Welcome to 2017 from EFCubed

By Mark

Well, it is a whole new year and Roger and I plan on being a bit more reliable in our blog production this year.  Last year, was one of the busiest we have ever had at our “real” jobs.  That annoying requirement that enables us to pursue our photography.  At the start of the year, I lay out a whole list and schedule for the blog topics I want to try and cover.  Usually, I plan my shoots to support the topics I intend to write on.  I guess I will get to reuse a large part of last year’s list. 

For the first time in a decade, we made the decision to not attend Photoshop World last year, due to a lot of turmoil at Kelby which impacted people we knew and liked, but also because we wanted to force ourselves to actually go out and shoot.  Our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains was fantastic; as well as therapeutic for me, and photographically satisfying.  

Our timing was exceptionally fortunate, as even while we were there, we could tell the impact that the drought was having on the waterfalls we planned to shoot, and the colors of the fall foliage.  Last fall’s fires burned up a lot of the area we were shooting in.  In fact, the hotel directly across the little creek from where we stayed, suffered significant damage.  Roger, who is not a nature/landscape shooter, admitted he enjoyed it, way more than he expected. I went with some definite objectives for practicing long exposure images and shooting waterfalls.

Each day I learned a lot and think the shots got better, at least they seemed easier to get the results I was looking for. Plus, of course I got to see Roger fall in the river.  

One of the other factors which impacted my schedule this year was the summer project which gutted and redid our bathroom.  I took lots of photos to record the progress.  You tend to forget that the gradual daily progress eventually leads to huge changes.  

Taking the photos for ourselves, turned out to have an unexpected secondary benefit.  I gave copies of the photos to my builder and he was really thrilled.   He is an amazing craftsman, but used his iPhone to show off his work.  The pictures were fine, but didn’t really capture the details. As a result, we went to shoot one of his larger projects, a whole house remodel and I got to experiment with some architectural photography.  I found I really like the intersection with my macro work and capturing the larger vistas from landscapes.  We will probably do more during the coming year. 

I really expected my image totals to be down from previous years, but our family vacation to Disneyworld over the holidays brought my average up.

I used my phone’s camera some this year and got a few decent shots.  For me, it still doesn’t replace a DSLR, but in Disneyworld, with a million new friends on Xmas day, it was a lot easier to haul around.  I am still working to process those last thousand images. 

As with everything in photography, each picture is a chance to get better. Focusing on specific areas in your own shooting where you know you can get better, is one method of helping your growth as an artist.  As with any other endeavor, practice is important. I have already resolved to do more shooting in the local area, just to force myself to get behind the lens. I’ve picked out a topic I want to cover and will see how this personal project develops. Practice, both behind the camera and behind the monitors is critical, but we all just need to make the time.  

Catch Up Blog

By Roger (23 October 2016)

Sorry for the lag in blogs. I have many valid excuses, but let's just dispense with those and get caught up. I've had a very busy five weeks. I've been to several states, for various reasons and always had, at least, one camera with me. There were lots of different photography subjects covered.

It started, at home, with a young man, Michael, and his girlfriend, Ally. I have been photographing Michael's family since long before he was born. I have photos of him throughout his life. Mike and Ally stopped by the house, on their way to visit another college friend. Let's just skip the fact that he shouldn't have aged this quickly.

We went out to the Manassas Battlefield to make some quick photos. It's an ideal photo venue because it has clusters of locations with great backgrounds. We shot in several areas, but this was one of their favorites.

Mike and Ally make a cute couple

Then, it was up to Maryland, to take the grandkids to the Renaissance Fest. It's always a target rich environment. It was full of colorful characters open to posing. There were several performing groups, on stages around the venue. We all enjoyed this great little trio, Piper Jones. We must have listened to them for 30 minutes – that's a long time when you're hanging out with three young grandkids. They were just that good. We bought one of their CDs and wandered around some more.

Piper Jones

The next weekend, we went down to Elizabeth City, NC. We travel down there several times a year, so I've found several favorite locations there. It's a great place for sunrise photos because the sun reflects across the still water. There are always boats and cypress trees around to help create a moody vibe.

Sunrise Sailboat

Then, I needed to make a trip to Florida (it's a long story). I snagged a window seat on the plane, and, as we were descending into Orlando, I glanced out the window. I've never really had much luck with aircraft window shots, but the clouds were really interesting, and the sun was just creating really interesting light. You've heard that the best camera is the one you have on you? Well, that was my Iphone. This is probably only the second time I've seen a photo that made me try to shoot through an airplane window. It has received very little critical acclaim from the family, but there's something about it that looks cool to me.

