Monday, April 23, 2012

Interesting Sounds.....

This was quite an interesting morning.  It was a short shoot because I was scheduled to run a race later in the morning.  It was my first competitive race and I was happy with my finish.  This is back at
Arbor Hills Nature Preserve again.  My main focus was going to be the lake and then anything else I had time for before I had to leave.

One thing I have found about these shoots is the sounds of the morning when no one is around.

There were a lot of sounds as I was walking through the park to the pond.  Birds chirping, the wind rustling the grass, the creek flowing underneath the bridge.  As I got to the pond, I heard bullfrogs, which I had never heard in person before.  With a nice and clear sky, everything was set for a great shoot.

As I came up on the pond, I looked around just to make sure I didn't potentially come up on a bobcat taking a morning drink.  That would have made for a bad start to the day.  So, the coast was clear, I set up and started shooting.  That's when things started getting weird.  I heard a splash, which I think was a bullfrog jumping in the water because that sound stopped.  However, that early in the morning, it was quite a startling sound.  lol   So, more shutter clicks and SPLASH!!!  I about jumped out of my skin.  I thought that a tree branch had fallen in the water... until that "branch" started swimming.  As I was standing there watching it, SPLASH!!!  another "tree branch" started swimming.  

I stood there watching trying to figure out what I was looking at.  Unfortunately, it was still pretty dark at this time, so I couldn't really focus on the objects.  All I know is that as they were swimming, they were displacing a lot of water.  Not a lot was poking above the water and I kept hearing large splashes that I couldn't see.  It was quite interesting and a bit unnerving since it was still so dark.  I decided that discretion is the better park of valor, so since I didn't know what I was looking at, I had better get out of there.

So the rest of my morning I walked around to see what was what and I came across these two pictures.

 Here is my tree stump again.  This time in color and in HDR.  I really like this shot.  I will probably take this picture every time I come to this park.
This little guy hung around and let me take lots of pictures of him.  I was even able to slowly move in with my tripod to get even closer.  I'm guessing he gets fed from time to time.

So, as I didn't get as much morning time out here as I would have liked, I plan to go back out there next Sunday.  It will be my first revisit to a site, but there is still more of the park for me to explore and my curiosity about that pond is still pulling at me.

Until next time...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's a Black and White World....  We're Just Shades of Gray

I had to work for a few hours today.  It was a beautiful day and even though I had laundry to do, I couldn't stay inside all day and not take pictures.  Therefore, my wife and I went out to Arbor Hills Nature Preserve off of Parker Rd and the North Dallas Tollway.  This is an incredible park!  It's a 2.3 mile track, wooded areas, meadows, a creek, a pond, etc.  Everything a photographer could dream of.  In addition, like at the zoo, you are constantly going in and out of shadows, so the challenge of constantly adjusting settings is right there.

So, the title of today's post is kind of cheesy, but it works in well with what I was doing today.  I do not like to shoot in black and white, because I can always convert color to black and white.  However today, I thought, what the heck?  I shot all day in black and white.  I have to say, I do like the results.  I will continue to shoot in color, but it was a nice change of pace.

 I liked this bramble branch laying on the ground.  It was a nice brown set against the green grass and the blue sky.
 This pond was very photogenic in black and white.  I'm not sure how it would look in color, because the water was very stagnant.
 There were A LOT of butterflies flying around and this one wanted to land and show off for me.  I got a number of good pictures of it.
I found this fallen and hollowed out log and got down low to photograph it.  I really like the way it came out.

That is is for today.  I am heading back out there tomorrow morning for my sunrise shoot.  I am going out there with my tripod and there are a couple of places I plan to shoot from that are going to involve a little athleticism.  Wish me luck.

Until next time...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

End of the Vacation Posts

This is going to be the last of my vacation posts.  These visits landed me at Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal, MO, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (The Gateway Arch) and the St. Louis Zoo.

