An Even Wider View

Recently I posted about the challenges of landscape photography and the thought and planning it takes in A Wider View. Today I thought I would share something a bit more touristy – no thought of the light being right, no aperture settings, no shutter speeds – just me and my iPhone.

I love to play with the panorama feature. I can shoot panos with my good camera, but it requires stitching them together in another program, so there’s no instant gratification. With the iPhone you just get a good footing and rotate. Sometimes the bumps show up and the exposure settings are based on that first frame, but it can give you a sense of the vastness of a place. Go ahead and click on the images so you get a better sense of the panorama.

20130527-125037.jpgThis is the first panorama I took, it’s in the observation car as we traveled along the Columbia River towards the Portland station. There is a bump in the middle – trains experience bumps, but it does give you a sense of what that car is like in the morning.

20130527-125055.jpgThis is Klaloch, in my earlier post I shot the two sides of the beach as separate images – the panorama really compresses the scene when you are up high like this. The scene was much more open than this, but it does give a good sense of the height. A stunning place.

20130527-125114.jpgWe took a ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville to cut a few hours off our trip to Northern Cascades and Mount Rainier. I shot this on the deck. The process is pretty cool, it’s basically a floating parking lot. The air on the sound was wonderful as it blew across the decks, like the ocean without the waves.

20130527-125131.jpgDeception Pass, this was another spot that was elevated – again, it compresses the space. It does give a sense of all that’s going on at this spot, rocks, cliffs, bridge, island, water – you really can’t get this all in one traditional shot.

20130527-125718.jpgMount Rainier above the Nisqualy River. This spot was amazing for more than the mountain and the river – the sound was wonderful too. So I took the opportunity to record a bit of it, using my iPhone again, so that I could experience it any time I like.

20130527-125301.jpgAhhhhh, Crater Lake. I shot this right next to the lodge. I had to climb up on a short rock fence to get a view over the snow bank. No photos capture the full beauty of this spot, but I’ve looked at this one over and over reliving the details.

20130527-125504.jpgOne last look at Crater Lake, I shot this at the vantage point above Wizard Island – it was as far as the rim drive had been plowed. This has the distortion created by the pivot, bit it does shot the lake surface like glass, the clouds in both the sky and the lake, the snow, the pines – pretty much everything but the cold air.

Sometimes it’s good to put the kit down and just be a tourist.

The Empire Builder

The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s most popular cross-country route. It crosses 8 states and takes two full days. I have been wanting to ride it ever since my first train trip last year. We met a group from Texas who raved about the scenery and the wildlife. I immediately put it on my bucket list.

My sister Karen and I boarded in Chicago – you can see more of our tour of Union Station in Chicago here. Traveling by train is a totally different experience. Boarding is low stress. In Chicago they have a lounge for sleeping car passengers, so you can drop your bags and do a bit of sightseeing before you board. You show up 30 minutes early and the conductor scans your ticket in the lounge. You walk out onto the platform and a car attendant helps you settle in. No long lines, no TSA, no stress.

20130518-170941.jpgThis is not our train, the diagonal stripes indicate it’s a regional or commuter train. With two large suitcases in tow I just couldn’t get a shot of ours. The boarding process is quick – maybe 15 minutes total – and your adventure begins.

20130518-172502.jpgThis is Charles – the consummate host. he was our Car Attendant, but before the journey was over he would become a friend. Our first trip featured a Car Attendant, Pete – who was thorough but detached. He carefully managed all the rules for us and always had a thick notepad in hand. He was helpful, but not personal. Charles was nothing like Pete. He had filled an empty sleeper birth with snacks, magazines, blankets, and even chilled champagne. A frequent traveler on this line saw Charles and begged him to get his berth changed to ride in his car – he assured us we had lucked out.

Charles was a single dad from Jamaica. he was raised in Detroit and had recently moved home to help care for his mother. He had been with Amtrak for over 40 years – he knew everything about the kitchens, the car births, the stops – he clearly loved train travel and his enthusiasm made our trip even more special.

20130518-171105.jpgAs we settled into out Roomette we watched the grit of Chicago fade into the distance.

20130518-171141.jpgEvery 2-4 hours during the daylight the train stops for 10 minutes for a “smoke break”. The Empire Builder only makes a single service stop, and that is late at night when passengers are sleeping. There is no time along the route to get off and go into a station, there is also no warning that the train is leaving. You stay close so that you can see your Car Attendant shepherding his charges back aboard. Karen and I collect railroad nails that are scattered along the tracks. We tried to get some in each state. This was Milwaukee – Charles noticed this and made sure that we had nails from every stop, even if we were asleep. Eventually we had so many that we secretly dumped the extras somewhere in western Montana when Charles was otherwise occupied.

20130518-171156.jpgEven in the Milwaukee switchyard opportunities for macro shots arise.

