Archive for the 'travel' Category

Aug 26 2015

Ten Years After Katrina

The story of this weekend will be looking back at the events and and the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the impact on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I was in France when the storm hit and was only remotely aware of the storm and the suffering at the time. We all have learned more since that time and a great way to review the coverage will be available at the Newseum, one of my new favorite places in Washington D.C.

If you can’t make it there you can view the web version of the exhibit and listen to an interview of the Director of Exhibit Development, Cathy Trost on Talk of the Nation. Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson also tells of his experience as one of the first responders to the developing crisis.

I was in New Orleans six months after Katrina and made a visit to the Lower Ninth Ward district, and was shocked at how much devastation was still present. The entire neighbor was mostly deserted and it was possible to wander into many of the homes to witness the destruction.

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This Wizard of Oz looking scene resulted from houses floating and then dropping

This lifting and dropping effect was present inside houses as well. I saw entire sofas and refrigerators that appeared to be inside a home that a giant picked up and shook like an 8-ball. Many of them looked as though the occupants walked away and never returned.

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This hat was either unmoved from the bedpost or was placed back there after the water receded.

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Outside the signs showed the extent of the destruction…

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and the toll on pets.

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Salvation will relay on forces beyond FEMA – even doing more than a “Heck of a job” this time.

Many people see that the Katrina destruction was the result of natural disaster. Not so says actor Harry Shearer. In his documentary, The Big Uneasy, Shearer says much of the destruction in New Orleans was man-made and preventable — and largely the fault of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The movie will be shown in theaters on Monday Aug, 30th across the country for one night only. Check the website for local listings.

Andrew Curtis of the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California headed a team that documented the slow progression of rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward. This video comparisons can be seen in the New York Times.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Jul 24 2011

An American with a camera in Paris

Watching the Tour de France 7 years ago inspired me to move to France – at least for a month. I highly recommend making your own move – temporary or not as well. While I was there I found the secret to family vacations. Leave a week early!

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There is only so long you can sit on the ground waiting for a waiter to pass by before you embarrass the family

A big challenge for any photographer on a family vacation is carving out enough time to do some serious photography. Capturing a compelling image often involves doing activities that are either boring, dangerous, or embarrassing to anyone else not taking the photo. On most family trips I either put the camera away or lug it around hoping for an above average snapshot.

The schedule for a family vacation is just different than doing serious shooting. Sunset, a prime-time to shoot is most often taken up by checking into the hotel or eating dinner. Breaking out for a sunrise excursion is a must for places like Monument Valley, but these opportunities are few and far in-between.

For this year’s trip to Paris I came up with a different solution. I left a week early.

I highly recommend this choice. While my family is tolerant of me carrying a camera and three lenses through the streets, they don’t always appreciate me stalking an interesting person in a Metro station or searching for the perfect café chair.

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In the Metro, I was spying on this group of rowdy, drunken guys acting out when this charming young girl sat down and mesmerized the group with her charms

On a recent weekend excursion closer to home, I attempted to share my passion with Max, my 14 year-old stepson. I invited him on a sunrise journey into Joshua Tree National Park. After my tenth stop to find the perfect light on the perfect Joshua Tree, Max screamed with hungry exhaustion: “It’s a cactus! They all look alike. Just shoot it and let’s go eat breakfast!”

I appreciated the wisdom of my early departure on my second day in Paris. I walked into the Musée d’Orsay and was mesmerized by its Great Clock, the centerpiece of the railroad station that was converted into a modern art museum.

At one end of the arched enclosure is a huge beautiful clock backed by frosted glass. Behind the glass are multiple stories of walkways traversed by patrons going from one gallery to the next. I was fascinated by the silhouettes created behind the clock as people walked by. I decided that I wanted to capture someone in the compositionally correct location walking close enough to the glass to cast a distinct silhouette.

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The Great Clock in the Musée d'Orsay. If you hold your breath until you turn blue in a modern art museum does that make you a Picasso?

As I was holding my breath trying to balance a telephoto lens on the railing of the Orsay I could imagine Max complaining, “It’s a clock. Let’s go.” Since this was my first week, I was on my own and could indulge my multiple photographer paranoia’s. Did I have the clock in focus? Can I hold the camera steady enough to get a sharp exposure, and can I get my silhouetted person close enough to the glass? Other tourists walking by either made a quick frame of the clock or had someone stand at the railing for a snapshot. The flash went off and they moved on – or perhaps thought – “It’s a clock, let’s go see the Monet’s”.

