The Elves of Iceland

They don’t always like being called Elves, some of them consider themselves Fairies. The Elves do not like to be compared to Santa’s Elves, because they are not.

The Elven Family Frozen in Form, Protecting the Lava Fields.

The Elven Family Frozen in Form, Protecting the Lava Fields.

They have been here in Iceland for many centuries, arriving long ago to protect the ancient lava fields from being destroyed or exploited by modern society.

They love the Icelandic people and are here to protect them and their way of life.

The Most Magical Moment

Sometimes, on unusual days like today, the waterfall betrays their invisible form, showing those who are looking closely, just how they look. They find it funny, that their frozen form can be seen by some humans.

Icelandic Fairies-2Look closely, you can see them all just enjoying life. There’s the Grande Elve himself, standing alone, to the right of his daughter and her husband.

In the top photo above, you can see the Elven priest blessing a new transformation to Evelenship, with his icy fingers on his head. There are others waiting to their blessings too.

There are children sleeping and the old master playing chess with a new Elve in the lower right hand of the above photo. They have a wonderful life, enjoying the world they get to protect and they take their work very seriously.

In this rare moment captured in ice majesty, they are just happy to live their lives completely undetected by most men and animals. Just don’t piss them off by destroying their fields or their churches, that’s not good for anyone to do.

To read more about the Fairies and Elves of Iceland, read this:

Not all Icicles are Fairies or Elves, some are just Ice.

But to the trained eye of those who believe and love to dream about Elves, Fairies and other beings who we co-exist in this beautiful realm with, together, peacefully then sometimes they can show us all what lies just below the surface of this magical world.

Icelandic Fairies-3

Next time you come to Iceland, look carefully and see if you notice them watching us. Most ignore us, but some are playful and enjoy dropping elvish hints to lead us all to the way of The Elves. Take a closer look next time you are here, can you see them too?

 

It’s Not About Me.

It’s not about me, I know that.

The world doesn’t know I exist, nature doesn’t care if I am cold. No, Nature is being nature and weather is too. It reminds me of the fragility of the physical being.

Farm House-3How much damage can happen from just Mother Nature being herself? Quite a bit if you are not prepared.  And today, in the western part of Iceland, we had… Weather.

It was harsh, like freight train harsh, bearing down on us as we drove 10-year-old rental Jeep through the ice covered blacktops, single lane highways and one lane bridges. And for what?

Silo B&WBecause there’s something to see, something beautiful, something different, something that wakes up a dormant but passionate part of me so I get to see myself from a different perspective. One that I love.

 

boat SideSo that’s why I do it. Because it’s the only way I know how to awake my strongest desire; To Create.

A Day at the Beach

Vik-2Everyone Loves the Beach.

What’s not to love? The sand, the ocean, the sky, the… gale force winds, the 3 degree wind factor. Really. How can you go wrong? Darn, I forgot my bathing suit. Seriously though, I really would rather be here than almost any other. I have been visiting Iceland and this very beach for the last 6 years or so, it’s always different, magical and mysterious.

A Magnet Pull

For some strange reason, this ocean seems to be a magnet for cameras. Over the years, many photographers have been tempted, seduced by the holographic 3-dimensional ocean waves, drawing us closer and closer. A false sense of security, take one more step, just a little closer, like I was standing here when I made this image. Then BAM. A monster wave, she sees the camera, she can’t stand not having it in her icy grip, and her grabby, frigid fingers reach out and try to extract it from you, by dragging you further until you… hypnotically step right in. You’re soaked, it’s gone. Next.

That’s what she tried to do today, but I am now a little bit older, a little bit wiser, I know her tricks and her scheme, not me, not today. I get away with hardly a wet sock, still dry and warm, I snicker at her feminine wiles, she just couldn’t have me.

But she smirked with a calm sense of resolution, I could feel it. And then her words, I heard them clear as day. “You’ll be back.”

She’s right. I will.

 

 

 

Iceland in Winter

Reykjavik-9The Dismal City

Every time I go to Iceland in the Winter, we start off in Reykjavik, the largest city in the country. It’s always dreary here, yet there’s a cosmopolitan atmosphere and an amazing array of gourmet restaurants. Yet even with the dollar as strong as it is, the prices are still high. But the flavors; unique and pungent are worth the price and the experience.