I was just a few days ahead of Hurricane Matthew, so there were lots of clouds and heavier-than-normal waves. The beach was full of surfers, even early in the morning. Cocoa Beach was hopping. I set up the tripod for an interesting sunrise. Several of the surfers came by and asked me to take some photos of them near the pier. This young lady made several runs for me. She kept getting closer and closer to the pier. If I'd known the surfers were going to be so accommodating, I'd have brought a longer lens. We finally got one she liked.

Surfing Cocoa Beach

Believe it or not, when I got back to work, my company wanted me to take a quick trip up to New York City. I was there and back in 24 hours, so I knew I wasn't going to have lots of time to go exploring. I decided to take my little Lumix LX100. It's a great little camera that I can carry with no fuss or muss, but it still shoots in RAW. I walked past Pershing Square, on my way to the meeting. After the meeting, I had some time, while I was waiting for transportation back to the airport. I took a photo from the meeting location, focusing on the geometric shapes of the buildings.

Geometry and Repeating Patterns

On October 1st, Mark and I led our seventh Kelby Worldwide Photowalk, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. We had 25 people signed up, but only 13 were present at the start time. There was rain in the forecast, but it only rained for 15 minutes during the walk. At that time, we were at the halfway point, inside a great store, with lots of old reproduction items. We didn't get a drop of water on us.

Our Shepherdstown, WV, Photowalk Group

It always surprises me when so many people back out of an event because there is inclimate weather. If you look at lots of photographs, you'll notice that the supply of bad weather photos is much, much smaller than nice weather photos. I think bad weather gives you the opportunity to make a photograph that is different from the usual fare. That's a good thing, in my mind.

My favorite photo was taken before the walk. The wet pavement, at our meeting place, the Bavarian Inn (link), created some nice reflections from the outside lights. The staff made us feel welcome when we all got together at the end of the photowalk. The food was great; they even had a Dunkels Bier, one of my favorite German brews.

Bavarian Inn

Next up was a model shoot. I was working, as an assistant, for my friend, Tony Gibson. We've worked with each other for years; sometimes, he's my assistant and, sometimes, I'm his assistant. Sometimes, we're just shooting together. In any event, we always have a good time.

I had plans to second shoot, but it was a very windy day and the retreating light meant we had to move quickly. I did carry my Lumix for some behind-the-scene photos, so I got a few photos but spent most of my time moving gear and holding the reflectors against the wind. We had another photographer with us, Anna. She provided an extra set of trained eyes and a woman's point of view. We had a great time and clicked well as a team. I would love to do some more work with the team.

You can check out both Tony's site (link) and Anna's site (link) to see their great work. You'll notice they photograph many equestrian events. That's where we met Anna.

All three of us were working, yesterday, at the International Gold Cup event. Just before I left for last week's trip, I received my credentials for the Gold Cup. Those photos will have to wait for another blog because they're still being processed. I got my first real credentials in 1981, but I still get a thrill every time I have them. The access they provide to different photography locations and angles can make for more unique photos (and, to me, it's just fun).

Between the model shoot and the International Gold Cup, Mark and I left for a week in the Smoky Mountains National Park. We mentioned, earlier in the year, that we had a special trip planned. We made photos every day and visited numerous sites within the park. Besides having fun, I learned so much – about my camera; about slow shutter speeds; and more. We'll talk about some of these lessons learned in future blogs.

So, you can see I've been busy while I've been away. The next blog won't be so slow in arriving – promise.

Bealeton Balloon Fest, Part 2

By Roger (28 August 2016)

As you read in our last blog, Mark and I stopped by the Bealeton Flying Circus, for their balloon festival. I've always loved these events. I have photographed several balloon fests, in the past, so I had high hopes, based on my previous experiences.

My first balloon fest was in Augsburg, Germany, back in 1981. The balloons there were the old style balloons, with helium, instead of hot air. The balloons were encompassed in nets which were staked down as the balloon was filled with gas. You can see the nets weighed down in the first photo. Just prior to liftoff, the pilot attached the net to toggles in the cockpit; sandbags and tether lines were released; and the balloon took off. These photos are both shot with a 50mm lens, on my trusty Canon F-1. As you can see in the second photo, we could get right next to the balloons.

 Balloon Fest, in Augsburg, Germany

Balloon Fest, in Augsburg, Germany

 The pilot securing net toggles

The pilot securing net toggles

I shot several of these events over my two assignments to Germany. In more recent years, I've continued to get in close to the crews during their preparations. The draw now is the flames from the burners. They put out some really cool flames. Again, I have used normal or shorter telephoto lenses.

