Sunday, September 4, 2016

Spirit of Boise Balloon Festival

My friend and fellow photographer, David, invited me to shoot the balloon festival Thursday morning. I haven't been in a couple of years, so I was ready to go back. As it turns out, we didn't have much time to shoot much of anything, but the day turned out to be a great success and a fun adventure.

David has volunteered as ground crew for one of the balloon pilots for several years now. While we were standing around waiting for something photograph-worthy, the volunteer coordinator found David and let him know there was a pilot without a crew. She asked if we were interested in helping out, and of course we said yes. I've never crewed for a balloon before. Why wouldn't I now? I can shoot the balloons another time.

We were introduced to Gary Michalek, a pilot out of Lafayette, California. Gary took us on and gave me some necessary training. I assumed he would just tell me what to do, and since I'm good at following directions, I would do it. Instead, while he was telling me what to do he was also educating me. He spent a lot of time teaching me about the parts and functions of the various equipment. It's more stuff than I can remember now, and it's also more than I had planned on receiving for the day. Had David and I just photographed the event, I never would have learned all this new stuff.

Once Gary was airborne, we became the chase crew, following him around Boise trying to predict where he would land. We ended up landing on a small neighborhood street - and I do mean small. Gary set the balloon down between two rows of two-story houses and trees and cars. It was impressive.

Thank you David for the invitation and thank you Gary for allowing me to be your crew for a day.

Gary launched right next to, and at the same time, as one of his pilot friends.

Apparently Gary is a great pilot - he was able to fly right over the train depot for a photo op.

Because the winds were low, he was able to fly the balloon low. Here he is looking for a spot to land.

But landing in this area was NOT an option.

One other exciting event for the day - I got to photograph my first hummingbird. Ruby throated hummingbirds can be difficult to capture, but I'm pretty happy with how these images turned out.

I even got a closeup of his wing. That's not something very many photographers can do. ;)

If you want to see a few more images, you can find them here:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Palouse 2016 Part 12: The Best of the Trip

Whew! We made it to the last part of this series. If  you've read all 12 parts, I admire your persistence. Thank you for taking the time to read about my adventure and enjoy my photography (at least I hope you enjoyed it).

For this final part I've saved the Top 9 Images. These are the locations, settings, and images that I think best represent the Palouse and my vision for the area. I think in these images I was able to maximize the opportunity. Of the 4000 or so images I took on the trip, I came away with nine that I think are really successful. I would even call these great images. And to create nine great images in one trip is a good thing.

This line between fields, as seen from Steptoe Butte, is so beautiful. For me it's a natural abstract. Of course I know these are fields of grain, but the contrasting colors, the winding s-curve, the horizontal lines at the top of the image and the curved texture at the bottom, all come together to create a puzzle-like symphony of color. I must have taken 100 different compositions of this small section, looking for the right combination of shape, color and texture. This one really succeeds for me.

I took dozens of compositions of this scene also. Most included much more grain. But this one, with only a few stalks separated from the field, succeeds where the others were a little too busy. This image matches my minimalistic tendencies.

Although I like the other images of this tree, I think this one captures it in just the right composition and proportions. The tree and grain are balanced. I love the curve of the horizon starting with the peak of Steptoe Butte, curving down the base of the tree and rising up again to meet the sky. The sky is the perfect shade of sunset blue and the golden pink clouds are just the right amount of fluffy.

For me, this may be the best image of the trip. Yes those clouds are real. I added some contrast to bring out the texture, but I didn't add anything that wasn't already there. This looks to me like it could be a scene out of the midwest as the storm rolls in over the farmhouse, ready to carry a young girl away to land with a yellow brick road.

If you haven't yet noticed, I really like details. While walking back to the car I noticed this one golden head of grain. I don't know why this one turned a different color, but I'm sure glad it did. 

These ribbons of new growth and fallow field compose the perfect agricultural abstract. It all looks like velvet to me. The warm golden browns and soft cool greens work so well together. I want a blanket just like this.

These next three images epitomize the Palouse for me. I wish I had words to describe these. They're visual poems and I'm not poet enough to do them justice. Notice in this first image the extra highlight in the upper left corner. I almost darkened that down to match the rest of the top, but I think it really adds something special to the scene. It adds some extra depth and I think it breaks some photographic "rules" in the best possible way.

Palouse 2016, Part 11

After my Palouse adventure, I went further north to Badger Lake, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins live, own and manage a manufactured housing development on the lake. It's a beautiful setting. But I digress ...

