Archive for the ‘Beautiful Earth’ Category

Tony’s Italian Adventure

Roseto V.F.

In August, I left for a two-week solo trip to Italy. Traveling light, I decided to take my travel camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with a 14-150mm super zoom lens. That’s equivalent to 28-300mm for a full frame camera and shows the value of the micro-four-thirds system for traveling as everything including lenses is much smaller and lighter. But, yes, there were a few times I wished I had the bigger camera.

My Italian travels began with a drive from Roma Fiumicino airport south to the small village of Roseto Valfortore in Puglia, the home town of my grandparents (miei  nonni).

Roseto V.F.

They left this village in the late 1890s, I believe. I likely have relatives still there, but I really had no idea what to expect or what I would do once there. But, I wanted to see it and walk the streets, and just take it in.

Roseto V.F.

Indeed, the older part of town has what are basically alleys some of which are large enough for one of the small cars common in Italy, but many are not. It’s built atop a hill with the surrounding hills covered in windmills. The roads into town are narrow with very rough patches here and there – narrowing to one small lane in places. And if you follow GPS instructions, you can end up on farming roads that I came to describe as paths.

Roseto V.F.

Still, the town is pretty, especially the older section, and it exudes quaint European ambiance. The older men sit in the cafe or at a table outside the cafe playing cards. Or sit in chairs outside the Tobacchi (tobacco shop) as you might see in movies.

Roseto V.F.

The small churches are old and works of art. Everyone knows everyone which was critical for me to find my hotel as it was on one of those alleys and street signs were not great. (No cell service prevented me from trying to call.) And prices were low, €0.80 for espresso, a nice meal could be had for less than €10. Just don’t try to eat in a restaurant after 18:00. “Tardi!” Gelato or a pastry at the cafe can be supper, right?

Leaving Roseto, I drove back to Roma Fiumicino then took a train to the Roma Termini train station and a fast train up to Firenze (Florence). I was going to visit the seaside region of Cinque Terre and wanted to break up the travel. So, two nights in Firenze would do that and give me a day in a city I love. A friend who spent time in Italy earlier this year suggested the winery tour she did and gave me a pointer to their web page: Fun in Tuscany.

Tuscany

Their site showed several options including a Vespa tour. That sounded terrific, so I signed up before I left home. It turns out I was the only one participating in the Vespa riding, so it was just me and my guide, Antonio (perfect name for me to remember!). Since I ride motorcycles, we took the more challenging but more scenic roads through the wine and olive country. We stopped in San Gimignano for gelato – which was wonderful – and sat on steps in the shade. While I ate, we talked about southern Italy, Italian culture, Italian families, and food, and who knows what else. It was great!

Tuscany

Eventually, we ended up at Tenuta Torciano winery for a wine tasting and multicourse lunch. I was done riding, so the wine was not a problem. I met up with others who were in the same van I was in leaving Firenze along with another van-full of folks. They were on the regular wine-tasting tour. We caught up with them earlier where they were tasting some wine at another winery – what Antonio described as a “warm-up” tasting. I drank water!

This tasting was more involved and the food was wonderful. After we returned to Firenze, I had drinks with the group at a couple places. They were from all over – New Zealand, Canada, Australia. One couple lives in Chicago but met at UND.

Cinque Terre

The next day I left Firenze. My train was to take me to La Spezia, where I’d take another train to Vernazza, one of the five Cinque Terre towns. After a sizable delay, a woman came through the train telling us “broken!” and sending us to the next platform for a train to Pisa. That train was jam-packed. I stood by the doors for the hour ride to Pisa where I met a couple from London on an extended trip through Europe. In Pisa, I found a train to La Spezia. Didn’t see the famous tower as it’s quite a hike from the train station. In La Spezia, I arrived at nearly the time for my scheduled train to Vernazza to leave. It was still there and I managed to get to the platform before it left, but just barely, and the doors wouldn’t open. But the next train was only a 15 minute wait.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is a set of five small towns built into the steep hills overlooking the sea. Above them are stone terraces with grape vines and occasionally olives or lemon trees. These terraces are hundreds of years old and had to be amazingly difficult to build. They remain a lot of work to farm.

