Beyond the Golden Hour

A foolproof recipe for photography is to be there at sunrise and let Mother Nature do the rest

If landscape photographers had their “drathers”, they’d rather shoot during the golden light hours surrounding sunrise or sunset and with an abundance of dramatic clouds filling the sky.  This allows Mother Nature to do the heavy lifting for them. The photographer need only arrange the elements within the viewfinder into a pleasing composition to create a stunning image.  Even a novice can excel at photography under those circumstances.

It doesn’t hurt to get there before sunrise either!

That all changes on a bright, cloudless day – especially around noontime.   The high sun casts a flat light that reveals little form, shape or texture and the bare sky adds minimal interest to the scene.  Consequently, most scenic photographers avoid this time of day and for good reason.   Better to wait until the conditions become more stimulating.

Of course, limiting photography to an hour or so in the early morning or late afternoon is, well, limiting.  It turns even the most skilled photographer into a one trick pony and can zap the creative juices right out of the artist.   I know, and plead guilty as charged.

Even wildlife photography can benefit from golden hour light

One of the benefits of living in Scarborough is its close proximity to the beaches.  My wife and I take our dog to Pine Point beach several times a week to let her run free.  I seldom take my camera along since I already have about a bazillion pictures of the dog roaming the seaside.  Besides, the light is usually dull and the sky very lackluster when we schedule these excursions – neither of which is conducive to my style of photography.

I prefer to photograph the Pine Point area moments before or at sunrise

But yesterday I decided to lug the camera along in hopes of finding something interesting to photograph during this uninspiring time of day and lo and behold I discovered that if I look hard enough, those things do exist.  People simply being people and other people’s dogs just being dogs can make good subjects.

The beach offers the photographic advantage of reflections off the water
This woman rides her fat tire bicycle on Pine Point beach practically every day
No dog is as cute as mine but this one is a close second
When the sky is cloudless, it’s best to show little or none of it
The epitome of a room with a view overlooking the ocean
Looking out towards Prouts Neck

I’m not about to give up golden hour photography but I do feel the need to expand my repertoire by shooting under different and more challenging situations.  As the saying goes. you can teach a dog new tricks, so there is hope.

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Play Ball

All photographs by the author

A sure sign of spring is opening day of the Major League Baseball season.  This year the Red Sox begin defense of their 2018 World Series title on Thursday, March 28 in Seattle with the home opener at Fenway Park in Boston scheduled for April 9th.  I’m looking forward to another exciting season and blocking off my calendar for the first week in November just in case there’s another championship parade.  You never know!

Big Pappi, David Ortiz, was the star of the 2013 Red Sox Championship and ensuing parade
Will the Duck Boats carry another World Series trophy in 2019?

Last week I had the pleasure of taking a behind the scenes tour of Fenway Park with its storied history and its intricate nooks and crannies.  Although the cool temperature and biting wind still suggested winter, being inside the park and seeing the playing field free of snow assured me that not only spring, but summer too, is just around the corner.

The seats are empty now but . . . 
. . . soon the park will be filled with fans as it was on this April, 2015 Sunday afternoon

About forty people were part of the tour and our guide proved to be both knowledgeable and entertaining.  I thought I knew quite a lot about Fenway Park but I learned several things along the way that now make me appreciate this jewel of a ballpark all the more.

Built in 1912 it is the oldest of the major league parks with Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles occupying second and third place, respectively.  The first game held at Fenway was on April 20 of that year but newspaper coverage of the event was overshadowed by continuing reporting of the sinking of the Titanic.  The park’s current seating capacity is 37,755 making it the fourth smallest baseball stadium in the big leagues.

Our guide pointed out that Red Sox teams have preferred to win their championships at the beginning of each century – capturing titles in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018 – then taking about an 80 year break to “give other teams a chance” to celebrate victory.  Using that formula, 2019 would be the last year to win it all before bowing to the rest of the league and giving the remaining teams an opportunity to hold their own parades – a kind gesture to say the least.