On the way north I stopped in the town of Steptoe, just west of Steptoe Butte. (I wonder which was named first?) This beautiful church is located among the trees of the town. Full disclosure: this image has quite a bit of Photoshop work to clone out all the distracting buildings among the trees.

And just down the road a ways, down yonder as the crow flies, over that there next hill ... I found this checkerboard-roofed shed. 

One more example of monochrome vs. color. I think each image has it's strength. In the color version, the yellow of the field really complements the red of the barn. But in the monochrome version, the textures really stand out.

I'm not sure I've ever taken a long-road-fading-into-the-distance photo. I guess I can check that off my photographic bucket list. I almost didn't stop here, but I'm glad I did. The height of the hill I was on and gentle hills created a wonderful opportunity.

I wasn't close, but this stallion made sure I knew who was in charge. He kept his eye on me the whole time I was there.

Although I didn't move for nearly 20 minutes, at some point the whole herd of maybe 20 horses just decided it was time to run. It seemed like they all ran at the exact same time.

I'm not a birder, or a wildlife photographer, which just means I don't go out to find opportunities like this. But these osprey were great models. And they've also bought into "reduce, reuse, recycle." They've used anything available to build their house.

Next chapter: The best of the trip.

Palouse 2016, Part 10

I promise I'm almost to the end of this trip. I think there will be twelve parts when I'm done, with the final chapter being the images I consider the very best of the trip.

The last morning in Palouse, we went back to the cottonwood west of Steptoe Butte. And on this morning we were the only two people there. It was really nice to have room to breathe and room around, and time to try a number of different compositions without worrying about getting people in the frame.

The road/trail through the middle of the field created a wonderful opportunity to see the whole stalk of grain (wheat or barley - I'm not sure). It looks like a wall of wheat (or barley, someone please let me know). I'm trying to decide if I print this on canvas, or metal, or a regular print.

Trails through fields - beautiful lines and curves.

Not a lone tree, but maybe two is better than one.

Right before we left I walked up closer to the tree and found this composition. I love the way the cattails create a diagonal path to the tree. 

Palouse 2016, Part 9

At the end of the day, after wandering around and exploring, we found this wonderfully aged barn. It seems clear it's no longer in use, but it's still in great condition. It almost looks like someone strategically removed certain boards, and left others to give it that perfect aged/abandoned barn look.

And once again, I can't decide whether I prefer the monochrome or the color.

I do like this closer version. From this tighter perspective the power poles on the horizon add an extra detail. I also like the power pole along the right edge, although I'm not exactly sure why I like that small detail. Maybe because it balances the other two and creates a nice trio of vertical elements.

Sometimes it's better to focus on something close and let the barn be a little blurry in the background.

Another example of monochrome vs. color conflict. I keep thinking that if I look long enough, and study the two images enough times, one will stand out. It hasn't yet happened.

Blurry barn equals good barn.

You might remember I rented a 100-400 lens for this trip. This tiny little bird dropped by for a few minutes, posed for a few portraits, then zoomed along her/his merry way. At nearly 400mm, this turned out alright, especially for someone who is definitely not a birder.

Palouse 2016, Part 8

While we were in the lobby of the hotel, deciding where to go next, a professional photographer sat down to talk - because that's what photographers do. We talk and share stories, ideas, favorite spots, what we like to shoot, what we like to shoot with, etc.

Adam Jones brought out a map and showed us several of his favorite spots, including an old Texaco gas station. The building and property are still in great condition because they are well cared for by the property owner. Adam also told us, "Stay away from the house. Definitely don't knock to ask permission. Just shoot the gas station and the old trucks, and stay away from the shop and house."

So that's what we did.

Most of the time when I'm processing images, and sometimes before I even press the shutter, I know if an image should be in color or monochrome. And sometimes a scene looks good in both, with each treatment offering a slightly different feel and perspective. And sometimes, I can't decide which looks better. These first two images fall into that last category. I like the "old" feel of the monochrome version. I tried to process it to make it look like the image had been taking in the early part of last century. But I also like the color version. The red details really pop, especially against the green roof and trees.

This really is a beautiful site. Even as I was there, I kept expecting a man in a white suit with a blue hat to come out of the building and start washing my windshield, checking my oil, and of course filling the gas tank.

It also made me want to buy a nickel bottle of Coca-Cola.

Behind the gas station is this beautiful line of old trucks. Shooting a panorama of the scene created a curve that adds an element of energy to an otherwise static scene.

This last shot focuses on the little shack. I don't know if this was a real building serving a real purpose back in the day, or if it was created just for this purpose. Either way, it makes a great point of interest.