Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Heaven help us, Silly Season is Back

Windstorm near Great Salt Lake, Utah

Windstorm near Great Salt Lake, Utah

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

                                                                                           George Orwell


One big problem with growing older is that everything around you seems to happen faster and faster.  One day you’re complaining about the summer heat and the next day there’s just 10 more shopping days till Christmas.  Life flies by.  We have no say in the matter.  And apparently the same is true for Presidential Elections.  I mean, we just had one of those, didn’t we?  President Obama beat that Mormon guy.  Except for the off-year elections – which most Americans virtually ignore – all the silliness stopped.  We were safe for another 4 years.  All of the politicians stopped promising us high paying jobs (a promise none of them could keep) and a federal government that actually functioned (really, really unlikely to keep that one) and we all went back to worrying about gas prices.  

(Side note 1:  Actually, not really.  The silliness got toned down a bit but never actually stopped.  Turns out that politicians from both parties can be pretty darned silly anytime – even if they’re not in an election cycle.)

(Side note 2:  That’s not really true, either.  In reality, they act like they’re always in an election cycle.) 

It’s all relative, of course.  Full-on silliness has ramped up and returned with a vengeance.   Somehow the calendar has fast-tracked to late summer, 2015, and all of these crazy folks are back in Iowa eating corn-dogs and other deep fried heart stoppers.  Pretending that they actually like Iowa in the summertime and just love all the nasty food that they’re consuming.  (I’ve always wondered who’s responsible for keeping an ample supply of Tums on hand.)  The actual election is still over a year away, but “Silly Season” is in full swing.  Now, just to be clear, I’m not advocating for any candidate here.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t like any of them.  On either side.  They’re all kind of loopy.  For sure, there are more loopy Republicans in the “race” (17, I think) but the Democratic candidates (3 or 4?) seem just as nutty.  Especially Hillary.  The former Senator and Secretary of State acts like we all owe her the job, that shes the “Chosen One”.  Well, that won’t fly.  I don’t care how much money she has in her war chest.  She ain’t Bill.  And telling everyone that her little email crisis is “irrelevant” won’t fly either.  Generally speaking American voters aren’t all that bright, but they’re not completely stupid.  They’re smart enough to realize when someone is trying to pass themselves off as American Royalty.  If she continues to act like that, she’ll lose.  By a lot.

Side note 3:  Sadly, you can make the case that some American voters are, in fact, completely stupid.

To be a little more specific, about 20% – 25% of them are dumber than a box of rocks.  I know this because that’s the percentage of potential Primary voters the opinion polls consistently give to Donald Trump.  He may never get more than that but it’s enough.  Enough to win a few primaries and scare the bejesus out of mainstream Republicans.  Here’s a guy who wants to deport roughly 11 million people, including children who were actually born in the United States.  That, of course, would require a constitutional amendment.  And billions of dollars to actually do it.  So while most people thought that Mitt Romney’s “voluntary deportation” was a little nuts, Trump is literally talking about rounding up babies and sending them back to wherever their parents came from.  Well that’s compassionate.  And somewhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 4 potential Republican primary voters agree with him.

Oh, what the hell.  Only about 15 months to go.  By November, 2016 we’ll all probably be crazy.     




Behind the Veil

Behind the Veil (4795)

“There was a door to which I found no key: There was the veil through which I might not see.”

                                                                                            Omar Khayyam


“Hope is nature’s veil for hiding truth’s nakedness.”

                                                                                      Alfred Nobel


I’ve photographed this waterfall before, but this was the first time I’ve seen the mist on the back side of the U-shaped cataract going straight up the far wall.  It usually billows out, sometimes soaking anyone standing where I happened to be that day.  And since I was using a long lens the “veil” that it was forming looks much closer than it actually was.  In black and white I think it looks a tiny bit spooky.  

After the Storm

After the Storm (1863)

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

                                                              Rose Kennedy

“It’s not easy being Green”

Sunrise, Dead Horse Point, Utah

Sunrise, Dead Horse Point, Utah

“It’s not easy being green.