This trip no different, winter in Reykjavik, cold, dismal, roaring winds strong enough to lift a small animal. Along with the flash hail storms, the cloudy demeanor, and the piercing rain, there’s still an odd beauty about this place that draws me back.

Who is this? Is this the Icelandic Man raising up from the ancient volcanic mud, or the weary visitor going home.

Who is this? Is this the Icelandic Man raising up from the ancient volcanic mud, or the weary visitor going home.

Jet lag is a way of knowing that I am on an adventure, somewhere far, somewhere uncomfortable and many new images to be found. It’s always a time to think, to consider the life I created the love, companionship, friendship, and work I have waiting for me at home. That’s the first day, it’s just part of the jet lag experience.

Finally, a Good Meal, A Place to Rest

Reykjavik-7It’s not always the scenery that warms the heart of the weary international traveler, it’s sometimes the delightful restaurants where magnificent treats await for slow and appreciated consumption. Tonight we revisited Fish Company in the heart of the city, below the sidewalk in a cave designed to keep the cold and swirling exterior as far away from its guests as possible.

As before, the amazing food was shared with stories of past trips and the people who travel. We laughed, drank (water) and people watched, as did the Icelandic natives who found solace here too, on this cold, dismal evening on a day that will likely be just like tomorrow.

Good night from Reykjavik, sweet dreams to all.

 

 

 

They Only Come Out at Night

Union PacificThey say that nothing is as it appears.

While I never knew who “they” were, I can attest to the validity of that statement. Take this place, for example. One old and dilapidated train car discarded at the end of an abandoned road, in a town that doesn’t exist anymore. To most people, it’s just a wreck.

But to me it’s much more. It’s a few hours of pure joy setting up my camera, imagining how I can make it look amazing and then experiment with flashlights, for example. Now that’s a good time!

And a really good time can be had when there’s even more than one crappy, dilapidated structure for me to explore. This was the case while visiting Rhyolite, NV, located 4 miles west of the town of Beatty, NV on Highway 374. It’s closest to the east entrance to Death Valley.

3 deciplesClearly not a tourist attraction but a magnet for photographers who have been visiting this spot for many years. There are several interesting areas to explore in Rhyolite, the ghosts are a big attraction.

But for me, the best stuff happens at night. It’s one of those areas that can be really dark.

Rhyolite-2At the right time of year, most of the milky way is visible.

When you find something interesting like this abandoned miner’s shack, the sky is usually beautiful enough to enhance everything.

 

The night we were there, several beer-drinking teens in cars with loud radios make the area even more entertaining. They were harmless, but their headlights sometimes made for some interesting lighting situations.

If you are headed to Death Valley, don’t stop during the day, come play at night where the ghosts come out to play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rare Sightings in Obscure Places

Race TrackI’ve been to most places in Death Valley National Park, but there are a few of which I never visited. One of those was the Race Track.

Not available to those without a serious off-road vehicle and two and a half hours out on dirt roads, Michael became obsessed with making the trip.

The park ranger warned that getting stuck might result with having to walk 29 miles in rocks and heat to get help might be our fate.

Undaunted, Michael found a jeep rental place and for a mere $350 for the day, we hired a rock crunching, road eating, brain rattling driving machine and made our way there. As usual, we were just a little late the party. The sun was starting its rapid descent and we were just getting set up.

Disappointed but not defeated, we began walking the Playa looking for the iconic stones which moved seemingly under their own power, a feat even modern science can’t fully explain. We found several, but the sun no longer lit the best stone of all and we were not happy.

Disappointment comes with the photographic territory since there are no guarantees a decent image can be made just because we show up. It’s usually the latter, finding other than what we expected is sometimes better and more exciting than what was originally planned.

The Magic of Darkness

Race Track-2In the case of the sun, a decent facsimile is a good flashlight and a little handiwork: “painting” the artificial beam into the cracked, flat surface. It was fun to experiment with when finally we found a combination of light and dark which felt satisfying. It was never a one-shot experience, we repeated the process about a dozen times until we were sure we weren’t going to improve the last best attempt.

