Florida Kite Boarding

Off the east coast of Florida, near Pompano, there is an area of the beach designated for kite boarders. On a windy day, the kiters are out in force, ripping through the waves at 20 knots per hour or more, and then lifting off the surface of the water to heights of 25 feet plus.

Kite surfing became popular right after the new millennium and has replaced traditional boardsailing (windsurfing) because of its versatility, i.e. not having to deal with a mast and boom. The secret is in the kite. Nominally a parabolic wing, it is inflated with air, so that if it hits the water it won’t sink. There are lines to deal with, but the harness helps keep them from tangling.

The board is approximately three feet long and is not unlike a snowboard — the rider is similarly locked in with stationary boots. Skegs on the bottom of the board help give it forward motion, but the kiter uses the edges of the board “carving” the water to change direction. The kiter can also pull up out of the water to jump waves, do 360’s, etc.

The colorful sails and acrobatic kiters make for great pictures, but it is difficult to show their impressive speed. One way is to “pan” with the rider and blur the water, another is to show jumps and tricks in sequential images, but the best way is with video.

5D Kiteboard Clip  My main camera, a Canon 5D shoots 1080p HD video, but without several pieces of additional video specific gear (like neutral density filters, a follow-focus knob, an audio recorder, a larger monitor and shoulder frame), it is difficult to create high quality imagery. Click on the link to the video I took of kite boarders with the 5D. Note in my video that the kite boarder goes in and out of focus because I was viewing the video on the small LCD screen on the back of the camera. Also as I had no tripod, the wind became a factor.

As part of this trip, I attended the Miami Short Film Festival (tag line: It’s Miami, it has to be shorts.) Because more and more of my assignments require both video and stills, I was anxious to see a demo of the new Canon EOS C300 video camera. It was announced in Hollywood in November 4 and will be available in January. It was a treat to see it, touch it and ask the questions that needed to be asked.

My take is that the camera will be a tool of choice for the serious videographer. It has several drawbacks, namely no headset for the operator, the Canon codex (another one that has to be supported), the incoming audio is connected through the handle on top of the camera and although detachable, you would rarely want to, as the camera itself has no mike capabilities.

But weighing a little over three pounds, capture at 50 Mb/sec and a top end of 20,000 ISO (not a misprint), it has to be reckoned with. The price is rumored to be $20K, and if that is true, it will be a rental unit for many of us. A $10K-12K price point would have Canon selling many more units. They did stress that this was the first camera in a line of cine cameras for the company, so stay tuned.


At the Workshop – It Didn’t Rain on Our Parade

At my fall Horizon Workshop http://www.horizonworkshops.com/workshops.html?cr=80 October 28 – 30, the weather turned real nasty on Saturday, with temperatures in the mid-thirties, winds and driving sleet, which does not photograph. We saw it coming, and through emails during the previous week, the workshoppers and I discussed what to wear and what to bring in preparation for the inclement weather (e.g. no umbrellas, as it is hard to hold an umbrella and a camera at the same time).

I shifted some of the events planned for Saturday to Friday and Sunday and hoped that on Saturday we could proceed with Plan B. Photojournalists on assignment often need to do this, as the landscape changes regularly. The projected title of my fantasy book is, “You should have been here yesterday, we had a parade and a big rainbow, and today it’s raining.”

On Saturday, after a breakfast powwow, we went to Winbak Farms http://www.winbakfarm.com/about.asp ,  a horseracing operation near Chesapeake City. Upon arrival, we asked if they would be working the horses on the track, and the answer was that “This kind of weather makes both horses and people sick.” But they graciously said that we could photograph in the barns.

On Friday night, we had photographed the Ghost Walk in Chesapeake City that is held on the weekend near Halloween. Knowing the Saturday Ghost Walk would literally be a washout, I gave a crash course on Friday night on how to change the exposure for the student’s flash so that they could do combination available light/flash pictures (right). This technique came in handy in the dark barns at Winbak.


The students did an excellent job of “seeing” and went beyond the obvious fact that the barn held approximately 40 trotters and pacers. They focused on the details, producing surprising pictures that give great insights on the horses and the operation.