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After over 100 exposures I finally captured one frame with a clean, in-focus profile of a waitress walking by the “backwards” clock in the Orsay museum cafe

What surprised me most on the trip was how capricious it was to get a great shot of famous landmarks. My guidebooks never reported any seasonal or construction warnings.

My first view of Notre-Dame Cathedral revealed scaffolding around one of the towers. This ruled out the main facade of the church.  And at the Louvre, the length of the summer day eliminated my dream of a nighttime shot of the I. M. Pei designed pyramid. I had the opportunity to meet and photograph the architect and admired him both as a person and an artist. My heart was set on going to the Louvre in the evening to see the glowing pyramid inside the triangle shaped reflecting pools.

To my great disappointment, I discovered that the pools had been drained for some maintenance issue. I never did understand why. Although I found it possible to navigate the city and feed myself with a limited English/French pidgin language skills  - a greater understand wes required to discover  when the pools would once again reflect the pyramid.

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The joy of the Louvre pyramid before discovering that it would not be lit at night

My other lighting mystery happened with another visual treat of Paris – the Art Nouveau styled Metropolitan (subway) stations. I had my eye on the vine shaped entry at the Blanche station that almost perfectly framed the Moulin Rouge. When I scouted the shot at 4 p.m., the two flower-shaped lights were glowing like an alien’s eyes. But when I returned at dusk with my tripod, the lights were off. This time though I found a way to make the lights work. More about this later…

Embracing change and being flexible, is all part of traveling to a new land. But a little planning also comes in handy. I start with travel guidebooks.

For visual scouting I used the DK Eyewitness Paris Guide. The book is full of photos that help me plot the highlights and serve as a competitive challenge. My favorite planning book and constant traveling companion was the Rick Steves’ Paris travel guide. The DK book has small bits of information about every highlight in the city, while Steves tells you in detail the best places to visit and how to get the most out of your vacation. Steves also has some wonderful, free audio guides for your trip as well.

My first trip to Paris had a dual agenda. Be a tourist, and take great photos that would pay for the trip. Soon it became apparent that these goals were synergistic. What I wanted to see as a tourist were the same places that most people wanted to see as well. I could be my own one-man market research survey.

The game is to go the same spots that everyone else has covered and find a fresh – and ideally better way to shoot the location. This sounds easier in theory than practice. My first response is usually ”this looks like a postcard.” That’s a bad thing since most postcards are uninspiring. The trick is to go the spot and hope that your eye naturally does a better job of arranging the pieces than those that came before. And if inspiration doesn’t show up right away, you push yourself to find a new viewpoint. Fortunately, I’m quite good at discovering new views of “the most photographed places“.

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Placing the Invalides dome in just the right location required balancing on the 16-inch ledge of the Pont Alexandre III and waiting for a tour boat spotlights to illuminate the bridge details

In Paris this could mean finding the best lampposts on the best bridge over the Seine and for once getting the lucky break of finding a construction zone that allows you to safely stand in the middle of the street. Or discovering that the best view of the Invalides Dome involves standing on a 16 inch ledge of that same bridge to get the view that you think hasn’t been shot before. The four-story fall down to the river made me question the sanity of this pursuit. But I balanced there for 45 minutes anyway.

Other shots require standing in the middle of the street without the safety of construction barriers. I had seen a photo of a line of waiting taxis on the Champs Elysées near the Arc dé Triumph. I was tired after my ledge-balancing act, but it was in the neighborhood so I wanted to take a look.

My first shots were bad copies of a postcard photo, but as I continued to try different angles, the line of cabs became longer. They were now forced to double-park into the second lane of traffic. This was the break I needed. I was able to move out from the curb and stand in front of the second lane of taxis. This allowed me to get a Taxi Parisien sign right besides the Arc dé Triumph.

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Double-parked taxis on the Champs Elysées were the ticket

What allowed me to see what others have not? Was the line of taxis not as long for other photographers, or was I just crazy enough to stand in front of the taxis? It’s hard to tell. What’s clear is even when you think it has all been shot before, it is possible to fight through the fatigue to make a classic shot of a familiar landmark.