The team took an 86 year break after the 1918 title

Fenway has undergone numerous changes over the years and one of the more recent modifications is the addition of seats above the “Green Monster” wall in left field.  Our tour took us up to the monster seats where one could practically reach out and touch the left field foul pole made famous by Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Fisk’s bomb just barely clanged off the pole allowing the ball to remain in fair territory and win the game.  The guide also spoke about how that home run changed the way television coverage of the sport now takes place but she didn’t tell the entire story.

Now known as the “Fisk” pole
View from the Green Monster seats in left field

There was a cameraman stationed inside the Green Monster scoreboard and his instructions were to follow the ball when hit to the outfield – standard practice at the time.  However, for this famous homer the cameraman chose to zoom in on Fisk as he tried to wave the ball fair with his arms as he left the batter’s box.  What the guide didn’t tell us is that the cameraman had been distracted by rats “as big as cats” roaming inside the scoreboard and he needed a hasty Plan B when Fisk stepped up to the plate.  You can learn the rest of the story here.

The Fisk mural near the entrance to the Green Monster seats

A lesser known fact brought to light during the tour included how the initials of long-time owners of the team, Tom and Jean Yawkey (now both deceased), are subtly displayed on the left field scoreboard.   Apparently the Yawkeys used to enjoy picnicking on the left field grass before games or when the team was on the road and they wanted to honor this tradition without much fanfare.  So, they had their initials inscribed on the scoreboard in Morse Code. This led to some controversy in 2018 when the Red Sox organization  petitioned the city of Boston to change the street name in front of Fenway Park from Yawkee Way to its original name, Jersey Street, in order to distance itself from the Yawkee’s racist past.  Many wanted the Morse Code initials to also be removed but in the end, only the street name was changed.

Look for the dots and dashes on the two center vertical white stripes.

I also learned the story of the “red seat” in the outfield bleacher section – something I was totally unfamiliar with.  The story goes that in 1946 Red Sox legend, Ted Williams, hit the longest home run ever recorded at Fenway – 502 feet – that landed on the head of a fan named, Joe Boucher.  The ball knocked Boucher’s straw hat off and by doing so left a gaping hole in his summer headwear.  Years later, engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that the ball would have traveled another 20-30 feet had it not hit the fan.  Boucher’s response when asked how he felt about the ordeal was “Geez, how far back do you have to sit at Fenway to not get hit by a ball”.  Seat number 21 in Row 37 of Section 42 marks the spot and is the lone red seat in the bleachers.

Retired uniform numbers adorn the right field facade

The entire grass surface of the field is currently being replaced with new sod – no doubt, a pricey endeavor.  Turns out that this winter’s edition of the extreme sport “Crashed Ice” severely damaged the playing surface.   Therefore, the grounds crew ripped up the old grass and has been laying down the new sod in 4 x 6 foot sections.  Barring a major Nor’easter, the field should be ready in ample time for opening day.

Looking towards the Pesky pole in right field.  The new sod is taking shape.

The outing includes a tour of the press box and ends in the Fenway Park Living Museum which contains an extensive collection of memorabilia.

Fenway’s seats weren’t always this nice (see below)

 

They don’t make baseball gloves like they used to (thankfully)

I’ve probably seen about two dozen Red Sox games at Fenway Park and, win or lose, I’ve never had a bad time there.  Getting to the park has sometimes been challenging – the combination of Boston drivers and streets laid out with no rhyme or reason tend to try my patience but it’s all worth it.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and photographing some Hall of Fame players in action but I’ve never seen a playoff or World Series Game.  The closest I’ve come to a very meaningful game was in 1978.

Hall of Famer, Jim Rice, was on his way to the MVP when I took this photo in 1978
NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley circa 1980

That year the Sox built a formidable early lead in the standings and in July I bought tickets to the final game of the season not knowing how important the game would eventually become.  Beginning in August, Boston blew that lead to the New York Yankees in historic fashion and with one day remaining in the season trailed the Yanks by a single game.  The best the Sox could hope for was a victory in the final contest against Toronto while hoping and praying the Yankees lost to the Indians thereby forcing a one game playoff between the two teams the next day.  Boston jumped out to an early lead against the Blue Jays as the Yankees were getting thumped by the Indians.  By the fifth inning the Red Sox announced that tickets for the playoff game in Boston were now on sale and I had a chance to score some pretty good seats. Unfortunately, I had just bought my first house several weeks before and money was tight.  I had to make a decision:  get those drapes for the bedroom that my wife wanted or buy a ticket to what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  In the end the drapes won out and thanks to Bucky F-ing Dent I don’t regret that decision as the Red Sox lost that playoff game on a day that now lives in Boston infamy.

