Torres del Paine

This is Torres del Paine, the three massive towers in Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean portion of Patagonia (click the photo to enlarge). I should have known, the night before our photo group was to hike there, that when our guide, a former world-class rock climber, told us it was "one of the world's great hikes" and not to be missed, that "great" could be interpreted in several different ways...

From Las Torres, a fine hotel at the base of the mountains, it's an all-day hike, a round trip of nearly 12 miles with about 3,700 feet gain in elevation, to get this view of the towers. The first part of hike takes you up perhaps half the elevation, but then you lose much of it before hiking back up again. For that first part, you can rent a horse if you want. Yes, I wanted (somewhere I have a photo of me on the horse, fortunately for you -- actually, me -- I can't find it). The horse, I think, helped me conserve some energy for the rest of the day, especially when we got close, where the final treat awaits: You must climb up through a 500-foot boulder field (boulders ranging in size from footballs to large SUVs). Small blotches of spray paint mark the "path."

At the base of the boulder field is a sign that points the way through the boulder field to the glacier-fed lake (Mirador) at the base of the towers. The climb will take 45 minutes, the sign says. Ha ha, such jokers these Chileans are. It took me about an hour-and-a-half. It seemed endless. Even after our guide came back down and helped with my backpack, I was exhausted at the finish. Especially when I pondered the climb down necessary to photograph at lake level.

But when I got to the top, and the towers were revealed, I knew it was worth every second. This, however, isn't a story about how hard I had to work to get this photo. I'm just sayin': If someone tells you there's a great, but difficult, hike to be had -- or whatever the opportunity may be -- don't pass it up. I almost passed this one up. It was near the end of the trip; we were all very tired. It's not a new story moral, this is just my turn to say it. One more thing. Go to Patagonia if you can, but be warned that you'll spend the rest of your life pining to go back.

Keep stray light out of the viewfinder

At the Garfield Park Conservatory on Saturday, Photo Venture Camera Club veteran Rich Phelan kindly reminded me of something I forget too often when shooting with a tripod: Before you trip the shutter you need to cover the eyepiece to block stray light from entering and altering your exposure.

He suggested trying this: Put your camera into P mode (for Professional, of course!) and put the lens cap on. Check the exposure reading on the LCD panel. Now cover the eyepiece and check the exposure again -- the difference may surprise you.

This image is a composite of two photos, focused at two different locations to keep as much of the flower sharp as possible. My key mistake? I forgot to note what kind of flower it is...

72 pictures

Back when Kodak announced it would end production of Kodachrome, even though I'm thoroughly digital now I went out and bought two rolls of it because back in the day when I first started shooting with an SLR it was my favorite film. I knew I couldn't procrastinate too long to haul out the film camera but I did and now the last official processor of Kodachrome in the US, Dwayne's Photo, will be pulling the plug on Dec. 30. More specifically, if you haven't got your exposed Kodachrome in their hands by noon on Dec. 30, your images will remain latent.

So now I have less than 2 months to shoot about 72 images of Kodachrome 64 on the Nikon F3 I inherited from my Aunt Marjorie, who would be pleased that I'm putting another couple of rolls in her camera.

Back in the day the advice was to shoot lots of photos, film is cheap, etc. Well, that's sorta the way we shoot digital now but with two final rolls of Kodachrome that's not the approach I'm using. Now I think, will I want to scan this? Will I want to print this? What's the odds I'll want to look at this image again? So the bar is set higher than what I'm used to.

Other issues/fun stuff:

  • ASA 64. Only. Too little light to shoot? Too bad. Wait 'till you get some.
  • No chimping. This is tough. I admit I chimp, I like to look at those histograms. I like to look at the composition. I also admit that a couple times in the project I've looked down at the back of the camera after taking a shot. That'll make you feel a bit dumb. On the other hand, it's been fun to go completely manual and figure exposures based on "sunny 16."
  • Sound. I love how this camera sounds when you take a photo. A good solid "chunk" as the mirror flips and the shutter opens and closes. Nice.
  • Small manual focus lenses. I'm using an old 28 mm f2.8 and a 50 mm 1.4. Ais. Got to start using these more on the digital cameras.
  • Did I mention no chimping? I've got 20-some photos taken with the first roll now, and I really want to know what they look like...

