Each year my wife Shari and I take a trip on or around the time of our wedding anniversary. Although all of our trips are memorable, every fifth year we try to take a "special trip", be it to Bermuda for our 20th anniversary, Ireland for our 25th, or Italy last year for our 30th.
This year being our 31st anniversary we decided to stay a little closer to home as we plan to go out west in the fall. We debated between going to the mountains or a trip to the beach. We both had a strong desire to get back to the beach as it had been entirely too long since we walked on the beach or stuck our toes in the saltwater (I will not count getting my shoes wet last fall in Maine while photographing Boulder Beach in Acadia when an unexpected wave came a little too close.). I thought maybe we would head back to the Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach, but we decided to visit Ocean City, Maryland. Although we do not frequently go to Maryland's famed beach town, it is a little closer to home than the Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach and it had been many years since we had visited, so Ocean City it was (Fact is we had not been to Ocean City since 2003.).
We figured that by visiting Ocean City during the off-season (late April early May), we would avoid the large crowds that typically flock to the beach during the summer season. I will admit that I really do not like the large crowds at the beach, which is the main reason we had not gone back to Ocean City for so many years. Because it was the off-season, we were able to get an oceanfront room for a reasonable price and at very late notice. The hotel was located on 15th street and had been fully renovated in the spring of 2016, so it was almost like staying in a new hotel. The view from our oceanfront room was breathtaking. The boardwalk ran right in front of our hotel and I imagine it would be quite a busy location during the summer season. During our stay, however, it was extremely peaceful and Shari and I were one of the few couples on the beach for as far as I could see, especially during the weekday. Shari found a listing of the top 10 restaurants in Ocean City and we made it our mission to eat at as many of those restaurants as we could. In fact, one of the top 10 restaurants was located right in our hotel. I will agree with the list since the food in this restaurant was spectacular.
The weather cooperated and photographically speaking I could not have asked for more. Although the purpose of the trip was to get away to celebrate our anniversary and not strictly for photography, whenever we travel I try to take as many pictures as possible. It helps to have an "artist wife" who understands my need to take advantage of my photographic opportunities as I work an 8 to 5 office job so they do not come as frequently as I wish. For equipment, I shot mainly with my full-frame Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-105 f/4 L for landscapes, seascapes and general photography. I also took a second 5D Mark III with a 70-200 f/4 L for longer landscapes and nature shots that I could reach with 200mm. For longer wildlife shots and wild ponies on the beach in Assateague, I shot with my Canon 60D and a 400mm f/4 L. Since the 60D is a "crop sensor camera body", the 400mm gave a field of view of 640mm, which came in handy, as the wild horses are known to not only bite and kick but also charge if you get too close. I also took my new Canon 16-35 f/4 L, but I did not have too many situations where I needed an ultra-wide lens so I really did not use it much. I realize I could have just changed lenses on my camera rather than take three camera bodies, but shooting at the beach and frequently changing lenses is just asking for trouble. Nothing could be worse for your camera than getting blowing sand or water inside and on your sensor. Sand can do permanent damage to camera equipment especially if it gets inside. The Canon 5D Mark III has a sealed body so by not changing lenses, I knew I would be safe shooting in weather conditions that can be harmful to equipment. Having a 5D Mark III with 24-105 and a second with 70-200 was a perfect setup for beach shooting, even with blowing sand.
As always, my sleep suffered as I got up at 5:30 every morning and went out looking for something to shoot during the "golden hours". Two of the mornings we had a nice clear sunrise while the other two it was overcast and foggy, which created nice, soft, diffused light which yielded far different results from the clear sky sunrises. There were many nice locations, a short walk up the beach or a short drive up the street. The beach always provides an abundance of shooting subjects be it shells, birds, kites, seascapes, or surf and sand patterns. We also spent a day at Assateague Island National Seashore where we spotted egrets, willets, gulls, horseshoe crabs, wild ponies, as well as plenty other natural subjects.
I also took many "dreamy water" shots and to accomplish this task on a bright sunny day I used a nine-stop neutral density filter and a polarizing filter, which took away an additional two to three f-stops. With this two-filter setup, I was able to shoot black & white images at f/11 for 10-12 seconds in the middle of the day, and remove reflections on the sand or rocks.
Although I am still processing my images, and will be for quite some time, I am very pleased with what I have completed so far. We had a wonderful week and we both cannot wait until we go on our next artistic adventure.
Below are just a few sample images from our trip.
Recently a follower on Instagram posted a comment on one of my images complimenting my photography, but also asked if I "enhance" my final images. That question gave me the idea for this blog post.
