Monday, December 23, 2013

What does 'The Best' Actually Mean?

As 2013 comes to a close, I have been seeing many posts on my Facebook newsfeed by other photographers who have posted their "best" of 2013.

I am in awe of the 'best' photos represented by my fellow photographers and I decided to re-visit my 2013 photos to share my 'best' of the year.
As I began to look through the multitude of images of varied subject matter from this past year, I had to take pause and ask myself: "What does 'best' really mean?"
The first thought that came to mind was: 'the best' means a technically sound image with perfect composition and impact- after all, these are the criteria used for judging photo competitions.  While I have many images that are technically sound, tack sharp, and worthy of competition entry, they are not what I consider 'the best' of my collection. 
There are so many wonderful memories of things I have seen and of the places I have been which come flooding back to me when viewing images I have made.  To me, so much of an image is about the experience of being in that place and witnessing what I try to capture with my lens- sometimes technically successfully, and sometimes not. It's difficult for me to separate all of the emotions I feel when making an image from the resulting photograph. 
So many of my 'best' are fleeting moments in time.  A great number of these 'bests' have never been shared with anyone else, but are the ones which I often  revisit and just smile...  Those magical moments and the awe and wonder of subjects discovered for the first time, special times with friends and family, and those moments which excited me as I saw them come together through the viewfinder. 
This is what "the best" means to me, and I invite you to view a gallery of MY 'BEST' PHOTOGRAPHIC MOMENTS AND DISCOVERIES OF 2013 -while keeping in mind the experience and discovery behind each image.
Wishing you only 'BESTS' in 2014 and beyond...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Himba People of Namibia

This is the fifth posting in a sequence of blogs highlighting the many places in Namibia which will be visited on the Strabo 2014 Namibia Photo Tour led by Brenda Tharp and myself.  The images featured in my Namibia blogs are from my most recent and previous visits to Namibia and feature the places included in the itinerary for 2014.
The next stop on our 2014 Strabo Namibia Photo Tour will be to the town of Opuwo which is the capital of the Kunene Region in north-western Namibia.  The mingling of ethnic groups on the streets of Opuwo is a sight you will always remember!  It is here where we will have the opportunity to photograph the Himba people.  We will be spending two nights at the Opuwo Country Hotel which is situated on the outskirts of the town on a hilltop which overlooks breathtaking mountains and valleys. 
Himba Woman and Goat Herd
The Himba are semi-nomadic people and are indigenous to the northern Kunene Region of Namibia.  They live with their extended family in a kraal- which is a fenced circle of individual family huts surrounding a central livestock enclosure and a sacred fire.  Their livestock are a symbol of their wealth and so these people will travel with their herds to find adequate grazing and water to keep the herds healthy and producing new offspring.
Himba Wealth

Himba Woman in Late Afternoon Light
During our time in Opuwo, we will have the opportunity to visit two different authentic Himba villages (kralls) and photograph the people who live there.  One session will take place in the morning as their daily village activities begin.  During this session we will learn about their fascinating culture and beliefs from our personal Himba guide.  The second session of the day will be in the late afternoon and on into the "golden hour" which enhances the red skin tones which are unique to these women.
The Himba are beautiful and friendly people.  The women of this culture are best known for covering themselves with 'otjize'- a mixture of butterfat and red powdered ochre.  The women perform the ritual of bathing in this mixture on a daily basis, resulting in their iconic deep red skin color.  We are usually able to enter a hut and watch this bathing process.  Although you will have to use a very high ISO, the light streaming in from the doorway allows us to create some very special images of these beautiful women.
Mixing Ochre                              Bathing Ritual
During the time spent in the villages, it will be time to change from our landscape photography techniques used during the first half of our trip to those suited for portraiture.  Typically, a mid-range telephoto lens (24-105mm) will be the workhorse of your Himba visit.  However, it is also nice to have a longer telephoto lens (70-200mm) handy for intimate portraits and for isolating details.
Portrait of a Himba Woman                                    Clothing Details
The Himba people are very receptive to our presence in their village and the children are a delight!  They adore having their photos taken and then seeing their likeness on the backs of our cameras!
Himba Children Delight In Seeing Themselves
Upon leaving the village and presenting the people with our thank-you gifts, the women produce some of their handmade crafts and offer them for sale.  While not obligated to buy them, it is tough to resist, knowing you are helping their existence while taking a bit of Himba culture home with you as a souvenir.
Handmade Himba Crafts
Photos of the Himba people  made on my most recent visit to Namibia can be seen HERE.
Please consider joining us on our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour.  It is a trip you will never forget!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