Cinque Terre

The towns themselves are beautiful. The buildings are colorful. And old. Churches are ornate, old, and photogenic, although the age is apparent when you’re in close. Getting around is pretty easy. There are trains passing between the towns and spending most of their time traveling through tunnels. In Vernazza, the open part of the station is only about two train cars wide. You generally walk along the platform into and out of the tunnel to board or exit the train.

Cinque Terre

There are also trails between the towns, and you see many hikers especially early in the mornings. Some of the trails are closed due to mudslides several years ago. Getting around generally involves a lot of climbing in nearly all the towns. The views are worth the climbs. Some spots are near the trails, and you can look at the hills bordering the towns and usually see hikers on the trails if you look in the right place.

Cinque Terre

Each of the five towns has its own personality. All have places to swim, but one has a larger, more traditional beach, Monterosso al Mare. It’s the northern-most of the five and the feel there, to me, was different and more overtly touristy. All have tons of tourists especially in midday. I would head out in the mornings when it was quieter and crowds were minimal.

Cinque Terre

One town, Corneglia, is built up on the hill rather than down at the water. The train station, though, is at the same altitude above the sea as in the other towns, so there’s either a rather lengthy climb up or a shuttle. One can take the shuttle up and walk the stairs down, too, which is what I did.

Cinque Terre

My room in Vernazza was more like an apartment with a kitchen area and dining table. It made a great home base. The large windows faced the main street, a couple stories up giving me a great view. Getting to the room required climbing several sets of stairs, but in alleys, not withing a building. The entry door looks like you’re walking into the ground floor, but once inside, the window view shows you otherwise.

Cinque Terre

One evening, I paid one of the boat operators to take me out at sunset. He took me down the coast so I could take sunset photos of four of the towns. They face mostly to the west, so the late sun illuminated the towns with nice light. There were some clouds over the towns most of the day, but as the sun dropped, the clouds dissipated. I sort of wish they remained to add to the drama of the view, but you get what you get. This is one place my better camera would have been nice. I’m glad I didn’t have the weight to carry around, but…

Cinque Terre

I visited all five towns at some point, but then I stuck around Vernazza. I found a great restaurant for breakfasts and dinners away from the crowd and serving better food than the places down by the water. Had a couple of my favorite desserts there (dolci).

Cinque Terre

Tuesday is apparently market day, and the street is filled with tents and trucks of fruit, vegetables, fish, and clothing. There was a bit of drizzle that day but not for long.

Cinque Terre

One afternoon, resting and cooling off in my room, I hear what sounded like latin American music coming from the street below. It was a quartet from Chile. They were also visiting Cinque Terre for the first time. They were doing something of a European tour.

These towns, besides the tourist crowds, resembled the quaintness of Roseto. Just feels like a slower pace, many locals going about their daily work.

Milano

From Vernazza, I took trains to Milano – a large city to the north and one some consider  the fashion capital of the world – perhaps along with Paris. It’s an interesting city with some beautiful art, the great Gothic cathedral, Duomo, and home of many great Renaissance artists.

Milano Centrale

I was there two years ago, attending the Italian Grand Prix in nearby Monza, and I was there this time again for the Grand Prix. Da Vinci’s Last Supper is in Milan, and I was unable to visit it my first time there. For this trip, I set aside an extra day and made sure I secured a ticket way ahead of time. One small group at a time is let in to see the work for 15 minutes. You go through staging areas to help reduce the humidity that gets into the room containing the fresco painting. Worth the wait, even though it has deteriorated a lot. It is still awesome to see such a work by such an artist. And just sit and look at it, study it.