In the Maasai Mara


If Sabi Sand is thickets, reeds and brush, the Maasai Mara is vast plains, a few trees and in some places, animals (ie, wildebeest) to the horizon. Here a problem is not separating the subjects from the background, but keeping the animals in the background recognizable. An awe-inspiring problem. Some of the animals of the great migration were already starting the process of heading back south, braving the Mara River crocodiles to find their way to grasslands in Tanzania’s  Serengeti.


On to Nairobi

After a long day of one more game drive with spectacular photos, then flights to and out of Johannesburg, four of us are ensconced in nice hotel in Nairobi. In the morning we cut our luggage weights down to seemingly impossible levels, then board a plane to the Maasai Mara. There the animals promise to be further away, but in vastly larger numbers.

Kirkman’s Kamp, Day 3

Although we had great photo shooting opportunities yesterday and this morning, the two most memorable moments didn’t involve photography at all.

First though, some game drive shots:

The lodge and the cabins here at Kirkman’s surround a grassy area on three sides. There’s a bench in the middle that sometimes hosts people and sometimes monkeys. Last night, though, as dinner was nearly finished, three elephants strolled onto the grounds and began dining on the leaves and branches of a couple of the flowering trees. Particularly for those of us new to this continent, it was an essentially African moment. (Now that I think of it, so was the warthog who wandered in and calmly grazed on the lawn for awhile in the afternoon.)

Earlier in the evening, we had been tracking the lions we had seen the day before. Based on their tracks, and reports from other drivers, they seemed to have been continuing their vain search for the missing cub. We tracked them all the way to the boundary with Kruger National Park, where we had to turn around. As the sun sank below the horizon, we found a male leopard who had been sleeping, waiting for the cool of the evening to arrive. Shortly after we drove up, he began to move. He’s nearing the end of his years, we were told, but he still was stopping regularly to rub against bushes and mark his territory. One of his ears was a bloody mess from a recent fight with another leopard (along with an older wound on the rump from a fight with a warthog. We drove ahead of him a couple times to wait for him, illuminating him with the spotlight as he passed, heedless to our presence. The last time, as he walked toward our vehicle I lowered my camera as he moved so close I could no longer focus. As I gazed at this incredible creature, so close I might have been able to touch him, our eyes locked, and we stared at each other for an instant that seemed infinite. It was a magic moment I won’t forget.

In the bush

We should have known that the safari gods were with us today when we rolled up an incline and there on a rock, sunning herself as though to casually demonstrate her magnificence to the world, was a leopard. In our modified land rover, we watched her hunt, sleek and powerful, for 40 minutes.

It was a sighting we might not have enjoyed for days, yet it was just the first of the afternoon. This is why people come on safari in Africa.

We’re at Kirkman’s Kamp, a lodge in the Sabi Sand area next to Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa. Kirkman’s is one of several private reserves that provide additional territory for wildlife in this area, the fences between the national park and the private reserves having been taken down. Lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, elephants, giraffes and many other creatures roam here, and we had excellent sightings today.

It was an auspicious start to the week. For the next three days our schedule will be up at 5:30 am and off in our land rovers by 6:15. Each vehicle has three rows of seats in addition to the driver and the passenger next to him or her. As a photo workshop we’ve arranged for one photographer per row, a serious luxury compared with the eight or nine folks jammed into other vehicles. (Occasionally, it’s good to be a photographer.) Also in the top row is a spotter, who works with the driver to find and follow animals. After the morning drive of three hours or so we’ll return for breakfast and then some image reviews and seminar sessions. Lunch comes mid-afternoon followed by the evening game drive starting at 3:00. The drives end in the dark, with a spotlight helping us catch sight of nocturnal creatures such as the mongoose, bush babies and civets before they scurry away.

Our leopard sighting was followed by an encounter with two female lions and a cub. Earlier in the day, we were told, the females had been frantically searching for a lost second cub – apparently they were unsuccessful.