Carl Yastremski in 1978
Yaz tried but couldn’t bring home a championship
. . . but it was enough to erect a statue of him outside the park

I’ll have a chance to make more memories at Fenway Park soon.  My family and I have tickets to the May 19th game against the Houston Astros.

Little did I know in 2015 that the Sox and Manny Machado would meet again. This time the Sox prevailed.

 

I can’t wait to once again hear the call of “Play Ball”.

 

 

Me Too

The Supermoon rises behind Nubble Lighthouse 

This coming July will mark the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing (“that’s one small step for man . . . “).  It truly was an exciting and proud time to be an American and I imagine that there will be considerable fanfare to commemorate this accomplishment.

I recall being fascinated not only by the astronauts themselves but of all the brain power behind the scenes that made this mission possible.  I remember reading that even a miscalculation of a mere fraction on an inch could have set the rocket off on a trajectory to miss its target by hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.  I guess that’s why rocket scientists get paid the big bucks.

Today I’m more astonished by the fact that NASA chose to launch this spacecraft from Cape Canaveral in Florida rather than in York, Maine.  Why is that you ask?  Well, anyone who has stood on the Long Sands Beach and witnessed the supermoon rising behind Nubble Lighthouse knows that “the moon don’t get no biggah than that” as they say in coastal Maine parlance.  That sucker’s YUGE.   You could miscalculate a moon rocket’s trajectory by a mile and it wouldn’t matter.  Just point it in the direction of the lighthouse and there’s a better than 50/50 chance it would hit its mark.  The term “broad side of a barn” certainly applies here.

All kidding aside, watching the moonrise at Nubble Light is indeed a remarkable experience.  So much so that photographers from the Northeast flock here by the dozens, sometimes hundreds, to capture this event.  However, on this cold and windy February evening, I’m told there were only 36 of us out there.

It was my first time photographing this phenomenon and I knew heading there that making a unique photo of something that’s been done thousands of times would be near impossible.  Yet, I didn’t want to feel left out so I snapped the same photos that others likely took.  I suppose you could say it’s my own version of the “Me Too” movement.

In Memory of Pattie C.

It was with both joy and some sadness that I attended the 2019 Patriots Super Bowl Championship Parade on Tuesday.  As much as I was very happy to help the city of Boston celebrate yet another title, I couldn’t help but think of how much my friend, Pattie, would have enjoyed seeing Tom Brady hoisting his sixth Lombardi trophy.

Tom Brady (a.k.a the GOAT)

I worked with Pattie for about fifteen years in the 80’s and 90’s.  She was a devout Patriots fan and even though I hadn’t seen her in quite some time, I always looked forward to her Sunday Facebook posts during football season that read “Luv, Luv, Luv my Patriots”.  In her eyes Tom Brady walked on water and could do no wrong.  You wouldn’t have wanted to invite her and commissioner Roger Goodell to the same party.

Coach Bill Belichick sporting a happy face

Sadly, Pattie died suddenly either during, or shortly after, the overtime period of the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 20th.  I can only hope that her death occurred after the game ended and that she knew the Pats we’re headed to another Super Bowl.  If there is a football stadium in heaven, I know she deserves a seat at the 50 yard line. The world will miss you, Pattie.

Owner Robert Kraft bankrolled another title
Mr Kraft’s son, Jonathan, is the heir apparent.

Super Bowl parades in Boston can be a bit chilly but on this February day mother nature rewarded the city’s residents with a record setting 65 degrees and people responded by coming out in droves.  Boston Police estimated the crowd at 1.5 million and if traffic getting into the city was any indication, that number is probably accurate.