I’m constantly amazed at the successful export of what I call the “Japanese Tourist Photo” (JTP). The classic version is the husband taking a snapshot of his wife or family in front of anything that resembles a landmark. Point and shoot cameras are perfectly designed (and in my opinion – only good) for this “I was here” memento. Now that most travelers have digital and cell phones cameras the JTP is even more popular. Often people seem to be more interested in seeing photo of themselves in front Eiffel Tower than they are in viewing the tower itself.

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Look at me. I saw these Monets

The most bizarre variation of this can be found at art museums. Monet’s water lilies and a self-portrait of Van Gough were not works of art to be admired and contemplated. They are now just one more background location for the mug-shot book.

I’m personally appalled by the affront to the dignity of the museum and artist, and at the same time utterly fascinated by the act. The documentary photographer in me doesn’t judge the morals he just yearns to record the act.  I understand that this only doubles the insult, but it can make an interesting picture.

The challenge to my values came when a family friend asked me to do a JTP of her with her son in front of the Mona Lisa. Should I break out my lecture that I just don’t do that kind of photo, or snap and move on? I decided I was on vacation and snapped.

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Family friends in front of the Mona Lisa after I took their JTP

A bigger question that a travel photography in the digital age has to ask is – how much manipulation can I do, and how much am I willing to do? The street artists selling their wares along the Seine all move the Parisian landmarks around to fit their composition needs. Standing on what would be the spot that Maurice Utrillo painted his famous view of the Sacré-Cœur through Montmartre area shops reveiled that he moved the church’s dome over to the right. If painters can move landmarks around to meet his compositional needs, is it fair for me to do the same?

Removing a street-sign or a stray lamppost is now just part of my workflow. It allows me to have some more flexibility in my compositions. I can now move a little more to the right and have less distortion on the Eiffel Tower less if I clean up the tree branch later. With two photos in Paris I did a little more retouching than usual.

The moon below, next to the Pont Alexandre III streetlamp has been added to the photo. I have never done a similar moonrise trick before. I have seen and laughed at fake, overly large moon insertions before, and never imagined myself doing such manipulation. Yet, just ten minutes before, the moon was in that location. Should I be penalized because it took so long for the street lights to come on? I decided that it was fair to shoot the moon and insert it later.

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Pont Alexandre III lamppost view that was available from my favorite construction zone

How far photographers go with this trend is a matter of taste, morals and skill. My retouching skills are limited, but I knew enough to shoot all of the pieces that were needed to blend together an idealized illustration of how the Moulin Rouge could look through the Metropolitain arch.

After returning, I teamed up with my Photoshop artist friend Dennis Dunbar. He works in the fantasy world of creating movie posters and had the talent to blend multiple images together for a photo-realistic-impression of the landmark. I suspect that most people will just assume that I just used a special lens, until another serious photographer attempts to find the spot and discovers that I have moved the Metro sign. (A more detailed story of the composition is available in a previous post.)

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The Art Nouveau Metro entrance was in the wrong place - so I moved it

Coming to Paris for the first time allows me to see the iconic details of the city that become familiar to the locals. Two elements that fascinated me were the sidewalk cafes and the cobblestone streets. Since most of my images only require a little digital darkroom work, I’m normally most excited at the time of capture. It’s rare when an image grows on me later. But I had two exceptions to the rule.

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After five frames I gave up. It was only after seeing others photos of Parisian cafes did I appreciate what I captured

These backlit red wicker chairs and tables was my first surprise. This photo should have been easy to find. There were great cafés on seemingly every corner, and in August when half of the city goes on vacation, restaurants stack their chairs inside their windows in amazing patterns indicating that they were closed. At the time though, I just didn’t feel that I captured the essence of the Parisian way of dining. Only after I looked at what others had done with the subject did I appreciate what was achieved.

This cobblestone street initially disappointed me as well. In my mind I wanted someone carrying a baguette across the street. I waited at my favorite corner as the Montmartre locals walked by and stalked patrons at my corner bakery to no avail. Fortunately the pigeon caught my eye as I was waiting for my bread.

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I was thinking cobblestones and baguette before the pigeon took me on a flight of gray

Both of these grew on me during the processing of the files and after comparing them to other currently available images of the subject matter. They are now my quiet favorites from the trip. Letting go of my expectations allowed me to accept these images – and looking back I can see how this is the secret to traveling to a new country.

Giving up expecting that the French should speak English, and accepting that there will be construction are both good starts. And if your plans don’t work out, it’s always possible to shoot somewhere else – or use one of those café chairs to sit down and have a glass of wine.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Apr 14 2011

San Francisco and Taxes

Update: Nobody likes to pay taxes, but preparing can be more fun. How you make the chore more fun?

