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Category : Classes & Workshops

30 Sep 2018

Exploring New York City at night

I’m not really a night owl but I had a great time last night hosting a mid town New York photography workshop at night. We started in Central Park before it got dark, which is always a great place to photograph but going alone can be a bit intimidating. This was the first of many workshops I’m planning in the city since I bought a 12-passenger van that makes it convenient for participants to get around. With the help of fellow pro photographer Ron Lake we were able to drop people off and pick them up right at the locations we wanted to shoot.

With the weather being near perfect, Central Park was full of people, which made for some great photos. We started near Bethesda Fountain and the boathouse. The pond was full of row boats, it didn’t look like too many of the people had much experience with oars but they were having fun. A little farther away from the boathouse the boat crowd thinned and I was lucky to catch a gondola floating past while I was on Bow Bridge. The buildings of the city made for a good background.

We left the park and headed for more madness: Times Square. It was packed and full of energy and so bright you don’t need a tripod at night! The lights of color are always awesome and there seemed to be a special energy going on. After getting plenty of shots we got back in the van and went to pretty much the total opposite, a quiet place I know on the East Side where we could get cool shots looking across 42nd St. and then looking east to Queens. They both made for neat shots of traffic moving and blurring with our long exposures.

The night ended in Grand Central Terminal, which is an architectural marvel but it is dark inside. In order to shoot with a tripod you need to get a special permit in advance, which I had done for the group. It is such a cool building and always makes for great photos. It was a good place to end the night.

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29 Sep 2018

Looking around The Ville at night

Last night I held a night photography workshop in Somerville, NJ. It is always a lot of fun to see how my hometown looks after dark. We started in a cemetery that has some large but rather eerie monuments. I tend to hang out in cemeteries probably more than I should and I’m always amazed by the tributes that have been built to the dead. At least they make for fun photographs. We got there before it was pitch dark so there would still be some light in the sky. For the first shot we were lucky to be aimed toward the Big Dipper, which were about the only stars visible since there is so much light pollution in New Jersey.

One of the things I love to do at night is light painting: using a flashlight to illuminate dark objects. A cemetery is a perfect place to do it since few are lit at night. It gives me lots of control over the light. We could see a highway behind the second monument we shot, which give us cool red lights streaking past plus I caught an airplane flying past.

After we got out of the cemetery alive we went to downtown Somerville and did lots of fun long exposure shots. There is a monument/fountain on the courthouse square that is pretty dark on one side so I did some light painting on it and we shot from the side so we could see the old Somerset Hotel and a new building going up that has lots of light on it. The Somerset Hotel sign on the roof isn’t lit so I brightened it up also with my flashlight. We also played with some long exposure tricks, like spinning the camera while photographing neon signs. It is a lot of fun.

We finished the night on Division St., a pedestrian mall that has lots of things going on. I had fun with some colorful tables and chairs in front of a restaurant that had funky colored lights. It looks do different at night, which was the whole purpose of the workshop.

23 Aug 2018

Goodbye Iceland, for now

I always have mixed feelings about a workshop being over, especially when it is in a great location like Iceland. I’m on the plane flying home and fairly exhausted. The highlight was being lucky and seeing the Aurora Borealis flickering in the northern sky but it meant for pretty short nights and not enough sleep. It will be great to get home and see my wife Robin and sleep in my own bed.

This week in Iceland was once again a tremendous experience. The people of Iceland are so friendly, it helps that they all speak English, but they are proud of their country and welcome the hoards of visitors. Back in July I met Ludvik Karlson, an artist in the little fishing town of Grundarfjörður. Ludvik carves rocks when he can get outside and paints in the winter. When we pulled up Sunday he was outside his studio carving away. As I walked toward him his face lit up when he recognized me. It was fun to be so warmly greeted. He has a beautiful carving that he says is either a swan looking skyward or a harp and I would love to have it but I can’t imagine how much the shipping would be to get the 250 pound art back to America.  I’m sure many Icelanders would prefer the crowds stay home but it has made their economy boom. Nearly all the construction I saw was building hotels to accommodate all the guests.