It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.

And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy

sparkles in the water –

or stars in the sky”.

                                                                                    (Written by Joe Raposo for Kermit the Frog)

Landscapes and Micro 4/3

As much as I like my Olympus OMD EM1 and its inherent benefits (lightweight, flexible, weather resistant, less expensive lenses, etc.), it does have one serious drawback, I think, for anyone who takes a lot of landscape type photographs.  Its aspect ratio is 4:3.  The images are damn near square.  For a lot of things, that’s fine.  It works as well as or better than other “native” aspect ratios.  For landscapes, however, not so well.  It’s like taking a movie made in a 16:9 format and watching it on an old nearly square TV.  It just doesn’t look right.  At least not to me.  Some things are just meant to be viewed “wide”.  

Case in point: a single image I took last week at the Lower Falls in Letchworth SP:

Lower Falls, single frame

Lower Falls, single frame

It’s not bad, I guess, but to me it feels overly compressed, like you’re looking through one of those old spyglasses or something.  Or like looking through a tunnel.  Even if I’d never been to this particular spot it feels like there’s something missing.  You’ve got the bridge and the river and the falls in the background, but what’s off to the sides?

For me, this one works much better (a 4-frame stitched panorama):

Lower Falls, 4 frame panorama

Lower Falls, 4 frame panorama

Not a mind-blowing image by any stretch, but the sensation of looking through a tunnel is no longer there (at least not for me).  There’s more perspective and more context.  There’s a long leading line emanating from the lower left corner of the frame that for me provides context for the bridge.  The stone bridge is the only place in the park that allows hikers to go from the west side of the park to the east side (or the other way around) without having to drive.  The path coming towards you leads to some stone stairs that climb up a fairly steep gorge wall.  And of course you get a much better feel for the gorge wall itself.  You get a better sense of the textured wet shale that is so characteristic of New York’s Finger Lakes region.  It’s not so easy to see on a video monitor, but it’s very apparent on a large print.

The only drawback is that you have to know something about shooting panoramas, even if it’s only 4 frames wide.  For one thing, you really should use a tripod.  In my opinion, handheld just won’t work.  Yeah, I know.  I’ve seen panoramas shot with iphones, too.  It can be done.  But I really don’t think they’re very good.  Only a tripod – if set up correctly – can insure that the system is absolutely level.  If your camera isn’t level, the best you can hope for is minimal cropping in post.  And only the tripod will allow you absolute control over the degree of frame overlap and focus continuity.

But you’re not there yet.  Even if you’ve got the whole system level you still have to worry about parallax and the nodal point.

Say what?  Parallax?  Nodal Point?  Sounds like a couple of places up on the Maine coast……….

Well, to be extremely brief, parallax has to do with how we (or cameras) see things.  How we see a tree, for example, depends on where we’re standing (our angle of view).  If we move, or if the camera moves, our point of view changes.  It’s not hard to figure out that this might have an effect on a panorama, since the camera’s position – its “point of view” – changes with each frame.  This is especially true if there’s a foreground subject included.  If that’s the case, you get something like this:

Panorama with Parallax effect

Panorama with Parallax effect

This was taken (as a kind of “practice” shot) on the Lake Ontario shoreline.  It covers roughly 180 degrees of view from west to east.  If you know this spot you’ll see the problem immediately.  The foreground sidewalk makes a V-shape as it passes the location of the camera.  In reality, the sidewalk is a straight line.  There is no”V”.  That’s photographic parallax.

The reason you don’t see that effect in the first panorama is because there is no foreground subject.  There’s nothing in the frame that’s close to the camera.  Which means that one way to avoid the parallax effect is to keep foreground objects out of the picture.

If you want a panorama with a foreground subject in it then you need to know what a nodal point is (and how to calculate it).  The nodal point is found where the optical center of the lens is directly above the axis of rotation.  In other words, if the axis of rotation is at the center of the tripod’s head, then the optical center of the lens – not the weighted center – must be, and remain, directly above that point.  If you do this, parallax becomes a non-problem.