20130518-171226.jpgOur first evening started with steaks in the dining car and ended with this sunset as we crossed the mighty Mississippi. We followed the river for the next 450 miles.

20130518-171248.jpgCharles popped in to tell us that he had made up a larger room for us, since the larger cars were empty on this trip, he set us up in a large sleeping car with a larger bed and our own bathroom. Actually, he allowed us to leave out things in the Roomette – essentially we had two rooms at this point, one on each side of the train. This shot was the last light as we crossed into Minnesota.

20130518-171419.jpgKaren took the top bunk. I slept on the couch that converted into a bed. Since the window was on my level I spotted the first light somewhere west of Fargo, North Dakota. I took several shots as the sun reappeared, but even though this one has no focus I loved the color and light.

20130518-171504.jpgKaren refers to the windows as movies. We awoke to watch a movie called North Dakota. Not exactly an action film, but the melting snow and ponds will stick in my memory as a picture of the state for me.

20130518-171513.jpgAfter breakfast we took up residence in the Observation Car – the “movie” screens are larger in here. Karen and I started the day trying to figure out how to shoot throughout the windows and get as few reflections as possible.

20130518-171532.jpgThese doors were a constant sight for us. We were in the last car on the train. The Empire Builder terminates in two cities – Seattle and Portland. The train is set up so that the front half contains the Seattle coach and sleeper passengers as well as the dining car. The back half contains the observation car and the coach and sleeper cars bound for Portland. In Spokane the train is split and a new engine added to the back half. Having the observation car and a cold breakfast was definitely the better option since we railed in along the amazing Columbia Gorge.

20130518-171637.jpgBeing in the very last car also allowed us to look out the back window from time to time. This was taken during a smoke break in Eastern Montana.

20130518-171709.jpgIn remote stops the stations are simple small buildings and the grounds are filled with parts that could be needed for repairs on this long journey. So many of the passengers on the Empire Builder are traveling from city to city along the route – it’s economical and easy to get from Fargo to Haver, Montana. The Builder is a lifeline between these small cities, and we met many passengers who use it frequently.

20130518-171758.jpgOf course, it’s hard to photograph a train you are on, especially knowing that you could be left behind if you didn’t make it back on in time, so I would occasionally shoot trains in the station – this is a Burlington Northern engine. I’m partial to Union Pacific trains, but that orange on the open plains was pretty eye-catching.

20130518-171825.jpgDay 2 in the Observation Car was amazing. Karen gets her gear in order. Today we will cross the Rockies, Glacier National Park, and the Continental Divide. The “movie” for today – Montana!

20130518-172126.jpg There was a good sized group of Amish travelers on the Builder. I spoke with one of the younger men at the snack bar below deck – he was so excited to see the Rockies for the first time. They brought their own food and spent lots of time with us in the Observation Car. At one point a young man from their group connected with a hipster who had been sitting across from them staring. He urged the hipster to come sit down and they had a nice long talk. At first the hipster spoke down to the young Amish man – assuming he had little knowledge of the world – their conversation ended with one of the most eloquent and thoughtful presentations of the Gospel I have ever heard. Both men left respecting each other. On a train there is time to connect like that.

20130518-172358.jpgA park Ranger boarded right before we entered Glacier National Park – he even brought a Parks Passport Stamp with him – score! The sun was very bright and created glare on the windows, so good shots were not easy to come by. I have read the weather has to be a perfect match of sun and clouds with no fog to get really great images. This one was my best. Sometimes the image just needs to live in your mind, and on this trip so many did. We saw more elk and deer than we could count towards sunset. Waterfalls, mountains, lakes, stunning beauty lay at every turn.

At the stop before the park 4 passengers assumed the train would wait while they went inside the station to buy souvenirs, they were wrong. They would get to experience Glacier tomorrow with strangers as they headed towards a reunion with their families. There was a grumpy man in our sleeping car whose wife was one of the four. He blamed Amtrak, Charles, and everyone except himself or his wife. By the time we left the park she had been located and put up for the night. They were traveling without a cell phone (crazy) and Amtrak managed to get messages back and forth to them at each station. Honestly, I believe that woman probably had a more peaceful trip the next day.

20130518-172423.jpgAs the crowds thinned after we left the park this young girl remained looking for someone to play cards with. She travels on the Builder a couple of times a month with her grandmother who cannot make her way between cars. She has the run of the train. When this gentleman tried to teach her a card game she paid no attention to the rules and floated off after a few minutes to lite in another booth, a butterfly that catches your attention for just a moment and moves on. She is growing up on the Builder.

20130518-172441.jpgOur last smoke stop on day two was unusually long. Amtrak officials were getting word to loved ones about the missing 4 and we got to spend sometime looking for Montana nails as the sun began to set.

