Yea, 2020 was a strange year. There was way too much loss but there was much to celebrate. I was able to go to Iceland and get a couple of shots I had wanted for a long time, a great ice cave image and the Aurora Borealis. I was in Cuba when the pandemic hit hardest in the U.S. and we had to cut the trip short for concern we wouldn’t be able to get back into the country. The day after I got back my wife Robin and I left our NJ home and headed to Vermont where we spent the rest of the year. The only other travel was a quick weekend workshop photographing lighthouses in Maine. I’m looking forward to 2021 and making more fun images. Below is a slide show of some of the photos I made in 2020. Enjoy and be safe.
There was a vigil for justice today in Woodstock, VT, where about 300 people gathered on the green. That’s a pretty good crowd considering the village has fewer than 1000 residents. Vermonters tend pretty community involved and there was plenty of solidarity shown, some tears shed and it ended with the crowd taking a knee for nearly nine minutes to honor the death of George Floyd.
I love when when great planning comes together to create a good picture. I love even more when dumb planning and incredible luck combine to create a special image. I was out shooting star trails over a pond last night and lined up a cool looking shot. I planned on getting some good reflections from the trees I was lighting with my flashlight in the water. Star trails are essentially very long exposures and the stars blur due to the earth’s rotation. This photo was made in a period of 2 hours and 45 minutes, but rather than being one shot it is about 275 photos that were 30 seconds long each. They are then assembled with software to show the movement of the stars. I add some light to the trees so there is a nice foreground and I knew I’d have a pretty cool shot. As I’m sitting out in the dark the International Space Station flew over. It is always fun to see it streak past but this time it looked like it was going to be in my shot. About 90 minutes later it came by again, this time lower in the sky and not as bright. Hey, I might catch that one too, I thought. Today when I put the photo together I was thrilled to see the ISS flew right in front of Polaris, which is the star the others rotate around. Now that is cool. Plus I have the second ISS pass lower in the shot. Damn I’m good.
During my workshop in Cuba last month I was lucky to have Beth Payne as one of the participants. Beth retired from the State Department and now does training to help people become more resilient in their lives. As the covid-19 crisis was shutting down the U.S. and creeping into Cuba, Beth provided valuable assurance to the group, both in dealing with what was unfolding back home but also that we would be able to get home. I asked Beth if she would do a session for photographers, thinking it might be kinda nice. It turned out to be great. While working in Iraq, Beth’s hotel was bombed and she risked her life to help a co-worker and as a result had PTSD. Beth used photography to get through it and still finds photography to be a valuable to deal with life’s stresses and tribulations. I appreciate her sharing her knowledge with us. Check out Beth’s blog at payneresilience.com/blog.
A dear friend died last night. Marilyn Dillon was a co-worker and friend and a source of strength for a long time. Dillon, as she preferred to be called, fought many courageous battles the last 13 years but always had that devilish grin, ready to toss out a dry quip. When life isn’t perfect I often think of her determination and grit and wonder “What would Dillon do?” As the tears run down my face I smile. I’m lucky to have known her and Brian Horton and her force will be with me forever.
I could write a ton about Dillon but Brian put together a wonderful obit that says it all. He posted it on the weekly blog he has faithfully written keeping the world updated on Dillon’s progress during her many battles. It is quite the tribute: https://marjourneyback.blogspot.com/
Nature is amazing and one of the most unique sights is the Aurora Borealis – the northern lights. To see them in full fury is a thrill and we had a great display tonight in Iceland. It takes the right combination of dark skies, sun spot activity and no clouds. There is a scale of 1-9 that rates the solar activity and they predict it three weeks in advance. Last week it was showing that we would only be at a 2 all this week, so I sent a note to my Iceland workshop participants not to expect much in the way of aurora.
Then two days ago when I checked tonight’s rating was 3, which isn’t bad. We had dinner and then went out of town to an area I know would make a good foreground. As we were driving the aurora was glowing bright on the horizon. Once we parked we were treated to an amazing show of light. We had a small mountain in front of us and the green light started on the right side. Then it started appearing on the left side of the mountain. I was doing a happy dance as the aurora danced across the sky. After a while a hook of light appeared on the right side creating a classic Icelandic aurora. We stood out in the dark for over two hours being amazed by what we saw. It finally diminished and we went back to the hotel with a special memory.
Pantone recently announced Classic Blue (19-4052) as the 2020 Color of the Year and it just happens to be one of my favorite colors to photograph. Really!
Here’s what Pantone said: “A timeless and enduring blue hue, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue is elegant in its simplicity. Suggestive of the sky at dusk, the reassuring qualities of the thought-provoking PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue highlight our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era. Imprinted in our psyches as a restful color, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, offering refuge. Aiding concentration and bringing laser like clarity, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue re-centers our thoughts. A reflective blue tone, Classic Blue fosters resilience.”
