Today is one the more fun photo assignments I have every year, I hang out of a helicopter and photograph the Far Hills Race Meeting. More than 35,000 people pile into a farm in Far Hills and have the craziest tail gate party you can imagine. Far Hills is one of the most exclusive towns in the country and the area is home to many rich and famous who want a country home not too far from New York City. Automaker John DeLorean’s estate was purchased by Donald Trump a few years ago and is now Trump National Golf Course, which is where he spent his time while the White House was being renovated. Even though this is a Republican area, the folks weren’t too happy with all the closures and security.
Back at the race, the goal seems to be to outdo your neighbor, so naturally you bring your butler to serve your guests from the back of your Rolls Royce. Ice scultpures, fine crystal champagne glasses and the latest in country attire are the norm.
I’ve been photographing the event from a helicopter for about 20 years, so I haven’t been on the ground lately, but when I worked at the newspaper, we enjoyed Monday morning’s phone call to the Far Hills police to get the names of those arrested for public drunkedness and peeing in the woods, it was always a long list but we never saw anyone famous.
I’ve used lots of different helicopters, pretty much each year is a new pilot. For awhile the Race Meeting was able to get the helicopter time donated. I usually have the pilot take the door off to make it easier to shoot. One year it was a bit rainy, it was a different helicopter and the pilot didn’t want to take the door off and get the inside wet. When I got in the chopper I saw why, it was covered in soft tan leather, which is rather unusual. I asked the pilot about it and he said the leather was installed to match the owner’s Mazeratti. I flew the next year in the same bird and the following year was a new helicopter. I asked why weren’t using the fancy one and I was told it crashed and killed three people earlier in the year.
I strap myself in pretty good, if I’m going to turn sideways and have my feet hanging out, I put on a climbing harness and hook it into the seat belts. What is strange is that I can no longer climb a ladder, I get all wooey, but hanging out of a helicopter doesn’t bother me at all.
One of the fun things shooting from a chopper is seeing things from a different angle. I saw this large installation of solar panels, so during one of our sweeps in that direction, I had the pilot put me right over them. I love what happens when I see things in a different way.
It’s been over a week since experiencing the total solar eclipse in Oregon but it is constantly on my mind. I’ve looked at tons of photos taken by other photographers and yet I haven’t finished putting together a composite of the phases. Those tend to all look the same and mine isn’t any different, so I’m not overly motivated.
I’m doing lots of research on the next eclipse that is crossing Chile and Argentina in July 2019. I want to find the perfect spot to view it, although it is tougher than the U.S. eclipse, mainly because I’ve never been there.
Last summer I bought a used telescope thinking I would take it to Oregon for the eclipse. As I learned more about what I wanted to shoot, I decided pretty early on that I wouldn’t take it. It is big, heavy and would take up too much space. I didn’t want to be worrying about moving the telescope around when my job in Oregon was to make sure my clients were getting their needs met.
I didn’t even play with the telescope, it sat on my equipment shelf taking up space. And since space has been on my mind, I decided to see what the the telescope could do. I spent most of the afternoon putting it together and learning how to maneuver it. It is an 8″ reflecting telescope, which is a monster. After I put all the counter weights and the camera I can barely lift it. It has by far the heaviest tripod I’ve ever seen.
The Vermont sky was pretty clear tonight so I practiced on the moon, which is the easiest thing to photograph with a telescope. I was pretty clumsy getting it lined up and making sure the focus was right. It was a struggle but I got a pretty decent moon shot. I need lots more practice but I have a bit of time until the next eclipse.
The day after always seems to be the hardest. I got back yesterday from my Oregon Total Solar Eclipse workshop and I’ve finally had a little time to look through some images and think back on what a great experience it was.
The most important part of any workshop is the people attend and I had a great group once again. They came from across the country and Israel and we spent a lot of time driving around Oregon and they were loads of fun to be with.
We started in Portland and had dinner at one of their famous food truck pods before shooting dusk along the Willamette River reflecting the skyline. Then it was two days on the coast photographing the beauty and uniqueness that is Oregon. On Sunday we drove through the Columbia River Gorge stopping to photograph the large waterfalls on our way to our lodge at Timberline ski resort on Mt. Hood.