20130518-172608.jpgSunset over our sleeper car.

20130518-172630.jpgSometimes you can get exceptional color by shooting the sky in the opposite direction of the sunset. All in all this last stop was perfectly timed.

In the morning we would awaken on a shorter train moving along the Columbia Gorge. The Builder follows the route that Lewis and Clark took towards the sea – what this land must have looked like to them – majestic, wild, diverse – seeing it a couple hundred years later it still has the power to inspire.

I had mentioned to Charles that the next day would be Karen’s birthday. He had been talking to her about birds, Karen has a business caring for exotic birds, ¬†and he came to call her the “bird whisperer”. I had imagined candles on a muffin or something to start off her birthday. Charles outdid himself – in the morning he delivered a sweet card, a blown glass bird (does he pack this stuff in his luggage just in case?), and a bottle of Washington wine – above and beyond!

20130519-111342.jpgPortland Union Station – another jewel, but with bags in tow I chose to leave all but one of those images in my heart instead of my camera. Go by Train, it really is the best way to see and experience America.

All Aboard! Union Station Chicago

Chicago was the starting point for a cross-country adventure that my sister just returned from. We both have a fascination with trains and last year we took our first cross-country trip on the California Zephyr from San Francisco to the halfway point in Denver. This year we decided to do the most popular route all the way from start to finish. The Empire Builder begins in Chicago and ends in either Seattle or Portland. I was excited to start a voyage like this in a real classic station. Union Station in Chicago, is one of the grandest still in operation.

20130516-111540.jpgWork began on this massive 10 city block complex in 1913 and it was finally opened in 1925. It’s exterior is massive, but the subtle detailing hints at what you will find inside.

20130516-113124.jpgThe door handles on the entries have steam era train wheels as a part of the motif. Union Station is all about the details.

20130516-113350.jpgThese brass flowers adorn the lamp posts on the main floor – each one is a piece of art.

20130516-113408.jpgElegant brass handrails are worn smooth with almost a century’s use. The ornate supports retain their fine detail.

20130516-113424.jpgMassive Corinthian marble columns support the Grand Hall’s vaulted ceilings.

20130516-113447.jpgMarble Stairs worn by millions of footsteps can be treacherous today.

20130516-113521.jpgThe vaulted glass ceiling floods the floor of the Hall with natural light.

20130516-113544.jpgThis is the massive staircase that you enter onto from the street level.

20130516-113559.jpgTo All Trains – from the Great Hall floor your are now below street level and can enter the gates for boarding.

20130516-113650.jpgAs grand as the Grand Hall is, it is just a facade. You get on the train here, below grade on a dark platform.

Even if the platform lacks the impressiveness of the station, boarding here is a real experience. There is a special lounge for sleeping car passengers and boarding is almost stress free, especially compared to air travel. A station like this prepares you for the grand voyage ahead filled with purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. A pretty good way to start the journey of a lifetime.

Shoot Out in Texas

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I am a fan of photographers.

I am inspired to see how someone else looks at a place, or an object, or a person. I enjoy the comradery of seeing my fellow photogs out in the trenches at a parade, in the field with the elk, or out chasing the fall colors. One of my favorite things to do is to have a “shoot out” – shoot a photo of a fellow photog shooting a photo of me shooting them.

Your camera is an extension of your eye, or is it your arm? Whatever. It has to come between you and whatever it is that you’re shooting. In my book, a portrait of a photog requires a camera somewhere in the frame.

Last spring I shot the Artrageous Parade with my pal Judy. After the festivities I asked for a shoot out…20130124-104337.jpgNote her concentration and the delicate way she operates the zoom, she’s closing in on me. Judy has a love for shooting, and a love of life. She can tell a story better than just about anyone I know and her photos are full of insight – Judy shoots thoughtfully, capturing the light at just the right moment.20130123-211132.jpgShe seems to have caught me growling. That’s what she gets for insisting I not cover my face with my camera. When I know I’m shooting outdoors I wear my Transitions Aviators – I can mash the eye cup all over those huge lenses. I must not have noticed the lack of sunshine, since I’m sporting the huge rectangular hood. I used exactly one lens that day, so of course I carried 4. That Domke Bag is classic though…

This is my sister-in-law Karen in the Observation Car of the California Zephyr. We shot constantly for 3000 miles last spring. We shot elk, marmots, prairie dogs, and each other.

20130124-110911.jpg I like Karen’s grip, it’s almost like the camera was made to fit in her hands, corners covered with fingers free so that she can still zoom. Karen always seems to hold her camera so level, she studies shots carefully. It shows in how she holds onto the camera and how she has all the controls completely in within reach.