I’ve said this many times before, but it is amazing how well people on photo workshops get along. We were eight people who didn’t know each, tossed into a van driving too many miles and spending too much time together and getting in each other’s way when trying to make pictures. But everyone is on the same mission to have fun, make the best photos they can, so it all works out. I’m starting to think we should make all politicians go on photo workshops so they can learn how to get along with each other.

I’m excited to go back next year in February and again in August. Below is a gallery of some photos I made during my two summer trips to Iceland.

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22 Aug 2018

What’s all the Iceland foss about?

Today as part of my Iceland Photography Workshop we headed back to Reykjavik but not before stopping at some great locations. When we were heading south on Monday we stopped at a couple of waterfalls but because of the rain I wasn’t happy with the images we were able to get and we even skipped one waterfall. Well, we got the chance to shoot them today as we went north and the weather is wonderful. When the sun is out there is frequently a rainbow in the mist from Skogafoss and it makes for great pictures. It didn’t disappoint today, but the crowds were there. So I played enforcer, I had our people line up their shot of the falls and I went and cleared out the people in front of us by telling them there was a major photo shoot going on and I needed them to move for one minute. It pretty much worked, there was one kid who didn’t speak English and I thought dragging him out of the way might be too much. But his size added some nice scale to the photo showing how big the falls are.

Then we went to what might be my favorite location in Iceland. Kvernufoss is near Skogafoss but completely different because most people don’t know about it. You have to climb a fence (they put a ladder over it, so it is OK to do it) and then hike about 1/2 mile back and some parts are narrow and tricky. The lack of people and beauty of the hike are special. You can get a special view by going behind the foss (foss means waterfalls in Icelandic, one of the few words shorter than English). If I was able to go to only one place in Iceland, this would be it. The combination of peacefulness, beauty and nature doesn’t get any better.

We didn’t want to leave but had to get back to Reykjavik, although we made a couple more stops. Gullfoss is one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, but that comes with the price of lots of tourists. It is magnificent to see and appreciate the power and strength of water. Nearby is Geiser, the original geyser for which all others are named. Old Geiser isn’t too faithful and rarely shoots off but there is one a couple of hundred yards aways that blows about every 10 minutes. It is a lot of fun and with the sun getting lower in the sky made a pretty nice photo today.

21 Aug 2018

Things that are uniquely Iceland

If I could only spend one day in Iceland and want to see things that are fairly unique to the country, then we went there today during my Iceland Photography Workshop. Since it was raining we started the day shopping in Vic, which isn’t unique, but it is fun to see things made in Iceland. I warned the group to watch for thins that look Icelandic and are made in China. They did pretty good with that.

As we drove the southern coast the weather started getting better and by the time we got to a secluded tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest, the rain had pretty much stopped. This is one of the coolest places I go in Iceland, there are no other people around and the view of the glacier, a lagoon and mountains is stunning. High clouds hid much of the mountain but the color of the glacier and sheer size is daunting.

Then we stopped at Diamond Beach, a truly unique Icelandic experience. Another tongue of the glacier comes down to a large lagoon that is connected to the ocean by a short river. Salty sea water goes back up the river into the lagoon helping break off chunks of ice that float back down the river and wash up on Diamond Beach’s black sand. The pounding waves wear down the ice and when sunlight hits them they look like diamonds sitting on black velvet. Quite the sight. It is fun to make pictures of the waves flowing past ice and see what happens when the shutter is open for a long time. I could spend days on that one beach.