But it all came down to experiencing the total solar eclipse. Words or pictures can’t describe the event, although I tried in yesterday’s blog post.
It was a great trip, I made many new friends and experienced something that will last a lifetime, although I’m already planning the next eclipse workshop. I hope you enjoy the photos.
There are some things in life you just can’t explain, you have to experience. Words or pictures convey the encounter. I had heard that viewing a solar eclipse is one of those things.
I now know that to be true.
Last year I decided to host a photography workshop based on the eclipse. I wanted to make sure the weather wouldn’t block the view so I researched where the least likely place for cloud cover would be and it was the desert of eastern Oregon. I’d been to Oregon several times, my sister Lynda and her husband Bill live in southern Oregon, but not close to where the eclipse would be in totality. My research showed that Madras was the town where all the serious astronomy folks were going so I thought it would be simple enough to grab some hotel rooms, after all I was more than a year early.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, the hotels had been full for three years. Now I really knew this was the place to be but there wasn’t anyplace to stay and I didn’t think my workshop attendees would want to camp. Bill suggested checking Timberline, a fairly small ski lodge on Mt. Hood, over an hour away from Madras. Sure enough they had rooms and I grabbed a bunch.
To round out the workshop I thought it would be fun to start on the amazing Oregon coast for a couple of days, photograph the massive waterfalls in the Columbia River gorge and then spend the last two nights at Mt. Hood.
It was a perfect plan until earlier this year when Bill pointed out how many people were planning on going to Madras, a town of 6,000 people with the probability of getting 100,000 visitors for the eclipse. There is only a two lane road coming to Madras and tons of people would be pouring out of Portland. Bill had visions of traffic like the Woodstock music festival.
In May I made a trip to Oregon to do scouting and find a good location for my group to experience the celestial show away from the crowd. I found a small site near the little village of Clarno that is part of a National Monument but it is out of the way and one the least visited National Monuments. It had things I was looking for: restrooms, shade and beautiful surroundings. It was 2-½ hours from Timberline, which was far from ideal but I thought it would be worth the drive to avoid the crowds.
So my plan was perfect again until wildfires erupted all over the Northwest U.S. and western Canada a few weeks ago. Nobody mentioned smoke clouding our view so I started looking for a plan B. Staying at the beach wasn’t a good option because morning fog frequently covers the area. Hotels in that area fill up fast normally in August but I tried anyway. Nothing to be found, especially for a group. Maybe Portland and do even more driving. The city was 99% full and only crazy expensive rooms were available. After much consultation with Lynda and Bill, my only real option was to stick to the original plan.
The workshop started on Wednesday and we saw great scenes and made terrific pictures in Portland, on the coast and along the Columbia river but I could tell people were anxious about the eclipse.
Sunday we started the day photographing a beautiful lake reflecting Mt. Hood and headed for Clarno and practice for the big day. We arrived to find quite a few people a couple of park rangers and several volunteers. We got a picnic table and got out our gear. Nine photographs tend to haul around too much stuff and none of packed very light. I had rented a 12 passenger van and took out a row of seats so there would be room for people and gear and we barely all fit in. Since there was no food for many miles, I had cooler with plenty of water and lunch provisions.
I had purchased sheets of solar film and offered to make filters that could be quickly removed during totality when they weren’t needed and quickly put back on after totality. The prototype I made at home worked great but was such a weird shape that there was no way I could travel with a dozen of them. I made the filter part but we had to customize each one to fit the different size lens each photographer would be using. So we had craft time at a picnic table in the Oregon desert. Each person glued and taped and created their filter. They looked funny but worked great in the tests we did.
Suddenly this eclipse thing was feeling real.
Our little park was closed to overnight camping, which was good for us. It opened at 6 a.m. yesterday and I had planned on leaving our hotel at 3:00 a.m. But talking to the rangers made me a bit nervous since they were expecting a big crowd and there was limited parking so I decided to leave at at 2:30 a.m. which would get us there and hour before it would open. I guessed that since this area was so secluded people who were staying nearby wouldn’t bother coming that early and hopefully there weren’t many people as crazy as us and drive that early.
It turns out I was right. When we rolled in there were four cars waiting in line. We started carrying equipment in and got one of the nice picnic tables under a little shelter. After the sun came up I made pancakes featuring Vermont maple syrup on a camp stove and people were getting giddy.