(This is the fourth in a sequence of blogs highlighting the many places in Namibia which will be visited on the Strabo 2014 Namibia Photo Tour led by Brenda Tharp and myself. The images featured in my Namibia blogs will be from my most recent trip since the 2013 itinerary closely mirrored our Itinerary for 2014.)
The next stop on our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour will be the city of Swakopmund. During the time you will spend here, you will be free to explore Swakopmund and all it has to offer on your own.
Aerial View of Swakopmund

The Skyline of Swakopmund Seen From the Dunes

We will be spending two nights at the The Schweizerhaus Hotel.  The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of the main part of town, and houses Café Anton, a quaint café/bakery where you will have your morning coffee and breakfast, and can also choose to purchase wonderful baked goods for later!

Hotel Schweizerhaus and Pastries from Café Anton
Swakopmund is situated on the coast of Namibia, and is surrounded by the oldest desert in the world: the Namib. Founded in 1892, Swakopmund is the country's biggest coastal town and is a holiday destination for many Namibians. There is a strong German architectural influence in the town and the quaint streets and store fronts seem to be stuck in time.

Makalani Nut Carvings
You can easily spend your time in Swakopmund relaxing from the first half of our tour by leisurely strolling the streets and shopping for beautiful African crafts as souvenirs.  You might choose to visit the Swakopmund Museum, (the largest privately run museum in Namibia)  the lighthouse, or the aquarium. There are cafes and restaurants serving authentic German food and are a good place to settle in for some people watching...
You might opt for a tour of nearby Walvis Bay or The Walvis Bay Bird Paradise.  One can also take to the water for a seal and dolphin tour.
Swakopmund has become the country's leading adrenaline destination, with a wide range of activities to suit all ages. You can choose to see the Namib desert and Skeleton coast by helicopter, plane, or air balloon!  
An Aerial View of the Namibian Coast
Or you can choose to see the desert from the ground by sand boarding, quad-biking or by taking a tour of the desert.
Quad Biking on Dune 7
I highly recommend Tommy's Tours and SafarisTommy Collard is a wealth of knowledge and a delight in the way he teaches about the Namib Desert!  His tour is affordably priced for a half day of fascinating information and learning, as well as for photography.  
Tommy's Tours and Safaris 4 x 4 Vehicles

Tommy takes you through the dune belt on the outskirts of Swakopmund sharing the variety of little and hidden creatures (many who are endemic to Namibia) who make the dunes their home.  From insects, to reptiles, to birds- you will leave this tour with a greater respect for the desert and the life it supports.
Feeding a Namaqua Chameleon

A gallery of images made during Tommy's Living Desert Tour can be seen HERE.

A few fun videos made on the tour and in the Swakopmund dunes can be enjoyed ON THIS PAGE. 

For more information and details regarding our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour, please visit Strabo Tours.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia

(This is the third in a sequence of blogs highlighting the many places in Namibia which will be visited on the Strabo 2014 Namibia Photo Tour led by Brenda Tharp and myself. The images featured in my upcoming Namibia blogs will be from my most recent trip since the 2013 itinerary closely mirrored our Itinerary for 2014.)
Aerial View of Dune 45

When people think of Namibia, usually the first thing to come to mind is its world famous red sand dunes towering above the desert.  Namibia is home to the tallest sand dunes in the world- measuring 325 meters high! The dunes are located within the 50,000 sq km of Namib-Naukluft Park which in turn is located between two deserts: the Namib Desert to the west and the Kalahari Desert to the east.