I’m also fascinated by the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. They are such a weird phenomenon, with the colorful display of light glowing at night. I first saw them during my trip in March and was awed and I keep a eye on several iPhone apps that let me know when they are active in hopes I can see them back in Vermont. The aurora is active all year but it doesn’t get dark enough in the summer months to see them. I checked my apps before this trip and saw the activity level was pretty high and we would have enough darkness to possibly see them. What a bonus! Tonight the activity was fairly high and the sky was giving us some major breaks in the clouds so we went to a hilltop away from town to see what would happen. We got a show! Green light danced along the horizon and an occasional red/orange light popped in. We could see clouds heading our way and knew we wouldn’t have long but what we saw was awesome. I can’t wait to come back in Feb. for another workshop when the main focus will be the aurora!

20 Aug 2018

Puffins and volcanic beaches in Iceland

Today for my Iceland Photography Workshop we made the fairly long drive from the Snaefellsjokull Peninsula down to the south coast and our home for the next two days in Vic. There are many things to shoot along the way and we stopped at a couple of the most dramatic waterfalls in Iceland but the weather limited our ability to make great shots. As we got farther south the weather got nicer. 

We stopped at Dyrhólaey cliffs and photographed the puffins. They are cute and colorful little birds that roost near the public area, making it pretty easy to photograph them. They fly away from the cliffs, catch some fish which dangle from their beaks and then come back to pose for photos. They are exciting to see and always make for fun photos.

While up on the cliffs you have a great view of the black sand beaches below. The waves and surf rolling up on the sand creates a stunning contrast.

The next stop was Reynisfjara Beach, which was filled with tourists. You really want to be there at low tide otherwise you can’t walk around to see the cool caves created when lava flow hit the ocean. There are basalt columns that are quite unusual and very graphic. They were created when the flowing lava cooled quickly. 

19 Aug 2018

What to do when the sky doesn’t cooperate in Iceland

Today as part of my Iceland Photography Workshop we ventured up to Kirkjufellsfoss, one of the most scenic waterfalls in Iceland. I came here in March, having gotten out of bed at 3 a.m. and driving two hours for sunrise to find the falls completely frozen. When I was here in July it was so rainy and overcast that we couldn’t see the top of the nearby mountain, one of the main features of the locations. I had hoped to shoot at sunrise today but it was overcast and we caught up on a little sleep. There are two levels to the falls and the classic shot is the lower falls in the foreground and the mountain in the background. I was able to pull some blue out of the overcast and it made for a decent shot.

When the sky doesn’t cooperate I do what any good photographer does, eliminate it from my photo. So I did some tighter shots of the falls and I love the way the water looks when I use a long shutter speed to render the moving water as a blur. The bright green grass adds to the image.

We eventually ventured toward the small village of Bjarnarhöfn, which has another black church. Again the weather wasn’t behaving, dropping a light mist, so I did what any good photographer does, think black & white. Gray clouds in color look blah but they can look pretty dramatic in B&W, so I shot the church with that in mind. Back closer to Kirkjufellsfoss I stopped at a cool overlook and we all hopped out to make some shots of that scene and I was thinking black & white there also. They came out pretty nice.

18 Aug 2018

A white wedding at a black Icelandic church

One of my favorite scenes in Iceland is the church painted black in Budir. It is a small wood frame building that was originally black on the outside because they used the same tar pitch to protect the building that they used on ships. Now it is among the few in the country that are kept black and it looks cool. It sits on a rough ancient volcanic river and the countryside is rugged. The background is mountains, a glacier or ocean, truly a beautiful setting. The only other thing in town is a nearby hotel.

I’ve been here several times and today was the first time there were people walking in. It didn’t take long to realize a wedding was going to happen here. What a tremendous place to get married and how lucky for us to be here when it happened. People were filing into the church and it started to feel like it was a clown car, I couldn’t see inside but it seemed like there were more people than could fit in the small chapel.

Soon the officiant came out wearing a black robe and strange collar and it looked like he was waiting for the bride, the groom had already gone inside. I then saw the bride and what appeared to be her father and family walking up the hill from the hotel. What a great scene. I put myself in place to get them walking into the church after going through the small entrance.

