Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Even before we planned our visit to San Diego, Torrey Pines had long captured my imagination.  I love exploring wild, undeveloped areas and Torrey Pines is just that – 1,500 acres of land that is pretty much as it was over the past few hundred years.  One need only look north or south from the reserve’s many viewpoints to see reminders of how heavily San Diego has been developed over the years.  In the reserve, you can see native plants like the maritime chapparal, the Torrey Pine (which only exist in this reserve) and miles of unspoiled beaches and lagoons.  Because Torrey Pines is a reserve, targeted for conservation and not a park, it carries special rules and conditions to protect the habitat there.  If you have the opportunity to visit, please ensure you understand and follow the rules there.

Of the 279 locations in the California State Park system, only 14 have reserve status and Torrey Pines is one of them.

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Looking North Along the Shoreline of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, 2018

As an introduction, perhaps sharing a bit of history about the Torrey Pine and the Reserve can best be taken from the Torrey Pines Docent Society Web Page: (Unless stated otherwise, this History Section of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve ® was written by Judy Schulman, TPDS Docent.)

Naming of the Torrey Pine

Because groves of trees were not common along the Southern California coast, early Spanish explorers (1500-1700 AD) referred to this area as Punto de Los Arboles, which literally means “Point of Trees.” They used this area both as a landmark and as a warning that they were too close to the shore in the fog.

In 1769, the Portola-Serra Sacred Expedition passed through nearby Sorrento Valley on its way from San Diego to colonize Monterey and establish missions along the way. The trail they used is referred to as El Camino Real. The trees themselves were referred to as Soledad Pines (Solitary Pines) by the first non-Native Americans to visit the area. The name remained until 1850.

The first modern account of the Torrey pine occurred with the renaming of the tree in 1850. It was “officially” discovered by Dr. Charles Christopher Parry. This was the year that California became a State of the Union. Parry was in San Diego as botanist for the US-Mexico Boundary Survey. The purpose of the survey was to determine the boundaries between Mexico and California. Parry was a medical doctor with an interest in botany: specifically, why plants grew where they did and how Indians used plants. This area and the Torrey Pine tree were brought to his attention by entomologist Dr. John Le Conte. Parry named the tree for his mentor, Dr. John Torrey, of New York. Torrey was one of the leading botanists of his time. He had co-authored A Flora of North America, and was the sole author of A Flora of New York State. Unfortunately, Torrey never came here. But Parry did send him samples of seeds, branches, and cones.

Protecting the Torrey Pine

In 1883, Parry re-visited the area. Surprised at the lack of protection for the trees, he wrote a historical and scientific account of the pine emphasizing the need to protect the tree from extermination. This was presented to the San Diego Society of Natural History.

The first source of protection came in 1885 from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They posted signs citing a reward of $100 for the apprehension of anyone vandalizing a Torrey pine tree.

This attempt to protect the trees was reinforced by botanist J. G. Lemmon of the newly formed California State Board of Forestry. In 1888, he suggested that appropriate legislation be mandated to protect the tree. That same year, the mystique of the tree was enhanced by botanist T. S. Brandagee’s discovery of Torrey pines on Santa Rosa Island. Several theories have been set forth trying to explain the two stands of trees some 175 miles apart. These include that trees were planted there from bird droppings; that earthquakes moved landmasses over long periods of time due to plate tectonics; and that the trees were once more widely spread along the Southern California coast.

In 1890, some pueblo lands in San Diego were leased for cattle and sheep grazing. This was in spite of early warnings for preservation. In order to clear the land, trees were cut and hauled away to be used for firewood. The present Torrey Pines area was included in this lease

Establishment of the Torrey Pine Park

Persuaded by city father George Marston, botanists David Cleveland and Belie Angler, the City Council in 1899 passed an ordinance to set aside 364 acres of pueblo lands as a public park. Unfortunately, the ordinance made no provisions for protecting the tree.

After the turn of the century, the lands surrounding the park were in danger of being commercially sold. Between 1908 and 1911, newspaper woman and philanthropist, Ellen Browning Scripps, acquired two additional pueblo lots and willed them to the people of San Diego. This added to the park the area of North Grove and the estuary. By the time she died in 1932, Miss Scripps had contributed greatly not only to the establishment of our park, but also to the Natural History Museum, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Zoo, the La Jolla Childrens’ Pool, and the Scripps Clinic and Research facility.

Representing the San Diego Society of Natural History and the San Diego Floral Association, Guy Fleming and Ralph Sumner visited the park in 1916 to conduct botanical studies. Their report of damage caused by picnickers and campers resulted in public support for the preservation of the area. The movement was spearheaded by Miss Scripps.