We will be visiting Namib-Naukluft park for 3 nights during our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour and will be staying at The Sossus Dune Lodge within the borders of the park.  The lodge is made up of a string of chalets nestled at the base of a tall hill.  Each chalet has a gorgeous view of the desert beyond, and at night, the stars and Milky Way are a spectacular sight against the black sky.
(Click on any image in this blog for a larger view)
The Sossus Dune Lodge

Perhaps the best known areas of the park are Sossusvlei and Deadvlei.  Deadvlei is an ancient lake bed of dried cracked mud, surrounded by giant dunes. Deadvlei sports hundreds of ancient skeletal camel thorn trees dating back 500-600 years.  The starkness of this place has been photographed from virtually every angle over the years, yet continues to challenge one's photographic eye. The largest dune, nicknamed "Big Daddy," looms over the far end of the vlei and is a favorite dune of tourists for climbing.

Dune Hiker
Sossusvlei is another dry white mud lake bed surrounded by towering star shaped, red-orange dunes.  The dunes change their warm hues based upon the time of day and weather conditions.  The red-orange sand dunes against the deep blue sky make classic images of this iconic place.

From wide angle to telephoto, the graphic and abstract photo possibilities are endless, as one concentrates on light and shadow, lines and angles, and shape and form.  Not only will we have the opportunity to photograph the ancient lake beds, but the road from the park entrance to the vlei is lined with dunes of various shapes and sizes.  We will make this drive more than once during our visit, photographing along its length.  One never tires of the dunes, as they change their appearance with the changing light through the day.  To see examples of classic images made at this location, please visit THIS GALLERY.
Classic Dune Images
On our recent visit to Deadvlei, we awoke at 3 AM to make the one hour drive to the trailhead for Deadvlei so we could be in the pan at sunrise. Staying within the park's boundaries allows early access to the trailhead before it becomes filled with visitors.  A 4x4 vehicle is required for the last 6 km of the drive.  

Because it was cloudy and misting, it was very tempting to stay in bed!  But as devoted photographers with limited time to spend here, we pushed ourselves to make the trip. Upon arrival to the trailhead, we then hiked 30 minutes through the sand dunes to get to Deadvlei before daylight. 

While our dream was to photograph Deadvlei under the starry night skies, we were faced instead with a fine mist of rain and thick clouds overhead!  These very unusual weather conditions turned out to be a blessing in that we were the only ones in the vlei in the early hours of the morning to witness the soft morning fog and subtle pastel colors as day broke.  It seldom rains in the vlei, and so we felt quite privileged  be witnessing such a rare weather event in this iconic place. 
Fog Veil at Deadvlei

Photos from this very special morning can be seen in my new gallery: Deadvlei-2013.

For more information and details regarding our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour, please visit Strabo Tours.  Brenda and I would love to have you join us!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Diamond Mining Ghost Town of Kolmanskop

(This is the second in a sequence of blogs highlighting the many places in Namibia which will be visited on the Strabo 2014 Namibia Photo Tour led by Brenda Tharp and myself. The images featured in my upcoming Namibia blogs will be from my most recent trip since the 2013 itinerary closely mirrored our Itinerary for 2014.)

The second stop on our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour will be the port town of Luderitz. We will be staying at The Nest Hotel where every room has an ocean view.

A few km inland from Luderitz lies Kolmanskop, Namibia's most famous ghost town. Kolmanskop is situated in the strictly controlled area called the Sperrgebiet, (Sperrgebiet is German for 'Prohibited Area')

In 1908, diamonds were discovered here and caused a rush of people to converge on the area. Kolmanskop became a bustling little German town in the Namib Desert complete with hospital, theater, school, casino, skittle bowl alley and beautiful homes.

The development of Kolmanskop reached its peak in the 1920's with it's population around 300-400 people, but the town declined after World War 1, when diamond prices crashed, and when richer diamond deposits were discovered elsewhere.

Today the ghost town's crumbling ruins hardly resemble the way the town looked in it's heyday. The stately homes and buildings have been ravaged by the wind, and are gradually becoming enveloped by encroaching sand dunes.

Made photographically famous by Freeman Patterson, it is a location filled with a multitude of creative story-telling photographic opportunities.