Two male lions were sleeping in the sand a mile or so back from the where we saw the females, their bellies clearly full from a recent feeding. Evening was starting to move in when four rhinos (two females, a baby and a big bull) crossed our path. As darkness fell, we headed back to camp, our spotter using a light to point out nocturnal critters before they scurried away.

Across South Africa

We’ve been out of Internet access for most of the week, so what I’d hoped would be a series of  blog postings has turned into one long update…

 Our early sessions and outings are a chance to get to know the group. Our workshop leader, teacher and advisor is photographer and Nikon guru and author Thom Hogan. Our local guide and driver is also an accomplished South African photographer, Lanz von Horsten.  The rest of us are dedicated amateurs – a couple of aerospace engineers, an independent filmmaker and one couple, both of them biomedical researchers. The woman of the couple is the only non-photographer, and the only female, in the group. A brave soul, but she’s holding her own. Two of the group were also in the Patagonia photo workshop I attended two years ago. We all seem compatible.

Sunday we drove out to Cape Point, or the Cape of Good Hope, the rocky coastline where ships start heading east more than south, but not where the Atlantic Ocean ends and the Indian Ocean begins, as some believe. (That’s some 90-100 miles to the east.) The park draws a lot of tourists, who either make the steep climb up to the lighthouse on foot or by a van. Fortunately we were there early to beat the crowds and did our ascents on foot, camera gear in our packs and tripods in hand, looking for potential photographs. This is a workshop, not just a tour, so we were challenged by Thom to think carefully about what was so attractive in the potential image that would make us want to stop, set up our tripods and take a photo. Then, having explained that in depth (no simple “I just like it” answers, please) we were asked to look at the potential “things” in the image and determine what should be included, what should be eliminated, etc. This inventory includes objects, colors, lines, anything that could make up an image.

My first thought was to photograph the cliffs and cove far below with a group of bushes in the foreground, using a wide angle lens to provide the feeling of depth, using a near object and a far object of interest. Wide angle lenses are best used (in landscape photography, anyway) to show depth, not to simply bring in a wide panorama. Anyone who’s enjoyed a spectacular view from mountainside to a valley below then taken a photo of it will remember the flat, boring image that likely resulted. That’s because the three dimensional sensation your eyes provide is removed in the two dimensional image. At any rate, I felt the plants would also provide an organic contrast to the cliffs and pounding surf below, which seemed harsh and desolate to me. After some discussion and a bit of tromping around, Thom suggested an alternative using a single bush that would provide a simpler composition. I labored over this for some time and finally gave up because it simply wasn’t possible to take the photo without the shadow of the camera falling over the flowers. Nothing to be done, so I moved on and found a different set of plants from a different (and higher) angle that worked, at least from the shadows point of view.

Before long rain squalls began moving in and stayed with us the rest of the day, both at Cape Point and the Boulders penguin colony we visited later. Some spectacular stormy clouds over the ocean shots were available between showers. It was spitting rain and more most the time at the penguin colony, but they’re so much fun it was no big deal, thanks to rain jackets and some lens protection. I got my first practice with the 200-400 mm lens here.

What with the weather the final photo destination was the Cape Town aquarium, where I spent part of the time (actually a good hour, I was told later) practicing panning and focusing on a school of fish circling in a tank. Good practice, hopefully, for later when the subjects are large mammals.

Bo-Kaap and Khayelitsha

We started off the day with what was dubbed "cultural tour," led by Norman, our well-versed guide for the day. First was a visit to the traditional Malay Muslim neighborhood Bo-Kaap, where most of the houses are brightly painted, reminiscent of the la Boca area in Buenos Aires, minus the tango dancers and tourist shops.  Another good challenge for making decisions about composition and exposure.

We then drove to the Khayelitsha township – the second largest black community in South Africa, where the legacy of apartheid remains on display. Much of the sprawling township is seemingly unchanged since the end of apartheid, but the tin shacks are slowly being replaced by small, but real, houses. It has become, in a bizarre twist, something of a tourist destination. It’s an uncomfortable sensation initially, but the feeling faded as we piled out of the bus and began interacting with people as we photographed them and their environs. I got my first stint as a soccer photographer, shooting a pickup game in the street. The kids crowded around periodically to see the images on the back of my camera – one of the great advantages of shooting digital. We all collected names and addresses to send prints back later. When taking photos in this way, making an effort to communicate, showing some respect, and a simple smile go a long way.

