What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Is it the children’s Christmas play? The choir concert at your church? Caroling with your neighbors? All of these activities are close to the top of my list, but my #1 choice this year was visiting Rockefeller Center in the heart of New York City.
The “gi-normous” (gigantic and enormous both) tree covered with tiny colored lights towering above the gold statue of Prometheus and the busy outdoor ice rink are iconic for me — larger than life, and understandably the scene draws a solid crowd. I was able to take a long exposure of the tree and ice rink by sitting my Nikon D800 on the stone pedestal and using “live view” to frame the shot and focus. I propped the lens on my eyeglass case (gotta use what you have on you!) The one-second exposure allowed the skaters to blur for a more artistic effect.
The pedestrian corridor leading from Fifth Avenue to the ice rink is adorned with lacy angel sculptures, and the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue (just across Fifth Ave.) sets the stage for a clever holiday light show. This shot was handheld, but I edited the image in Photoshop to de-emphasize the crowd and make the overcast afternoon at 3pm look more like dusk.
I consider myself blessed that my three daughters have settled in New York City. There are so many fun and fascinating things to do there. This year, the balmy weather made our weekend too good to be true. We walked, we Ubered, we ate very well and spent our money. See you next time!
Sunsets, and especially sunsets over the water, give us a rich feeling of satisfaction. You may have witnessed the sun sinking into the lake in front of your summer cabin or the sun sinking into the ocean from the west coast of just about any island or continent around the Globe. But why, have you wondered, do you cherish those opportunities to witness this daily event whenever you can? I can think of so many reasons — so many threads that weave a complex and rich tapestry in our minds.
First, you may notice the complimentary colors of orange and blue dominating the image. These colors are very pleasing to the human eye. Here, the sun sets at a great distance — as far as the eye can see on the distant horizon. As humans, we feel a great sense of freedom and safety when we can see a long distance and see that the way is clear and without threats. Without thinking about it, we know the sun as an enormous source of energy, warmth and life. Without thinking of it, we know that water is life giving, always in motion and often signifies the journey we make through life. Without actually thinking about it, we see the clouds in motion, sometimes obscuring our view, in other places offering a window for us to see more light and more color.
We are passive observers. We cannot make this happen. We do not make this happen. Nature is powerful, very powerful. We are not so powerful. I am one person of billions on Earth, very small and rather fragile. As we quietly watch the sun set, we don’t have to act. We can just experience the sunset. For a few quiet minutes, we can just enjoy it. We have a few minutes to pause our busy day and reflect. This day is ending. In endings, we see beginnings. We believe the sun will rise again, and continue natural its cycle. We think about Time. Each moment is unique. Before our eyes, the view changes every moment. We can see it: each moment is fleeting and won’t be repeated. Time marches on. For how long?
Yesterday around 5 p.m. in Pennsylvania, I watched the a super sun (the larger than usual orange ball) sink into the horizon, which was fringed with the lacework of bare treetops. Alas, it was time to leave the dog park before darkness descended. I thought about how short the day was, and that we are approaching the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, December 21.
For my daughter, who is has been living in New Zealand for the past year, the opposite is true. December 21 marks the longest day of the year. Last December, I visited Erin in New Zealand and enjoyed those long days and late sunsets. In Milford Sound, watching the sunset means watching the clouds and snowcapped mountains reflect the setting sun. Waiting alone at the water’s edge with my camera and tripod until 10p.m., I was rewarded with my first ever glimpse of alpenglow.
Including a sunstar in your photo is a cool way to punctuate a photo, when you get the irresistible urge to shoot directly at the sun. Of course, it’s usually not a good idea to look directly at the sun or to point your camera there either. When the sun is peaking through the trees or around the edge of something like the Eiffel Tower, it’s hard to resist. (I do have a favorite black and white print of a sunstar beside the Eiffel Tower.)
While hiking the Milford Track on the South Island of New Zealand in September, I noticed the sun peaking at me through the mossy trees. I knew that if I manually set my lens to f/22, I could defract the light and punctuate the image with this sunstar.
A day hike in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand is a scenic treasure as long as you can stifle your fear of missing the boat and becoming stranded in the bush. I’m pretty much a city girl, accustomed to instantaneous car, taxi and subway travel, so I’ve got to admit this fear did enter my mind, especially since I was traveling alone.
Abel Tasman is a vast area of untouched wilderness on the northern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The nearest city with an airport, accommodations and shops is Nelson, although the airport is so modest that one claims one’s bag by lifting it directly from the luggage cart. Nelson is also convenient to many lovely vineyards, and visitors can keep busy wine tasting as well. (Stay tuned for details on that!)
A great way to enter Abel Tasman is to catch the water taxi at Kaiteriteri, about an hour’s drive north from Nelson. You can examine the schedule and buy your tickets online, and pack your picnic as well as your camera. On the boat, you can ride about 30 minutes to Anchorage/Torrent Bay where you can take a lovely hike, and then watch for the boat to return for a quick pickup two hours later. On the summer day that I made the journey, the surf was choppy and passengers on deck got quite wet. The drop off point is a deserted beach where there are toilets near the Department of Conservation shelter, but no food or drink, so you don’t want to miss that boat when it returns. It’s the only way to get home, and I didn’t have the food or camping equipment to make an overnight stay comfortable.