One warning I passed on was that extreme wide-angle lenses were not the best to photograph horses as it distorts their bodies and you can see why in this picture, where the horse’s head is larger than his withers.

By talking to the horsemen at the farm, the workshoppers learned many fascinating details about the business of breeding horses. The best comment was when one student confided afterwards that she had always been afraid of horses and now that fear was in the past.

Students for the Fall workshop were: Lori Weber, Robert Ullrich, Jamie Simpson, Frederick Gantz, Virginia Phillips and Angela Oates.

These workshops are a revelation for me as well. I look forward to teaching the one in April 2012.

On Tour

Recently, I had the honor of being a visiting artist at the Southwest Wisconsin Fall Art Tour. http://fallarttour.com/ Held the third full weekend each October, the Tour features some of Wisconsin’s best-known artisans who open their studios to allow visitors a unique, behind-the-scenes view into how their work is created.

During the three-day event, I sold prints of the work that you see on this website., Other artisans included painters, sculptors, potters, weavers, jewelers, woodworkers, mixed-media artists, and more.

The weather cooperated for the Tour, and we had over 300 visitors at the No Rules Jewelry Studio in Lone Rock, WI http://norulesjewelry.com/ , which featured my work and that of my sister Maya Madden and her husband, Wayne Farra (pictured below). Clients come from Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and other nearby locations to see their latest designs and learn how they create their one-of-a-kind jewelry.








I was able to introduce my images to a steady stream of visitors. My nephew, Andrew Dryer (did I say that this was a family affair?), helped out and took the pictures of us presented here. He is an accomplished cinematographer working out of Chicago. http://vimeo.com/andrewdryer

Most popular images in terms of sales were a badger (natch!) , “The Watchman” from Zion National Park, and the Wisconsin image of two Sandhill cranes pictured here.

Many visitors said that they would visit my site and purchase, but perhaps this is the new exit strategy, because most of my recent web sales are not from this group. Perhaps they will reconsider when they come to the Fall Art Tour next year!

Fall in Yellowstone and the Tetons

In October 2011, I went on a “Photo Safari” set up by Rich Clark, a good friend and a fine photographer from Indianapolis, Indiana. http://www.richclarkphoto.com to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks.

It is high season at these parks during this time of year, as fall color is happening in the Tetons, and elk and moose are in the meadows during their rutting seasons.

“High Season” means that these parks are populated with human beings as well, of which many are photographers. Most of these are serious amateur photographers with expensive telephoto lenses and tripods. There are so many, that one does not need to look for wildlife along the main roads, all one needs to do is come across the traffic jams that the wildlife sightings create.

Rich mentioned that quite a few National Park Rangers become attracted to the job because they would ostensibly be working with wildlife, but at these two parks their real job during this time of year is directing traffic around the wildlife sightings. We did find all the Rangers and park employees that we met to be very engaging with park visitors, and extremely outgoing, friendly and knowledgeable.


The animals that you see in these parks are not tame – note the two deaths this year in Yellowstone NP were attributed to bears – however they are habituated to coexisting with humans. This is especially true at Mammoth Hot Springs where the elk have learned that the manicured grass in town is better eating than the scrub in the hills, so every evening they come to feed.

The famed terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs have been deposited by the calcium-carbonate Terrace Mountain Spring over many years but, due to recent minor earthquake activity, the spring vent has shifted, rendering the terraces dry. Not so good for photography.


As photographers, we worked from 5:00 AM until well after sundown and did have some magic moments, such as  finding this badger in Yellowstone. We were able to make interesting photographs in spite of the number of photographers and the fact that on this trip we did not hike any trails or backpack to the interior of the parks. We stayed mostly on the main roads.


A highlight was to photograph the Grand Prismatic Geyser from the air. This image has been taken by a number of photographers over the years – rendering it a bit of a cliché, but it was a great sight from the air, and we were able to make an interesting photograph from the plane. It felt very strange to be in the aircraft at high noon, as most of the time photographers are airborne in the early morning or late evening, using the shadows to provide dimensionality to the picture. But here, we didn’t want any shadows cast across the geyser basin.