This is Chip – an amazing local photog who has self-published the definitive work on the area in and around Eureka Springs. 20130123-211222.jpgOn this day Chip was shooting for the local paper, the Lovely County Citizen. He was shooting me, covering my show last summer. Chip is not only one of the most talented photogs I know, he also shows so much grace covering silly things like my show or a parade. You might see his work in galleries, and you might see him covering a traffic jam. He does it all and does it all well – and he does it with one kick-ass Nikon. That sucker is the most amazing camera I have ever seen. Great photography may not be about the camera, but rocking a D4 can’t hurt…

Just last weekend I had the opportunity for a shoot out in Texas…20130123-211243.jpgI met Honie Briggs!! This is a shot of Honie shooting me. I was in town for a trade show and I read her awards post – she shared her position on crazy Dallas Freeway Onramps – Seriously, no one does an awards post like Honie. I left a comment about having driven on one that day. She emailed me and asked if I had time to meet – it was awesome to meet her and her Loyal Follower…20130123-211313.jpgHere is Honie’s shot of me shooting her, she did a better job with the light inside this amazing Italian market. I was using my Leica portrait lens, I had hoped to shoot my reflection in her filter, but that prime doesn’t focus close enough. A couple of times we snapped at the same instant and all I got was flash, those shots look a bit like an alien with a huge glowing eyeball, nothing at all like Honie…20130123-211345.jpgAnd one more shot of Honie shooting me. Nice form – nice gear. Honie takes wonderful shots of nature and flowers, I love her classic car shots too. Truly a renaissance woman here.

My quick trip to Texas gave me the chance to meet on of my favorite bloggers in person. 20130123-230717.jpgShe was a warm, thoughtful, and funny in person as she is here in the blogosphere!

Starting in the Middle

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a couple of years now. I would think about how to start it and how it should be organized. Every time I started to write I think about how my story should be organized, how it would make the most sense, how it would evolve – all the while writing nothing. I thought about what my influences were, what got me started, my first camera – organizing this and making sense of it stopped me from starting. I may talk about those things someday, for now I’ll just start from the middle, the very recent past.

In my professional life I am highly organized, I’ve been told its a rare trait for an artist. In my personal time I tend to get the most out of more spontaneous things, enjoying experiences as they happen.

I just got home yesterday from a series of wonderful spontaneous experiences. My sister, Karen and went on a train trip followed by a week of zigzagging across the plains and mountains visiting national parks.

Side bar – Karen’s really my sister-in-law, but a few years ago she just started referring to me as her sister – I love that, I have wanted a sister since I was about 3. I used to pretend that I had a sister named PeeWee (our chihuahua), I told friends at school about her and her adventures in our backyard – Karen is much better than my imaginary sister, and she’s quite a bit taller and doesn’t shed.

Our adventure started with a train trip. Karen and I were both devoted to my Grandpa. He was a Union Pacific employee for over 35 years. Karen and I have collected train memorabilia, hunted railroad spikes, and even chased down trains in the desert. Neither of us had been on a long train ride (my only train ride was in Disneyland), so we decided it was time to give it a try. We embarked in Emoryville. Being a train geek, I was excited to so close to trains and tracks at the station.

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If you’ve never traveled by train, I highly recommend it. You show up at the station, print a ticket at a kiosk, go to the track and get on your assigned car. No lines, no luggage screening, no TSA agents. Just get on the train. We checked our tickets and walked right onto car 631.

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As soon as we stepped onto our car we were greeted by Pete, our sleeper car attendant. He stowed the luggage and settled us in. He insisted on helping us even with small things. Karen is really a “people” person so she set out to learn a bit more about Pete. He wasn’t giving anything up and even squirmed about having his photo taken. This only made us want to know more about him. Karen quizzed other train staff for clues, asked Pete seemingly unrelated questions, and made unreasonable requests – Pete never flinched or gave up anything except that he loved trains and was an expert on the history of the California Zephyr. Here’s a photo of Pete reflected in a window of the door of our sleeper car.

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A little about our accommodations – we had a “room-ette”, a car built for 2 that has facing recliners that convert into a lower bunk and a shelf that drops to create the upper. It’s compact but efficient, pretty comfortable for a small space.

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Karen wasn’t sure about all the buckles, she assumed her sleeping accommodations were verticals and complained that the seatbelt was not very comfortable.

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Once Pete prepared our beds, Karen checked out the top bunk. Once again the utility of the safety features eluded her:)

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Seriously, traveling with Karen is a blast. She find humor in the strangest things.

The thing about traveling by train is that there’s lots of room to move around. From the sleeper car you can walk from car to car, passing through the dining car on the way to the lounge. The lounge is spacious with large booths and comfortable recliners scattered throughout. It’s a great spot to take in the scenery and try and take some photos. The scenery is one of the great things about riding on the train, looking out the ample windows is like watching the most amazing nature show. Wildlife, cities, farms, scenery – all passing into view. I almost hated to sleep for fear of missing some of the show.

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