Darkness descended quickly and the sky began to glow a deep blue while a sliver of the moon showed up to help decorate the celestial theater where the performance would soon begin. Now that too was an experience we hadn’t expected as the glow of the Playa and the smoldering fire of sunset began to spread through the sky. WOW. What a show and what an experience as we now repeated the light painting but with an entirely different perspective.

Milky Way at Ubehebee CraterInvigorated by having created some really interesting images we decided to press on and shoot the Milky Way. Using our simulated sun sticks we lit the local waypoint carefully to show it in the foreground under the magnificent sky.

It’s hard to paint light evenly with a hand held flashlight and we tried several times until eventually we discovered that a single pulse of the break lights did a credibly job with little effort.

Now, onward to Ubehebee Crater to shoot the night sky. Upon arriving, we met up with a Las Vegas couple that were avid Astro-Photographers and were extremely helpful getting us set up. It was there I saw the Milky Way in all its grandeur for the very first time. It was there I made my first exposure of the night sky capturing its immense scope. I knew I was hooked all over again on turning my camera upward in the wee hours of the day’s end.

Back to our hotel at about 1:00 am gave us barely time for a long nap before the next sunrise shoot.

This photography stuff is tricky business and requires the voluntary surrender of a good night’s sleep. So when people ask me if I “relaxed” on vacation, I laugh. I generally come home exhausted and in need of 3 days sleep!

Now, you know, that rarely happens!

 

 

 

 

Miles to Go! Lets Start Early

Elephant Rock at Sunrise

Elephant Rock at Sunrise

One of the few actual plans made before arriving in Las Vegas was a morning sunrise in The Valley of Fire en route to Death Valley.

Leaving Las Vegas by 5:30 allowed us to arrive at Elephant Rock just in time to see the sun beginning to peek over the eastern red mountains.  We found our place about 60 feet above the road with Elephant Rock in our viewfinder. We rushed to get into position, as the sun rose rapidly behind her. It wasn’t long before I decided that shooting into the sun might make the type of image I had in mind, not sure if instead it would swamp my sensor and produce nothing resembling a photograph.

I forgot how quickly the sun raced over the shadow-covered earth to bathe her in yellow, golden goodness. And so it did, and we did our best to memorialize the events that day, that morning that undoubtedly will occur every day for a very long time.

Next Stop, Death Valley

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Chasin’ Light

Departure

A loud clap of thunder broke my descent into a deep sleep just 9 hours from my departure. Having planned another excursion into the unknown to capture a fleeting moment, I was hoping to part the momentum of time, long enough to trap a few stray rays of light on their way to eternity.

A leap of faith actually, that some random event will unfold at the exact moment I was to bear witness and record a version for all to see. That’s my journey: that’s my pursuit this late October 2014 Thursday, to accomplish something driven by passion, by vision and by a deep desire to express myself. Inside me something unknown, hidden, visceral, to produce an image that communicates more about me than about the place or event I witness.

I am chasing light, capturing it with my camera and like the notes on a musical staff, I will interpret those to show what I cannot freely express without a camera as my guide. I am going, once again, to photograph.

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The Sony Generation

As a dedicated Canon shooter for the last 25 years and “digitally” since the Digital Rebel was released over 10 years ago, I have loved working with my Canon equipment. Every time a new upgrade is released, I can’t help but get it.

The last major purchase for me was the Canon 5d MkIII and it’s been an incredible camera, powerful, well designed and completely customized now, finally… to my needs. Yet, as the years roll forward, everything seems heavier to me. I start to think about which lens to leave home, not “how can I cram one more lens into this bag” so weight is an issue.

Sony RX100About 2 years ago, I picked up a Sony RX100 camera that held promise as a super high quality micro-portable camera. It was certainly small, almost as small as my favorite pocket camera, the Canon S120.

Except it had a large, 20 megapixel sensor. I decided to get that Sony right before my trip to Jordan. I found the menu structure confusing and certain functions; like shooting in RAW didn’t work with other functions, like shooting an HDR image.

Unbelievable Low Light Quality from a Compact Camera!

Unbelievable Low Light Quality from a Compact Camera!

But I was impressed with its low light performance. The image of The Tea Man (above) was shot at a camp fire, at ISO 12,000 and with Sony’s image clarity technology, I was shocked at how well this came out. But for my other work, it wasn’t very useful, and still way too complicated for my taste. It felt like this camera was really a computer with an awkward interface to a sensor.

