
Morning Sunlight from Cadillac Mountain — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Morning Sunlight from Cadillac Mountain — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

Day 7 – Wednesday October 17, 2018

Went to sleep last night immediately after crawling into the sleeping bag with a sky full of stars, anticipating an early morning hike up Gorham Mountain. I planned ahead and changed to my hiking socks, and set up my boots before turning in at 945pm to save time in the morning. Woke up around 245am and still saw the stars out the window above me. At 430am I decided to get out and begin the day, but a look out the window revealed absolutely NO stars!! It looked totally clouded over, so it made no sense to do a hike up Gorham, and I decided to do the drive up to Cadillac instead, but it looked to be windy at the top as I drove higher and higher up. Not too promising, so I dozed in the darkness in the parking lot surrounded by the usual multitude of cars. When I woke from the short nap a while later, I saw a band of pink on the horizon, so I hustled to get my gear together, all my warm clothes on, and searched around in the dim light for some interesting rocks for foreground. After I found something, I first got the sky right, and then tried many exposures lighting the rocks with my headlamp that would otherwise simply go black. If it works, I’ll have to blend several as only one area could be lit during a single shot. Then I tried a huge panorama of the incredible red light (to see that panorama, click here) with the long lens and I thought the light might begin to shine on the rocks. But that turned out to be a disappointment and the sun retreated behind the clouds. Did another huge pano vertically, and discovered some crud on the split ND spread out all over the glass!! Ended up doing s third huge pano (9 panels) a bit after the red light without any ND (pano at the top of the post), but this time there were beams from behind the lower string of clouds that ran completely across the horizon. That string of clouds really gave the sky an additional layer of drama, not only for this panorama, but for the entire sunrise.
Young Fir and Blueberries - Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Young Fir and Blueberries – Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

When it finally completely clouded over and the sunrise was done, I headed for the red blueberries at the Cadillac entrance and spent about an hour there with what might be the best of the ones taken there, was actually taken last. Just a baby evergreen (fir?) surrounded by the red leaves. Luckily, it was much more calm there than the windy conditions at the top of Cadillac. From there it was just a short drive into Bar Harbor for a wonderful breakfast at ChocoLatte, a great send off for the drive back to Portland as this year’s trip heads toward an end.

Acadia — Day 6

General Thoughts
The Tarn — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

The Tarn — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

Day 6 – Tuesday October 16, 2018

After all the storms of yesterday, this morning dawned clear but a bit breezy, and I went to the agreed to rendezvous of Monument Cove. I got there just before a couple from Indiana, and found that the tiny overlook in the woods, had only one great spot on top of a rock dead center of the opening among the trees to see the monument and the curved cobble beach, and I managed to start setting up immediately. The rock could possibly squeeze two people on it, but I wasn’t about to share it with anyone but Mike and Barbara. They showed up shortly afterward, and the sun finally lit up the monolith, casting a shadow on the nearby cliffs, but it was another bald sky, which made the images less than noteworthy. After finishing at Monument Cove, and even though it was pretty breezy, we headed to shoot the Tarn again and surprisingly, found the waters calm and mirror-like, but we didn’t have much time there as the sun began to creep onto the water and grasses pretty soon after we arrived. I did try some motion blurs with the reflections and hope at least one is properly balanced and interesting; in fact, it may have been the very last shot. And again, there were many other photographers there as well, possibly another workshop. I suppose we chose a popular and photogenic spot. We headed back to their hotel in time for the free breakfast and for them to check-out. and I was certainly sad to part company, as they made this trip so much more enjoyable than any of my other truly “solo” trips since the early nineties.

Acadia — Day 5

General Thoughts
Breaking Dawn — Acadia National Park, ME  © jj raia

Breaking Dawn — Acadia National Park, ME © jj raia

Day 5 Monday October 15, 2018

When I woke up at 430am, I felt as though I was finished with sleep for the night and decided to shoot stars at Sand Beach where I’ve been spending the nights. I set up on the sand and tried a few shots and realized that the cliffs all the way on the right had some exposed boulders and surf, so I scooted over there and worked there instead, believing that the rocks would provide more visual interest by lighting the gentle surf as the waves broke around them. I really only wanted the foam to be lit a bit and tried many times until I finally got it right. The whole time there though, there was a fishing boat at least a mile offshore with a pretty strong spotlight on it because when it shone directly at me, I could actually see my shadow! Afterward, I drove to the Gorham Mtn. parking lot to meet Mike and Barbara and we shot some “seascapes” with a bald sky. Afterward, we checked out Little Hunters Beach and found the tide way lower than when I had seen it the other day, so took some pictures on the opposite side since it was now in shadow instead of sunlight as it was the other day. Then it was onto Bar Harbor where we went to Choco-Latte, an immediate favorite, for a great breakfast sitting outside enjoying the morning sunshine.

Acadia — Day 4

General Thoughts
Autumn at the Tarn — Acadia NP, ME  © jj raia

Autumn at the Tarn — Acadia NP, ME © jj raia

Day 4 – Sunday October 14, 2018

It looked like it was going to be pretty clear at sunrise today, so I opted for the easier Boulder Beach rather than the 0.9-mile hike up Gorham Mtn. since the preference would be to have strong side lighting hitting the Otter Cliffs as the sun breaks the horizon rather than a cloudy sky blocking the sun. It proved a bit difficult to find the “trail” down to the boulders, but after I got down, it proved to be nothing compared to the difficulties of trying to maneuver across the cobbles in the dark with the added impediment of having to use bifocals!  But I managed to find a somewhat decent spot with only one soft, unbalanced fall (luckily unhurt) and saw only one other person on the beach until a workshop descended on us. It turned out to be same guy we met at Hadlock Falls and Jordan Pond, and was surprised that he would come back to this beach after the tremendous shot he showed us on that red sky morning. He’s supposedly in the middle of a project to create a book of Acadia with a photograph that was actually taken on every day of the year! He spends one week in Acadia for every season each year. That’s dedication. The strong side lighting I had hoped for never really materialized, and with the addition of a mostly bald sky, one of the classic images of Acadia never really worked out.
So I decided to zip over to the Tarn where it happened that Barbara and Mike got there just before I did, and we spent quite a bit of time there shooting reflections in the water sprinkled with sedges, as the sun chased away the shadows on the mountain above the opposite shore. During our time there, hundreds of runners ran by us as part of the Marathon and sounded like a herd of buffalos galloping past. We were also joined by a Green Mountain Photography Workshop group of about 10-12 people who were doing the same thing we were doing: zooming in on the patterns of the grasses backdropped by the autumn leaf reflections in the water.
Tide Pool at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME  © jjj raia

Tide Pool at Little Hunters Beach — Acadia NP, ME © jjj raia

We split up then, agreeing to meet again at Bass Harbor Light. I did a little exploring at Otter Cliffs, shooting straight down on the soft wave action, and then went over to Little Hunters Beach and took some tide pool shots in the sun and some abstract patterns of the rock in the shade. As it was beginning to get later, I headed toward Seawall, and on the way there, I happened to see Barbara and Mike pulled over at a lobster shack to grab a bite of eat before sunset. They said they had already gone to the famous Bass Harbor lighthouse, and decided the zoo there just wasn’t worth it along with the lack of clouds, and so opted for Seawall for sunset.