Italian Grand Prix

The final part of the trip was to again attend Gran Premio d’Italia in Monza. This is the annual Formula 1 race. I discussed it previously in my trip discussion from two years ago. The one thing I did this time which I hadn’t before is attend the pit walk for three-day ticket holders on Thursday before the race. Last time, I flew in on Thursday, so I didn’t want to add that to the travel day and dealing with jetlag.

Italian Grand Prix

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you can take a train to the Monza station and then shuttle buses from there to the park (the track is built within a large city park). On Thursday, there’s no shuttle, so you take city buses. I wondered if I’d be able to figure out where to catch the bus and if I’d get the right one. Silly me – there are hundreds of others doing the same thing. Just follow the crowd!

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I took plenty of photos of cars last time. I still took some car photos, mainly to see what the little camera could do (conclusion: no match for the 5DIII), but I focused more on people – workers painting stripes…

Italian Grand Prix

Photographers being loaded into an SUV after the track action was done…

Italian Grand Prix

One of the food vendor guys making a real cappuccino, because this is Italy and you’re going to have good coffee, alright?

Italian Grand Prix

Or the fellow cooking up sausage or hot dogs fresh on a grill, because this is Italy and you’re going to have good food, alright?

I actually kept going back to the food sites and watching and looking at the variety. I have a photo of one with a sign, “Panini Caldi,” in big letters – “hot sandwiches.” There was pizza, too, but even the hot dogs were sliced lengthwise, heated on a grill, and served on good bread. Prices oddly seemed to vary. Birra (beer – almost all Heineken – a sponsor) ranged from €5 to €8 and acqua (water) ranged from one euro to €2.50. Most had it for one euro. Which was good, because it was really hot and humid.

Italian Grand Prix

Friday is a practice day, Saturday is qualifying, then the race is Sunday afternoon. Sprinkled through the Formula 1 activity are other lower class races. There was a Porsche series race with lots of action and a couple pretty bad crashes from which, fortunately, the drivers walked away.

The F1 race is the main event and a spectacle. So, we had the jet flyby (I think the US is the only place that colored smoke isn’t used). There’s a driver parade with all the drivers on a big flat-bed driven around the full length of the track to wave to fans while an on-board reporter and film crew interview them as they slowly drive around.

Italian Grand Prix

Then they line up on the grid, eventually make one parade lap lining up again on the grid, then make a standing start. Which is pretty cool. I had a decent view of the start. After that, I could see the cars leaving the pits right in front of me, and the cars going by on the front straight are passing at something over 200mph. Something of a blur!

After the race, I hurried to the train station, returned to Milano, picked up my bag where I checked it for the day, and bought my ticket back to Roma Termini. That left me some time to grab a bite in the station – and the Milano Centrale station is massive with plenty of shopping and food choices. I then popped into a favorite cafe I found two years ago with the best canolini. Just fabulous. One final canolino before leaving for Rome.

In Roma, I stayed at a more typical (European style) hotel – the first of the trip and by far the most expensive. But I was less than a block from Roma Termini. In the morning, I had breakfast and a cappuccino out of a little multidrink machine – not as good as those at the race track. Then I packed up and headed to Fiumicino to do the whole security-customs thing and fly home.

It was an incredible experience, one I have trouble not talking about at length. That will probably subside as my memories fade a bit. Food was great as I expected. The people were mostly very friendly (less so in Milano which just has that big city feel). Driving was, well, interesting. The tiny(-ish) camera was good for the most part, and I was certainly glad for it’s size and weight. Knowing just a little Italian seems to help you connect to people. Even replying “prego” after a server says “grazie” will get a different reaction than just answering “grazie” back. In the small towns in the evening, a stern look will change to a smile with “buona sera” and a returned “buona sera.”

I kept something of a journal on my iPhone during the trip and used that with my favorite photos to create a photo book. It will help me remember some of the fun details. If you happen to stop by some time and want to see it, just let me know. But it might make me talk endlessly!