Who said photography was easy.  In any case, it’s worth learning, I think, if you own a micro 4/3 camera and like to take landscapes.  I honestly think that this format is not well suited for landscape photography.  Unless, of course, you’re willing and able to create panoramas.  For me, it makes all the difference.

One last point.  It’s now possible to stitch panoramas (or create HDR images) inside of LightRoom.  Previously, you needed to take the individual images into Photoshop (or some other application) to do the work.  That usually meant creating a TIF file before returning to LightRoom.  Now you can do it all in one place.  And it creates a dng file in the process, which means that you still have a full-fledged RAW image.  That’s really neat.






“The Color Purple”

Purple and gold badlands, Petrified Forest NP

Purple and gold badlands, Petrified Forest NP

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

                                                                                                    “The Color Purple”, Alice Walker

This isn’t exactly “in a field somewhere”; there ain’t no lavender (or much of anything else) growing in this place.  This is just purple and gold badlands in Arizona’s Petrified Forest NP.  Still, a hard place to pass by without doing a double-take on the purple hills and the gold valley.  

The Washer Woman at Sunrise

Washer Woman and Monster Tower, Canyonlands NP

Washer Woman and Monster Tower, Canyonlands NP

In case you can’t find it, the Washer Woman formation is on the left side of the frame just to the left of the taller spire (known as Monster Tower).  Both are Wingate sandstone formations and I believe that it’s OK to climb both of them.  It’s not hard to understand how the Washer Woman name came to be – it’s easy to see a woman in a long dress with her arms reaching down into a large tub.  This formation is also an arch, by the way.  The space between her arms and the tub is technically an arch.  In my opinion, these two formations are two of the most interesting in the entire southwest.    

On Being #1

Overlook, Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth SP

Overlook, Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth SP

USA Today recently published one of their “Readers Choice Awards” in which they listed the top 10 state parks in the entire United States.  I always find these listings interesting, but this one caught my eye because the top choice – determined by readers votes – was Letchworth State Park, a park about 40 miles south of Rochester.  The local media was quick to pick up on this “award”, of course.  When USA Today says you’re the best at something, that’s reason for celebration.  I, on the other hand, was just a little bit skeptical.  I like Letchworth and I go there a lot.  It has a very deep gorge and some of the nicest waterfalls in the northeast (if you like that sort of thing).  It’s also a great place to hike.  But is it the “best” state park in the country?  Personally, I’m not so sure.  I’ve been to a lot of state parks in our travels across the country and I can think of a number of them that, to me, are more spectacular, more interesting than Letchworth.

The parks that readers could “vote” for were picked by a panel of experts, presumably people who had some knowledge of state parks in their particular region.  This list was then made public and the voting began.  When all was said and done, Letchworth had received the most votes with Watkins Glen State Park (not much more than a stone’s throw from Letchworth) finishing third.  Personally, I thought that was a little strange.  If I had to pick between the two I’d go with Watkins Glen, hands down.  It’s smaller than Letchworth, but far more fascinating and a little mysterious.  But then, that’s just my point of view.

The difficulty in picking the #1 park, I presume, is the way in which the votes were collected.  I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming that it wasn’t a “one person, one vote” kind of thing.  You could probably vote as many times as you liked, in much the same way that fans vote for baseball players for the All-Star game in July.  Some players get lots of votes not because they are the best at their position (for that season) but because they have lots of fans, good name recognition, and probably some kind of loosely organized lobbying group.  In a sense, the “fix” is in.