Any time of the day is good for photographing here. Even the harsh mid-day sun works well for interior shots, lighting up rooms in the backgrounds of compositions and creating zig-zag shadows on the walls as it shines through the slatted ceilings.

Like the Quivertree Forest in Keetmanshoop, Kolmanskop is another place where shooting in HDR (High Dynamic Range) can be advantageous at times. Some of the interior spaces can sport such a wide gamut of tones, that by using HDR, the photographer can bring out details in the dark background rooms, coaxing the viewer to visually wander further into the image.

Pictures made here tell a story from the past, showing the once bustling buildings and houses slowly filling with sand. If only walls could talk...

We will be spending a full day shooting at this location with a special permit to gain access early in the morning prior to tour groups.  The permit also allows us to stay until sunset, long after the 1:00 P.M. closing time for general tourists. There is a cafe on the grounds for a lunch break, and a museum which tells the history of Kolmanskop and the diamond rush.

In addition to the gallery of images made on my  first visit to Kolmanskop in 2009, I have posted two new galleries from my 2013 visit to Kolmanskop showing the crumbling EXTERIORS and INTERIORS of buildings and homes from another era.  The new galleries can be seen HERE.

For more information and details regarding our 2014 Namibia Photo Tour, please visit Strabo Tours.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Quivertree Forest in Keetmanshoop, Namibia

This is the first in a sequence of blogs highlighting the many places in Namibia which will be visited on the Strabo 2014 Namibia Photo Tour led by Brenda Tharp and myself. The images featured in my upcoming Namibia blogs will be from my most recent trip since the 2013 itinerary closely mirrored our Itinerary for 2014.
The first stop on our 2014 Namibian Photo Tour will be the Quivertree forest in Keetmanshoop. It is a very special place with numerous photo opportunities from grand landscapes, to wildlife, to tiny details and patterns.
The quivertree is one of the most interesting plants of Namibia. But, it is not a tree. It is an aloe plant. (Aloe dichotoma) The plants are usually found growing singly but in some areas, like in Keetmanshoop, the quivertrees grow in large groups, giving the effect of a forest.
Morning at the Quivertree Forest in Keetmanshoop

The Quivertree Forest in Keetmanshoop was declared a national monument in 1955, and the plants are protected by Namibian law. The largest trees in the forest are between 200-300 years old! Quivertrees, with their crowns of succulent star-shaped flowers, propagate only by seeds. They have a spreading root system anchored in the surrounding black rock formations. The black rocks absorb the hot sun during the day and help protect the quivertees from frost on cold nights. Quivertrees are called "Kokerboom" in Afrikaans. 'Koker' is the Afrikaans word for 'quiver.' The name fits because Bushmen used the tough bark and branches of the quivertree to craft quivers for their arrows.
Aloe Details
Subjects and compositions are numerous in the forest. I found myself searching for foreground elements to anchor or to frame the grand scene. I also searched for patterns, colors, textures and designs to capture the forest's details. Our first cloudy afternoon in the forest was a perfect time for macro and details since the light was diffuse and the sky was white.
Rock Hyrax
Rock hyrax colonies are plentiful in the rocks and the small mammals pose motionless for potraits! One of the quivertrees housed a very large and active sociable weaver's nest, which kept my attention for a very long time as I tried capturing the small birds as they darted in and out of their nest and perched on the aloe flowers. 
Sunrise and sunset are magical in the Kokerboom Forest! As the sun rises and sets, the low angled rays make the bark on the trees glow amber in color. The trees cast long shadows across the dark rocks below. Because of the large range in tone, this location lends itself well to creating HDR (High Dynamic Range) images to feature the textures and patterns in both the highlights and shadows of the scene.
Quivertrees at Sunset
We will be staying at the Quivertree Forest Rest Camp, which will give us the opportunity to access the forest at night. On a clear night, and at the right time of the night, the Milky Way can be seen stretching across the sky behind the towering Quivertrees in the foreground.

When photographing a night scene like this start by setting your camera as follows:
Choose your widest lens to shoot the scene.  In manual mode, set the camera for a 20-30 second exposure with the lens at its widest aperture (f2.8-f4.0) @ ISO 1600. Of course, a tripod is a must; and mirror lock-up and a cable release will help to minimize any camera shake. These settings are good starting point for making successful night images of the forest against a background of twinkling stars!
Quivertree and Milky Way

Additional images of my 2013 Quivertree Forest visit can be seen on my web site in a new galley posted HERE.