The final stop for the day went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, which is world class gorgeous.

Off to Tsitsikamma

Two days of driving in a 12-seater van took us through wine county, past canola fields and ostrich farms, and along the Garden Route to the Indian Ocean near Tsitsikamma National park. Shooting stops along the way included a winery with Victorian era buildings painted bright white and beautiful grounds. One of the more seasoned workers there was sporting a beard and wearing an animal striped print cowboy hat. His striking appearance prompted me to approach him and ask, via a bit of hand-waving and pointing, if I could shoot photos. He assented and I worked with a wide lens to capture his labor as he cut branches away with hand snips, while trying to also incorporate the environment including the distant mountains and of course, that hat. In the end I took 36 shots, equivalent to a roll of film in the old days, and really wasn’t happy with any them as I looked at them later. In too many, the hands were not enough in focus, too much of his face of his face was in deep shadow due to the hat blocking the overhead sun, or the hat itself was hidden. Some fill flash or an assistant holding a reflector would have helped. Nonetheless, another address, more prints to send back later.

At a second winery stop – Vrede en Lust – we did a flash lighting exercise in the dark cellar where the wine sat aging in oak barrels. In an iterative process, we set out three flashes, each of them with an amber/orange gel affixed to warm the light in the case of the two foreground flashes, and red gel on a flash used to set off the back wall. Much discussion, rearranging and power adjusting ensued, along with a scramble to find enough batteries that still had a charge.

We followed that up with an excellent wine tasting – I’ll be checking more carefully for South African wines in the future.

In Tsitsikamma

The next big shooting destination was Tsitsikamma (land of plentiful or sparkling waters) National Park, which runs 40 miles along the coast, five miles deep and two miles out into the ocean. We’re staying at the Fernery, a working farm that supplies ferns and such greenery to the floral industry in Europe. They’ve added tourism to the business, having created fabulous accommodations with individual cabins and a main lodge perched spectacularly on the edge of a ravine, with a waterfall below and the ocean in view. The farm and the accommodations employ nearly 200 people.

It was a short drive to the park, followed a couple days scrambling on and photographing the rocks and pounding surf, trying to keep from getting drenched or falling. Like surfers, we were trying to catch the perfect waves, which means a lot of shooting – more than 500 images in my case. We got a couple nice hikes in as well, with more up and down work than hiking in Indiana usually brings.

Off to Jo'berg

An early start today. We’re on the highway as the sun is rising, giving us a light pink sky. We’re headed to George, where we’ll catch a plane to Johannesburg. With all the gear, the van is riding low again. As always, people are standing by the side of the road waiting for a bus or a ride.

At the Jo-berg airport we’ll pick up Thom’s assistant Tony, who’s joining us for the wildlife shooting at Sabi Sands, adjacent to Kruger National Park. This afternoon we’ll do some photography at the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Centre, where they’re breeding cheetahs in hopes of helping saving the species – some last minute practice before seeing the big animals in the wild. Before they take people off on the tour, they offer the opportunity to pet one of the cheetahs and be photographed doing it for a donation of 165 Rand – about $25, which goes to their education fund. Did I do it? Heck yes. How often do you get to pet a trained, yet still wild, cheetah, sprawled out on a table in front of you (with a handler close by) and purring? (Yes, cheetahs do purr…) Not often.

Nice kitty...

Tomorrow, off to Sabi Sand and another week or so without Internet access. Stay tuned…


In Cape Town...

After a 16-hour all-night flight and a missed connection in Johannesburg -- and I must say the folks working in that airport were as gracious and helpful as anyone could hope -- I've arrived in Cape Town for the start of a photo workshop led by Thom Hogan. Just in time for the demolition of a couple of huge coal plant cooling towers that are apparently landmarks hereabouts. We will apparently be among the few not jockeying for a view of the implosions, likely heading off to the Cape instead. Had dinner tonight at the Africa Cafe, serving a range of dishes from across the continent. All very tasty, indeed. We were each offered a bowl to wash our hands in preparation for eating with our fingers -- then we all used our forks. Ah well...