One participant brought a telescope and had a program that tracked the sun’s movement through a laptop computer. It also gave us voice messages when the eclipse started and sure enough we could see it.
The partial phases were cool but I was feeling a bit underwhelmed. As the moon was covering more of the sun, things changed. A unique light surrounded the area, it was like nothing I had experienced before. As the landscape got darker, it was a cool bluish color, not the warm color usually seen at sunset. Shadows from trees showed the sun’s crescent on the ground.
Then the diamond ring appeared, that little sliver of sun still showing before the moon totally covered the sun.
Whoa! This is what everyone had been talking about!
Everything was quiet, the air became cooler, the sky was dark and this amazing disc was hanging in the sky. I was firing my camera as fast as I could and changing exposures to make sure I got it right but we only had a minute and forty-two seconds of totality. I wanted to make sure I experienced this crazy phenomenon and not spend the whole time goofing around with camera settings.
102 seconds never went so fast.
And there are no words or pictures to accurately describe it.
I enjoy a good adventure and this is looking to be a great one. I’m in Oregon hosting a photo workshop and tonight I brought the group to downtown Portland for dinner and a little evening shoot.
The rest of the workshop will be along the coast, up through the Columbia River gorge and then finally out in the desert of eastern Oregon culminating with the total solar eclipse on Monday. So I thought one urban evening would be fun.
Portland is quirky and they love their motto ‘Keep Portland Weird.’ We started with dinner at several food trucks, not exactly what you’d think was fine dining anywhere else but Portland. Off in a residential neighborhood about 30 trucks are fairly permanently parked and offer everything from hot dogs with pulled pork BBQ to vegan.
The Portland skyline isn’t huge but it is pretty and we went along the Willamette River where I taught everyone how to say Willamette ( it rhymes with “damn it”). The photos of the city shining in the river were fun.
For desert we went to one of the weirder places, Voodoo Donuts. The have some of the most unusual donuts you’ll find anywhere including, of course, a voodoo doll.
Then back to the hotel so we can get an early start as we head for the coast starting with an old shipwreck.
I know I’m supposed to be more sophisticated as a professional photographer than to sit with my face plastered against the airplane window but it happens every time I fly, especially when crossing mountains. So there I was again this morning, my head bouncing between two windows trying to see all I could as we passed over the Rockies while headed to Oregon for my photo workshop.
This is my second trip to Oregon this year and I’m probably on the same route I’ve been on several times before, seeing the same mountains and valleys and enjoying it as much as ever.
I cram myself into a window seat whenever I fly not because I like to disrupt other passengers when I need to get up and stretch – it’s the view. All the other windows on the plane are closed but there I am leaving greasy nose marks on the window and a bit of drool down below.
I usually have the flight map showing on the seatback screen but United wanted me to pay for even that, so I couldn’t tell exactly where I was. It added to the fun, trying to guess what mountain we were flying over. Is that Idaho, Wyoming?
I’m snapping away with my iPhone loving the amazing show nature has provided down below, snow on the mountains, volcanic peaks, patches of farmland in the valleys and patterns in the desert landscape. All the while the gents sitting next to me are playing games on their phones, yawning a lot and bitching because there isn’t free inflight entertainment to keep their minds numb.
Dude, get a window seat next time, the best entertainment you can imagine is down below us.
It took me a while to get through all my photos, but I finally edited them down – somewhat.
One of the cool things that comes with hosting photography workshops is the great people I get to meet and spend time with. Workshops tend to create a bond between people who don’t know each other and they work together to make the best photos possible. But they make more than photos, they make friendships and it great to see how well folks get along when on a workshop. This trip was no different and when one person had to leave for a medical issue, the others were feeling down about not having their friend around any longer. They texted him to make sure he was ok after getting home and checked up with him each day.
The teamwork happened not only when making photos but also when it came to leisure time. Twice we did a tailgate dinner out in the boonies and they had a great time planning the food and wine and volunteering who would get what. Even when we didn’t have any glasses for the wine, they laughed and joked when I cut five empty water bottles in half to make 10 not-so-fancy drinking cups.
I look forward to our next adventure together, everyone has already signed up for either my March trip to Iceland or June Acadia National Park workshop.