In 1921, Miss Scripps and the City Park Commission appointed Guy Fleming as the first custodian of the park. A former naturalist and landscaper, he later went on to become the District Superintendent for the State Park System in Southern California.

In 1922, Miss Scripps retained Ralph Cornell, a well known landscape architect, to suggest a long term plan for the park. His three-part plan called for restrictions against changing the original landscape or introducing plants or features not indigenous to the area or over-cultivating the Torrey pine to the exclusion of open spaces.  – Judy Schulman

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Torrey Pines Sandstone Cliffs, 2018

When you arrive to the reserve, you are given two options – the low road or the high road.  The low road will take you to a parking area where you can find access to the beach trails, while the high road will take you up the steep hills (you can hike up, if you’re so inclined) to the lodge or a couple of additional parking areas.  As I recall, it was a $15.00 entrance fee – a bargain, if you ask me.

We chose the high road, parked the car and hiked toward the shoreline.  It was not an ideal day – the marine layer was in play and the sun stayed out of sight for most of the day.  That turned out to a blessing in disguise as bright sun makes the rock formations a very pale yellow and can hide some of their details.  As you can see in the cliff picture above, the sandstone gradations are quite beautiful.

The views are nice but not necessarily awe-inspiring.  However, if you’re a bit patient, you’ll soon be rewarded with extremely interesting rock formations and of course, Torrey Pines.  Torrey Pine trees are scrubby, low pines with sparse clumps of long needles and trucks and branches that have clearly been shaped by the forces of nature on the California coast.

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Lone Torrey Pine and Sandstone Formation, 2018

The rock formations are quite interesting and varied.  You have the variegated loose sandstone, like the image above and you can also have smoothed rock formations with holes that have been carved out and smoothed over the eons, as shown in the image below.  The formations at Torrey Pines are sedimentary rocks and were formed as the faults of earth’s geography and the actions of the wind and waves acted upon the landscape.

A note of caution here.  While the geology here is amazing, the stone formations are porous and loose, and the drop can exceed 300 feet – straight down.  There are frequent slides where hundreds to thousands of pounds of rock and debris can slide without warning.  There are signs and barriers where you need to be cautious and heed the warnings.  People DIE or are seriously injured every year at Torrey Pines!  Most, if not all of the deaths can be attributed to not following the rules and venturing out where they shouldn’t be.  Don’t be a statistic.

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Sandstone Formations and Native Vegetation, 2018

As we hiked our way along the trails laid out for us, we noticed a bit of wildlife along the way, including a juvenile hare and a very cheeky raven.  We reached the safe edges of the cliffs and saw the beauty of the ocean and beach below.  We also saw the famous Torrey Pines golf course to the south and beyond that, the Torrey Pines Gliderport.  It would have been nice to see the gliders and parasails, but this was definitely not the weather for it.  Maybe next time.

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Raven on Dead Pine and Hare in Brush, 2018

Having seen the beach from above, my wife and I decided to take the low road and explore the beach.  The cliffs take on an imposing view from the bottom and the beach seems to stretch on forever.  It was getting late and chilly, so we only stayed a half-hour or so but enjoyed it immensely.  Always leave something unseen as a reason to return, I always say.

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Beach View of Sandstone Cliffs, 2018

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Walking South Along a Seemingly Endless Beach, 2018

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Sun Playing Hide-and-Seek with the Clouds, 2018

As I wrote at the outset of this post, Torrey Pines held my interest long before we arrived in San Diego and it didn’t disappoint.  If you have the opportunity, I whole-heartedly recommend it and look forward to returning myself one day soon.  As we were walking back to the car, my friend the raven stopped by one last time, although whether to chide us or thank us we’ll not know.

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How Croaks the Raven?


Note: This post originally appeared in October 2017.  Since I have re-started my blog, I thought I would refresh this and re-publish.  Cheers!

If you’ve ever traveled to, or read about Brooklyn, you may have heard the term DUMBO.  I had heard it several times in my travels to New York and it didn’t mean a thing to me.

Until I visited the city on the 11th anniversary of 9-11.  I had traveled into the city in the hopes of seeing the monuments to the victims, but it was closed to everyone except the families and friends of the fallen.  I could wait, their need was infinitely more important.

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Television Satellite Trucks and Freedon Tower, 2012

So I wandered past the still-under-construction Freedom Tower, past the conspiracy theorists hawking that it was an inside job, the television satellite trucks broadcasting the day’s events and found that I was near City Hall.  And near City Hall, I could see the Brooklyn Bridge.  I recognized it immediately of course, so I had to take a closer look.