For more information and details regarding the 2014 Namibia Photo Tour, please visit Strabo Tours.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Come Fly With Me!

As the classic 1957 song composed by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Sammy Cahn begins:

"Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away…."
There is nothing I like better than flying away to an exotic place and unleashing my photographic vision and creativity on the sights before me! 
Well, I have news for you:

In conjunction with Strabo tours, I will be co-leading a photo tour to Namibia with Brenda Tharp in August 2014!
Together, we have a crafted an itinerary to visit many of the highlights this country has to offer, and have allowed enough time in each place to unleash YOUR visual creativity!
We will be visiting places such as:
-The Quiver Tree Forest and Giants' Playground at Keetmanshoop
-The disappearing diamond mining ghost town of Kolmanskop

-Namib-Naukluft Park, where the iconic red sand dunes reach upwards to 1000 feet

-The quaint, quiet ocean side town of Swakopmund-  which has the timeless ambiance associated with a small German village.
-The small village of Opuwo - capital of the Kunene Region and home to a large population of Himba tribes.
-Etosha National Park- boasting nearly 150 mammal species and where we will have the potential for great game viewing at the waterholes

To entice you even further, please take a look at THIS GALLERY OF IMAGES representing many of the places we will visit.
Mark your calendar and start making your plans now to 'come fly with  me' and join us for this once in a lifetime experience!  (LIMITED to 12 Participants)

Additional details for this photo adventure can be found at Brenda Tharp Photography and  at Strabo Photo Tours.
August  2014 will be here before you know it!
Once you experience Namibia, it will always be in your heart...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Switching Gears in the Field

Happy Summer (officially) to my friends in the Northern Hemisphere!  This past weekend marked the summer solstice and the longest day of the 2013.  We had a special treat this year having a full "Supermoon" in conjunction with the annual event.

I went out days before with my iPad in hand using my Star Walk application to figure where exactly the moon would rise on the horizon.  After establishing where the "Supermoon" would make its appearance, I chose a foreground subject to place in the scene.  I went out on Saturday for a trial run, but since the moon rose while the sun was still high in the sky, the moon appeared quite faint.  So, I bracketed some images of my intended foreground and then waited until after dark to photograph a brighter moon.  After I shot the moon, I combined the 2 images digitally in Photoshop, placing the brighter moon over the place where the faint moon appeared in the frame and blended the 2 images together to create the scene I had envisioned.  The above image is what resulted from my efforts.
 The next night, the moon was to rise after sunset.  This was the best day to photograph the rising full moon because it would shine brighter at the darkening horizon.  I set up my 600mm lens on my 5D Mark III in my back yard looking out over the valley toward the city of Phoenix.  I saw bands of clouds low on the horizon and was disappointed that I would not get the image I had planned in my head.   However, I thought maybe the photo gods would be good to me and give me a peek of the full circle of moon at some point as it rose thorough my scene.  This is all I got:
 Not defeated, I switched mental gears thinking, "What if I continue to shoot JUST the moon as it rises through the bands of clouds and see what happens."
These were 2 of the results I achieved by keeping an open mind and switching gears in the field:

(I later converted them to Black and White because I felt the treatment lent itself more to the drama of the scene.) I am very happy with these two images that took shape creatively in the field!
This morning, I decided to make an image of my original idea and here is the result:
While I like the resulting image, my favorites from the weekend turned out to be the images that materialized after switching gears in the field.  What do you think?


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Westward Ho on the The Mother Road!

 "If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, the highway that's the best.
Get your kicks on Route 66!
It winds from Chicago to L.A.,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route 66."
~lyrics from the famous song by Bobby Troup
Route 66 has always intrigued me.  Maybe it is because I never had the childhood experience of a family vacation traversing the country on the Mother Road.  I have heard many stories of what traveling along Route 66 was like in its heyday: Mom and Pop establishments, cafes, souvenir stands, motels with sparkling neon lights… It always sounded like such a big part of our American heritage and an amazing adventure to me. 