If I had to pick a single U. S. state park as the “best”, it would most likely be Valley of Fire State Park (a park about 40 miles north of Las Vegas, NV).  It was one of the choices in this survey, by the way.  But it didn’t even make it into the top ten.  I couldn’t even find out where it did finish.  So why the apparent snub?  Well, name recognition for one.  A whole lot more people know about the Finger Lakes and Letchworth than know about Valley of Fire.  Most of them live near the east coast, and most of those live in NY.  In general, people who live in the east tend to travel in the east.  They don’t go west.  Even if they make it to Las Vegas they probably won’t even hear about Valley of Fire.  Bottom line, a lot more people know about parks in NY than about parks in Nevada.  And that creates a measurable bias.  

In short, the survey wasn’t really a fair comparison.  It was a popularity contest – determined by regional voters.  The only way to actually get an idea of which park is really most preferred is to find about 600 people who have been to every park on the list.  Then give each individual a series of questions – ranking various factors common to all of the parks – and analyze the results.  That would work.  It wouldn’t eliminate all the bias, but it would cancel out a lot of it.  It would also cost a good deal more than the “survey” run by USA Today.  This is one of those instances where you get what you pay for.

It’s not a critical issue, I know.  But it does, I think, highlight the way in which “information” is created and disseminated in today’s world.  There are probably a lot of people (mostly here in NY) who honestly believe that Letchworth State Park is the #1 park in the United States.  Because USA Today did a survey that “proves” it.  Again, that’s not a big deal.  Nobody’s going to lose any sleep over it (although I suppose that a few people might make the journey to western NY just to see what the “best” state park in the country looks like).  But you have to wonder how many decisions are made each day based on reports like this.  How many published articles have you seen that tell you the best places to retire, or where the best schools are, or where to find the least crime or the most cultural attractions?  How do you think the people who created those lists came up with them?  By using sound statistical surveys?  Or pulling them out of that place where the sun don’t shine?

In case you hadn’t guessed, that’s a rhetorical question……….




“Orange is the new Black”

Reflected light in slot canyon, Zion NP

Reflected light in slot canyon, Zion NP

For anyone who might be wondering about the title of this post, I can only say that I have no clue as to “why” I chose it.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Heck, I’ve never even seen the TV show it references (love the title but have no interest in the show itself).  The only connection, of course, is the color in this image.  If you’re lucky, this is a color you sometimes see while walking through a narrow canyon (or wash) if the sun is shining on the opposite wall.  The sunlight will bounce of that wall and the reflected light will turn the other wall varying shades of orange and yellow.  The actual sandstone itself isn’t quite this color.  Without the reflected sunlight the wall would still be orange-ish, but not this orange.

While the light is nice, what’s more interesting to me is the lines and textures found in formations like this.  Sandstone, of course, is nothing more than fossilized sand.  This sandstone (well, sand) used to be on the bottom of a large, shallow sea about 200 million years ago.  At that time, the Colorado Plateau – or what became the Colorado Plateau – was much closer to the equator than it is now.  (See?  Nothing stays the same forever.)  The continents shifted, the seas eventually dried up, and the sand was blown into dunes.  Dunes that were eventually covered and compressed by heavier rock.

All that was needed then was about 100 million years of erosion, mostly by wind and water.  Erosion that formed these incredible shapes and lines.  And is still doing so today.

Which makes me wonder: Will I look this good 100 million years from now?   


Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley NP

Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley NP

Sadly, not my picture.  My wife took this just outside our room at Furnace Creek Ranch in March.  And no, that’s not us.  We were sitting in similar chairs right behind them, though.  Just sucking down beer after a long day of climbing through canyons.  Life was good…….

I’m not sure if Furnace Creek – and there is a creek, by the way – is technically an oasis or not.  But it sure looks like one.  There’s real dirt, real grass, lots of trees, and a spring fed swimming pool (just off to the right).  Drive a half mile in either direction and you’re back in the desert.  

Anyway, it’s a place I wouldn’t mind going back to.  It’s a remarkable park, both geologically and photographically.  But don’t worry – I promise I won’t post any more Death Valley images.  Well, at least not for a while.  I’m sure I can find something else to photograph.  Something around here.  Around Rochester, I mean.  Something.  Somewhere.


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