I would have loved to follow them into the church and make photos in there but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I went off on the grounds hoping it would be a short ceremony. As I was walking I came across a dapper older gentleman walking on the trails. I stopped to talk with him and I’m glad I did. He was a psychology professor from Reykjavik who was playing tourist with some friends and visiting the area where he grandparents grew up. He told me of life in Iceland, how he lived in New York for a while and has written several books on psychology. What an interesting man, plus he make a great photo.

Unfortunately we had to leave before the wedding ceremony was over but I have some great memories of a great day at the black church.

18 Aug 2018

Seals and horses welcome us to Iceland

We we blessed to start off my latest Iceland Photography Workshop with great weather. Nice cool summer temperatures and a summer day greeted folks to Iceland. We headed right out from the airport and were shooting old sod roofed houses in Keflavik within 20 minutes. The old houses are really cool and small. The door is less than five feet tall. When I was here in March I shot selfie on my phone in front of one and posted it on Facebook saying my hotel was smaller than I thought it would be. Way too many people thought I was serious.

When then hit the road for a drive up to the Snaefellsjokull Peninsula where we are spending the next two nights. One of many unique things in this country are Icelandic horses. They are a separate breed from any other and the only breed allowed in the country. They are amazingly hardy, they spend the winters outside while cattle are brought indoors for safe keeping. They have beautiful long manes and a heavy coat. Plus they are pretty friendly, whenever I have stopped to photograph them they always walk over to the fence to say hello. The light was great on them today and the background scenery couldn’t be better.

We stopped at Seal Beach, where seals lay around on the rocks and pretty much don’t care how close you get to them. I did have one keep an eye on me but I didn’t get close enough to disturb it. We off to a great start.

17 Aug 2018

Getting to Iceland early

My latest Iceland Photography Workshop starts tomorrow and I came a day early to scout some new locations and let my body acclimate to the time change. Iceland is such a beautiful place, I really can’t spend enough time here, even though this is my third trip this year. I feel so fortunate to be able to see things and meet people I never dreamed of as a kid growing up in rural Indiana. For some reason today I keep having thoughts of a few years ago sitting with my sister Lynda along the shore below her house in British Columbia, Canada, tossing rocks into the water and watching as bioluminescent plankton flash brightly when disturbed by our stones. We talked about how far we were from Indiana and how lucky we have been in our lives.

As I watched the sun slowly go down tonight, I once again realized how blessed I am to witness such natural beauty. I went to Reykjanes Lighthouse and shot from one side as the sun cast lovely light on it. I then drove to the other side and waited to see if any colorful magic would happen and it did. What a beautiful way to be greeted by Iceland!

16 Aug 2018

Getting ready for New York City photography workshops

I’ve been wanting to do photography workshops and tours in New York City for a while but there is always the big problem of transportation, getting around in the city isn’t easy or fun. I’ve solved that problem with the purchase of my Sprinter 12-passenger van. So lookout New York, I’m going to be turning lots of photographers loose on the city!

Friend and fellow professional photographer Ron Lake will be helping me on many of the NYC trips. Ron and I do workshops together in France and Italy including one in Venice during Carnival in March followed by a return trip to Tuscany while the red poppies are in bloom in May. Ron and I made a quick dash into New York to scout some locations tonight and I got some pretty cool shots in Brooklyn of the Manhattan skyline and the bridge. It will be fun to do these workshops.

05 Aug 2018

Bonus night for night skies workshop

My three night Vermont Night Skies and Light Painting Workshop finished last night and since the weather didn’t cooperate on Friday night, I added a bonus night for those who could stick around.

We started with another visit from the International Space Station. It is crazy to imagine being able to stand outside and see a space craft flying past and making photos of it. Catching a ride in that thing would be the ultimate thrill! I took us to a large open field that had some trees to use as a foreground and a cool stone wall.