For historical reasons our tax guy is located in San Francisco and this often involves taking a trip up to my favorite US city to meet with David Zuckerman in person.

The weather was glorious yesterday and is even warmer today. I always say that when Global Warming comes I want to move to San Francisco. The city is a smaller, cleaner more friendly version of New York City. They normally have the disadvantage of being too cold much of the year, and if you don’t count an increase in sea level, warmer versions of both cities would be grand.

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Our sunrise view over the San Francisco Bay from the Hotel Griffin room

After flying up and having a wonderful dinner at Boulevard we got down to the business of finishing our taxes.

The number crunching continued in the morning after viewing a beautiful sunrise over the San Francisco Bay in our Hotel Griffin room.

There was even some time to enjoy the waterfront and have an oyster lunch at Hog Island Oyster bar in the Ferry Building before heading over to David’s Embarcadero office to crunch numbers, and even more numbers.

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David's adding machine tape collection

David enjoys allowing the collection of his adding machine tape to simply pile up on the floor to form a three dimensional sculpture.

By creating art from our paper trail and writing this blog post, does this make the trip tax deductible? That’s a question for David.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Apr 11 2011

Personal Hotspot is the Killer App for Verizon iPhone

Published by under iPad,iPhone,Tools,travel

Update: If you want to know more about how the Verizon Personal Hotspot works there is a detailed review posted by Glenn Fleisman on Macworld today.

Another good update from Macworld on the experience of using Gazelle to sell an old iPad.

After another dropped call recently I decided to make the switch to a Verizon iPhone. The phone quality and network are a definite improvement. It passed the Zuma Beach to Malibu PCH stress test last week, a recent Ojai weekend, and it consistently out-performed my wife’s ATT iPhone 4. But the addition of tethering with the personal hotspot feature is the “Killer App”. I can now use it to connect my laptop with a USB cable or a choice of Bluetooth or wifi, plus can get a web connection on my iPad with Bluetooth or wi-fi. The option of surfing on the go is great, although you can’t talk and surf at the same time. (See iPad post.)

I recently turned on my iPad’s 3G connection during a power outage in Washington DC and used it in a meeting where the wi-fi network was closed. For me, it’s a great bridge for those times in-between wi-fi connections. I don’t need a heavy use plan – just a way to check email and light web surfing – I had the $14.99 a month plan for 250 MB of data on the iPad and just signed up for the 2 GB, $20 a month plan on Verizon. The advantage is that I can connect multiple devices – most importantly my laptop.

tethering Personal Hotspot is the Killer App for Verizon iPhone

I can now connect my iPhone to a laptop or iPad – and talk on the phone!

After having a public email for years I get tons of spam and while most of it is filtered by my host at least 50 emails a day still make it through. My laptop Mail program filters out much of the other spam, but they all come through on my iPhone and iPad. I’m also a beta tester for my frequent flying wife. She has a 3G USB modem that she uses often while traveling and in her East LA office with bad internet service. In a test today the iPhone connection was equal to the 3G modem. Verizon has a 4G modem on the market, but it is only for Windows now, which means its not available.  The modem costs $60 a month and she has her 3G feature activated on her iPad as well. With the hotspot feature she could be saving $54 a month.

I finally made the deal to sell my 4G ATT iPhone through Craigslist. The process is a big pain, but I thought that I could get more for the phone than the easy approach of using Gazelle.com or some other online service. All of my potential buyers were pros that knew the market and bargained hard. Expect plenty of questions and close stares at every scratch. I even had one no-show and the second guy rescheduled. The next time I will be using Gazelle to sell my electronics instead.

In the end the difference was $150 with my early termination penalty from ATT. But I now have a real phone again and the hotspot could help pay for the difference over time.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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@MarkHarmel

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Mar 28 2011

Charlie Kimball’s Big Move to IndyCar

Published by under diabetes,healthcare,travel,worklife

Yesterday was the IndyCar series opener in St. Petersburg, Florida and the first race that Charlie KImball ran in the big league series.  I’ve written before about him developing type 1 diabetes while he was racing in Europe and how my wife worked with him to manage his diabetes in the race car well enough to combine with his talent to drive into the premier US open-wheel auto racing series. The race was won by Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti.