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The Manhattan Bridge, 2012

As I approached, I noticed just how multi-purposed bridges are in New York.  The pedestrian walkway is the uppermost level, below that on either side are the lanes for cars, and there was even more that I couldn’t see behind that.  Historically, I’ve never been a huge fan of people in my pictures, but there was no avoiding the throngs this day, so I spent my time framing my shots as I was walking.

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Brooklyn Bridge Spire, 2012

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Looking Toward Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge, 2012

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I’m a huge fan of architectural symmetry and the Brooklyn Bridge offers it in abundance.  I also enjoy seeing that symmetry from a viewpoint that others might not find interesting, hence the image of one of the spires above.  A very imposing structure, indeed.  And built by hand nearly a hundred years ago.  Remarkable.

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Brooklyn Bridge Detail on 9/11 Anniversary, 2012

Note the flag at half-staff in honor of the victims of 9-11.  It was very sobering to think on what happened that day eleven years earlier as I walked in the same place where such horror occurred.  You couldn’t help from reliving where you were when the planes struck the towers.  I was still in the Navy then.  A Command Senior Chief of a Guided-Missile Destroyer.  It was a difficult time for everyone.

I did find it heartening to see how quickly the city was recovering, while still respecting and honoring the victims.

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Brooklyn Bridge Detail from DUMBO, 2012

Once I had finished the half-mile walk across the bridge, I found myself in a beautiful park area, with a carousel, ice cream and food vendors.  I had accidentally found myself  in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn.  I found out the name is actually an abbreviation; Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  The Manhattan Bridge is about a half mile east of the Brooklyn Bridge and is much more utilitarian, carrying vehicular, rail, and foot traffic toward midtown Manhattan.

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Brooklyn Bridge View from DUMBO, 2012

Walking through DUMBO afforded me several unconventional views of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the wonderfully clear skies that day led to some very dramatic lighting that really accented the architecture and gave those deep, dark, dramatic skies.

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Panorama of South Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, 2012

So, after purchasing a delicious scoop of ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (So good!) and taking a panorama of the Manhattan skyline that covered the Statue of Liberty, the Financial District, the Brooklyn Bridge, and DUMBO, I headed back toward Manhattan and my train ride back to New Jersey.

It was a good day.

These images were taken with a Nikon Coolpix P7100, a point and shoot camera.  I used this camera quite a bit while deciding what my next big thing was going to be.  The images were brought into Photoshop and processed into monochrome, as I feel black and white brings out the details of architecture without the distraction of color.

Cheers!  October 19, 2017.

Paris in a Day

Note: This post originally appeared in October 2017.  Since I have re-started my blog, I thought I would refresh this and re-publish.  Cheers!

My intention in creating my own blog was to showcase my photography, but you really can’t showcase something like that to complete strangers without introducing yourself and helping your viewers understand your frame of mind as you created the images they see.  This adds a dimension to the pictures that is absent when just viewing an image.

My photographic journey started with my father.  He was a jack of all creative trades and quite talented in his own right, but he was also quite troubled throughout his life and I believe this kept him from reaching his full potential.  He did, however, expose me to three of my greatest creative joys: photography, music, and writing.

As we both grew older and I left home, one of my first real purchases after joining the Navy in the early 1980’s was an Olympus OM-10 camera with Zuiko wide angle, standard, and telephoto lenses.  I shot mostly Kodachrome and Ektachrome slide film back then as I wasn’t really interested in printing anything, and I thought the colors were richer; more vibrant.  It was a fully manual beast, with just a basic metering system with a simple pointer that indicated too little, too much, or just right, but it taught me to take my time and think about what I was shooting.  It was a fine camera and I get nostalgic now and then when I think about it.

Fast forward about 12-14 years to the mid-1990’s and my dad had moved his camper to a walnut orchard outside of Lakeport, California and I was attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  My dad’s health was deteriorating and we both knew as I prepared to go to Germany for an exchange tour aboard a German frigate that we would not likely see each other again.  He had a surprise for me before I left, though.  He owned a Mamiya C220 twin lens reflex camera setup with three lenses that he hadn’t used in years, but he chose to give it to me, and that it was his wish that I take photos from around Europe with it.

A few months later, I had some free time, so I met up with another American in Germany, stocked up on a dozen rolls of Ilford 120 roll film, and we made the trip to Paris for the weekend.  It was an exercise in the hazards of the absence of planning as it turned out, but I was able to spend one hectic day running from one monument to another trying to capture the magic that is the City of Light.