Do I enhance my final images? That is a very tricky question. For as long as I've owned a digital camera I have set it to shoot RAW, which means to create the final image I have to process my files in photographic image processing software. In fact, I cannot even remember the last time I shot a jpeg image directly in my camera. To process my RAW image files I will on occasion use Canon Digital Photo Professional software, but I mostly use Adobe Lightroom. There are many other image processing software packages that can be used, but I prefer Lightroom. Once I process the RAW file a jpeg image is created and I may then do further adjustments in Adobe Photoshop. I rarely process or "enhance" my images beyond what I perceive the image to be in my mind and I hardly ever add anything that was not in the original scene. If I want to blend multiple images together to create an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image I use Photomatix Pro. Many photographers will also apply textures or overlays to their images to further change the final print result, which I may also do from time to time. When I feel like using this technique, I will use Perfect Photo Suite. I don't do that very often, but on occasion if I feel particularly creative maybe I'll use an overlay or some textures. There are many packages you can utilize to apply textures, but frankly I just don't use them often enough to keep current. Using these image-processing tools is all part of the creative process and assists in creating a final photo you are proud of. The image my Instagram follower commented on was shot in RAW, processed in Lightroom (in an effort to replicate the original scene that I witnessed), and no overlays or textures were applied. In fact, I didn't even open the image in Photoshop. I try to do everything I can in the camera, but if necessary, I will use external processes to achieve the final print result I desire. For this particular image, I was fortunate to have been in the right place, at the right time, with the right light. I did not need to do anything else to the image.
Of course, photographers can shoot a jpeg directly in their camera and later adjust in Photoshop, but then if you change and save your jpeg you have no "digital negative" of the original scene. To me this is one of the major reasons to shoot RAW. In addition, every time you save the jpeg file it recompresses which over time can potentially degrade the image. Another major benefit of shooting RAW is that the image file contains far more data than a jpeg file and allows for further adjustments and corrections after-the-fact. Digital cameras have a hard time obtaining the dynamic range we can see with our eyes and shooting RAW and bringing this out later is a good way to get the final image you desire. This is especially important if you want to preserve detail in the shadows.
When I shot black & white film, I would spend hours in the darkroom experimenting with high contrast filters, dodging and burning tools, and different brands and textures of photo paper trying to bring out the best in my images. For as long as there has been photography, photographers have been striving for ways to get the most out of their craft. Ansel Adams is widely known for being one of the greatest landscape photographers that has ever lived, but he is also known for inventing the zone system. The zone system took a scene and divided it into ten different zones (or shades) that range from pure white to pure black. Later in the darkroom he would use this system, along with dodging, burning, and other techniques, to get the most out of his image negative. Photographers have always developed new techniques to help them get the most out of their work. These techniques can be done in the darkroom or can now be accomplished on the computer.
So to me, overly enhancing your images is fine if the end goal is to create something that is not supposed to look natural to begin with, but if you are trying to create a natural looking image, be careful not to overdo it.
For most of my adult life I have dreamed about visiting Yosemite National Park. My obsession with Yosemite coincidentally began around the same time my fascination with Ansel Adams began. Most photographers interested in landscape photography, at some point in their growth journey, will research and learn about Ansel Adams. I consider Ansel Adams the master of all masters when it comes to landscape photography. I will admit that over the years there have been many other landscape photographers who have captured my eye (for example Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz), but in my mind neither of them have risen to the mythical status of Ansel Adams. Alfred Stieglitz did more to bring photography to the fine art world, but when it came to pure photographic image creation and expression, Ansel was the master.
Many years ago in the early 1990's, I would spend my lunch breaks visiting a used bookstore near my office. I immediately would head to the photography section, grab an Ansel Adams book and sit in the chair pouring through the book taking in each incredible image. The store would typically have classical music playing which only added to my relaxation and transformation to those mythical locations (Ironically, I would later find out that Ansel Adams was also a trained classical pianist and nearly pursued classical piano rather than photography). There was just something about the richness of those black & white images created by Ansel that did not seem of this world. I would return to this bookstore and repeat my routine on a weekly basis for what seemed like several years. After memorizing every image in the hardbound coffee table book titled Ansel Adams: Classic Images I finally broke down and purchased the book. I've since acquired pretty much every Ansel Adams book I could get my hands on and even have multiple copies of some. My favorite Ansel Adams book would have to be Ansel Adams An Autobiography.
One can't have a fascination with Ansel Adams without also developing a fascination for Yosemite National Park. Ansel spent most of his life in Yosemite and for more than sixty years either resided there for the entire summer or visited the park during other seasons. In his autobiography Ansel would recount his first visit to Yosemite as a child with his parents, meeting his future wife Virginia Best at Best Gallery (now the Ansel Adams Gallery) in Yosemite Valley, and describing in great detail his many trips and workshops over the years to Yosemite. Reading those recollections from Ansel only served to build my fascination with not only Ansel but also with the locations he loved to photograph, primarily Yosemite National Park. I knew some day I had to get to Yosemite but for one reason or another, my wife, Shari and I could never find the right time to visit. Between other scheduled family vacations, other family obligations with our two sons with sports and scouting, or for whatever other reason we just didn't get to Yosemite.