Here are a few of the wonderful views from the hike to the point. I was nervous about getting back on time, not being familiar with the hike and the time it would take me with stops for photography. My anxiety apparently clouded my mood, and I doubted that the hike would be very scenic. Two days before, I was in Milford Sound — which is so beautiful that it just blows your mind. For that reason as well, I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed. See for yourself.
Lastly, I caught the water taxi, two hours later. I even got back to Kaiteriteri in time to drive to the Rimi Vineyard before it closed at 4:30 and taste their heavenly Chardonnay.
Every culture has its important symbols, and I am intrigued when I find ties between different cultures. Greece and Turkey have the Greek Key, named after the Meander River near Ephesus, which winds all over the place and seems to go on forever. The Greek Key carries the meaning: going on forever or “infinity.” Therefore is a popular design on antique vases and in both antique and contemporary jewelry.
You will find the same design in Chichin Itza, the Mayan ruins in Mexico where the we presume the design carries similar meaning. I thought of this iconic design that developed separately for the Mayans and Greeks when I encountered the spiral shaped “koru” design of the Maori people, native to New Zealand. I wondered, “Could this mean infinity too?”
I posed this question to a Kiwi who explained that it means “new beginning.” Later, I fully understood why the koru connotes new beginning, more than “infinite” or “without end” when I observed the koru in nature. You see this shape in the very early stage of a fern leaf. Ferns in their seemingly infinite variety are quintessential New Zealand.
Here are two images of the koru, as I observed an early fern leaf’s development along the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s wonderful hiking tracks.
I would also like to share this image of a sculpture on top of Queenstown Hill, which adapts the koru design to the beginning as well as the end.
The Koru has poignant meaning for Christchurch, New Zealand today as the people there struggle to recover from two devastating earthquakes that occured in 2011 and 2012. There is extensive demolition, repair work and rebuilding going on there — work expected to take another ten to fifteen years. Engineers and construction workers are as ubiquitous as the orange cones and metal fences. My daughter Erin Kelly is one of those engineers, working on the Rebuild. Perhaps never before has the koru meant so much.
One month after my return from the spectacular south island of New Zealand, I have finally begun to study my images and process a few at a time. Let’s begin with the Southern Alps, the spectacular mountain range along the west coast of the South Island that sparkle with snow all summer long. These photos were taken on December 8, 2014 about two weeks before the summer equinox, near the 45th South Latitude. I was driving the four-hour rural route from Queenstown to Milford Sound by myself, pulling off the road a few times to take photos.
In this first image, you can see the expanse of wild lupines in bloom along the creeks with the Southern Alps in the background. Three days later, when I drove back along this route, clouds obscured the mountains, and I was grateful to have taken these photos on Monday the 8th.
A little further down the road, I stopped and mounted the 70-200 zoom lens on my camera. I remembered NZ landscape photographer Trey Ratcliff talking about this type of composition, saying, “Don’t you feel like the mountains could go on forever?” Yes, this view gives that effect. The field also reminds me of Wyeth’s painting, “Christina’s World,” in which “Christina” in a rose colored dress sits in a maize field like this one and looks wistfully into the distance. I love the color contrast and the simplicity of this image.
There are many more images to come of Milford Sound where I spent the week of December 8th. Stay tuned to this photography blog!
I can thank my daughters for introducing me to Australia and New Zealand with their study abroad adventures, and exciting news — I’m going back very soon! Erin (known affectionately as Darin’ Erin) and professionally as a structural engineer who loves earthquake work, is in Christchurch NZ with a crew from Thornton Tomasetti until Christmas. We will soon reunite in Christchurch and spend the first two weeks of December together, hiking, kayaking and photographing the South Island.
As I am cleaning my cameras and lenses and planning and packing, I thought I would give you a sneak preview of the photography to watch for on this blog:
Sunday November 30: Land in Sydney. Love that city and all the memories we shared with Courtney, Erin, the koalas and kangaroos in 2009 and 2011.
I will be staying in a Hilton in the Rocks (old and charming neighborhood near the bridge) and will wander around there and try not to spend too much money. When I catch up on my rest, I hope to visit Bondi Beach for the cliff walk and maybe even Watson’s Bay (Reg Henry’s suggestion).
On Wednesday December 3, I fly to Christchurch and give my Erin a big hug. I will rest my head in her apartment, and I will venture out to Cathedral Square, which was closed for several years due to heavy earthquake damage. (In 2009, we stayed in the Millennium Hotel on the square, and I am curious to see it today.) I’ll probably walk the Botanical Gardens too.
Friday afternoon, December 5, Erin and I fly to Queenstown for the weekend on the beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Looking forward to our stay in the Hilton and walking around the town. We will take a scenic hike there and photograph the rise of the full moon on Sunday evening December 7.