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Arc D’Triomphe from the Champs-Elysées, Paris, 1996

The first stop, once we commuted into the city by train, was the Arc de Triomphe, more properly called the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.  The weather was still good, but was threatening. This shot was taken from an island in the middle of the Champs-Elysées, similar to the one in the lower center of the image.  For those not familiar with Paris, the Arc de Triomphe is a very imposing structure that sits in the middle of a roundabout with eight lanes of traffic wizzing by the dumb tourists wanting a picture.  It was an exercise in “get the shot and get out” with no time for fancy composition.  As I was setting up the shot, though, I noticed that there were people on the top of the monument and discovered that you could go to the top and have a look over the Champs-Elysées and much of Paris.

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Champs-Elysées from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1996

This led to the photo you see here, taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and looking down the Champs-Elysées toward the Louvre, located in the distant center of the image with the Musée d’Orsay is on the distant right with the rounded silver roof.  It may not be a particularly good image from a purely technical point of view, but I’ve always thought it had a certain timelessness about it.

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Le Tour Eiffel from the Top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1996

Turning my gaze away from the Champs-Elysées, I catch another famous monument, the Tour Eiffel.  There are eight streets that arc away from the Arc de Triomphe (no pun intended) and each presents a new way of looking at the city.  You can also see the very interesting way that space is used in in the construction of the condos and apartments of the 8th arrondissement of Paris.  Unlike the U.S., the central parts of major cities are the most desirable areas to live, while the suburbs are much less desired.

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Trocadéro Statues Overlooking Le Tour Eiffel, Paris, 1996

Before I left for Germany, I bought a book on the sights of Paris and an image similar to this was on the cover.  I really liked that image, with the modern building on the left and the Tour Eiffel on the right with the statuary overlooking the scene.  This image was my attempt to re-create this image.  The area is called the Trocadéro and it is situated on the opposite side of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.  Trocadéro is home to splendid gardens and ornamental ponds and fountains as well as the Palais de Chaillot, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine and the Musée de la Marine.

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Le Tour Eiffel Detail, Paris, 1996

This image was me trying to get a different perspective of the Tour Eiffel than that usually captured on film.  as we were climbing up the stairs (ok for the first and second levels, but not possible for the third level) I noticed the symmetry of the construction, a fascination that remains with me to this day and I held up traffic for two minutes while I composed and shot this image.  My traveling partner was not happy, but then again, he was never happy.

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Trocadéro View from Le Tour Eiffel, Paris, 1996

Climbing to the second level, this is the view of the Trocadéro from across the Siene, with La Défense in the distance.  La Défense is the central business district of Paris and only has a few pieces of architecture worth seeing.  We never traveled there as we had only a few hours and had other sights to see.  The weather was still holding on for us!

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Tourist Boats on the Siene, Paris, 1996

This is the view as we crossed the Siene on our way back towards the Champs-Elysées, headed for the Louvre.  Looking at this rather pedestrian image makes me realize all over again how little of Paris we truly saw that day.  I haven’t been back since, yet it remains one of the most remembered locations I’ve visited, and I’ve visited a bunch!

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The Louvre Courtyard, Paris, 1996

No visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the Louvre, more properly called the Musée du Louvre.  This image was taken near the entrance (you can see the entry queue to the right), with the controversial pyramid (now not-so-controversial) created by the famous architect, I. M. Pei and the Richelieu Wing in the background.  A nice juxtaposition of the old and the new.

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Statue of Diana and the Hunt and Ferris Wheel, Paris, 1996

As we left the Louvre, our day nearly behind us and the weather turning notably Parisian (Northern Europe is well known for it’s rapid changes in weather), we decided to head back, but as we walked through this very long garden/park, this statue of Diana placed itself perfectly in front of the most out-of-place grand Ferris wheel and I couldn’t resist the opportunity it presented.

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Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Paris, 1996

Finally, the last image I’ll share.  I started with the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, so I’ll end with the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, another monument built by Napoleon to commemorate his victories.  Visually, I think it is more imposing than the “other” Arc, probably because motorists weren’t trying to run me down while I photographed it.  I never noticed until many years later, that at the bottom right hand side of the image is a woman taking a photo of me (the twin lens reflex is a very interesting camera and not something seen everyday).

As I look back over these images, I’m thankful that they turned out as well as they did.  I was still new to using that camera and its metering system was very suspect, but I managed to get it to work consistently enough to get these images.  Being 120 roll film, the negatives were 2.25″ x 2.25″ negatives, which I then scanned into Photoshop with an Epson film scanner set to the highest resolution possible, then processed to clean up the damage the negatives had suffered from storage.

Cheers!  October 17, 2017.