That changed in the fall of 2012. We have close friends who retired and moved from Maryland to Arizona and for many years they had wanted us to come and visit them. We decided to visit in October of 2012 and would combine that trip with a few nights in Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon and would also make the drive into California to Yosemite National Park. I will admit that at one point we almost decided it would be too much to visit Yosemite on the same trip and there was even a little part of me that thought I might be disappointed in Yosemite since I had built it up to such a mythical standing in my own mind. Part of me thought maybe I should just leave it as Ansel had built it up in my mind in all its Black & White glory. Thank goodness my wife told me I needed to have my head examined which helped change my mind about not going.
It was a twelve hour drive from Zion National Park to Yosemite but that only served to build the anticipation. While driving into California we decided at the last minute to stop and visit Sequoia National Park to see the Giant Redwoods. I really enjoyed Sequoia National Park but the delayed anticipation for Yosemite was killing me. While in Sequoia National Park it was raining pretty heavily and they were also doing some road construction so it took a lot longer than expected to get in and out of the Park. Our initial plan was to drive the remaining distance, check into our hotel then drive into Yosemite the first evening. Since it took longer than expected to drive from Sequoia to Yosemite we decided to go directly to Yosemite before checking into the hotel.
By the time we got to Tunnel View it was pouring rain so hard and the fog was so thick I could barely see El Capitan let alone Half Dome. On top of that it was beginning to get dark. I quickly grabbed my tripod, mounted my Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-105 L lens attached and stood under the umbrella grabbing some inclement weather shots. As if matters couldn't get any worse temperatures were beginning to drop and we heard that they were calling for significant snow that night and the next morning and the park would likely be closed. We were instructed to check the next few days to see if the park was open. I thought to myself "are you kidding me! After all these years and all the anticipation they may not let me into Yosemite".
The next morning we called and thankfully the park was open, although due to the heavy snow some of the roads in the upper sections of the park were temporarily closed. Driving into the park was absolutely beautiful with all the fresh fallen snow from the night before. Arriving for the second time to Tunnel View was quite different from the previous evening. Having a clear view of that landscape was something I could not at that time put into words and I still can't find the words to describe the feelings that came over me. All those years of anticipation and buildup were right in front of me and it was just like I hoped it would be, (I cannot believe I actually thought I may be disappointed). We spent the next several days hiking the meadows, driving the back roads, watching the sunset against El Capitan, and exploring all that we could explore. It didn't even bother me that a very large male deer with a very large rack head butted our rental BMW driving into the park one morning (I think he may have seen his reflection in the silver vehicle).
The final fulfillment of my dream came when we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery. This is the same gallery that Ansel Adams's wife Virginia Best (Adams) family owned when they first met. The gallery is still in the Adams family to this day. That afternoon we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery and viewed all the original Ansel Adams prints, some printed by John Sexton and some printed by Ansel himself. We also ate in the eatery near the gallery, then walked around Yosemite Valley. What an incredible day and a dream come true.
For most of the trip we were not allowed to drive up to Glacier Point because the road was closed due to the snow. On the afternoon of our final day we discovered they had opened the road to Glacier Point so we quickly made the drive to that portion of the park. What incredible views of Yosemite Valley you have from Glacier Point. For me this was clearly the trip of a lifetime.
Although we have not been back to Yosemite, I definitely want to go back someday so I can continue to explore that famous park that Ansel loved so dearly. Ansel spent 60 plus years in Yosemite and he still felt like there was more to see. I can only imagine what all I still have to see after spending only 4 days. Even though I shot over a thousand images during our brief visit, in order to create an extensive body of work you need to visit many times, different times of the day, and in different seasons. It sounds like we need to plan another trip.
Below are a few images from our trip to Yosemite:
(For more of my images of Yosemite please visit the Yosemite National Park Gallery on this site.)
My two favorite Ansel Adams books.
I'm not sure why it has taken so long, but I finally made a trip to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. For many years I have desired to drive down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and visit the famed wildlife refuge, but for some reason we just have not made it down there even though its only a short 2.5 hour drive from my house.