On Monday, Erin flies back to Christchurch for work, and I will drive my putt-putt on windy mountain roads to Milford Sound. Reknowned photographer Trey Ratcliff, and American who now lives in Queenstown, says the drive is almost as amazing as Milford Sound itself. Knowing what Milford Sound looked like in 2009, that’s saying something…
Trey mentioned hiking near Monkey Creek. I don’t know anything about that, but will keep my eyes open for it. I will be staying the week at the Lodge at Milford Sound, which Trey recommended in his blog. I should be able to rise before sunrise (ugh — I hate getting up early!) and capture early morning shots along the water, when the wind is usually at its low point. As New Zealand will be approaching its summer equinox, the days will be long, but I’ll be there for sunset too. There are more rainy than sunny days in that area, but when the sun comes out, I will go for a scenic flight to see views like this.
I will drive back to Queenstown on either Thursday or early Friday, depending on the weather. Friday afternoon I will catch a flight to Nelson, where I will meet Erin for our final weekend rendezvous. Nelson lies at the north point of the South Island and boasts many vineyards, many artist studios, a national park and lots of warmth and sunshine. Reminder: in the southern hemisphere, you travel NORTH to get warm!
By Sunday the 15th, I will probably be a bit tired of traveling, but we will hop a plane to Christchurch. One last night in Erin’s flat, and off I got to Sydney early Monday morning. Monday, I just may have to do some Christmas shopping. Tuesday the 16th will be — well, a very long day, as I fly 12 hours back to Los Angeles, endure a 5 hour layover and fly who know how many more hours home to Pittsburgh to Charles and my cozy bed on Church Lane.
Lots of new photos to come from the beautiful land Down Under. I hope you will log in to this blog and follow along. Cheers, Mate!
A Sunday cruise on the Chicago River aboard the First Lady introduced me to a fascinating concept in architecture: contextual design. Downtown Chicago has long been a mecca for creative and influential urban architecture. Most everyone knows of the Wrigley Building and the Chicago Tribune Tower, the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower) and the long standing Water Tower that survived the Chicago Fire. But some of the newer skyscrapers feature designs that reflect their context — by echoing features of the river or the adjacent buildings.
This skyscraper was my favorite example, because the green color of its glass echoes the green Chicago River; its curves echo the river’s curve; its glass mirrors the buildings surrounding it, and (one step further) the pinched glass makes the reflections look like ripples on the water’s surface.
There were other examples: the older Art Deco Chicago Board of Trade is next to a newer art deco behemoth, the Chicago Opera House; both of them look like a giant armchair from a bird’s eye view.
Two recent buildings feature marine themes: On 2010’s Aqua curves overtake the rectilinear emphasis of most other buildings.
Bertrand Goldberg designed the scalloped edge Marina Towers in 1960s, followed up with this shopping/residential development on the river that avoids the right angle and has a distinctive marine look.
Other contextual designs were less subtle: Here is a river and street map on the facade on this building with a red block showing “you are here.”
As this “contextual” design was echoing in my mind that afternoon, I came upon the Cloud Gate (2007) by Anish Kapoor, commonly called the “Bean” sculpture in Millennium Park, which I had previously seen only in photos. (It’s the ultimate destination for Facebook fans who love to take selfies.) The Bean takes contextual design to a new level: its silver mirrored curved surface reflects both pedestrians and the skyline. Standing before it, you are one with the city. It’s fun!
The late afternoon sky — darker overhead — and sun’s position — peaking between the buildings made for an interesting photograph. I only had my Canon G12 with me; next time I’ll bring the Nikon DSLR and stay longer to play.
After a long gray winter, early spring in New York City’s Central Park is tantalizing. We enjoyed the glorious sunny weekend of April 20 with our daughters in the City. The weekend began with a delightful walk through Central Park from the southeast corner — Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, by the landmark Plaza Hotel. From that busy corner, we wandered the path going northwest to the lake and boathouse. Along the way, we found cherry trees in blossom. They looked beautiful as they surrounded this Art Deco lamp post.
Here is another view of the cherry tree and the lamp post that includes this graceful marble bridge in the background. These two photographs demonstrate how different viewpoints and lenses can provide a completely different perspective on a scene. The following photograph also contains a foreground, middle ground and background — traditional components of landscape photography as well as painting.
I also admired the willow tree. Its curvature adds grace to the scene that includes the lake and tall buildings along Central Park West. Ducks add visual interest, and the blue sky added pleasing coloration to the water.
In my landscape photography, I look for strong compositional elements that occur naturally. In the next photo, look at the curvature of the lake/grass border and how it embraces the lower part of the image. On the top of the photo, the branches of an unseen tree help to frame the top of the image. The pedestrians help to give the image scale and allow the viewer to visualize himself or herself in the scene. These compositional elements are concepts that I learned as I studied Baroque painting, but I apply them to my photography. When I see these visual elements come together in a scene, photography is fun. I say, “Yes!” Fortunately, my family has learned to be patient while taking walks with me and my camera.