Friday, July 31, 2009

Blue Shadows - El Capitan, Yosemite

This is one of the more startling photos I ever took, and I did not notice it until after the slides were processed. I was at Inspiration Point overlooking the Yosemite Valley watching the colors in the valley shift as the day drew to a close. I had recently purchased on eBay an 1000mm lens for my 35mm camera. I decided to try it out on El Capitan, the impressive monolith that dominates the left-hand side of most images taken from that vantage. I liked how the granite face glowed golden and how the ridge between us and the rock face was silhouetted against the light. Indeed, for scale comparisons, if you look closely at the little jutting piece just above where the gold on the face, the ridge line and the shadow cast on El Capitan meet, you can see what would normally be a large tree. It is a mere speck in this image.

I took a few shots and went back to a more normal angle of view for the rest of the day. It was only when I looked at the processed transparencies that I noticed the rich, blue shadows cast by the ridge onto El Capitan. It absolutely floored me in its intensity and has become a favorite image of mine.

This is the uncropped version. I have a large print of this in a square-cropped format hanging above the familyroom fireplace at home. It is one of the more abstract images I have ever shot, yet I find it very tranquil. It definitely opened up a new way of looking at things for me, which I've tried to explore since then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Ultimate Boy Toy

I realized later that I had forgotten Michael Collins in my Apollo Haiku series, so I rectified that oversight and composed one for him, the Saturn V launch vehicle and the Lunar Rover. As with the other Apollo pictures, I shot the Rover at the Kennedy Space Center in 2002. I still get a kick out of seeing videos of the astronauts doing rooster-tails in the Lunar dust. Boys and their toys....


Alone and Watchful,
I Go From Shadow to Light
In Lunar Orbit.

Saturn V

Majestic and Proud,
I Lift on Pillars of Flame
The Dreams of Mankind.


Driving on the Moon,
Doing Wheelies in the Dust,
An Astronaut's Dream.

Friday, July 24, 2009

More Apollo 11 Memories

In honor of the Apollo 11 landing forty years ago, Northrop Grumman decided to make a video of employee's memories of that event. I volunteered to be interviewed because it was a chance to reach out and tell others about how indelible that event was to me and how important it is to continue that bold expansion into space today. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Apollo program was probably the greatest engineering achievement of the last century, not only because it succeeded in landing men on the Moon, but because it brought the people of Earth together as one, albeit briefly. Michael Collins, the third Apollo 11 crew member, remarked in the documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon," that people around the world came up to them during their post-flight tour of other countries and said, "We did it!" Not "you did it," "You Americans did it," but "WE" did it - we the human species did it. That to me was worth every penny of the Apollo program and worth every effort to duplicate it. Can we catch lightning in a bottle again with another push to the Moon and on to Mars? Reality is seldom so accommodating, but I can hope so. And I do.

As with the Lunar Lander image a couple of days ago, these two shots of the powerful Saturn V launch vehicle and Apollo Command Module were taken at the Kennedy Space Center during our 2002 trip to Florida. It is very, very impressive. I wish we still had some usable ones today.

Since haiku is like Lays Potato Chips (you can't just write one), I've added some more of my haiku tributes to the Apollo 11 anniversary. I'm afraid the last one is a bit melancholy, but some days my cynicism and frustrations win out. I'm sure somebody will prove me wrong; I just hope it's this country.


A Golden Lander
and a Flag Red, White and Blue
Give the Moon Color.


Forty Years Ago -
One Small Step, One Giant Leap -
Our Footprints Remain.


Silent Sentinels,
Our Footprints Wander the Moon,
Relics in the Dust.


How Soon We Forget.
Reality Turns to Myth
When Memories Fade.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sunset Constellation

The Flightpath Museum at the old Imperial Terminal on the south side of LAX had a neat display of vintage commercial aircraft during the 100th anniversary of flight on December 17, 2003. Among the collection of airliners was this elegant triple-tail Lockheed Constellation. The Connie was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed, in my mind. Fortunately a few still grace the skies, reminding us of the glamorous age of air travel in the 1950s.

I was fortunate enough to get on the field to shoot departures of several of the classic airliners that day. While watching the aircraft take-off, I turned around in time to see the Connie wending its way down the southernmost taxiway to the end of the runway. The sunset behind it gave the sky a golden hue that silhouetted the airplane beautifully. It looked almost like a sepia-toned photograph. With the sparse towers in the background, you could squint your eyes and imagine yourself back in the 1950s when the field was full of Connies and Stratocruisers, Electras and Sevens. It was a nice interlude, and a wonderful way to end the 100th anniversary of flight.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Anniversaries - Part 2

Forty years ago today, two Americans landed on the Moon in a frail, spidery vehicle like the one above. In my mind, it was the most remarkable achievement of the 20th century. A mere 66 years after the first sustained and controlled powered flight by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC, men walked on the surface of another celestial body. When the Apollo program ended, twelve Americans would stand on the lunar surface and fifteen more would orbit or loop around the Moon, including the crews of Apollos 8, 10 and the ill-fated 13. We've not been back since 1972.

Forty seems so long ago, and yet I remember that moment well. We stayed up all night watching Walter Cronkite - who ironically pasted away last Friday - as he anchored the CBS news coverage of that remarkable event. I remember being impatient with the delay between the landing and the walk, anxious to see Armstrong step onto the surface, of being transfixed by the ghostly images as he and Aldrin kangaroo-hopped on the Moon in glorious black and white. In retrospect the television quality was poor, but it was coming live from the Moon and at the time it was the most beautiful pictures I'd ever seen.