Find Your Vibe, Find Your Tribe

I’m going to take a short break from my usual focus on photography to share something that’s been on my mind for a while now and that is how we connect with others.  Why is it that we are attracted to some people while we develop a near-instant dislike for others?  How can some people (I’m looking at you, extroverts) feel an immediate connection with most everyone they meet, often within minutes, while introverts struggle in many social situations?  I’ll state at the outset that this is not a psychological discussion.  I’m certain this has been taken apart many, many times and I’m not interested in repeating that.

See, I’m a deeply introverted person, so the thought of just “getting out there” isn’t in my makeup.  Honestly, it may be why I like writing so much.  It affords me the ability to share my thoughts and experiences on my terms and in a medium that is comfortable for me.  I can carefully craft my ideas without others running my train of thought off the rails.  However, I still live in the real world and we human beings are social animals.  We need to connect with others and our natural inclination is to connect with those who we believe to be like us – our tribe, if you will.

Tribe Vibe

This expression is virtually ubiquitous on the web.  And in the mall.

A while back, I came across the expression, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.”  I dismissed the thought back then as a marketing stunt (a quick Internet search will quickly affirm this) but in our current hyper-partisan political atmosphere, this phrase took on added meaning.  I had always assumed that tribalism was a negative thing and that we should endeavor to find common ground with our fellow human beings and I still think that is true as a society, but on a personal level, I’m not so certain anymore.

About five years ago, I came across a graphic novel entitled “Serenity Rose”, written and illustrated by Aaron Alexovich.  If you are familiar with the Nickelodeon series, “Invader Zim”, Aaron was the principal illustrator and animator of that series, but Serenity came first.  She started out as an animation test graphic while he was attending Cal Arts, but Aaron (a self-described introvert and social phobic) found that he was able to express himself through this character.  She gave him his voice.  Eventually, Serenity Rose became a series of web comics, and was then collected into a graphic novel.

I’ve included a link to Aaron’s site if you’re interested in learning more or purchasing the novel:

Anyway, I’ve read this novel through a couple of times, but on my latest reading a few days ago these particular frames really gave me pause.  Here, Serenity (the smaller character with the goggles) is speaking with Vicious Whisper, a worldly-wise, strongly extroverted character from England who is quite possibly the psychological opposite of her.  Serenity, or Sera, as she’s known in the series, is bothered that she has spent a great deal of time criticizing others and is concerned that she’s too “full of hate” to be of use to anyone, including herself.



Two Panels from “Serenity Rose” written and illustrated by Aaron Alexovich

Vicious’ answers to Sera are what gave me pause.  After first stating that hate is noble and necessary (it is) and rattling off a quick list of things she hates (a fairly inclusive list), she then expounds on the things that she does not hate, and it’s a veritable laundry list of this, that, and the other.  But there are two sentences in these panels that I want to focus on.  The first is Vicious telling Sera to ask herself, “Is this thing really worth my hatred, or am I just a bigot?”

Think about that for a second – are those things I say I “hate” for one reason or another – traffic, obnoxious people, electronic gizmos that don’t function as I think they should, etc., etc.  Those things often stated as being “first world problems” – are those things really worth hating or do I need to take a look at myself and examine my reactions and motivation?

Her second question is a bit rhetorical.  She asks, “Why would anybody choose to piss away so much time and passion scowling at open-toed shoes and pop punksters?  Having to sort out so many tiny, little angries each and every day, I mean, well, it must be positively exhausting, eh?”

For me, this is the crux of the argument.  Why do we spend so much time and energy sniping about things that we, more often than not, cannot change when we could instead use that energy improving ourselves?

To illustrate, a few weeks ago my wife and were vacationing in San Diego.  I had some business travel bennies to use up and family I hadn’t seen in forever, so off we went.  We spent time doing the things we love: hiking, hanging at the beach, visiting gardens, and sampling really good vegan food.

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Ocean Beach in San Diego, 2018 – it’s really hard to be angry with this view

We had a great time, but one of the things I noted was that I wasn’t angry all the time.  In fact, I wasn’t angry at all.  I didn’t yell at traffic jams and I didn’t get wound up over seeing people who lived differently than me.  In fact, I was just in the moment and I must have exuded that vibe, because people reacted to me not as a wound-too-tight, middle-aged man, but as someone who sharing the same space at the same time and was not contrary to their vibe and they returned that vibe.

I finally understood that expression – find your vibe, find your tribe.  My tribe had been there all the time, waiting.  The problem was me.

I’ll end with a story I once read that I will try to paraphrase here.  I hope I do it justice.