Will I return to Italy? If I can swing it, absolutely!

The Italy Trip

Atop the Duomo of Milano

Lynne and I traveled to Italy for our first visit to this amazing and old country. We began our trip separately, as Lynne attended a retreat in the hills north of Rome, while I headed to Milan to attend the Italian Grand Prix Formula 1 race. It was my first Formula 1 race and one of those on my bucket list.

Milano Duomo

When arriving in Europe, it’s usually morning and your objective is to stay awake until around normal bedtime. After I landed in Milan, I made my way to the central train station and, from there, my hotel. The hotel was about a block and a half away – convenient for arriving and departing, but also for traveling the short distance to Monza, the site of the race. I was able to check in early, then I headed back to the station and took the subway downtown to the Duomo area.

The Milan Duomo is an old Gothic church. It’s an amazing site, and their museum across the piazza was great. The top photo was taken from atop the church – lots of opportunities there for great black and white photos.

Bank of Electric Cars

Small vehicles rule Europe. Milan apparently has some sort of electric car deal going on. It reminded me of the bikes-for-rent things here.

Milano's Stazione Centrale

The central train station, Stazione Centrale, was build during the 1930s by Mossolini – it’s grand and spectacular, a symbol of the nationalism that serves as the hallmark of fascism. It was hard to capture in a photo, and I never did grab a shot of the exterior.

Racetrack and Park

I arrived in Milan on Thursday before the race. The cars start running for practice sessions on Friday. Qualifying is Saturday, and the race is Sunday afternoon. There were a couple trains to Monza per hour – although I didn’t figure out the second one until Sunday – and they offered a special deal single ticket per day good for the train ride plus a bus from the Monza train station to the track, Autodromo Nazionale Monza. The track sits inside a huge park. It’s historic – built in the 1920s and served as the home of nearly all the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix. It’s where Mario Andretti watch races as a teenager. (Mario is amazing – he’s won the F1 World Championship, won the Indy 500, won Daytona.)

From the bus drop off, you have a good mile walk to the track. Once inside the track boundaries, I had another mile or so to get to the stands with my seat. On Friday, I wandered around the track. It really is a park with park-like paths, some wide, some narrow, some paved. The back part of the track is surrounded by woods. There once was an oval track with severely banked turns. Those concrete banked sections still exist. The current track runs under them in a couple places, and the roads/paths also drop below them here and there or run alongside these old sections. They haven’t been used in decades, but they were featured in the James Garner film, Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso

The home team in Italy is Ferrari. They also have quite a history and have raced in every Formula 1 world championship. So, you see lots of red Ferrari gear and flags all weekend. The Italian Ferrari fans are known as the tifosi, and they are everywhere. For this race, I joined them. They’ve had a few tough years and unfortunately had some troubles in the race with Alonso having to retire his car. I did manage to grab a decent shot of him in his Ferrari. Panning as these cars fly by at close to 200mph is definitely a trick – one I’ve not quite mastered!

Italian Grand Prix's Winner, Lewis Hamilton

Each day, Friday to Sunday, there were more people at the track. I figured it would be lighter for practice on Friday, but it’s surprising how many people come out only on race day. Besides the F1 race, there are support races with the GP2 and GP3 open-wheel cars – many up-coming young drivers may well drive F1 some day – and a Porsche class. So, there are things going on on-track throughout each day.

At the end of the Grand Prix, the fans jumped the fence and scrambled to get a glimpse of the podium ceremony. It stands out over the track near the start/finish line. By the time I got close, most of the ceremony and interviews were done. I was somewhat behind the podium and someone’s huge Ferrari flag on a 30 foot pole kept blowing and obscuring the view. But before winner Lewis Hamilton left the podium, he turned and held up his trophy and grinned to those of us in back. It was great, the flag dropped for a moment, and I had a shot. Thank you, Lewis!