The city was all decked out for its Patriots 
Fans were hanging from the ledges everywhere
The crowd didn’t need cheerleaders to fire it up

Something I always look for at these events are the clever signs that pop up and make folks smile.  My all-time favorite was spotted at the Bruins Stanley Cup parade in 2011 that poked fun at the losing team.  It read “the Vancouver Canucks have no balls so they don’t need a cup”.  Some of this year’s contestants are shown below.

I also like watching kids being kids and there were thousands in attendance.  I can’t imagine that there were many students sitting in the Boston Public School classrooms on such a gorgeous day.  I think the system should not only allocate a certain number of snow days each year, but at least one, if not two, “parade days” so that children don’t have to play hookey and bring a note the following day claiming that their grandmother died (for the sixth time).  Twelve titles in eighteen years should be enough justification.

Even big kids had a blast

I took one of my kids to the parade – or should I say, she took me.  Her office is on Boylston Street which is ground zero for championship parades and the city’s famous marathon and we used it as our home base.  We debated whether to watch from the office’s fourth floor windows but decided that the short walk to Copley Square would place us right in the heart of the madness.  It was a good choice.  The best way to experience the madness is to stand elbow to elbow with other crazed fans.

Players had as much fun as the fans
Yeah, that’s right, six Super Bowl Championships

If I had any doubts that my daughter has established roots in Boston they were quickly erased by watching her enjoying herself.  She’s not much of a football fan but if something good is happening to her city, then something good is happening to her.  She’s not a Mainer anymore.  She is now Boston Strong!

Julian Edelman became the first Jewish person to win the MVP

It didn’t take much time for the long awaited duck boat carrying Tom Brady to arrive.  It remained within my sight for about a minute and a half and during that time I got to witness a true super-hero in action, but not in the manner that you think.  Alongside Brady was his young daughter, Vivian, and it was obvious that she meant more to him than any Super Bowl ring.  He held her in his arms; she sat on his lap.  He took her hand and whispered in her ear; she held up the Lombardi trophy.  During those brief ninety seconds Tom wasn’t the greatest quarterback of all time,  he was just a guy being a great dad.

I’m sure that in little Vivian’s mind my friend Pattie was right.  Tom Brady does indeed walk on water.

 

Greetings from the Windy City

Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo

My wife, daughter, dog and I are currently in the Chicago area spending time with family.  So far, it’s been a very enjoyable holiday season.

There’s no shortage of fun things to do in this town and one pleasant discovery was the “Zoo Lights” display at the Lincoln Park Zoo that lasts until January 6th.  This exhibit features luminous displays of creatures large and small, strolling carolers and other seasonal activities all under the canopy of 2.5 million lights.  And the best part – it’s free.

The not so cowardly lion

Of course free comes with its price and in a city of three million people, parking isn’t easy or cheap.  It took us a while to find a place to ditch the car and it wouldn’t have happened without the phone app “Spot Hero” that located what may have been the last open parking slot in the city.  What did we ever do before the invention of the smartphone?

This display prompted a discussion about the color of a real giraffe’s eyes.  Anyone know?
A fire-breathing dragon – a species not found in most zoos

Chicagoland is currently devoid of snow except for a few piles left over from the Thanksgiving weekend storm that practically shut down the airport and stranded thousands of travelers.  The temperature for our light-gazing excursion was in the low 40’s and with no wind to speak of, the night air was both refreshing and tolerable.  Together with my wife’s siblings we set out on a unique winter wonderland safari.

A zebra brought to you in living color
An otter and “anotter” otter

Having been to Africa and seen animals in the wild, zoos don’t interest me much anymore.  However, when the wildlife are constructed of wire and brilliant lights, well that’s a horse of a different color.  Seeing these glowing creatures was a fun treat.  Knowing that no real animals were harmed was a bonus.

I trust that you all had a fun-filled holiday and I look forward to sharing more photos and thoughts with you in 2019!

 

Be Open

Dunstan Crossing Pond just down the street from my home

Common complaints among photographers include: “there’s nothing to shoot; the light sucks; I don’t feel inspired”.  It’s a rabbit hole I’ve found myself in many times and the only way out is to grab the camera and photograph something, anything.