Below are some of my photos from France. I’ll soon have a link to photos taken by the participants.
My workshop partner, Ron Lake, and I stayed an extra day in Nice after our Provence Photography Workshop ended yesterday. We figured we came this far so we should spend some time just shooting on our own. While I do some shooting during the workshop, my main focus is making sure the participants are getting great pictures, having their needs met, helping with photo questions and worrying about logistics. Just thinking about making photos is how I like to shoot.
Old town Nice is a beautiful part of the city. It is right on the Mediterranean coast, although the beach is filled with stones and rocks and not the sandy beach I imagined in the French Riviera. I guess that’s why nearby places like Saint Tropez, Cannes and Monte Carlo are so famous. The houses in old town are quaint and filled with character and characters. I met an American in his 70’s who lives in Denmark and has been refurbishing an old story apartment for years. He told me the history of his block and showed me remnants of WWII bombings by the Germans. He loved spending a few weeks a year there just working on his apartment. I loved the small alleys and all the lovely windows with shutters.
Old town features a vibrant night life, which we discovered since my hotel window looked out over a square where a three piece band, including a full drum set, started playing at 12:30 a.m. last night. There are many cool looking restaurants that were full at 10 p.m. and many shops.
My trip to France has been great. Ron took us to many of his hidden gems so we could make splendid photos. Tomorrow we get on a plane and head back home. It has been a long trip and I look forward to seeing my wife, Robin, and doing a full edit of my photos.
This morning we went over to Roussillion to see the unique ochre trail. The trail goes through a canyon where they have mined ochre for many years and used the color to make many things. The buildings were all ochre color and you could buy ochre color to make you own paint or pottery. The town had a fun little market today, so that made for some good photos.
We enjoyed L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue so yesterday we decided to go back there this afternoon and have dinner beside a canal.
We had plenty of time to do more shooting in town, there is a lot to see and photograph. There were quite a few people in boats on the canals and there obviously is skill involved in using a long pole to propel the boats. The person in the back does all the work and it looks like sitting in the front is an exercise in relaxation. Most of the boats had men but one pink one has two young women and she moved the boat faster than some of the men.
This is our last full day together and it has been a blast. People are tired and invigorated and having a nice dinner together was a perfect end to the week.
Tomorrow we head back to Nice.
While we were getting breakfast at a great little bakery in Gordes, I walked over to the edge of town. In Gordes, the edge is really an edge, take a couple extra steps in the wrong direction and you are in flight. There were a couple of other Americans making photos in the street and one of them paused to change her camera. She made a nice foreground looking out across the valley filled with wheat fields and vineyards.
We then went to the neat town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which has several canals running through town. I was fascinated by a little green boat floating on a canal, I worked it pretty hard but wasn’t overly thrilled with the image I made, it will be fun to see what the others got from the same scene.
We went to several other towns and as the sun was going down we found ourselves back in Bonnieux, where we started yesterday. We pulled up to the same overlook as the sun was setting on the distant horizon. We enjoyed the tailgate dinner we had two days ago so we had planned on doing it again. We had an even bigger spread tonight in a tremendous location looking out over the French countryside. The sunset for a wonderful photo and end to another great day in Provence.
It is a little strange to be in a foreign country on the Fourth of July, there is no celebration and no fireworks. What’s wrong with these people?!!!
We ventured over to Bonnieux, an old village high on a mountain that offered great views of the valley and the next town over, Lacoste, home of Marquis de Sade’s old castle. I love how they love their lavender, and it obviously isn’t just for tourists. Many homes have doors and shutters painted lavender.
While shooting from the overlook, I could see a patch of lavender in the distance and some trees at the end of it, so we went there on our way to Lacoste. The field made a nice picture but we were getting hungry so we packed up and headed to the small village of Lacoste.
It was almost 10 a.m. when we rolled into town and grabbed the first parking spot we could. We had rented a nice Mercedes van that held the entire group but parking it was a challenge in these ancient villages. There was a restaurant nearby and a few of us sat down only to learn they were only serving croissants. A few of us hiked farther into the village, which was a hefty climb. It was amazing to see how they built homes on the steep side of the mountain and some of them were three stories high.