Venezia, Italy

On Monday after the race, I headed to Venice where Lynne and I were to meet up. Since I was only a couple hundred yards from the train station, my trip was fine. Arriving in Venice, I just had to make my way to our hotel from the Venice train station. This involved riding one of the vaporettos, a water bus. Venice is a collection of islands. There are no cars, no scooters. The only bicycles I saw were being ridden in a piazza by children. So, you take the water bus or you walk. Often, you do both! After stepping off the water bus, I had a bit of a walk which wasn’t particularly far but involved crossing three bridges. With suitcases, this isn’t terribly fun.

Venezia, Italy

Lynne’s travels were not as smooth as mine. That’s an understatement, but she did make it to Venice on Monday. I had checked in and wandered about waiting to hear from her. As I walked through the narrow streets and across countless canals, I kept thinking, “I wonder if I’d ever be able to find this place again?” Maps are hugely important in Venice. It’s so easy to lose your way, although by the time we left, I at least had a pretty decent idea how to get around the area surrounding our hotel.

While there, we actually found out some friends we haven’t seen since we left upstate NY in 1992 were also in Venice, and we arranged to have dinner together. It was an incredible happening, and it was fun to catch up with them. Sometimes, it really is a small world.

Firenze Duomo

I really loved the uniqueness of Venice. But we soon left for Florence. Lynne had already had a bit of a tour of downtown Florence on her trip from the country to Venice. She in fact took a train from Florence to Venice as the final part of that trip.

Florence is a beautiful city with tons of great art including Michelangelo’s David. This is an imposing sculpture, 17 feet high, and it’s incredible. After viewing many sculptures from ancient Rome to others from his time, there is something just different about his work. David’s face, in particular, had a life and expression others do not.

Florence has its own Duomo with the largest dome of its time, quite an engineering feat. We bought Firenze Cards which get you into many of the sites in the city and also let you skip the long lines. We jumped to the front of the line entering the Duomo, but didn’t realize until we walked inside and saw stairs that we had found the entrance to walk to the top of the church. That was over 460 stairs. I’m sure the many miles I walked at the racetrack, around Milan, and in Venice helped me make it up there. Lynne managed to make the climb as well. The view of the city was great. We later traveled across the river and up the hill to the south of the city center for another remarkable view.

High View of Firenze, Italy

From on high, you can see that the city lies in a valley surrounded by hills. It’s rather spectacular.

From Florence, we headed to our final destination, Rome.

The Coliseo in Roma

In my head, I feel Milan and Florence had a similar feeling to them. Venice was different, of course. But Rome felt mostly just big. Walking the streets of Rome was akin to walking through Manhattan. Except in Rome, vehicular traffic runs on different rules. Maybe, you could say, one rule: Stay mostly on your side of the street. Lanes are something made up on the fly. There didn’t seem to be many if any lane markings. And, like much of Europe, motorcycles and scooters just go wherever there is room.

Crossing streets can be a trick. They do seem to stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks, but you have to be clear you really are attempting to cross. And some streets are so big with so much traffic, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to attempt crossing even in a crosswalk. We managed our way across one roundabout more by finding the place with the least traffic and an island of parked buses.

Foro Romano

There is much ancient to see. I think the Coliseum was particularly noteworthy. The nearby forum was pretty amazing, too, and it appears that archeological digs are still active. To think back to the times these places were built and the amazing civilization that existed, amazing building that took place – it’s all rather hard to envision.

St. Peters in Vatican City

Nestled within Rome is the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. We took a guided tour of the Vatican museum which ends in the Sistine Chapel. I really didn’t realize how much artwork resides there nor the breadth of it from ancient Rome and Egypt to modern. Once again, I was blown away by Michelangelo’s work in the Chapel. You can then walk into St. Peters where his most famous Pieta resides. It’s so unfortunate the security that’s been needed to protect this sculpture after someone broke Mary’s hand off with a hammer. I saw it much closer and pre-damage at the New York Worlds Fare as a child with my parents. I still remember that experience.