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Charlie squeezing into his seat before the race

Having safely driven through a crash-fill start today Charlie worked up to 11th place before he had an unplanned connection with the turn three wall after a pit stop. The Indy Light series, where he raced the prior two years doesn’t have pit stops, and the high-speed action of changing tires and refueling was one of the many new challenges in this race. He learned the hard way today how much he can push the car with the mixture of cold tires, a full tank of fuel and racing adrenaline.

The race was run on a mix of city streets and an airport runway at a track familiar to Charlie from his Indy Lights experience. That series served as a great training ground for his move into IndyCars. There is a list of important changes that Charlie needs to master, but the race environment is very familiar.

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Pre-race fist bump with proud racing engineer father Gordon Kimball

One constant is the trackside presence of his father Gordon who serves as Charlie’s low-key manager while maintaining an active motorsport engineering and avocado-farming career. Charlie’s mother and girlfriend often join them at the track as well.

This was my first time at the St. Petersburg race, but the street course track felt familiar to the Long Beach race last year. Unlike the transition from minor league baseball to the pros where there are different stadium sizes and crowds, the Indy lights and IndyCars series are run on the same tracks on the same days.

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Charlie talking in his pit control center after qualifying

In many ways this felt like Charlie’s third year in the greater IndyCar series instead of being a rookie a new racing world.  The encouraging part about the day was how well he performed while on the racetrack. He stayed out of early trouble as other drivers took themselves out through crashes plus he made on-track passes.

The rookie mistakes, like the one he made today will pass and he will progress to finishing races and being a competitive force while being an ambassador for diabetes.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Mar 23 2011

Don’t Steal My Photo & Then Ask for My Help

Published by under teaching,Tools,travel

Yesterday I received a call from a person that builds websites. (I’ve seen an example of his work and don’t want to call him a designer out of respect to my normal talented clients.) He “found my photo on Google” of a wonderful Sherlock Holmes tile mural that decorates the Baker Street station in the London Underground – used it without permission and got caught.

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Knowing that this was a copyrighted photo was not a case for Sherlock Holmes

This photo is part of a collection that is represented by Getty Images, that normally means that they license the photo out for various media uses and I get a portion of the license fee. In this case it also involves a Getty team that patrols the web looking for copyright infringement and makes people pay for their theft.

My caller’s unauthorized use was discovered and a bill with a hefty penalty fee was presented. He contacted me directly wondering if I would take pity on him because he normally licenses images legally “all the time” and didn’t have the money. Fortunately the negotiation was completely in the hands of the Getty legal team, but I also didn’t have much sympathy for him. He admitted to knowing the system and took a chance.

Part of me wants to go Baretta on him and tell him “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. “ But more interesting to a general audience and other bloggers could be to talk about ways to identify a photo with copyright protection that requires a license, or permission to use.

GoogleSearch Don’t Steal My Photo & Then Ask for My Help

Look for the two clues in this search result

Assuming that my caller really did find the image doing a Google search, here are the results he would have seen. Holmes would have spotted two clues in the results. First you can see that it was pulled from the Getty Images website and you can read their logo in the upper left corner. This sort of branding protection is known as a watermark and is easier to see in the expanded version before you land on the Getty page displaying the photo.

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An enlarged Getty Images watermark

The other clue you can look for in Photoshop and other programs that display the metadata information. Here you can see my contact information and a notice that the photo has been copyrighted, and at the top you can also see the little © symbol in front of the photo number. I submit all of my photos to the U.S. Copyright office to be registered which substantially increases my protection if it’s used without permission, the penalties can be much greater than the fee Getty was asking from my caller.

I apply my contact and copyright information to all my photos with both information loaded into my camera and later more details are added with an action I created and apply in Photoshop. The description and keyword information is added when the photo goes to a stock outlet.

Metadata1 Don’t Steal My Photo & Then Ask for My Help

Metadata is added by my camera and a Photoshop action

But there is a problem with posting photos on some websites, including Facebook where this metadata is stripped out and the file name is changed when the image is uploaded. That doesn’t mean that photos I upload to Facebook are available for anyone to use. The image still retains my full copyright protection, but as a user you can’t know whether the photo can be legally licensed or not.

I’m a big supporter of content creators being paid, so I’m not a fan or free or cheap photo sites, but there are photo hobbyists that are willing to share their photos on Flickr and other places for use in blogs. The proper etiquette is to always ask for permission before using the photo.

