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The T3sk3y Defenestrator

Back from Maui!

We recently returned from another trip – this time, the T3sk3ys went to Maui for Cameron Nelson’s wedding during the last week of September.  I’ll have more information and some tales from our trip coming up in the next couple of weeks.  Until then – here’s a photo that I took from the Keanae Peninsula on the road to Hana right at dawn.


Hana Sunrise

Hana Sunrise

For those that can’t wait – all my pictures are located on my SmugMug site:  Mark’s Smugmug Site

Four days in Iowa

So Mark.. how did YOU spend your summer vacation?

Well – I spent the end of my July the same way I’ve spent the three before it.  That would be eating pork, looking at cornfields, and biking across Iowa.  What I’m trying to say is that I just got back from RAGBRAI – the Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.  It’s seven days long – but I only did the last four.  It still turned out to be about 275 miles of biking in four days – and that should be enough for anyone.

The 75-mile long pelaton

The 75-mile long pelaton

The usual zaniness of crazy costumes, beer tents, ‘stereo trailers’, and gastronomic delights was in full force.  I’d equate it to Sturgis, the State Fair, and the Tour de France all rolled into one.

I dont know who they are - but they are the kings of RAGBRAI in my book!

I don't know who they are - but they are the kings of RAGBRAI in my book!

I’ve been preparing for several months now – you can’t just hop on and ride that many miles cold.  Well, I can’t at least.  It’s a good thing I prepared, too – the route was the toughest I’ve seen.  Each day had more climbing than I did in all of RAGBRAI 2007.  To add to the fun, there were strong headwinds and rain on a couple of the days.  It made for a real grind sometimes.

Like last year, I rode with Team Balance Fitness – a local bike club that I belong to.  There were 45 in our group – almost double the size of last year.

In the end, I made it to the Mississippi River at about 11:30 AM on Saturday morning.  I dipped my wheel into the water with several thousand others, and loaded up for a long ride home.

Team Balance Fitness finishes RAGBRAI

Team Balance Fitness finishes RAGBRAI

Until next year – all of my (and all of the team’s) pictures are right here: RAGBRAI 2008

Whidbey Island pictures finally all online

I finally was able to finish putting up all of my pictures from our 4th of July trip to Whidbey Island.  It took a really long time to weed through the 500ish pictures I ended up with – even with Photoshop Lightroom.

Here’s one made possible by 6fps + 340mm:

Elbow Yolk Yuck

Elbow Yolk Yuck

Heh – egg yolk from the 4th of July egg toss caught mid-air.  Sweet.  Sorry about the mess, Beth!

Check out the rest of the pictures over at my SmugMug account: Whidbey Island 2008

4th of July Flowers

H3th3r, Wi11iam, 31izab3th and I spent the 4th of July on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound this year.  It was the classic ‘small town’ 4th with parades, three-legged races, and lots of fireworks.  I love fireworks.  I’m gradually getting the 600-odd photos I took during the trip sorted and edited (it’s quite a job) – so as a teaser, here’s a couple of fireworks shots that I took:

A Lovely Bouquet

A Lovely Bouquet

Photographically, I shot a 4-5 sec. exposure on f/11 at about a 50mm focal length.  I set the focus to Manual and focused at infinity.  When I heard the mortar, I clicked the shutter.

A daisy for you?

A daisy for you?

You can see the rest of my fireworks photos here: Fireworks Photos

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be continuously updating my gallery from the trip to Whidbey Island.  If you can’t wait until they are done, check back frequently on my SmugMug page.  The quick link to the photos is here: Whidbey Island 2008

Three Days with Jon Cornforth – Part Two

(NOTE: Part two in a three part travelogue/review of my private photo seminar with Jon Cornforth)

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I found out that I would have to squeeze a business trip to Edmonton in right before my photo seminar. I had originally planned to fly in to Seattle directly from Minneapolis on the night of Thursday, April 10th. Instead, I had to fly to Edmonton late at night on the 9th, have my meeting during the day, then fly from Edmonton to Seattle by way of Vancouver on the night of the 10th. I met my friend Ross (who I was supposed to fly with) at the airport.

This also meant that I had to bring a lot more stuff than I planned. In addition to my photo and camping gear, I needed all my stuff and some nice clothes to visit a potential client. My bag slipped in right at the 50 pound weight limit!

After having a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep at my friend Beth’s house, Jon arrived right on time to pick Ross and I up. He arrived in his truck towing his camper – our home for the weekend. We threw our gear in the back of the truck and headed towards the peninsula.