From what I read in my research, the St. Louis Zoo is one of the top 5 zoos in the country.  Although we did not get to spend as much time here as we wanted to, I really enjoyed the time we did spend.  We entered through the south entrance.  This elephant is one of about a dozen statues that lead you to the zoo entrance.  This was shot as we were leaving.  The sun was setting and created back lighting for this HDR shot.

This picture of the grizzly bear illustrates what I love about shooting at zoos.  You are constantly moving from sun to shadow, so you constantly have to adjust your camera settings.  This makes it challenging and rewarding at the end.

I've never been this close to a grizzly bear before.  Look at those claws!

 My wife is a huge fan of penguins and this was the best penguin house I have been to.  I was lucky enough to catch this guy hopping out of the water for some food.  The waterfall is in the elephant enclosure.

We visited Tom Sawyer's white washing fence in Hannibal, MO at Mark Twain's boyhood home.  This trip brought back memories from when I read this book in school.  The sky was very overcast so the sun wasn't a factor, plus the temperature was in the 50's, so it was nice and cool walking up and down the street.

There is a lot of information relating to Mark Twain's life in all the buildings:  His house, Huck Finn's house, Becky Thatcher's House, etc.

To the left is inside the house.  The rooms had statues of Mark in the rooms.  The first time seeing the statue was unnerving because I thought that someone was actually in the room.  To the right is one of Twain's signature white suits.  Also in the case is the gown he wore when he received his honorary degree from Oxford University.

Our last spot was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as the Gateway Arch.  This is an iconic structure that I have always wanted to visit.  Once again, this is a must visit place in the United States.  The top is 630 feet and offers amazing views of the city.  To get to the top, you ride in a small car that holds 5 people.  It is quite an experience that should not be missed.  On the day that we went, it was bright and sunny.  I found myself ducking behind trees and the monument itself to block the sun.  The nice part of the sun however, is that it requires a fast shutter speed which virtually eliminates blurring.

What I thought was cool about the monument is that there is a small museum inside the base to help you pass time while you are waiting for your turn to go to the top.  This is an example of an Indian Peace Medal that was given by presidents to indian leaders to help facilitate peaceful expansion of settlers west.  I have heard of these, but this was my first time seeing one in person.

To the left is a shot of the arch as my sun blocker.  To the right is Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals from the top of the arch.  Magnificent view from there.

That is it for the vacation pictures.  I will be getting back to my normal shooting around town.

Until next time...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Land of Lincoln

Part of our vacation took us to Springfield, IL to visit the land of President Abraham Lincoln.  I was very excited about this part of our road trip.  I am a big fan of Lincoln and that era of our country's history.  

Our first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential museum.  Here, there were a lot of artifacts relating to his presidency and his family life.  It is a large place and you could easily spend a day there just looking around and soaking in history.

The museum had a great layout.  It centered around a huge rotunda with the Lincoln Family as wax sculptures.  In the background you see the front of the White House.  To the left is a replica of the log cabin that Lincoln grew up in.  To the right was another opening.  Inside each was a treasure trove of information about our 16th president.

Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside, so there are not a lot of pictures of this museum.

Our next stop took us to President Lincoln's home.  This is the only home that he owned; right before he left for the White House.  The house is run by the National Park Service and is free to tour.  You just need to pick up a ticket from the visitor's center to join a tour.  Free is a pretty good price.  This is truly a fantastic experience.  Here, you have the opportunity to walk around where one of the greatest men in history lived and worked.  You are encouraged to hold the hand rail as you walk upstairs.  You truly have the opportunity to hold history in your hand.

To the left is President Lincoln's house as it looked when he left it in 1860.  To the right is Lincoln's sitting room where he accepted the Republican party's nomination.

Just down the street from the Lincoln museum, you find the law office where President Lincoln worked and the old courthouse where he argued many law cases.  Mr. Lincoln also delivered his famous "A House Divided" speech.