My wife, Shari, has wanted to make a return visit to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to walk around St. Michaels and some of the other smaller eastern shore towns that we had visited in the past. We decided on the weekend for our visit and Shari agreed to make the reservations. I was excited when I found out she had made reservations at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Cambridge Maryland. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is only a short 15 minute drive from Cambridge so we could hopefully find some time to visit Blackwater. The best time to look for wildlife is at sunrise and I knew I could get there by sunrise or at least shortly thereafter since it was so close. Shari agreed to get up with me on Sunday and we'd drive around the refuge looking for birds or other wildlife for me to photograph. She took her painting and sketching supplies and would spend her time sketching or painting while I looked for birds. The weather cooperated and although it was chilly the sun was shining and no rain expected, unlike the previous evening. Once we hit the refuge I decided the best way to see it was to walk the road. I did not want to quickly drive past any wildlife that had decided to tough out the winter in Maryland. Even though the loop road is approximately 4.5 miles long I walked every inch of it, some sections twice. Shari followed along behind me in the car or would drive a few hundred yards up the road, park and sketch. Many of the birds had not returned from their winter nesting locations but there were still plenty of geese and other birds to observe.
It was such a beautiful day and since it was still winter I was one of a few photographers walking along the road, unlike what I expect it will be a few months during peak bird spotting season. The bird blinds and walkways were completely empty. Although I had taken additional equipment I figured I would have to work fast so I would carry only two camera bodies with two lenses permanently attached. No extra lenses to carry and no lens changing. I carried my Canon 5D Mark III with the Canon 24-105 f/4 L for landscape shots and I carried my Canon 60D with the Canon 400mm f/5.6 L attached for shooting birds. The Canon 60D is a crop sensor body so the 400mm had the field of view of a 640mm lens. I decided to leave the tripod in the car because I knew when walking and photographing birds I didn't want to mess with a tripod. I had also packed the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro, and the Canon 200mm f/2.8 but left those two lenses locked in the hotel room.
On my 3.5 hour walk I spotted and photographed many geese, deer, northern mockingbirds, ducks, red wing blackbirds, blue herons, as well as other assorted birds. Needless to say I was not disappointed in my first trip. In fact for my first visit I probably enjoyed it more with less wildlife but also with significantly less visitors. That was a benefit of visiting during the "off season". That walk around the refuge was almost spiritual and is something I will always remember. I definitely plan to return soon but this time will probably brave a more crowded environment and visit during peak season.
A few sample shots from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge:
I became seriously interested in photography many years ago when I was a senior in high school, which was back in 1975-1976. Prior to that I owned a little Kodak Instamatic camera that shot 126 cartridge film, but I mainly took snapshots of my family and friends. I loved that little plastic camera and yes I still have it.
In my senior year of high school many of my friends pursued photography as a hobby and some were even photographers on the yearbook staff. Although I didn't own a good 35mm camera I was always interested in photography and especially the cameras and lenses photographers used. During that senior year in one of my classes we were assigned a project which was to create a 35mm slide presentation set to music based on a predetermined theme. My friend, Tim, and I decided our project theme would be to compare living in the city vs living in the country and we worked on the project along with two other classmates. Being country boys Tim and I were proponents for living in the country so we convinced the other classmates to handle the city pictures.
I decided that in order to pull my own weight I needed a better camera so I began to save my money with the intent of purchasing a 35mm camera. After I'd saved enough money and with much anticipation and excitement off I went to JC Penny in Hagerstown, Maryland to purchase my first "real camera". This was in the fall of 1975 so we certainly didn't have the choices we have today. I recall debating between an SLR camera, most likely a Minolta or Yashica, or a rangefinder camera. After much internal debate I settled on the Yashica GSN 35 which was a rangefinder loaded with (at that time) state-of-the-art electronics. Having state-of-the-art electronics meant it was completely dependent on the battery. The camera was made in Japan and had a fixed 45mm f/1.7 lens which was an extremely nice as well as a very sharp lens. I recall paying $105 plus tax for the camera and believe me it was a lot of money back then and especially for a guy who at that time had only worked part-time at Tastee Freeze earning less than $3 per hour.
After a little trial and error I learned how to use the camera and used it extensively taking pictures for our "city vs country" project (If my memory serves me correctly we received an A on the project.). I absolutely loved that camera and spent many years taking pictures of the surrounding landscape. Even then I was drawn to landscapes, nature, and beach scenes. The only obstacle in me taking more pictures was the lack of funds to purchase film, film developing, and picture printing. That camera was my constant companion up until 1984 when I purchased my first SLR, a Canon AE1. Since then I've mostly used Canon products.
Although my collection of cameras has grown I still have that original Yashica GSN 35 and it remains a treasured keepsake. They've stopped making the original batteries that powered the Yashica rangefinders but a few years ago I found a company on the internet that makes an insert that allows you to use a six volt battery making the camera functional. Six volt batteries remain readily available to this day. On occasion I will load some film and shoot that treasured Yashica. Each time I hold that camera I'm taken back to the fall of 1975 driving around the country with my good friend Tim looking for country scenes to shoot. That time period is when my love for photography began.
Since then I've managed to acquire two more Yashica GSN 35 rangefinder cameras but the original will always be my favorite.
My original Yashica GSN 35 and original owners manual
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