I frequently photograph this color during the “Blue Hour” which occurs twice a day after sunset or before sunrise. No matter the weather, the sky turns this lovely shade of blue which registers on cameras but we don’t see it with our eyes unless we are thinking about it. Our eyes adjust to the blue to make everything look normal. Think about when you might be driving around in a car about 20 minutes after sunset and all the lights in houses look deep yellow. Your eyes have adjusted for the blue hour and make the slight yellow of interior lights look much deeper. The camera doesn’t make that adjustment and we get these beautiful blue skies but it doesn’t change the color of our subjects.
It is a great time of day to shoot night photos. I especially like to photograph cityscapes during the blue hour to capture a bit of color in the sky before it goes completely black.
Thanks Pantone for making one of my favorite colors the color of the year.
I keep getting older and life keeps getting better! Sure, creaky bones and old man stiffness is coming on strong but my brain still thinks I’m in my 20’s. I am fortunate and thankful that I am loved by my wife Robin, have great family and friends and am doing the work that I love.
One of my life dreams, opening a photography gallery, came true this year and I’m traveling to places I could only have imagined not too many years ago. I made trips to Italy twice, exploring the beauty of Tuscany and visiting Venice before it gets sadly destroyed by flooding. Iceland is one of my favorite places and I’m glad I don’t have to decide if I like it better in winter or summer since I go there in both seasons. And I had the thrill of chasing a total solar eclipse in northern Chile. It is one spectacle that I can’t get enough of.
I spend as much time as I can at my Vermont house, which is a great place to photograph snow in the winter, the Milky Way all summer and the immense beauty of fall foliage in October. This year’s foliage was one of the most colorful in recent years and I’m blessed that my neighbor allows me access to her special property nearby. It is where I made the shot above.
Getting out and working with other photographers during my many workshops is very fulfilling. Whether we are getting together at my gallery or around New Jersey, going into New York City, cruising up the Maine Coast, checking out scenic Bucks County, PA, stomping around Vermont or going international, it is fun to see what other photographers come up with.
Entering a new year and decade is exciting and I look forward to seeing what new adventures await.
Below are some of my favorite photos I made in 2019. Move your mouse over a photo to see where the image was made or click on a photo to see a larger version and then you can click the arrows to move through the pictures.
Today was a special day – the official grand opening of my photography gallery in Bedminster, NJ. Having a brick-and-mortar gallery of my work has been a long time dream and to see it come together is a thrill. Then to have family and friends come together to help me celebrate made for a day I won’t forget. I’ve had the space for a few months but with all my workshops and traveling I wasn’t able to put all the final pieces together until this month. With the help of new gallery manager Susie Fang, the gallery will be open Wednesdays through Sundays and by special appointment.
I am showing my work in four formats. Earlier this year I purchased a high end 44″ wide photo printer so I can make my own prints. So I’m offering traditional prints on archival paper with beautiful frames. I’m having custom frames handmade in Philadelphia and using the highest quality Museum Glass in the frames. The glass has very little reflection so you can hardly tell there is glass covering the photo. I am now also able to print on canvas and frame them myself. Canvas prints have a painterly look to them and don’t need glass. I am also offering paper prints mounted behind acrylic. This is the most expensive way there is to mount a photo and I wouldn’t think of trying to do it myself so I have a top pro lab produce them. The look is amazing as light goes through the 1/4 inch highly polished acrylic and makes the colors and detail pop. Finally I’m also offering prints on metal. Again this is a highly specialized process where dyes are infused into the metal, so I use a top lab in Florida to make them. The metals have a look similar to the acrylic mount but they are lighter and easier to handle. They are a little less expensive and the metal is extremely durable, it can even be hung outdoors or in a bathroom where the shower creates a lot of steam.
I wish I could have a party like today everyday, just have lots of friends hanging out, enjoying each other, loving life and selling a few photos.
Thanks to friend and fellow photographer Walter Choroszewski for sending over some photos from the event.
The final full day of my Iceland Photography Workshop was spent in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city. Even though there are a little over 200,00 people, two-thirds of all Icelanders live in the Reykjavik area and it has that small city feel. There is plenty happening in Reykjavik, it has a hopping night scene, big art scene and a top-notch performing arts center called Harpa. Iceland isn’t known for it architecture, most buildings are functional and blocky but Harpa is a major exception. The front is made with glass octagons that look vastly different when viewed at angles.
Close to Harpa is Sun Voyager, a large gleaming steel sculpture that resembles a Viking ship, although that wasn’t the intention of the artist. It was meant to be a dream boat and ode to the sun. It always makes for great photos. Many houses in downtown Reykjavik are painted with unique colors and there is a good deal of street art murals. It makes for a fun stroll with a camera.