The strategy of stealing photos off the web and asking for forgiveness later could put a dent in your checkbook or land you in court. Properly license the photo or ask for permission. As Sherlock Holmes would say “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”

P.S., Before you write – I know that the Holmes quote is not accurate.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Mar 10 2011

Sea the Sky

Published by under travel,visual concepts

Now that I’ve been living in California where mountains are common sights, returning to Florida after over 20 years made me to appreciate how the storm clouds add height to the flat landscape.

After a trip to Key West I made a journey to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo where I ventured out on their glass-bottom boat tour of the reef. Returning to the dock we were greeted by a massive localized rainstorm that is common in the state. In Los Angeles we get these big storm fronts that create flat grey skies almost a day before the rain, but in Florida its common to be in the sun and see sheets of rain falling on the horizon.

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Diptych of the sea and sky returning to Key Largo

This diptych shows the flatness of the Atlantic and the height of the clouds. (Note the white sailboat in each half.) My former tennis buddy Eames Yates would always comment on the height of the Florida clouds. I needed to be away for a while to appreciate them now. I hope you do as well.

What do you appreciate about Florida?

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

On Twitter:

@HarmelPhoto

@MarkHarmel

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3 responses so far

Jan 18 2011

Happy 80th Birthday Jay

In the photography world the name Jay is synonymous the legendary photographer Jay Maisel.

He’s influenced generations of photographers and my turn came in 2003 right at the time that serious digital cameras entered the market. He was in Los Angeles to give one of his inspiring presentations and his photos of course impressed me, yet at the same time I was confused.

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Jay Maisel making a gesture about color and light

Many of the shots were taken for clients, but some of the best had no reason to be shot – except for the simple fact that they were great pictures. It was at that moment that I realized that I had witness similar scenes before, but I was self-censoring myself into only taking pictures that I thought could sell.

I lamented all the photos I’d been missing and at the same time recognized the economic equation had just changed.  Instead of buying what is now a relatively cheap camera and spending thousands of dollars a year in film. I had just purchased a $7,000 digital camera where the film was “free”.

I was inspired to catch up for years of lost images and discovered that Jay was teaching a class at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops the following week. I packed my bags and was on my way.

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I couldn't make out of the driveway without being stopped in my tracks

The class was inspiring for the extended viewing of Jay’s work and to witness how his critiques of student’s work were all teaching moments instead an opportunity to pass judgment. I began to see differently. There were days that I couldn’t get out of the driveway without being stopped in my tracks by amazing light hitting the purple flowers of a sage plant.

The week went by in a blur. We shot, edited, talked and shot some more – and somehow the universe bent light differently so that interesting photos were all around. Even the weather cooperated to make great photos, as I was lucky enough to get caught in a dust storm on my drive home.

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Even the weather changed to inspire me to shoot

You can find evidence of Jay’s influence by exploring my Visual Concepts category. That is really just a fancy way of saying these are photos that are a cheap imitation of anything that Jay Maisel could shoot on his 80th birthday or any day and a tribute to his influence.  May you have another 80 years of producing great work.

I found a wonderful video made by The Big Picture in 2008 on Ed Broberg’s blog tribute. It’s a great introduction or reminder of the genius of the man.

Be sure to visit Jay’s blog to read more tributes to Jay’s birthday.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Dec 19 2010

There’s Snow in Them Thar Hills

Living in Los Angeles saves me from shoveling snow and scraping ice off my car windshield as was required in my native Detroit, but when it comes to making a Holiday card I embrace the beauty of snow and head for the hills. In Southern California this means keeping an eye out for the magical mix of a rain front with temperature levels that will produce snow at the higher elevations. In flatter regions of the state the forecast may simply be about the chance of rain, but for the mountain areas it also includes a snow level prediction – the elevation where the rain transforms into snow. Getting these photos requires heading to a beautiful location with the right elevation, but success is not assured.

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Sequoia trees provided a contrast of red bark against white snow

A November weather front created an opportunity to shoot this year’s card at a snow level in the 6,000-foot range. This meant looking on the map and finding the right spot. A contender was Sequoia National Park – it was close, in the target altitude and provided a great opportunity to shoot the red bark of sequoia trees against freshly delivered white snow. The timing required the perfect Goldilocks formula of not too hot and not too cold. A frigid temperature closes the road into the park by generating too much snow and higher mercury levels would only give me wet trees to shoot. An accurate weather forecast and perfect timing this year rewarded me with a fresh blanket of snow and I made it in and out of the park in one try.