The trip out to the peninsula went by very quickly – the conversation was pretty lively, and the teaching began almost immediately. Right off the bat it was obvious that even if we didn’t learn anything – it would still be a fun weekend.

Stopped in the Sol Duc for lunch and our first lesson

Our first stop of the trip was the Sol Duc rainforest. We stopped near a nice stream and went to the camper for some sandwiches before starting to shoot. Jon (who I think was still trying to probe our capabilities) talked to us about framing, depth of field, shutter speed for water movement, and eliminating distracting elements. We also learned the art of ‘Cornforthing’ the scene – or how to make sure that distracting twig isn’t so distracting.

Jon checking out a scene in the Sol Duc

When you shoot in a rainforest, you really WANT rain – or at least clouds. In bright sun, you get nasty hard shadows and really washed out colors. Within a short period of time, the clouds broke revealing bright sunlight which would stick with us for the remainder of the trip. Fortunately, we were able to get some keepers before the sun got too strong.

Mossy Tree and Rushing Stream

After leaving the Sol Duc, we headed for La Push to set up camp on the beach for the weekend. We pulled in late afternoon, got the camper set up, and headed off for Second Beach for a sunset shoot. It was about a mile hike through the woods to get to Second Beach – and a real pretty hike at that. Once we hit the beach we had to scramble over a very large pile of logs that had washed ashore. There were numerous warnings to stay away from the logs during a high tide – I can’t imagine them all bumping around!

The piled up driftwood on Second Beach

After scouting the beach a little, we set up to shoot the sea stacks. While we were setting up, we got a primer on shooting sunsets. We talked about spot metering and how to use it to determine which graduated neutral density filter to use, we talked about the use of hyperfocal charts to set focus, and we learned the importance of a bubble level.

I set up with my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens and a HiTech 3-stop hard line GND being held in a Cokin holder. I got everything balanced, set my camera for f/22 to get maximum depth of field, waited for the light to get just right, and started firing.

Sand patterns made from receding tides

One other interesting lesson I picked up was that you could judge the quality of the light and the scene by whether or not Jon was setting up to shoot. This was a real consideration for him since he’s shooting medium format film – and it’s about a dollar every time he hits the trigger.

It was interesting to see how important Jon’s preaching about preparation and composition turned out to be – the magic light lasted for only a few short minutes. It was short enough that if you weren’t ready to go when you saw it – it was too late!

Second Beach at Sunset

Once the sun went down, we hiked back to the car in the dark and went back for dinner. Once back, Jon made us a great pasta & meat sauce dinner in the camper and we washed it down with some good wine. We spending a little time editing pictures before turning in for the evening.

It was as we were turning in that we discovered that we got our wires crossed during planning – we had no bedding! When we were setting the trip up, we mentioned that we might bring sleeping bags if we needed to – and we never went back and straightened it out. Jon naturally assumed we were bringing bedding so he didn’t bring any. I ended up sleeping under Jon’s daughter’s pink Dora the Explorer sleeping bag – and Ross bundled up in fleece. Fortunately it was going to be a short night.. we had a 5 AM wakeup!

Coming up soon – Part Three!  Until then.. all of my pictures from the trip are here: (link)

Three Days with Jon Cornforth – the Prelude

We can sleep and eat when we get home – Jon’s Travel Photography Philosophy

Both of these quotes (supplied by Jon Cornforth in the days leading up to our photo adventure) proved prophetic during my three day private nature photography expedition to the Olympic Peninsula.

My wife decided to give me a trip to a photography seminar after listening to me talk for months about how I’d like to go on one. I roped my friend Ross Simpson – another pinball and photography nut – into joining me on the trip.

We started looking for seminars and got a little disappointed to find that most of the spring seminars were either too long (a full week) or already full. My problem was that I had a very narrow window of opportunity between when the weather improved for the spring and the birth of my second child (forecast for May 5th). After doing a lot of digging, Ross found Jon Cornforth‘s advertisement for private lessons on – and he was able to accommodate our desires and our time frame.

I was specifically looking for a very hands-on trip where most of the time was spent out shooting and learning. I didn’t want one where we spent the morning in a classroom learning technique before going out for an hour or two on a field trip where we’d get dumped off and picked up later. I also wanted something that was a little more advanced – I know how to use my camera and understand basic photographic principles.