St. Peters in Vatican City

St. Peters is quite the cathedral – huge, beautifully decorated. And, at least by American standards, old. The plaza in front of the church was filled with platforms and seats. We were there on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, Pope Francis would make his usual appearance.

My grandparents immigrated from Italy, and my mom and her relatives all considered themselves Italian. Not Italian-American, although that would be the term today. Just Italian. She never made the trip to Italy. I think she was never fond of the idea of a boat trip across the ocean or, later, a plane trip. I thought of her a lot during my time in the “old country.” Maybe more so in Vatican City. I think she’d have loved to see that (and to see the pope).

I certainly want to travel to Italy again. Next time, I’d like to go south to Foggia and to Roseto, birthplace of my grandparents. Hopefully, that will happen some day. Meanwhile, I have terrific memories and some decent photos!

Contest Winner

Downstream from Bridal Veil Falls

I want to thank the folks who entered my little contest. As I mentioned, this was to celebrate my current display at Rochester Civic Theatre. I was pleased that many of my models have been able to see the images I made from our shoots.

The contest winner is Scott Stekel. Scott chose the photograph above, Downstream from Bridal Veil Falls. I shot this photo during a workshop with Moose Peterson in Yosemite a couple years ago. It was my first trip to Yosemite National Park – the place is just incredible, especially for a photographer. It’s so easy to see why the valley drew photographers like Ansel Adams.

We were there in January. There was plenty of snow on the ground – some large snowfalls had occurred in December – and the falls were running great. In terms of getting around, we were lucky in that it wasn’t snowing while we were there, but the roads were a bit icy. On this particular morning, we headed to Bridal Veil Falls. This falls is on the south side of the valley. In January, this means it’s on the side that doesn’t receive a lot of direct sunlight.

Bridal Veil Falls

The trails below the falls were pretty snow and ice covered. We had already had some mishaps at the base of Yosemite Falls with folks losing their footing. The trail leading to the falls looked particularly tough to navigate. I had my Yak Tracks for my boots – back in the hotel room. We wandered instead around the creek leading away from the falls.

Eventually, I thought I’d try to walk up the trail by walking off to the side where the footing was a bit better. After about 100 feet or so, the trail dried out, and I thought, well this won’t be any problem. But, approaching the base of the falls, it started becoming slick. Very slick. Sort of like polished ice. I could see part of the falls, and the path meandered to the left around some rocks and vegetation. I would take a step and then slide downhill. I tried using my tripod as a walking stick, but it was just not going to happen. I managed to capture a few shots like the one above, but that was it. I wasn’t going to make it to the base or to anywhere with a view of the entire falls. The wind was blowing and even shooting these shots left my lens coated in soon-to-be-icy mist.

I retreated back down the still hazardous trail. But I did take some shots of the flowing water that I liked. The photo Scott selected was my favorite of those. I think I like the color, the movement of the water, and the simplicity and intimacy it presents.

Congratulations Scott! And thanks again for entering!

First Real Snow of the Season

I love the look of fresh snow, especially the kind that builds up on the trees, fluffy and white. We had our first real snowfall of the season yesterday – several inches. It was a wet, heavy snow. Here in Minnesota, we see a lot more of the light, dry snow with our typical cold temps. But, it’s been fairly mild so far.

Luckily, there was practically no wind today. The snow covering the trees was still there pretty much all day. I told Lynne I might go out and try to grab some shots. I was thinking driving out to the countryside and looking for some cool image. My car does okay in the winter with its winter tires, but it’s not the sort of car you go wandering about looking for some out-of-the-way location.

When I look over my big collection of photographs, winter and snow shots tend to be few. I do like the look, the way it blankets the landscape. But I really don’t like cold. I figure it’s my Mediterranean blood.

Still, I can’t deny how terrific snow photos can be. I still remember some I shot after a big snowfall back in NY when I was shooting slides. Some of those were pretty darn good, if I do say so. Lots of big fluffy, heavy snow back there.