Once upoon a time, a man was not happy where he was living, so he visited the place he was considering moving to.  He went into a local business, and after striking up a conversation with the shopkeeper, asked, “What is it like to live here?  Where I come from, the people are rude, horrible jerks and I don’t want to be around people like that.”

The shopkeeper answered, “Yeah, they’re kind of like that here as well.”

Some time later, another man who was also looking to relocate went to the same store and struck up a conversation with the same shopkeeper.  He asked, “What is it like to live here?  Where I live, the people are wonderful and open and I’m looking to find the same here.”

The shopkeeper answered, “Yeah, they’re kind of like that here as well.”

Food for thought.



Atmospheric Favorites

Some of my favorites photos of the heavens over the years.


Lightning over suburban Orlando, Florida, 2004

This is one of a few lightning shots I have captured over the years, but this is the best one in the digital realm.  It was taken from the parking lot of the apartment complex I was living in and was just a lucky grab.


Moon on a clear summer’s evening, 2018

This was a shot taken with the Sony A7R3 and the 70-200 G-Master lens.  It was the night where much of the world was treated to a very nice lunar eclipse, but central North America was left out of this one.  On the plus side, it was a spectacular full moon as seen with an amazing camera and lens.


Moon through the clouds over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2012

This was another quick grab, this time with a point-and-shoot camera.  I looked outside and saw this amazing sky with the moon drifting in between the clouds, waited for the right moment, and grabbed it.


Crepuscular rays over Green Bay, 2007

This dramatic scene was taken in the fall, when the low clouds begin to announce the arrival of more inclement weather.  In this case though, the sun and clouds were dancing most of the afternoon and this shot lined up very nicely.


Squall line over Nashville, Tennessee, 2018

Another shot with the big Sony, this squall line brought very nasty weather, but what a show before it hit!  The drama between the nicer weather to the east (left) and the coming storm to the west (right) nicely sandwiched the boiling clouds of the squall itself. I love this photo – the drama and power of nature.


Double rainbow’s end, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2013

I suppose if I’m going to show a squall line, I should show the peaceful end as well.  This was a spectacular double rainbow over the Pittsburgh area that was just too large to capture in its entirety, so I went for the details.

Remember, sometimes life brings storms, but storms can bring a rainbow.  Namiste!



Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving.  It’s a nice holiday nicely spaced between Halloween and Christmas and my memories of sharing the time with my family are always positive. No Thanksgiving drama for me, thank you.

As I took my morning walk to clear my head and prepare me for the day, I took stock in what I’m thankful for.  My family, first and always.  My health.  My job.  Those are the easy ones – I’m always thankful for those.  It’s when I start to look closer that I see the little things.

Late fall colors in the smaller trees along the trail.

It wasn’t a particularly pretty fall here in middle Tennessee.  The unabated hot weather stressed the trees and most of them just shed their leaves without much fanfare.  But these little trees, unnoticed at first, have held their color beautifully and on the this frosty morning, made great subjects to photograph.

I’m thankful for the little things.


Twin ash trees

I’m grateful for these beautiful twin ash trees.  I see them all the time, but they’re usually obscured by other trees and leaves and it’s hard to photograph them.  In this late fall air, they are nice subjects.

I’m thankful for the hidden things made visible.


Cardinal checking out a photographer

I’m thankful for the songbirds, usually much too flighty to capture well, taking the time in the cool air to just take a break long enough to grab their photo.

I’m thankful for the miracle of life on this planet.


Frost flowers

Frost flowers occur when freezing temperatures follow a wet period.  They usually occur around plants with white or yellow stems.  As the temperatures cool, the water in the stems freezes, causing the stems to split open and release the freezing water through tiny slits, making these amazing frost formations.  They’re not very common, so appreciate them when you find them.

I’m thankful for the unusual things.

What in your life are you thankful for?  Look closer.

Does the “Right” Camera Even Matter Anymore?

Perception IS reality.

I had some fun with my Facebook friends earlier this week.  I posted four pictures that I had taken with various cameras over the years and I asked them to identify which camera took which photo, given a list. Granted, only one tried to answer the question and another responded they couldn’t even begin to tell the difference, so maybe it wasn’t that much fun.

Unless you’re a trained photographer or artist, or are pixel-peeping, an image is an image is an image.  It either catches your interest, or it doesn’t and the “why” behind that is quite complicated and varies for each of us.  There are books and studies available with some Internet sleuthing, if you’re interested.

I’ll repeat the test here, but I’ll discuss the answers as you, the reader, proceed through the images. The exif data (an embedded file within the image that records the camera, lens, and exposure settings) will be stripped out of the pictures and the resolution and size will be nearly identical to avoid giving the answers away.