After an initial “get to know you” phone call, we were convinced that a private lesson was worth the additional cost over a group seminar and that Jon was the right guy. I think it was his philosophy of focusing our efforts to get one perfect image rather than a bunch of average images that hooked me.

Jon gave us a shopping list as well as a reading assignment to complete prior to arriving. Our reading list was:

I bought all but the large format book – being a digital shooter, I couldn’t quite see the point. All the books were pretty good – but I think the Hill & Wolfe book was the best.

For a gear list, we had to be sure to have the following gear in addition to our camera:

  • A wide angle lens (check!)
  • A sturdy tripod and ballhead
  • Polarizing filters
  • Graduated neutral density filters

Of those items, I only had the wide angle lens. I had to do a lot of research to figure out what gear to get.  I ended up getting a Bogen 190XPROB tripod with a Manfrotto 486RC2 ballhead, a B+W 77mm Slim MRC polarizer, and a set of HiTech GND filters.

Jon gave us a few possible destinations to choose from – and we chose to go to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  Since we wanted to have power to recharge our laptops and our cameras, we elected to stay in Jon’s camper in a campground with electricity rather than roughing it camping or staying in a hotel.  Jon made us reservations in the campground in La Push – right on first beach.

Jon also handled all food arrangements.  This is when I started to see Jon’s Travel Philosophy in motion.  Instead of wasting time in restaurants, Jon did all the grocery shopping so we could eat on the road or in the campground.  Aside from banning “Super-Fruity-Choco-Sugar-Bombs” from the breakfast menu – he took our food requests and lined up lots of yummy things of his own.

In the next installment – the trip begins!

Ten Places to Shoot Before I Die

I originally saw this idea on another photography blog: Chris Barnes’ Digital Imaging. The idea is to itemize ten places to take pictures at some point in your life. I thought it was kind of thought provoking – so I decided to take a swing at it myself.

This is my list of top ten things that I want to photograph before I die. There is no rhyme or reason to my list. It’s not along any common theme – other than they are all places I want to photograph. Some of them are not even practical given current socio-politico-economic reasons. But – it’s before I die and lots can change in the next seventy or eighty years.

1. Mustang, Nepal

Only recently open to Westerners, one could potentially get a view of Everest on the same trip.

2. India

Okay, I’ve shot in India before so technically I’ve got one out of ten. There’s so much more to see – and India’s got it all.

3. Masada, Israel

I saw the mini-series as a kid – bummer about the politics in the region.

4. Petra, Jordan

I saw Indiana Jones as a kid. Bummer about the politics in the region.

5. The Isle of Skye, Scotland

For only about $4500, I could join a SmugMug tour!

6. Easter Island

Yeah, that’s cool.

7. The South Island, New Zealand

I’ll either get pictures like this – or a lot of sheep.

8. The backcountry of Iceland – in the summer

Okay – I’ve been there too, but as you can see it was the dead of winter. It’s supposed to be gorgeous in the summer!

9. Pyramids, Temples, Sphinxes, etc. – Egypt

I’ve always thought Egypt was cool. There’s also a lot of things to point a camera at!

10. Earth’s Orbit

It couldn’t hurt to wish, could it?

It looks like it’s time to start making some travel plans. At one trip every three years.. it’ll only take thirty years..

Apologies to the people who own the images that I linked to. I’ll gladly remove them if requested!

Back from the Olympics..

The Olympic National Forest, that is..

My friend Ross and I got back today from a fantastic weekend landscape photography seminar with Jon Cornforth in the Olympic peninsula of Washington State. I have good news and bad news about it:

  • The good news: The weather was great
  • The bad news: The weather was great

After all – good weather makes for BAD photographs! It still was a trip of a lifetime – I learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and we still were able to get some keepers! I’ll have a full review of my experience in a few days.. but until then..

Sunset at Second Beach
Sunset at Second Beach – The Olympic Peninsula, WA

Italy 2007 – The Journey Home

The last day of the trip started early when our limo to the airport showed up.  The driver arrived with a sedan – and he looked a little panicked when he saw three adults, one child, and LOTS of baggage.  He somehow got everything in and we were off to the airport.

Once checked in, we got one last round of panini sandwiches and cafe’ at the airport.  The late morning journey home turned out to be perfect for William – he fell asleep the second the wheels left the ground.  He didn’t awken again until the plane was on final descent into Amsterdam.