After this trip I understand why the great nature photographers are reluctant to reveal the exact locations of their subjects.

Fifty Feet

Every August for many years, I have gone to the family cottage in Ontario Canada. It provides a change of scenery and a respite from the oppressive mid-Atlantic heat. My kids grew up partaking in the delights of a lakeside cottage, complete with a variety of things to do such as swimming, boating and fishing.

Cottage traditions grew as well. Card games never played at home (euchre, cribbage), picture puzzles and the generic birthday party became some of these customs. For the party, the kids picked wild blackberries and raspberries that decorated a cake that had one candle on top.  Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” although it was no one’s “day” and then we all exchanged small gifts with each other.

As a photojournalist, many of my subjects were people. The cottage became a perfect spot for me to look at another aspect of photography: macro. National Geographic Magazine runs few macro (close up) pictures in general interest stories, as there are many subjects to cover in the assigned country/state/city and a macro picture takes away valuable space from a more important part of the story. But at the cottage, it became an opportunity to work with this style of photography.

I came up with a plan. Each year I would take on a fifty-foot by fifteen-foot area of the surrounding terrain and spend some photography time only within those confines. Each year focused on a different “fifty feet”. The ground rules were that I had to be able to see the area from the cottage, that it was a natural setting, and was discerning from the others. In addition, I would photograph only when I wanted to, there be no set schedule or time that I had to be on site.

Over ten years, each summer I embarked on another fifty feet. The subject matter was quite unique: The Beach, The Wetlands, The Forest, Birch Glen, Rock Wall, Underwater!, Rocky Shores, A Small Stream, Sky and Clouds, and Wildflowers.

These images were not taken for publication, but as a photographic exploration. This is the first that they have appeared for public view. I encourage you to take on such a project. It will help hone your photographic technique, and provide a creative outlet that you may have not yet explored.

Reverse Ripple

Birch bark


Take a Hike!

The Tour du Mont Blanc

In early July 2011, I spent eight days with five other hikers walking the Tour du Mont Blanc. This hike circumnavigates the mountain – the highest peak in Europe – with forays into France, Italy and Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc trails are well within the capabilities of any fit mountain walker as they wind through alpine meadows, over barren cols (mountain passes), into quaint villages, and along ridgelines with breathtaking views. (Mont Blanc right)

There is a great deal of information available about the tour http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_du_Mont_Blanc and a number of guidebooks and web guides that delineate a variety of different trails around Mont Blanc. http://www.rei.com/adventures/trips/europe/alps.html  http://www.walkingthetmb.com/thetourdumontblanc.html

This hike is very popular and it is easy to craft a trip that can be self-guided or set up with a tour company that provides guides. The tour can even be done by bus or taxi if one is incapacitated or has problems walking. There are different levels of effort for different folks – from moderate to strenuous. You can easily do your own research on the web if you want to go.

Additionally, the Mont Blanc tunnel, completed in 1965, is a 11.6 kilometer subterranean road that links Chominix, France to Courmayeur, Italy. The twenty-minute ride is a lot faster than the walk!

The entire area has other attractions for the adventurous. Kayaking, mountain biking, tour biking, and tandem parasailing are a few of the endeavors in the summer season. Of course, skiing dominates the winter months.

Our Trip

Our group generally walked from six to seven hours a day over the course of eight days, with one rest day designated in the middle of the trip. Due to a medical condition, several of my days deviated from the group hike. The days ranged in challenge from strenuous to moderate. Usually it was the day’s ascent that determined the degree of effort and the ascent on some days was 900 to 1000 meters.

The weather was excellent during our trip and we were provided with a wealth of photographic opportunities. The object, as usual, was to keep the photography from interfering with the backpacking, and to keep the backpacking from interfering with the photography. A challenge.

We started (and ended) in Chomonix, France and made our way counter-clockwise around Mont Blanc. At night we either encamped at huts along the trail (left) or stopped in several of the villages in Italy and Switzerland.