While driving to the hotel I went past a strange cemetery, it was full of eerie looking trees. I’m never one to pass up a good cemetery, so I took the group there late the day to see how it really looked. It was eerie all right, the trees were planted within the cemetery plots, very few were between them leading us to believe they were part of the memorials. Most of the trees had thin, tall trunks with a large canopy which added to the dark feel. It would be great fun to be there on a foggy day. There were a couple of cats roaming around, they were pretty chubby and had collars with bells, so they seemed to be out from home for the afternoon.
When ended the day hoping to catch a great sunset at a lighthouse. There was some nice color in the sky before sunset but a marine layer of clouds blocked the killer shot of the sun setting behind the lighthouse. The lighthouse is on an island and it is easy to walk over to it on the beach at low tide. But we arrived as high tide was coming in and the only way off is climbing over jagged rocks, which is tough during the day but very hazardous at night. We opted not to venture to the island but made some beautiful images anyway.
Tomorrow we pack up and head home, the end to another great Icelandic adventure. I look forward to coming back in February!
Iceland is known for waterfalls and glaciers, yesterday I took my workshop to the waterfalls, today it was glacier time. I know this little spot where a tongue of Vatnajökull glacier comes down into a lagoon. There is a little dirt road back to it off the highway, it isn’t marked and too small for most people to take a chance to see what is there. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe and covers 8% of Iceland. It is big.
Driving over from Vic we encountered some rain and wind but all of that stopped when we got out of the van. There were a couple of other people for a while but we mainly had the place to ourselves, which is always fun. In the summer the glacier melts and leaves a layer of dirt in the ice. It is cool to see but not pristine. This is one place that looks better in the winter but it is still fun to see how big this little part of the glacier is and it makes some great photos.
After leaving my little glacial hideaway we drove down to Jökulsárlón where another tongue of the glacier meets the ocean. A large lagoon is there and a short river has formed to drain the lagoon into the ocean. At high tide ocean water surges back into the lagoon and the salty water breaks off large chunks of the glacier. Year round you’ll see large icebergs floating in the lagoon and out the river. When they get to the ocean they break up more and float back onto the black sand beach. As the ice gets smaller it looks like diamonds on the beach when light shins through it. The weather had turned bad and it was raining pretty hard when we arrived. I drove to a couple of spots hoping the rain would ease and it finally did so we went over to Diamond Beach. The light was pretty bad, it was windy and it was spitting rain so shooting wasn’t easy. We still made some fun shots and went back over to the lagoon. Huge pieces of blue ice were floating and breaking apart. It was fun to see and to shoot. The rain came back so we started back toward the hotel.
As we were driving the rain was falling and then the sun came out. It made of one the biggest and brightest rainbows I have ever seen. I pulled the van off the road and we jumped out and shot some pictures while trying to stay dry. It was a lot of fun and great way to end another fabulous day in Iceland.
A quick shout out to my sister-in-law Penny Milligan who opened a new store today. Thirteen years ago Penny followed a dream and took a major leap by opening her own retail store, The Hungry Hound. Penny had worked in retail for years and knew what she was doing but opening your own small store was a huge risk. Now she has moved the store across the street in Somerville, NJ, and gone from 1500 square feet to over 5000 square feet. Penny not only has all the supplies and trinkets for pets but makes treats and food. The new store has a huge kitchen and plenty of space for more merchandise.
It is another big leap for Penny and not an easy decision. I’m proud of you Penny.
I saw my first total solar eclipse while in the Oregon desert in 2017 and decided right then that I would an eclipse chaser. I started planning for the next one as soon as I got home. Well, it was yesterday and pretty much all I can do is say WOW!
I was concerned that maybe the first eclipse would be the best and seeing another would be a let down. It sure wasn’t. The impact of seeing the moon move in front of and totally block the sun isn’t something I can do justice in words or pictures.
This time I went to the desert of Chile, which is the ground zero for astronomy in South America. I hadn’t been to this part of Chile before and I didn’t have a local guide, which added to the adventure. I was lucky to find a cool cabin for our group to stay Monday night and during the eclipse, so logistics couldn’t have been better. (See blog post)
So yesterday was all about making sure my workshop group was ready. I had made solar filters for each of their cameras along with my own. Each person in the group shot with two cameras, I was using three. I had one with a 70-200mm and a 2X teleconverter giving me a 400mm lens. This one was mounted on a star tracker so it would follow the sun as it moved across the sky. Once totality began, I set it to shoot non-stop during the entire 2.5 minutes. I had another camera with another 70-200mm lens ready to shoot the landscape during totality. Since we knew where the sun would be during totality I set it in a fixed position on a tripod and manually fired it during totality.