Two months ago, after I sold our Indiana home, the time came for me to make the trip out west to join my family in our new home in Arizona.  I had to get my car there, and what better way than to load it up, pal up with a photo buddy of mine, and spend 4 days heading west and exploring the historic places along Route 66? 

Today, I-40 is the main road that follows the course of Route 66.  While so much of the original road is long gone, we did our best to take any and all detours from I-40 to original segments of the road in order to see what is still remaining along the first highway that linked Chicago to Los Angeles.  
We stopped in small established towns sporting weathered neon signs in front of boarded up hotels. We saw nostalgic signs in front of empty lots which once housed drive in motels.  We stopped in ghost towns with a few dilapidated and rustic building shells marking an era of days gone by.  We drove through the rush hour traffic of large cities where vintage signage mingled with logos of modern day corporate establishments. 

All of the nostalgic sights sparked the imagination of what road travel was like driving across the country way back when… 
 This was the road we picked up in St. Louis, Missouri and followed until Flagstaff, Arizona where we turned south toward my new home.  Someday soon, before what is left of Route 66 becomes only a memory, I would like to head back to Flagstaff, make a left-hand turn, and finish my journey to the end of the Mother Road. 

Thanks to the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, the historic remnants of Route 66 are being preserved for current and future generations to get a taste of the history along "The Main Street of America." 

More images from our 4 day trip can be seen HERE

Monday, May 6, 2013


Hello everyone! I know it has been a VERY long time since my last blog.  As most of you know, we have spent the past 2 years building a house and relocating from the mid-west to the southwest.  The house build and subsequent relocation became my full time job and my photography skills were focused on documenting the building stages of our new home.  Now that we are settling in, I am back to finding time to what I love most: serious photography!
This morning I was out taking a walk and passed by an empty desert lot close to where I live.  On this lot is a tall saguaro cactus that had a ton of bird activity in and around it.
When I got home from my walk, I packed my canon 50D sporting my 100-400mm lens, and a pair of binoculars, got in the car and drove back to the lot to check it out.  At first, I just observed the activity around the cactus: European Starlings were darting in and out of multiple holes and a pair of Gila Woodpeckers obviously had a nest inside one of the openings.
I began to shoot images, with the goal of capturing birds in flight.  I find this to be such a challenge that I am willing to spend hours at a time achieving that one perfect shot. The early morning spring time bird activity I was witnessing was amazing! I observed the pair of woodpeckers taking turns exiting and entering one of the holes on the giant saguaro, so I focused my attention on that hole.
This pair of woodpeckers made their nest on the north side of the cactus, (smart, because it shades them from the hot desert sun) causing me to bump up my ISO to 1600.  This helped me achieve desired shutter speed and a greater aperture in order to capture them in flight when leaving their nest.  Unfortunately, images from the 50D are very noisy at ISOs greater then 400, but I was willing to make the trade off, hoping noise reduction software would help improve the resulting noise.
I was really getting into a groove but after about 40 minutes of shooting, I ran out of CF card! (see? I am very out of 'photography preparedness practice' after being a casual shooter for the past 2 years...)  so, I went back home, grabbed a larger CF card, an extra battery and my 1.4X teleconverter.  Now I was prepared.
I played with various compositions using the 100-400mm lens with the 1.4X converter, anticipating the exit of the birds from the nest.  I had the lens pre-focused on the nest hole and waited for the action.  Suddenly, there was a raucous of bird activity and a repetitive high pitched screeching sound!  The starlings were invading the woodpecker nest attacking the babies inside!  I will never forget the sound of that  helpless baby bird screeching for its life! The attack lasted only a few seconds and luckily, it was unsuccessful.
While my goal today was to photograph birds in flight, (and I am sure I got a few keepers in the 2 hours I spent there) it was the short 10 second burst of activity that made my morning!
Here is a photo of the saguaro cactus that is housing all the bird activity.  I took this image with my iPhone.  And below are some of the frames from the attack sequence. Clicking on each photo will enlarge it for better viewing. Until next time...