Rarely would we walk to or from the village, but start or finish at a trailhead, taking a bus or a train to or from our hikes (other hikers loading up at right).

In addition to Chomonix we stayed at Courmayeur, Italy and Champex, Switzerland.

On the last day we took the cable car from the middle of Chamonix up to the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of the South) for a panoramic view of the French Swiss and Italian Alps at 3800 meters (Scene below).

Here are a few links to websites where we stayed:

Day One — Nant-Borrant dormitory: http://refugenantborrant.lescontamines.com/uk/nuit.html

Day Two — Refuge La Nova, Les Chapieux,  http://www.refugelanova.com/Accueil.html

Day Three and Four — Hotel Miravalle Val Ferret, Courmayeur, Italy  http://www.courmayeur-hotelmiravalle.it/

Day Five — Dormitory: Pension en plein air, Champex, http://www.pensionenpleinair.ch/

Day Six — Hotel de la Forclaz, Trient,  http://www.coldelaforclaz.ch/home.aspx

Day Seven – Hotel La Chaumiere, Chamonix, http://www.hotelchaumierechamonix.com/node/1

If you love mountain photography, this is the place to be!

A Look At LOOK3

On June 9, 10 and 11 20011 I attended LOOK3 in Charlottesville, VA.

So what is it?

In the words of the organizers, “ LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph is a celebration of photography, created by photographers, for those who share a passion for the still image. The Festival features exhibits and on-stage appearances of three “legacy” photographers, as well as many exhibitions, outdoor screenings, and projections over three days and nights”.

Many of the presentations are held at the Paramount Theater (right).Paramount Theater

“Historic downtown Charlottesville is transformed into a living image with photographs hanging in the trees, projected in storefront windows and on the sides of buildings, as well as in all the galleries.
Billed as ‘3 days of peace, love and photography,’ the Festival is designed to bring together the international photography community and create opportunities for attendees and artists to share images, ideas and to be inspired.”

The Masters featured in 2011 were Ashley Gilbertson,Christopher Anderson, Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark LaToya Ruby Frazier and Steve McCurry
In addition, there were “INsight Conversations” with “legacy masters” Antonin Kratochvil, Massimo Vitali and Nan Goldin

George SteinmetzAlso workshops by George Steinmetz, David Allan Harvey, Brian Storm and Alex Webb were available for an extra charge. (George with his “TREES” exhibit is at left)

So much for the setup, Bob. How were the photographers?

As in many events such as this participants have highs and lows depending on their bias and their expectations. I was no exception.

I felt that the “legacy masters” were on stage way too long (three times through their pictures during their presentations was a bit much). And in general, they WERE legacies hanging on to where they came from – film based, with styles that perhaps defined them during their careers, but seem dated today.

Most of the photographers presenting at the festival displayed a passion and dedication for their subject matter and it was very difficult to see their photographs without seeing the photographer.

Egos and “navel gazing” were another matter. Kratochvil and Golin were self-absorbed and were full of throwaway lines. I would suggest that they get to work – in a meaningful way.

The interviewers Scott Thode and Sally Mann did not help. They were too full of themselves to understand that the audience was there for the represented artist. However, Alex Chadwick and Tony Bannon were great, drawing out subtle threads that helped weave the featured photographer’s thoughts and experiences into a cohesive tapestry.

Memorable stuff?

George Steinmentz’s The TREES exhibit — from George’s Wild Air photographs — taken from his motorized paraglider — suspended on banners high in the trees along Charlottesville’s outdoor pedestrian mall.

Chris AndersonChris Anderson’s exquisite compositions and subject matter (photo of his presentation at right)

David Liittschwager’s One Cubic Foot

Steve McCurry’s Last Roll of Kodachrome

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s brutally honest autobiographical images and prose

One standout image in David Allan Harvey’s Carolina Outer Banks of a couple getting married with another older couple standing on the beach with them. This essay was in an otherwise mostly disappointing presentation of Shots and Works on Friday and Saturday nights.