We finished the night photographing a secluded barn. It isn’t easy to find a red barn that doesn’t have any light hitting it, which is essential since I like to light them with a flashlight. Friend Bob Wagner told me about this one and asked the landowners if we could photograph it. A great way to end the workshop.

04 Aug 2018

Shooting stars and the ISS

We got a special treat tonight during my Vermont Night Skies and Light Painting Workshop, a visit from the International Space Station. Using a couple of iPhone apps we could see where and when the ISS would fly over and leave a bright streak in the sky. I took us to an old hilltop cemetery where we photographed the Milky Way and did some light painting while waiting for the flyover. It came right on schedule and we were able to make exciting photos of it passing in front of the Milky Way. I was lucky catch a shooting star at the same time. Pretty cool.

I am fortunate to have a neighbor in Woodstock who allows me access to her beautiful property in nearby Pomfret, VT. The pond is marvelous and it is dark there, so it is a great place to take the group. We did several shots around the pond of the Milky Way and light painting on the shore while. Adding a little light from flashlights always adds a nice touch to astrophotography. I like seeing something in the foreground and just having stars in the sky.

While we were shooting the Milky Way, some people tried doing star trails spinning in the photo. The trick is to find Polaris, the North Star and over a period of time it will look like other stars are circling it due to the earth’s rotation. This is actually 120 photos during about one hour and then put together in the computer. The result is very cool and I got the lights from people on the other side of the pond photographing the Milky Way.

02 Aug 2018

Seeing night skies in Vermont

This evening was the first session of my Vermont Night Skies and Light Painting Photography Workshop. I’ve always been a little hesitant to do a workshop that depends so much on having fairly clear skies, but I decided to go for it this year. I’ve been watching the weather forecast pretty much non-stop for the past week, like that will make any difference. But this morning it called for cloudy today and then clearing off for tomorrow and Saturday night.

We started the workshop with a fun indoor session where I talked about how to photograph the starts, finding the Milky Way, painting with light and working in the dark. We then headed to one of my favorite locations for light painting, Middle Bridge in Woodstock, which I can see from my second floor bedroom. As expected, it was fairly cloudy, which doesn’t matter for what we were doing. We then went across the street and did some light painting on the public library, which is a beautiful building.

The whole time I was keeping my eye on the sky hoping for breaks in the clouds but overhead it looked the same. I looked to the west and noticed a couple of starts shining so I decided we should go out to Lincoln covered bridge, which doesn’t have many lights around it. When we arrived stars were shining bright and we could see the Milky Way in a large break in the clouds. I told people to get out and shoot fast, the clouds could cover it fast. They did eventually roll back in but not before we got some great shots of the Milky Way and then stars behind the bridge as I lighted it with a flash light. A good start to what should be a great weekend.

25 Jul 2018

Iceland is a special place

This is the last day of my Iceland photography workshop, it is always sad for it to come to an end. We had a great bunch of people and it was fun working with them. But before heading back to the airport we had time to explore and photograph Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland. Most of Iceland has rather utilitarian architecture but they have some pretty cool buildings in Reykjavik.

Harpa is a new building that is a concert hall. It is covered with glass pieces that reflect differently depending on which direction you look at them. It is a fun building and filled with geometric shapes and I got a fun shot of Paul, one of our photographers, reflected in one of the panels.

Nearby is Sun Voyager, a sculpture shaped like a boat with a node to Iceland’s norse heritage. It sits right beside the ocean and it very striking.

The tallest building in Iceland is Hallgrimskirkja, a modern Lutheran church with a unique design. The light wasn’t right this morning for a good shot of it but a few of us went up in the tower to get a view over the city. We walked the streets nearby and came across a row of colorful houses, I like the way they look together.

Then it was time to make our way back to the airport and head home. It is always nice to be home but Iceland is a special place. At least I feel good knowing I’ll be back in August for another workshop.