We had a couple of hours to kill in Schipol Airport, so we grabbed a sandwich for lunch.  We also ducked in to the gift shop and picked up some of the essentials – gouda cheese and waffles.  As we were waiting to board our plane, we saw a pretty unusual sight.  A KLM pilot was retiring and completing his last flight – so the crews doused his plane as he pulled in to the gate.   All of the gate personnel stopped what they were doing and applauded the pilot.

A retiring pilot pulling in to the gate in Schipol

After taking off for Minneapolis, we had our dinner and William curled up for most of the rest of the flight.  We were able to arrange the entire bulkhead again – so we had lots of room for him to spread out and run around a little.  He finally woke up about an hour out of Minneapolis.  Of the nine hours of flying, William slept for 7 of them.  That was a blessing – but it wasn’t as much of a blessing when he woke up at 3 AM back home and was ready for breakfast.

The way William spent the flight home 

See all of my Italy pictures over at Smugmug:  link

Italy 2007 – Rome Part II

Our last full day in Italy was to be spent touring ancient Rome – the Forum, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, the Pantheon, and any other remaining sights.

The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum in the background

We had an early start for our tour, so we ate a quick breakfast in the apartment before hiking over to our meeting place just outside the entrance to Palatine Hill. This was just past the Colosseum – only a few blocks away. There, we met up with Jennifer (our bubbly tour guide) and the rest of our tour.

Jennifer telling us about the Forum

Our tour started just outside of the Arch of Constantine with some background on Roman history – mostly centered around the forum area and the few emperors that made the most impact to the area. We then made our way past the arch commemorating the sacking of Judea (the Arch of Titus) and in to the heart of the Forum. Throughout all of this, William relaxed in his stroller and enjoyed the walk.

The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina

As we were hearing about the Vestal Virgins, Heather let William out to play. He immediately plopped down in the dirt and started playing with rocks – rocks steeped in the history (and filth) of ancient Rome. I think Jennifer was a little disgusted by this – but William had a great time doing it. After making our way around the rest of the Forum, we went across the street to the Colosseum (or should I say – the Flavian Ampitheater)

William enjoying history in the Forum

The group made our way around the inside of the Colosseum and up to the upper level – all the while hearing from Jennifer about the history, the myths, and the truths about it. On the upper level – she gave us a few last bits of knowledge (along with some dining advice) and wrapped up the tour. It was really only supposed to be a 2.5 hour tour – but it didn’t actually wrap up for over three hours. This earned her a generous tip. We walked around for a few more minutes before heading off to lunch.

Constantine’s Arch as seen from the Colosseum

Tours aren’t cheap – but after two great tours, I was sold. I got a lot more out of the two areas (the Forum and the Vatican) that I had already visited than I would have otherwise.

The inside of the Colosseum

After the tour, we walked toward the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument and stopped at a little restaurant for a late lunch. What did we have? Yep, pizza again. It’s funny how you can’t get sick of the stuff!

By this point, it’s too late (about 4 PM) to enter Palatine Hill. The last entry is at 3:00 because it closes at 5. Apparently one hour just isn’t enough time. I’m now 0-2 on visiting Palatine Hill – I’m going to have to go to that FIRST next time.

As if we hadn’t walked enough on the trip, we decided to do Rick Steves ‘Rome night stroll’ walking tour after that. This is the tour we would have done the night before if we would have remembered Rick’s book. To get there, we had to make our way to the Campo de’ Fiori starting point. We did this by way of a stroll through the Circus Maximus and along the Tiber river.

Campo de’ Fiori at dusk

Since it was a night tour, it worked out perfectly that the sun went down just as we hit Campo de’ Fiore. Actually, we would have arrived sooner – but we spent a half-hour trying to find a McDonalds so we could use the bathroom. The walking tour took us from there to Piazza Navona, over to the Pantheon, past the obelisk at Piazza Colonna, to the Trevi Fountain, and finally to the Spanish Steps.

The Pantheon during our walking tour

I have a funny feeling that I was the victim of an attempted pickpocketing at the Trevi Fountain. Some guy kept trying to distract me with nonsense like “Isn’t it beautiful – isn’t Rome the most beautiful city in the world?!?” Every time I ignored him, he got a little more persistent. He may also have been trying to distract me so that his crew could pickpocket Heather or Mom. Either way, I ignored him and bugged out before anything could happen.

The Teskeys at the Trevi Fountain

After the Spanish Steps, we took the train home after a long day of walking and finished with a dinner at the little cafe’ below the apartment. Since we were leaving the next morning, we had to get packed before turning in for the night.

Next up – the long trip home.

See the rest of my pictures over at my SmugMug account here: link

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