In seat movies, an international flying lifesaver

Today, some composition practice in the harbor area. It was raining, so I focused on shapes, color, texture and the like. 



The state of photography today and yesterday...

A few items of recent note from the Intertubes:

  • British picture agency chief Neil Burgess says further resuscitation efforts are pointless, photojournalism is dead. Steven Alvarez, whose blog is always worth checking out, says National Geographic is still the exception.
  • Journalism organizations may have trouble funding real photojournalism these days, but they can post wonderful images on their web sites, such as these color photos on the Denver Post photo blog made from 1939 to 1943 by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, described as some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. Found via another photo site worth checking regularly, The Online Photographer.
  • Meanwhile, also out of Britain, we learn that terrorists are "sick of being treated like photographers..."


Meanwhile, flying

Most pics I take out the window of aircraft are dreck, but I sorta like this one. Also, it's also the flight before which I learned, from my eldest, that you can confirm your boarding pass on Southwest online but you can wait until you get to the airport to actually print it out. Doh! These kids these days, so smart.

Stuff to see in Indy

Beyond Pictura in Bloomington there aren't galleries in Central Indiana that focus primarily on photography, but there are several opportunities to see good photo work this month around town:

  • The INvision Alliance of Photographic Artists is putting on an exhibition this month at the university of Indianapolis in the Ransburg Gallery in Good Hall. Good Hall is at the southeast corner of Hanna and Otterbein avenues. Ten local photographers will be displaying work: Donna Lee Adams, Andy Chen, Lauren Ditchley, Mary Hansen, Holly Hooper, Holly Jordan, Rich Phelan, Ginny Taylor Rosner, Jon Scott and Mike Stroup. The opening reception is tonight (Oct. 13, 2009) from 5 to 8 pm, but the exhibit is open 9 am to 9 pm Monday through Friday through Oct. 23.

  • "The Artful Lens" at the Stutz Art Space, 212 W. 10th St. B110, features several Stutz artists showing works incorporating a variety of photographic processes. Interesting pieces from Martha Sando, Karen Land, JanettMarie, Kathy Blankenheim, Andy Chen, Ginny Taylor Rosner and more. Although through Oct. 23, open 11 am to 2 pm Monday through Friday.

  • If all you know about photographer Paul D'Andrea's work is his expertise incorporating "Strobist" style flash, you're in for a treat if you check out his October show, aptly titled "Noticing," at wUG LAKU'S STUDIO & gARAGE, 1125 Brookside Ave C7, just east of downtown. Look for the blue warehouse building near the intersection of Brookside and East 10th St.

  • Ron Kern is showing "Singular Images" at the Mideland Arts and Antiques Market, 907 East Michigan St., through Nov. 30.

  • “Holy Lands, Journeys of a Pilgrim Artist” is a show of large images by Denis Ryan Kelly, Jr. at Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus.

Steve Raymer at Pictura Gallery

Works by Steve Raymer, National Geographic photographer and IU faculty member, are on display in September and October at Pictura Gallery in Bloomington, Ind. I haven't made it down yet but it's a fine show, I hear.

Pictura is one of the the few (the only?) galleries devoted solely to photography in Indiana, and they constantly have interesting work on display.

Raymer will be discussing his work on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.

Two Americans identified

The Indianapolis Star has identified the young motorcycle-riding couple in Robert Frank's photo "Indianapolis" in his book The Americans. As reporter Christopher Lloyd writes, "Robert Frank, meet Mack and T Smiley."

Robert Frank's photo

Mack was an avid motocyclist and his wife Telester rode with him occasionally, including the day a half-century ago when they caught Frank's eye. They were identified by friends and relatives after The Star published the photo Sunday in a package of articles related to the exhibit (opening today) at the Indianapolis Museum of Art of Frank's photos with the famous "scroll" on which Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road.

A timely exhibit, it coincides with a nicely done re-issue of The Americans published by Steidl