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The sun retuned to Joshua Tree on the second day

I was less fortunate with my Joshua Tree photo from last year which required two attempts to reach the park. I was 20 cars away from getting into the 4,000-foot high desert last year before the Highway Patrol closed the road. These excursions require preparing for an overnight stay in the area, and after a good night’s sleep I was rewarded with open roads and bright sunshine the next day. (You can read more on this story and see a video version of the “Living Joshua Tree” in last year’s blog post.) Besides having the opportunity to take great photos, the other advantage of visiting parks on the edge of snowstorms is experiencing the sites without a crowd. The solitude of the normally packed Grants Grove in Sequoia was broken only by a herd of deer and I had Joshua Tree to myself untill the snow plow came through to let out trapped campers. During this slow Holiday season I’ll continue to look to the sky – not for Santa and his reindeer – but for a weather report that has the right mix of rain and temperature that would provide an opportunity to head for the hills to create next year’s card. For snow photos in the lower elevations of New York’s Central Park, view the saffron Gates series by Christo and Jeanne-Claude against fresh snow.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Dec 17 2010

The Insulin Powered Indy Car

UPDATE: Charlie Kimball signed with championship winning IndyCar team Chip Ganassi Racing. “Charlie Kimball orchestrated one of the biggest rookie IndyCar driver signings in recent history”, says Speed’s Marshall Pruett.

There are those that say that the reason fans watch car races is to see the crashes. I was always more interested in the racing – and now that I know a driver I certainly didn’t like to see Charlie Kimball upside down on the track like he was at Chicagoland Speedway last week.

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This was a crash I didn’t want to see

Fortunately the cars are built with a strong driver’s cockpit and Charlie walked away with only memories of a “wild ride down the backstretch” and some soreness. (You can see the wild ride just before the 3 minute mark.)

A better memory is watching Charlie celebrate his second place finish in Sonoma the previous week.  It was an exciting race, one that we thought could have been his first Indy Lights victory.

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Better to see Charlie Kimball celebrating his second place finish than upside down

The Sonoma track is a wonderful winding road course with elevation changes that I was able to experience first hand in a pace car ride piloted by Charlie where he alternated between rocketing through the turns and turning his head to chat with passengers in the back seat. We knew we were in for a ride as we entered the car and Charlie told us not to worry about the odd burnt brake smell emanating from the Honda Accord.

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Charlie with his full attention on the racetrack

This pace car ride was only part of a dream weekend in Sonoma that started with dinner at the Andretti winery. We sat one table over from the owner, legendary driver Mario Andretti as well as having the opportunity to chat with team owner Michael Andretti. An added bonus was the front row seat to the introduction of all the Andretti Autosport drivers that include Michael’s son Marco, Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie’s Indy Lights teammate Martin Plowman.

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One of the few times my wife wasn’t grabbing Charlie’s continuous glucose monitor

I got this combination up close and back-stage view to world of racing when my wife Anne Peters became Charlie’s diabetes doctor (more of the back story in a previous post). This opened up the winery dinner, pace-car ride, plus viewing the races from a mix of the hillside Andretti team hospitality compound and down in the pits. A bonus is socializing with the Kimball family, team sponsors and getting special tours explaining the similarities and differences of the Indy Lights and Indy cars by team mechanics.

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Charlie Kimball is a spokesman for diabetes on and off the track

Amazingly much of this is possible because of Charlie developing type 1 diabetes three years ago. He is now a leading inspirational athlete that speaks at a number of diabetes events about how he controls his blood sugar during the race and generates press attention as the series travels from racing circuits across the country.

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The final good luck fist-bump before qualifying

In the end, once the novelty of a driver with type 1 diabetes wears off what will matter is how well Charlie does on the track. He is currently 3rd in the driver’s standings and is gunning to move up to a major-league Indy team next year.

Charlie finished 6th in Kentucky on Saturday and the final race is in Homestead, Fl on Oct. 2nd. The Indy Lights qualifying and races can be viewed on-line at http://www.indycar.com/fil/.

I know that I’m enjoying the ride.

To see how Charlie manages his diabetes you can watch this WGN report that was produced at the Chicago race that shows where he stows his glucose increasing orange juice and how his continuous glucose monitor works.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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