We ran into a couple of English speaking and they said our choices for breakfast were the first restaurant or a small farmer’s market. One person was on her way back from the market and said there wasn’t any food there so we went back down the hill to the restaurant and we cleaned them out of croissants.
It was a fun way to celebrate without fireworks.
The fun and excitement of the Provence Workshop took a hit today, we had to say good bye to one of participants because he got a detached retina in his eye. He had one before and knew when he landed in France that he might have a problem. Last night he saw a flash of light that he shouldn’t have and he talked with one of our other participants who is an opthamologist and they decided it would be best for him to fly back to America and get it taken care of. We hope him the best.
We moved to a new town, Gordes, today and went to visit one of the most anticipated site of our trip. My partner in this trip, Ron Lake, several years ago made a fabulous shot of Notre-Dame de Senanque abbey and we ventured down a winding, narrow road from Gordes to the valley below. The medieval abbey is still in use and they plant a lavender field right up to the ancient building. The lavender is still a couple of weeks away from being in peak beauty but it still made for some lovely photos.
One thing about leading a photo workshop in places like Provence, France, is that I don’t want to take time to edit photos and write blog posts. I’d rather be out shooting! So these will be fairly short and I’ll put together a full slideshow when I get home.
Today we ventured out to more lavender fields on Valensole Plains from our base in Manosque. Once again we were greeted with miles of lavender and lots of other photographers. Some brought models and others were there just to shoot lavender. One jerk thought it would be cool to walk out in the middle of a field where everyone was trying to make pictures of a cute little block house. The idiot received plenty of advice of where to go in several languages. He didn’t move until he was done. One photographer had a model dressed in white, which looked beautiful in the lavender so I grabbed some shots of her when he wasn’t looking. From the angle he was shooting, I think I got the better shot!
Since we were out in the farmland of France, there isn’t an easy way to grab food to go and we didn’t want to have a big sit down meal as the evening light was getting great. So we did a little tailgating the middle of a lavender field. We got some French bread, cheese, sausage and, of course, wine and had a picnic after the sun went down, which is pretty late this time of year. By the time we finished eating it was after 10 p.m. and there was still a good bit of light in the sky. I got out a big flashlight I carry and we did some light painting of the lavender. The trick is to calculate the camera’s exposure for the sky and use the flashlight to illuminate the foreground. Lighting a field with one flashlight is rather tricky and getting an even exposure is pretty tough but the photos came out pretty nice.
Today was the first day of real shooting for my photo workshop in Provence, France. We started off with a blast of lavender, wandering through huge fields. It was overwhelming for my sense of sight, smell and sound. I expected it to look wonderful, thigh-high rows of lavender stretching out to the horizon. I had seen plenty of photos, so the sight was a pleasure to see. And since it is lavender, I guessed it would smell great. I felt like rolling in it but I didn’t want to do any damage to the crop.
But what I didn’t expect was the sound. We were out in fields, away from the sound of humanity but there was a constant hum. I frequently see things that I don’t know what they are and I smell things that I don’t recognize but it rare to hear a sound that I can’t place. As I was walking through the rows of lavender it finally hit me that the hum I was hearing was actually a loud buzz and it was coming from bees. I had seen many bee hives near the fields but until I saw the squadron of bees doing their work on the lavender, I just couldn’t place their sound. Millions of bees pollinate the lavender and make it thrive and they were busy buzzing throughout the plants. They did make me move a little slower so I wouldn’t anger them and get stung.
Tomorrow starts my Provence photo workshop in France, but I came over a little early to make a quick visit to Saint Tropez and to get acclimated to the time change before all my participants arrive.
Photographer friend Ron Lake and I are hosting the workshop, Ron has extensive experience in Provence and is our guide for the week. We had a great time stomping around Saint Tropez, taking in all the glam and being among the people who are here to be seen.
The Saint Tropez harbor is filled with big yachts from all over the world and at night they are the place for parties. Floating near the worldly yachts are small fishing boats owned by the locals. It was fun to see the late evening light reflect off the buildings in the water. The glitz isn’t my cup of tea but I enjoyed going into the old part of town and seeing the buildings and where the real people live. We came across a wonderful home entrance with an old grape vine growing up beside a blue door and then spreading out overhead.
Tomorrow we head out the fields of lavender, I’m looking forward to another great day.