My third camera had a 400mm lens with a 1.4X teleconverter giving me a 560mm lens. This was my main camera and I manually tracked the sun during the eclipse and shot all the phases. During the partial phases of the eclipse you have to use a special filter to keep the sun from burning out the camera’s sensor. The same for your eyes. But during totality the filters come off. I had my laptop running an eclipse countdown program that showed when each phase was happening, which is important to know.
Just like in Oregon, the partial phase of the eclipse is cool but not overly compelling. For this eclipse it was an hour and 16 minutes from the start until totality began. People watching are excited for the first few minutes as the black disc of the moon slides over the sun. They people tend to stop looking much and wander around. There were about 40 people in out little compound, all of them family or friends of the owners. For all of them it was their first eclipse. At one point I went over and showed a 10-year-old boy how to hold his hands so the shadow from the partial eclipse would make a very fun design on the ground. He liked it for a few minutes. But I knew the best was yet to come.
About ten minutes before totality things really start to change. We were out in a mountain desert that didn’t have many trees or wildlife. July is winter in Chile but we were so far north that the temperature was in the upper 60’s. As the totality became more imminent the air quickly cooled and suddenly birds started fluttering around. I hadn’t seen any all day but now they were appearing from nowhere.
One of my favorite things of totality is the light. Being a photographer I appreciate light daily and love sunrise and sunset for the quality of light then. Right before totality the light gets this amazing color. It is dim but it isn’t the same warm color like a sunset. It is incredibly unique and all I could do was smile and spin around looking at the surrounding mountains. It all happens so fast and lasts such a short time that it is hard to take it all in.
Then totality happens.
My one mistake was having the camera with the tracker too far away from me and I had to run over to it to take off the filter. There are two cool shots to get at the edges of totality. The first is called Bailey’s Beads which looks like little beads at the edge of the sun. The other is Diamond Ring, which is a very short moment when the edge of the sun is just sticking out from behind the moon creating a cool glow. At the start of the eclipse I missed both of them running from camera to camera. But I got them as totality ended!
I had told the other photographers in my group that I was there to help them get the best photos they could but during the 2.5 minutes of totality they were on their own. If there was a problem at that point it wasn’t going to be something I could fix so they should just not worry about the camera and take in the eclipse itself. I also told them to plan on not making pictures during at least half of totality so they feel what was going on around them.
As totality began I looked and the other photographers looked like they were doing ok. I realized there was suddenly a lot of noise. People in the compound and other camps down the mountain were yelling wildly. Their exuberation was contagious and then cheers of “Chile, Chile, Chile” broke out. It was a great scene. I was having a hard time monitoring the cameras and taking it all in.
I wish I could describe in words or pictures the feeling I get during totality. Many times during the planning and worrying about logistics I wondered if it really was worth all that time and effort just to see something for 2.5 minutes. There is no doubt it is worth it. After totality ended and I got the camera filters back on for the rest of the eclipse I just stood out in the Chilean mountain desert and looked around thinking how absolutely fortunate I am. I got quite emotional. This was special. Incredibly special. Amazingly special.
This is the first official day of a photo adventure in Chile as we went from Santiago to the artsy town of Valparaiso. I had read plenty about Valparaiso and saw many photos but I wasn’t prepared for what was there. Most of the old part of the city is painted with murals by amazingly talented artists. Walking from our hotel, we took a funicular up a steep hill and everywhere we looked was street art. It looked like much of it was authorized but there was a good deal that looked like it was done when there wasn’t anyone official looking.
There is also plenty of graffiti and tagging but it seemed like there a respect of most murals and they didn’t get tagged. We walked and photographed for several hours but didn’t see nearly all of it. For blocks and blocks every inch of wall had something painted on it. There were some that were political or social in nature but much of it was beautiful art that could be hung in a gallery if it was painted on canvas. Several places long sets of steps had been painted on the front of each step so when you were at the bottom you could look back and see the mural.
There was so much art that the novelty wore off but the amazement didn’t.
I could spend days here.
One of New Jersey’s many jewels is Cape May, a beautiful beach town at the southern tip of the state. Cape May has long been a tourist town, they claim to be America’s first beach town. It has a huge white sand beach on the Atlantic Ocean and nearby beaches on the Delaware Bay, although they tend to be not as white. The town is filled with historic, quaint and colorful Victorian houses that are great fun to view and photograph. It is also happens to be one of the bird watching hot spots in the U.S., especially in migration seasons since the shape of the northeast U.S. funnels birds through Cape May and many stop to rest and eat before crossing the Delaware Bay.
It is the perfect location for a creativity photography workshop, which is why I did it there! It is a great fun to get away and think mainly about being creative with photography. I wanted to emphasize the creative aspects of photography rather than the technical, we often get too wrapped up in the technical and forget to just have fun and experiment. Even though we caught a bit of rain, it was a fun few days and we made some really nice photos while thinking about our creative sides. Take a look at some photos made by the participants at https://lorenphotos.com/cape-may-creativity-weekend-2019/