 Get in close to catch the burner flame (Wisconsin Rapids)

Get in close to catch the burner flame (Wisconsin Rapids)

I mention the lenses because, as Mark said in his blog, I made some assumptions for the Flying Circus event and wasn't as prepared as I could have been. In short, I didn't bring a long telephoto lens. It turned out this balloon fest was different than the others I've attended. Since the airfield was active, with several bi-planes landing and taking off, we were not able to get close to the balloons while they were being prepped. My longest lens was a 70-200mm; not long enough to get close in photos. I was disappointed, but I was there, so I had to photograph something before I went home.

At first, I made the same photographs as Mark. We both shot the two plane formation. with the moon in the background. And both saw the planes flying behind the yellow balloon and knew the compression, from the telephoto, would make it appear as if they were flying in close formation.

 Flying with the moon

Flying with the moon

 Almost the same shot Mark took

Almost the same shot Mark took

I was a little disappointed and ready to leave when I realized it was time to adapt to the situation and change my plan of action. Since the pilots were offering rides, for a small fee, I decided to get a different perspective on the balloons. The slow speed and open cockpits of the bi-planes make them a great platform for aerial photography. I talked to the pilot, and he agreed to help me out by flying around the balloons. It made my day a success.

After climbing over the wing and into the front cockpit, I settled down for the ride. The pilot asked me to keep my hands off the controls; that was a pretty easy request to honor since it's pretty sparse in the Stearman cockpit.

Stearman cockpit RD42815

The ride was spectacular. I've been up in many types of aircraft, including an interesting trip in a doors-open military helicopter flying at high speed and nap of the earth, but this ride was pure enjoyment.

The pilot went right to work for me. Many of the balloons were beginning to land, and he knew where they would probably touch down. He flew over a vineyard, with a balloon down by the pond, and put the plane into a shallow bank to give me a shot without the wings in the viewfinder. I had switched to my 24-120mm zoom, and that was the perfect lens for the job, and I didn't have to worry about vibration from the wind buffeting the longer (and heavier) 70-200mm.

 Convenient - landing the balloon next to a vineyard

Convenient - landing the balloon next to a vineyard

He took me by balloons flying over trees, in hay fields, and by farms. We saw six different balloons and were on our way back when we saw one last balloon. It was still flying and just getting ready to cross over a pond. I was getting ready to point it out when he told me to make this one good because it was time to return to the airfield. I made my favorite photo of the day from the two circles he made.

 I wish there was a reflection, but it is still my favorite.

I wish there was a reflection, but it is still my favorite.

On the way back, we passed over the airfield, so I could get a shot of the small hanger, at the end of the grass airstrip. The trip was worth every penny it cost (hint: it was less than $100). I had not intended to spend the money for the ride, but I was really glad I did. It made the day for me and provided a completely different perspective from the other balloon fest photos I have.

Airstrip RD42960

Don't forget the Worldwide Photowalk is coming on 1 October. Although there is no cost, you must register to participate in all the fun. You can find our walk, in Shepherdstown, WV, here. If you'd like to check other locations, you can find them here. Come join us for a fun time.

Bealeton Balloon Festival -Ground View

By Mark

One of my favorite local events is the annual hot air balloon festival at the Bealeton Flying Circus.  I convinced Roger to get up before dawn and head down there.  Now to be fair, I told him not to bother showing up before 6:30 as they wouldn’t start launching until later.  He of course got there much earlier thinking they would have the balloons all fired up and ready to go.  Not so much. 

It was a really calm morning and the biplanes were out on dawn patrol, keeping company with the moon.

Unlike last year, they didn’t let us get up close to the takeoff points where they filled up the balloons.  We had to stay behind the fences and watch as the ground crews delivered the gondolas and envelopes to the field.

One of the things I enjoy most is the bright vibrant colors.  

Soon enough the first balloons were off with suitable escorts.  

They walked the purple one over by the fence to better load the paying passengers for their rides.

This year they had some experimental balloons as well, including this one from a local dentist.  It doesn’t have a basket, just a reinforced lawn chair.   

He just flew it the length of the field then, landed and collapsed it.  That was interesting to watch as well.

Other balloonists had taken off from the airport trying to make it to the airfield to land.  Unfortunately, the winds didn’t cooperate, so they landed in the fields and farms surrounding the area.

One of features of the flying circus is the opportunity to go flying in the open cockpit Stearmans.  Roger decided it was time and he will be posting his shots from the air, which are, I hate to say, very cool shots.  

Getting in to the plane requires a lot of grace and skill and the patient assistance of the ground crew.  

Taxiing, takeoff, a very low pass across the field, and then the careful return to earth.  

.  It looked like a blast and you will enjoy the photos from the plane.