The cameras in question are:

  • An iPhone camera
  • A compact, small sensor camera (“point and shoot”)
  • An APS-C mirrorless camera
  • A full-frame mirrorless camera
  • An APS-C digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera
  • A twin-lens reflex medium format film camera with negatives scanned into digital

Ready to begin?  Let’s get started.

Image #1 – Tulip Detail


Was this image taken with…?

  1. An iPhone camera
  2. A compact, small sensor camera (“point and shoot”)
  3. An APS-C mirrorless camera
  4. A full-frame mirrorless camera

Scroll down for the answer…





This photo was taken with a compact, small sensor camera.  Specifically, the Nikon P7100 back in 2011.  One of the advantages to small sensor compacts, other than they are easy to carry, is that the small sensor/lens combinations allow very close focusing without the need for expensive macrophotography setups and can allow you to see ordinary subjects in interesting new ways.  For this shot, I was about one inch from the center of a tulip and this close view allows you to see the delicate details of the flower.

Image #2 – Blue Angels in Formation


Was this image taken with…?

  1. An APS-C mirrorless camera
  2. A full-frame mirrorless camera
  3. An APS-C digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera
  4. A twin-lens reflex medium format film camera with negatives scanned into digital

Scroll down for the answer…





This photo was taken with a DSLR, which may have seemed like an easy guess, but there’s a caveat here. This was taken in 2002 with the Nikon D1H, which at the time was one of the finest digital SLR’s out there.  It had an APS-C sized sensor with a whopping 2.66 MP.  The average cell phone these days has 12 MP or more, so this camera was capable of capturing an amazing amount of detail, very quickly, of these jets in flight. In fairness, I was placed at the center of an airshow and was using excellent lenses, so I gave the camera every advantage.

Image #3 –Trocadero Statues Overlooking the Eiffel Tower

World Travels-080

Was this image taken with…?

  1. A compact, small sensor camera (“point and shoot”)
  2. An APS-C mirrorless camera
  3. An APS-C digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera
  4. A twin-lens reflex medium format film camera with negatives scanned into digital

Scroll down for the answer…





This photo was taken with a Mamiya C220 twin-lens reflex camera in 1996 and scanned into digital in 2012.  The Mamiya C220 was a camera manufactured in the early 1970’s that used either 120 or 220 roll film to create transparencies/negatives that were 6 cm square. The focusing mechanism would show an inverted image on the top of the camera to frame and focus, so it took some getting used to when making pictures, but these remain some of my best images to this day.  I gave up that camera in 1998 and really regret having done so.

Image #4 – Beads of Dew on Wildflowers


Was this image taken with…?

  1. An iPhone camera
  2. A compact, small sensor camera (“point and shoot”)
  3. An APS-C mirrorless camera
  4. A full-frame mirrorless camera

Scroll down for the answer…





This photo was taken with an iPhone 5 camera in 2014.  Camera phones have nearly killed off the compact, point and shoot camera market because they are always with us and take images nearly equal in quality to a compact sensor camera.  With a bit of patience, and a lot of available light, camera phones can take decent images although I will always default to a dedicated camera when getting the image is critically important.  In my opinion, phone cameras are best suited for snapshots shared via social media and e-mail.

Image #5 – Southern Manhattan from the Empire State Building

New York City-044

Was this image taken with…?

  1. An APS-C mirrorless camera
  2. A full-frame mirrorless camera
  3. An APS-C digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera
  4. A twin-lens reflex medium format film camera with negatives scanned into digital

Scroll down for the answer…





This striking image was taken in 2011 with the Sony NEX-5, an early APS-C mirrorless camera with a 14 MP sensor.  The original image was taken in color, but converted to black and white in Photoshop (more on that later in this post).  These new mirrorless cameras combined the ease of use of a small sensor compact with the larger sensors or more capable cameras into a package that while not pocketable, were still easy to carry.  I’ve many very nice images with the NEX-5 and it’s later models, the a6000 and a6500 (The images in my post about Windansea Beach were taken with the a6500).

Image #6 – Golden Iris’ in the Early Morning Sun


Was this image taken with…?

  1. An iPhone camera
  2. An APS-C mirrorless camera
  3. A full-frame mirrorless camera
  4. An APS-C digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera

Scroll down for the answer…





This image, if you’ve been paying attention, was taken by the only camera not yet mentioned in this list – the full-frame mirrorless, in this case the Sony A7R3, a 45 MP monster of a camera, with a price tag and weight to match its performance.  This particular shot was taken while walking down the street and noticing the flowers outside a home.  It was a quick grab-and-go and that’s where these highly capable cameras excel.  No matter the situation, light or dark, good light or bad, right lens or not, these cameras will grab a useful image more often than not.  They are also extraordinarily expensive, very heavy to carry for extended periods of time, and take a great deal of time to master as they can be quite complicated.