Shots and Works were generally essays on a theme, but many times the pictures were outside the theme or outside the style of the piece. Some were simply bad. Because the presentations were held outside, Shots and Works started at 9:00 PM and made for a long day.

Galleries to visit were all over town. Not to be missed were the “Community Exhibits”, particularly Focus on Photography: Three Masters — William Albert Allard, William Christenberry, and Michael Nichols and Southern Views/Southern Photographers — Emmit Gowen, Sally Mann and Pamela Pecchio. Massimo Vitali’s Exhibit Natural Habitats was on display at Chroma Project Gallery (photo below).

A Bonus! Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark’s piece on The Prom. Funny and genuine, the film reflected the values of American teens.

See you there next year!

At the Workshop — Timing is Everything

Recently I taught a Horizon workshop in Chesapeake City, Maryland. The object of this particular workshop is to collectively undertake a photographic story of this charming little village at the midsection of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The town is filled with historic buildings – many restored to reflect their mid-1800 beginnings.  We had fine weather and were able to photograph a variety of subject matter.

During our first sessions, I tried to instill in the students how important it is to know how your camera operates so that it becomes second nature to you. Then you will be ready to take a good picture at a moment’s notice. I stressed that much of the photography we are enamored by happened in the blink of the eye  (or shutter, in our case).

On the way to Winbek Horse Farms, a trotter and pacer enterprise, we passed a large number of people working on a residence. Turning around, we found out that it was a “Christmas in April” event. We were happy to serendipitously come across “Christmas” and we all made some nice images of the scene (right).  Timing is everything

Once at the farm, we went out to the track to practice slow shutter speed shots of the horses training (panning). Suddenly two drivers (left) appeared on sulkies running their horses as if in an actual race.

Timing is everything

I was instructing the class in how to use a dedicated flash on the camera by lowering the exposure of the flash. One student was taking a portrait of a horse in its stall when a bird flew past the horse’s head (right). The flash froze the bird in mid-flight.  Photo by John Lauritsen              Timing is everything

On Sunday morning we were at the Bethel AME Church services in Chesapeake City. In order to keep the decorum in the church, we do not use flash, and only one student at a time is in the sanctuary. At one point, the Reverend asked everyone to join hands in prayer (left). Just one workshopper was in the church, and she was ready.
Photo by Esther Steffens

Timing is everything

Bobbie Burnett’s Angels

My latest assignment was to photograph Bobbie Burnett’s Angels. Her picture and the following explanation of her company are on the homepage of her website: www.caringcollection.org

“The Caring Collection creates stained glass artwork to benefit cancer patients at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore, Maryland and the Anne Arundel Oncology Center in Annapolis, Maryland.  It is composed of a group of over 90 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who create stained glass angels and sun catchers. To date, they have donated over $945,000 for specific equipment for patient care and research.”
Bobbie began to design stained glass angels in 1982. Now she is creating a book about her collection. At present there are over twenty past angels in the collection, however only a few are currently available for purchase.

Photography of glass objects presents a challenge and most of the issues center around reflections and specular highlights. The photographer wants to eliminate these, but the end result can be a very flat, uninteresting image.

So what to do? I generally place the object (angel) on a pedestal and go about controlling the light source. I build a background or “tent” to keep unwanted reflections at bay. Then I place a very large reflector (I use a folding one made by Lastolite) in front of the angel to use as a key light. I could use softboxes with flash, but I like to see how the actual light source is continually striking the object. I now have a flat-lit angel with no reflections. A black background eliminates reflections or other shapes that may appear in the transparent areas of the angel.

So far so good. Now, I add my own highlights to create my own rim lighting and specular highlights but only where I want them. I do this by using strings of white Christmas tree lights — moving them around until I get the effect I want. (See Setup Picture 1 above). I try a couple of different placements and shoot several bracketed frames of each. I also turn off the Christmas tree lights to give the client the flat light option. (See Angel with lights Picture 2, and Angel flat light Picture 3 left.)

Two of these images now grace note cards that The Caring Collection has for sale.

Experiment. Sometimes even an inanimate angel can bring surprises to your photography!