Forty years a perfect world we as a species should have been on Mars by now, with colonies on both it and the Moon and in orbit. But we don't live in a perfect world and the pace of grand exploration moves in fits and starts. The European expansion into the Western Hemisphere is a prime example. More succinctly, in the immortal lines from "The Right Stuff," "No bucks, no Buck Rogers." Human beings will return to the Moon someday, and step on Mars, but whether they will be American is another story. Oh, well....

In honor of the anniversary of this amazing event, I composed a haiku called:

Apollo 11 Memories

Ghostly images
of Astronauts on the Moon,
Saluting the Flag.

Incidentally, I shot the above image at the Kennedy Space Center during our 2002 trip to Florida. We were hoping to catch the Shuttle launch scheduled for that day, but it was postponed to a later date.

Anniversaries - Part 1

The Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first flight last Friday. I missed seeing that milestone by one day. It was originally scheduled to fly July 16th, and several friends and I were lined along the perimeter road in anticipation of a spectacular sight. But a couple of last minute problems scrubbed the flight. Of course, the unauthorized landing by a Cessna light aircraft on the Palmdale / Air Force Plant 42 complex runway did not help matters any. Regardless, the first flight was postponed and took place on the 17th. Unfortunately I was not there.

This shot was taken at the 2006 Edwards AFB open house. In contrast to the early years, the aircraft was displayed outdoors for all to see in the sunlight.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lavender Lilies - Striped Pads

A bit trickier to shoot are lilies in bloom against the dark green of the leaves and black water in direct sunlight. This is one of those cases where a bit of diffusion from high clouds or even a little overcast would be welcome. White and yellow lilies especially are prone to high contrast blow-outs. Lavender lilies, on the other hand, can turn out quite well. I really like the green and reddish brown stripes on the leaves.

This was shot on the same day as yesterday's post, but at the new Chinese Garden at the Huntington. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth the visit.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Koi & Lilypads Study #1

For those who expressed a desire to see green lilypads on water, this one's for you. As I mentioned earlier, there is a tranquil quality about lilypads that attracts me in both black and white and in color. While these aren't the most attractive and green of leaves, they make a startling contrast with the black water and orange Koi. And yet the contrast does not disturb the peacefulness of the image, but takes it in its own unique direction. There is a reason why these fish in particular and ponds and aquariums in general are so popular. An oasis of calm in our stressful lives is both welcome and necessary for our sanity. Or at least some semblance of what sanity we can salvage these days. It brings new meaning to the phrase, "so long and thanks for all the fish."

Like the previous two posts, this was shot at the Huntington Gardens, but at the dolphin fountain in the statue lawn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lily Pad Study #1 - Huntington Gardens

I don't know why, but I find lily pads very peaceful. They are also very photogenic in both black and white and color. I think what attracts me is the reflective quality of the water mixed with the shape, texture and colors and/or tones of the plant. The various ponds at the Huntington Library and Gardens offer some very nice lily pads and I never tire of shooting them. These were at the base of the Japanese bridge in the previous post and shot on the same evening. They make a rather complimentary set of photos.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Japanese Bridge - Huntington Library and Gardens

The Huntington Library and Gardens is one of our favorite places to visit. It is also one of the most photogenic. The Japanese Garden is an old favorite, with the classical wood bridge arching over the lily and koi pond. While color images are nice, I like the timeless quality of black and white. It makes the scene very serene.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Malibu Creek

Last Friday, July 3, Tina and I had a day off from work for the Independence Day holiday. We went to Malibu via the Las Virgenes Road / Malibu Creek Road and had lunch at the Reel In restaurant along the Pacific Coast Highway. After lunch we went to the California Art Club show at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at Pepperdine University, which was very good indeed.

On the way back we stopped at Malibu Creek State Park, which is about halfway between the coast and the 101 FWY. We'd hoped to have enough time to let Tina do some plein air painting and for me to do some medium format photography, but we got there later than we intended and discovered the road didn't go very far into the park. So we did a short reconnoitering mission on foot as it was very hot and we didn't have a lot of water on us. So I grabbed my 40D and we hiked about .5 miles down the dirt road past Las Virgenes Creek and on to Malibu Creek, where I shot this photo.

It turns out the set for the T.V. show MASH was not too far from where we were. Apparently a tent and ambulance were left as displays for people to see. The signpost said it was only a couple of miles further on, but again, it was very hot and getting close to closing time, so we decided it would be an adventure for another day. We certainly plan on returning and exploring the area more thoroughly - albeit in cooler weather and with lots of water!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

XL reflections

As a belated Happy 4th of July to everyone, here's a General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16XL at the 1998 Edwards AFB open house with an American flag reflected in its canopy. It was a fun image to shot.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Flying Tiger at the Ready

The American Volunteer Group (AVG), otherwise known as the Flying Tigers, has to rank as one of the most legendary units ever to make a name for itself in combat. Using Curtiss P-40B Warhawks, the AVG first went into action in the skies over Burma on 20 December 1941, nearly two weeks after Pearl Harbor. It's last mission as the AVG, before the group was absorbed by the U.S. Army Air Force 23rd Fighter Group, was - fittingly enough - on 4 July 1942, nearly 67 years ago.

The shape of the P-40's nose lent itself to the sharkmouth motif. An AVG pilot saw a photo of a British Royal Air Force P-40 unit based in North Africa that had the sharkmouth and decided it would look great on their aircraft as well. The 23rd FG adopted that look and continues the tradition to this day on their A-10A Warthogs.

I shot this image at the 2002 Hawthorne Air Faire, Hawthorne, CA. This was at the end of the day, with the approaching twilight coloring the sky and clouds. The P-40 looked ready to take to the air at a moments notice. It made for a very nice image.