So, what was the point of this exercise?  To show you that the marketing hype promising that you’ll be the next Ansel Adams or Annie Leibowitz if you’ll just buy this “particular” camera is true?


A camera is a light-capturing tool, nothing more.  They have been since the beginning of photography.  A camera is a device that allows us to record something that we see, in the moment that we see it, without relying on our memories of the details. It does this by recording information, initially by exposing a chemically-coated glass plate or film and then processing the result with more chemicals to recreate the image.  Most often nowadays images are created by capturing a series of light values as 1’s or 0’s in a computer, then saving the information in a storage medium and re-constructing the image using computers and software.  That’s it in a nutshell.

So, if the camera is just a tool, why are some images “better” than others?  That’s complicated.  For some, an image of a newborn grandchild taken with a cell phone is the most beautiful photo they can imagine.  For others, a formal portrait of their graduating child in a studio setup or a wedding ceremony taken with a multiple DSLR’s is the pinnacle of photography.  Some even seek the avant-garde of fine-art photography, which is often completely subjective.

In short, it is our perceptions of the images that have been captured that determine the “worthiness” of a photo.

Which brings me to Photoshop (and other image-processing software – there are many alternatives out there).  Do “real” photographers use image processing software?  Yes, they do.  And sometimes, they don’t.  Clear as mud, right?

Remember that most cameras only capture the information – they do not interpret it, with one notable exception.  Modern cell phones use cameras and software that are designed to change your perception of the image– they alter the lighting and depth of field to manipulate a captured image into what they believe you meant to see. They are compensating for their lack of technical ability (there’s only so much you can do with a tiny sensor and lenses) with software tricks and that trend will only continue as processing power increases.  Most cameras do that to some extent with their non-RAW images, but the AI incorporated into phone cameras take that to a whole new level.  This is why I prefer to shoot RAW.

As an illustration of this, have you ever taken a photograph of an amazing scene and thought, “Now that’s going to be an amazing picture!” only to find that the actual image isn’t what you remembered at all?  That is a limitation of what the tool can capture vs. what our eyes can see, and our brains can process.  Our visual system is greater by magnitudes than the finest cameras in existence. The best cameras with the largest, most sensitive sensors have a dynamic range of about 14-15 dB.  Our eyes, however, can have a dynamic range of 90 dB! That is why the sunset you thought was so breathtaking was kind of meh in your image of it.

This is where image processing comes in.  It allows us to re-create the perception we had of a scene by using the base information from the camera and altering it to meet our expectations.  This is not a recent development.  Ansel Adams used image manipulation when processing the glass plate exposures he took in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  He would allow greater exposure to some areas while allowing less exposure to other areas (a technique known as dodging and burning) in a process he referred to a “Zone Photography”.  He was altering the image to match his perception of the scene. Artists have done this for centuries; why should photographers be any different?  They are both manipulators of light.

And this brings me back to the camera itself.  Which one is “right” for you?  The answer is complicated but let me ask you a series of questions that might narrow your choices.

  • What do you intend to do with the images? Print them in poster-sized prints to hang on the wall or just share via the Internet? Large prints need a lot of detail, and that means large sensors.
  • How much money are you willing to spend? The more technically sophisticated the camera, the more expensive it will be, both initially and as you develop as a photographer.
  • How often do you use the camera? If you are only a casual user, maybe start small and work your way up as your interest increases.
  • Are you willing to carry a big, heavy, expensive camera with you everywhere you go? Even professional photographers have small, easy-to-carry rigs for their personal use.
  • Are you willing to make the time investment in properly managing and processing your images to match your perception? Mastering any worthwhile skill takes time and practice.

As you can see, there is no easy answer to which camera is “right” for a particular individual.  I have used many cameras in the last 40 years. Some have been wonderful experiences, others I could not wait to get rid of.  For my current needs, I chose a compromise.  I value portability (always want to have the camera with me) and capability over other factors.  For that reason, I shoot with a high-end compact camera with a 1” sensor.  It takes 20 MP RAW images (RAW is best for post-processing) and has a lens reach of 24-200 mm.  It’s a bit slow and I need to consider the available light when shooting or use a tripod when needed, but it meets 90% of my needs as a photographer and that’s good enough for me.  You need to have the same decision process when choosing what is right for you.

Enough talking, let’s go take some photos!