I was about to sell it when I had an idea. Why not convert it to InfraRed and see how it does? So that’s what I did. I converted the camera to IR and I took it with me a year later to New Zealand. If you’ve never been to New Zealand, it’s too beautiful to describe, you should go, look at my gallery here first of course and then go.

The Perfect IR Camera

IR landscapeSince I didn’t need any of the computer part of the camera, just the converted sensor and the manual control of shutter speed and aperture, I found a use for this megapixel mini-monster.

Flight1Even from a private plane, shaking as it was, hand held no less, this camera performed at a much higher level than I would have imagined. I’ve converted many a camera over the years to Infrared, this is – by far – the best of all.

 The Grand Divide

I found a use for my Sony RX100 as a light weight IR camera and my Canon 5D Mk III still had its place as my high fidelity, time exposure, night photography tool. It’s full frame sensor and incredible long exposure at ISO 100 noise reduction AND smooth, velvet like skies were not to be beat.

Now, back to my problem. How to reduce weight. And yes, there’s a birthday present in this story. My darling sweetheart Carol bought me (surprise, surprise) a new camera for my birthday, a Sony A6000. This is an APS-C size sensor with an incredible 24 megapixel sensor.

As you might guess, this was a candidate to take the place of my 5d MkIII and reduce my shoulder pain. The A6000 has a completely redesigned menu system which is far better than earlier Sony cameras, so right away I liked it. But unfortunately, Sony has overcomplicated the menus with too many useless options yet again.

Note to Sony: Let the photographer control the camera and get all those useless picture modes and options out of the way. For reference, see Canon 5d MkIII’s menus. Another note to Sony, what about custom functions? It’s HARD to switch modes in the dark!

Sony A6000 Hand-held, ISO 3200, wide open F3.5 1/20 sec

Sony A6000 Hand-held, ISO 3200, wide open F3.5 1/20 sec

As you can see, the A6000 has some wonderful attributes; high resolution, light weight and well made. It’s not very expensive, about $700 for the “kit” which includes a nice short-range zoom.

I could go on and on about it, but there are lots of reviews if this camera on the web already. Here’s the point I am making. The era of the large SLR may be coming to an end. Naturally, there will always be a place for that type of camera but as these more miniature cameras show up in 2nd and 3rd generation releases, it will be harder and harder to ignore them.

You may have seen stories about this new micro-four-thirds camera system, they are available from multiple manufacturers. They are small for sure but their sensor size is 1/2 that of a full frame camera. While excellent for some applications, they won’t replace my Canon 5d MkIII and that’s what I am eventually looking for.

What Should I do?

If you are reading this article and have an older generation camera you were thinking of upgrading, check out the Sony cameras I mentioned in this post. I personally would go for the A7r if you can afford it, but if not the A6000 is excellent for many different types of photography.

If you can afford to rent, try them both; the A7r and the Sony A6000 and see what you think, I doubt you will be disappointed with either one.

Upgrading to a Full Frame Sensor in a Small Package

Part of why I called this article “The Sony Generation” is because Sony has really leapfrogged the rest of the industry. The new Sony A7r really is a full blown SLR equivalent in a smaller package. The 36 megapixel sensor produces stunning images and the low light performance is spectacular. They have really leap-frogged the rest.

Sony A7r

I didn’t buy one, but I want one. This is the 1st generation and I should wait. There are still some things my Canon does better, even at just 22 megapixels, than this new Sony. Yet, it’s very temping to change brands and go with lighter weight, higher quality images as some of my photographer buddies have done.

What do you think?

Are you going to switch?

Have you already done so?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing.

On my next trip, I will rent one and I will report back.

 

 

 

The Last New Zealand Post

Queenstown Harbor from Helicopter

Queenstown Harbor from Helicopter

On January 3rd 2014, I set out with my friend Ron Rosenstock in the midst of a severe winter blizzard, that shut down the airport, to travel to New Zealand. Not knowing what to expect I traveled in mystery. I left knowing that I would photograph for 2 whole weeks, and that was enough.

The trip is over, I am back home, I’ve returned  having visited a beautiful country with stories to tell and pictures to show. It was worth it, a lifetime experience.

I made some wonderful images. But, you decide for yourself, check out the gallery!

 

 

 

 

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