Lynne thought I was talking about walking out back and taking some shots of our trees. Hm. Why did I immediately think about going out driving and hunting for a shot when the backyard looks so great?

I pulled out the camera and thought a moment about lenses. It might be cool to shoot some close-in photos. Focus on the snow and some other natural element. And, it could be useful to shoot wide-open and avoid having any nearby houses or other distractions in the shot. So, I grabbed my 135 f/2 lens.

I dialed in the aperture to f/2 and set about shooting. The obvious starting point is our crabapple with its load of fruit waiting for birds to clear it, usually in late winter. The red crabapples look great with the white of the fresh snow. And it’s one of my favorite color combinations – red and white.

Then I started looking around for other interesting subjects. Couldn’t miss Coco, our neighbor’s dog. He doesn’t like to stand still so focusing with such a shallow depth of field is a challenge, but I started seeing this peaking-out view of him and managed to grab a nice photo with sharp eyes. Or, I guess, sharp eye.

The grapes still hanging from the vines on our fence and the apples in the neighbor’s tree caught my eye. You might imagine how the grapes look in December, so I was thinking black and white when I shot them. The apples are looking a bit worse for the wear, too, but their color was just too wonderful to leave out.

I thought the snow on the gate was interesting with the patterns and gray background. Another good subject for B/W treatment. Of course, it was already nearly black and white to begin with.

Sometimes you do need to just look around you. Even living in the city with a small yard, there can be some cool photographs waiting for you.

Fall 2011 Colors

There has been lots of picture-taking in the weeks since I returned from Photoshop World. I’m hoping to write another post or two or three, but I thought I’d start with colors of fall. It’s that time of year here in the north when leaves lose their green and their moisture and their life and blazon the landscape with a variety of color.

Southeastern Minnesota has range of terrain and features, some of which show off the autumn colors. But there is a lot of farmland, too, with a tree here or there and fields of corn or soybeans. It’s certainly different from the Southern Tier of NY state where we once lived. A nice car ride takes us to the beautiful bluff-lands, though, approaching the Mississippi River.

Last weekend, Lynne and I set off to see what we could find, and I drove us south to Lanesboro. Lanesboro sits on the Root River and makes a nice starting off point. Lynne asked what I was looking for, what did I have in mind. I frankly wasn’t sure. I tend to like zooming in tight, showing off a few leaves as in the photo above. Having a mix of fall colors and remaining green is something I like.

But heading to the bluff-lands, I was also hoping to find something more expansive, too. Big wide shots of trees undergoing their change can make a nice photo, but those shots seem to me so overdone. Thus my preference for the tight shots.

I told Lynne I wasn’t exactly sure. I had some thoughts, some visions in my head, but we’d go look a couple places and I’d see what struck me. She was fortunately okay with that!

I bought Lynne a DSLR for her birthday. She had a Canon A-1 back in the film days. She likes the tiny digital cameras now for their amazingly good quality and their great portability. But after using my camera to take some shots, she mentioned how she missed looking through a viewfinder.

Lynne has a terrific eye and sees things I often miss. So, I was happy to provide her a little better platform for her photo-taking. (Now, I just have to convince her of the value of RAW!) This little drive was her first chance to really try out the new camera.

From Lanesboro, we drove east to Rushford. When my son was in scouts, we camped once at the top of the bluff overlooking the town. My favorite moment from that camp-out was walking to the edge of the bluff early in the morning to find a blanket of fog filling the valley like a lake. It was beautiful. I thought we might have a nice view from there.

It took some doing to find the way up the hill. I didn’t remember – not sure if I rode with someone else or just followed someone to get there, and it’s been a while. But the GPS map on my phone came to the rescue. The view of the valley is amazing, and I took a range of shots including a couple of these wide-vista photos. I’m growing to like these more than I once did.