Streetlight as seen from my front porch

One exercise often assigned to photography students is to capture images within close proximity of one’s home.  The goal is to see everyday subjects in a different light or perspective in hopes of creating something appealing from the mundane.   I took on that self-assignment recently.  I’ll let you be the judge of the images’ visual appeal.

Early morning sun casts a shadow of the antique bottle sitting on our windowsill
The lamp in our spare bedroom takes on a whole new look at the right time of day
The front door curtains project a pattern on the adjacent coat closet
One of the many blue bottles that my wife collects
Blue bottles assembled into a stained glass piece adorn one of our windows

The bicycling season hasn’t ended for me yet, although some rides have been rather chilly.  Nevertheless, they afford me the opportunity to check in with my feathered friend, a Great Blue Heron, who seems determined to weather the cold at Scarborough Marsh.  I’ve had mixed reports whether he/she will survive the winter.  Some have told me that this heron may be the same bird that spent all of last winter at the marsh, while others have reported that its chances for survival are slim.  Time will tell.

Scarborough Marsh’s determined heron

As I look to 2019 I’m not setting any specific photography goal.  Rather, I’m taking the advice of my favorite photographer who professes that only two words are necessary to become a better photographer:  “be open”.  In other words, don’t seek images; let them come to you.  Embrace them when they do.  That’s my plan.

An equally determined pooch at Pine Point

I wish all of my readers a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year!

Can’t pass through York without stopping at Nubble Lighthouse – especially at Christmas time

 

It’s Not Just About the Photograph

Great Blue Heron – Scarborough Marsh

For the past several months I’ve been inspired by a wildlife photographer named Doug Gardner who is host of a television series called Wild Photo Adventures.  The show airs on the Natural History Channel but past episodes can be viewed on YouTube.

Herons aren’t known as cold weather birds but this guy refuses to head south
Poetry in motion

Gardner travels across the country and generally hooks up with a local guide and together they set out in search of big game such as grizzly bears in Alaska or more delicate subjects like exotic wild flowers hiding in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The show is both instructional and captivating and always ends with Gardner’s signature phrase: “it’s not just about the photograph, it’s about the outdoor experience”.  You can watch an episode where Gardner photographs moose in the north woods of Maine here: Wild Photo Adventures

Ducks invading Mr. Heron’s personal space

Whether it’s traipsing through a murky, bug infested swamp searching for alligators or crawling through the snow in 30 below temperature stalking wolves in Yellowstone National Park, this guy definitely has the right stuff and attitude for success in his profession.  In fact, he’s been referred to as the “Navy Seal” of wildlife photographers for his stealth movements tracking and hiding from his subjects – all accomplished without violating his cardinal rule: don’t distress the animal.

Doug Gardner as shown on his website

I’ve learned quite a bit from watching his productions.  He offers both technical advice about photography as well as practical information regarding animal behavior and dealing with Mother Nature.  He’s passionate about protecting the environment and serves as a great ambassador for this cause.

The requisite seashells by the seashore shots

Gardner knows that not everyone can simply hop on a plane for a photography trek into the remote regions of Alaska one week, then head to the Everglades for a gator expedition the next, so he encourages people to seek out the wildlife in their own area – even if it’s just  in their back yard.  He stresses that practicing close to home (the rudimentary wax on/wax off phase) will better prepare photographers should they ever encounter that National Geographic moment in an iconic location.

Dogs on Pine Point Beach sometimes qualify as “wildlife”

Fortunately, I live in a place with a fair amount of bird life nearby so I’ve been practicing a lot lately.  This also suits my current situation of caring for my wife and our dog as they both recover from recent surgeries.  I am happy to report that the two of them are gaining strength and mobility with each passing day – to the point where I can wander away from home for short periods and they can fend for themselves.

Gardner advocates photographing animals at their eye level.  That sometimes means getting wet.

I’m fine with that right now.  At last count there are about 50,000 grizzlies still residing in Alaska so I don’t need to book my flight just yet.