Our last stop took us to Oak Ridge Cemetery where along with many Civil War veterans is buried President Abraham Lincoln.  Unfortunately, the tours inside the tomb ended before we arrived, so we did not get to go in to see  his final resting place.  However, the outside is very ornate and very well done.  This is another place that is well worth the visit.

Our visit to the Land of Lincoln was very moving and a beautiful experience.  Of all the places I have been to visit, I recommend this above all others.  I have always been a huge fan of history and this ranks among some of our country's greatest history.

Until next time...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

St. Louis Sunrise

This Sunday's sunrise came courtesy of Nature Park in St. Louis, MO.  I have to say that this is the most amazing place I have shot so far.  It's a huge park that kind of forms the center of things to do in St. Louis.  From the park, you can walk to the St. Louis Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, a number of ball fields, war memorials, etc., etc. and I do mean, etc.  This was the location of the 1904 Worlds Fair and where I shot was just a fraction of the size of the park.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the time that it would take to get from my hotel to the park, so I missed the beautiful color that was in the sky.  No matter though; I made the most of the beauty of the park.  One shooting issue that I ran into was that the sun was extremely harsh that morning.  I found myself using trees to block the sun, or turning away from the sun to avoid flares on my lens.  I found that turning away from the sun added a nice lighting direction that I have never used before.  I will definitely try it some more.

Here are some of my favorites from that morning.  The rest you can check out on my facebook page:

I look forward to visiting St. Louis again so I can explore more of this park.  Stay tuned for pictures from more of my trip to St. Louis and beyond.

Until next time...

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Great American Road Trip

Much like Chevy Chase loading his family in the station wagon, my wife and I are off on a road trip of our own.  I have to say.  Anyone who does not like the idea of a cross country road trip is off their rocker....
...and if your rocker is this big, there's no hope for you.  lol

We went off to Missouri and our path took us along the "Mother Road", Historic Route 66.  Along the way, we stopped at a Civil War battle site.  Wilson's Creek just outside of Springfield, MO.  Today, we went to The Arch, the St. Louis Zoo and Forest Park.

Forest Park
Wilson's Creek Battle Site

St. Louis Zoo

The Arch
 This is going to be a short post since I should have been asleep an hour and a half ago.  Tomorrow, we're headed to Hannibal, MO to see Mark Twain's (Samuel Clemens) boyhood home, then over to Springfield, IL, the Land of Lincoln.

When I get back home, I'll get more into the photographic aspects of the road trip.  I hope you enjoy the forth coming previews.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lions and Tigers and...... SERVALS?

This morning, I decided to go to a big cat sanctuary called In Sync Exotics in Wylie, TX.  A friend of mine volunteers here and really enjoys it.  

This is the second time I have been here and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys lions and tigers.  All of the animals here have been rescued from horrible situations and nursed back to the health they deserve.
I got lucky today.  The last time I was here, this guy was laying down on an elevated walkway out of view.  Today, I got a clear view.

In Sync is open for self guided tours Saturdays and Sundays from 11 - 6 and for $10 for adults, it is a great value.  You are much closer to the animals than you would be if you were to see them at a zoo and up this close, you can see what beautiful creatures these are.

As you walk around, you can tell how much the people who work and volunteer here care about these cats.  All the cats are referred to by name.  The cages are decorated, cleaned and well stocked with things for the cats to play with.  There is no doubt that they are in a much better situation than the ones they came from.

The hard part photographically, is that you have to shoot through two fences.  Granted, for safety, you definitely appreciate the second fence.  However, it is very hard to get a shot without the cats being blocked by fencing.  Other than that, this is a great place.  You can get more information by checking out their website at  So go out and visit Smuggler, Gypsy, Stryker and all the other cats at In Sync Exotics.

Saturday, April 7th, they are holding an Easter Egg Hunt.  Here is your opponent.....

You can check out more pictures of the cats on my Facebook page at

Until next time...