Lynne suggested heading up to Winona which sits on the Mississippi. There is a park on top of one of the bluffs there with a big panoramic view of the Mississippi valley. As we were walking from the car to the overlook, I spotted these wild flowers. There are a few flowers which bloom in fall that are just gorgeous. Not sure what it is – perhaps they are just hardier to survive the occasional frost, but their colors are vibrant and they just photograph really well.

The sun was setting and the view was great. The leaves were brightly colored here and there, but not the entire valley by any means. This was one of my favorite images as the setting sun set the leaves on fire against the background of the fading light in the valley. It’s probably one of my favorite shots of the day.

But for some reason, the shot I liked the best had little fall color and seemed to lend itself to a black and white treatment. This shot was from the bluff overlooking Rushford. The pattern of the corn, dry and ready for harvest, the bordering trees, a roadway through this great farmland, and a single car, all just strike me right.

Sometimes you are looking for something and you find something else. And that’s okay.

Yosemite in Winter

I had the great fortune to visit Yosemite National Park in California in January. I enjoy our great national parks, but this was my first visit to Yosemite. Walking in the footsteps of John Muir, seeing this fabulous valley, and turning my camera on this beauty to try capturing some of the awe I felt was amazing.

I was there to attend the first session of Moose Peterson’s final season of Digital Landscape Workshop Series. Moose is an incredible wildlife photographer who’s landscape shots are also breathtaking. He has a few friends who aren’t too shabby, like Joe McNally, who attend DLWS as instructors. For this event, Joe wasn’t available and RC Concepcion filled in. I’ve known RC from his work at Kelby Media (Kelby Training, NAPP, Photoshop User TV, etc.), and I sort of met him at Photoshop World in September. But he is a hoot to hang around, especially when you both have cameras.

Also filling the instructor ranks was Kevin Dobler. I met Kevin and Moose in Hawaii two years ago along with Joe and Laurie Excell, when I attended the DLWS in Kauai. That event provided me a huge photography boost just from the inspiration and photo zen. I absorbed something there, for sure, so having a chance to attend another DLWS, this time at a park I’ve wanted to visit for years, was great. I had forgotten Kevin is a pilot and works for Cessna. He recently flew to Yellowstone and captured some amazing in-flight shots which he shared with us.

But we were there to shoot the scenery in Yosemite. It doesn’t hurt that this is essentially Moose’s backyard. He lives nearby in the Sierras and knows this area – and its history – inside and out. We stayed in the lodge that’s right in the park. You walk out of your room and look around and think, “this is not real – it can’t be.” There’s Half Dome nearby, and you can see Yosemite Falls from the doorways of many of the rooms. My room faced south, so I had to take a few steps to see the falls.

You never know what to expect in the mountains in January. There had been some large storms in December, but it was dry during my stay. The earlier snowfall provided lots of good moisture to feed the waterfalls around the valley, though. We also happened to be there during the full moon. I’m sure that factored into the schedule. We had a fun moonlight shoot, and we later watched the moon rise from Tunnel View.

From there, you have a beautiful view of El Capitan and Half Dome. As the moon rose and I snapped away, I suddenly noticed the color. It was staggering. I’m not sure I’ve seen such a magenta sky, and there it was all around the rising moon. This and many other shots might make great black and white photos. I think of the work of Ansel Adams whose Yosemite photos have become iconic. But the colors. How could I rob my photos of the colors on display?

There was the cool blue of the moonlight shots. There was the magenta sky, and the bright red that pulls your eye to Moose Peterson, standing in the meadow. And there was a rainbow in the morning sun nearly surrounding the upper Yosemite Falls as the wind whipped the water into a great mist.

Yes, I have some nice black and whites with the textures of thousands of years of erosion on ancient granite born deep under the crust of the earth. But it’s the colors that I witnessed and captured that I’ll remember. And those colors I’ve chosen – for now at least – to preserve in the majority of my photographs.

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