Props to These Guys

It’s not often I get to say something positive about the internet. Such was the case in my recent dealings with Hike Moab, a trail guide service in Moab, Utah.

I came across this site in a recent image search I made while composing a post for another entry in this blog. I searched for “the fiery furnace arches,” hoping to discover not only some new ideas about photographing it, but also which of my own images showed up in the search. I do this periodically not just out of vanity, but also to weigh my search engine optimization (SEO) success.

The result of the search included this image…

The Fiery Furnace, a maze of sandstone fins in Arches National Park, takes on amber hues as sunset approaches.
The Fiery Furnace, a maze of sandstone fins in Arches National Park, takes on amber hues as sunset approaches.

I made this image in April 2011, on a trip called Art in Every Stone, which I made with Robert Stinson. I moused-over the image, expecting to see richardbarron.net. Instead I saw moabhiking.com. I clicked through to find my image on a page promoting the site’s Fiery Furnace guided tour. Obviously they did an image search as well, found this image, and grabbed it for their page.

I composed an email to the address on the site, politely asking them to remove the image, which is good practice. I didn’t expect to hear back from them.

I did think it odd that a company that gives guided tours of amazing places like The Fiery Furnace didn’t have their own images of it.

I heard back the next day with this refreshingly upbeat and respectful reply…

“My Apologies Richard! Consider it removed! -Mac, Hike Moab.”

I checked the site, and it was, in fact, removed. It wasn’t what I expected, but something I definitely appreciated. In the digital age, we expect intellectual property theft to be rampant and unchecked, but once in a while it’s great to find someone who does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Props, Mac!

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What’s Changed, If Anything?

This is a five-frame high dynamic range image of the Needles Overlook at Hatch Point, Utah, made this October with my 10-17mm fisheye, uncurved in Photoshop.
This is a five-frame high dynamic range image of the Needles Overlook at Hatch Point, Utah, made this October with my 10-17mm fisheye, uncurved in Photoshop.

In October 2016, my wife Abby and I traveled to the American West for our twelfth anniversary, a journey we make as often as we are able. We love the west, and were married in southern Utah in 2004 at Arches National Park.

The trip report, The Endless Sky, posted on our travel blog, was among my favorites, but I didn’t expect to hear this from two of my photographer friends…

From Wil C. Fry
These photos are tremendous, somehow better than your usual. It has me wondering whether you learned some new technique, or used a different camera, or processed them with new software. Or perhaps the light was simply better this time… Or maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
From Dan Marsh
I too am curious, have you learned something new and different, or are you simply getting better with each trip? These are some of the best you’ve ever done.

So to answer their question about what’s changed: essentially, nothing. I don’t exactly agree that these are head and shoulders above my past efforts. I will say that yes, it is an evolving craft, and one I hope I continue to hone and improve. But part of me says that my audience sees only the new product, and only half-remembers some of our great trips in the past.

This is one of the variations of an image I made at Delicate Arch in 2014 on our tenth anniversary trip, an image I think competes with any I have made before or since.
This is one of the variations of an image I made at Delicate Arch in 2014 on our tenth anniversary trip, an image I think competes with any I have made before or since.

I think, for example, that our 2014 anniversary trip A Perfect Ten was as good as The Endless Sky. Some of my recent solo hiking trips Siren Song, Off the Map and My Two Cents, compete well too.

In fact, while reviewing the travel blog, I have to say that there are many pages from many trips that compare favorably, but those pages have faded somewhat into history. It’s easy to do in the internet era, particularly one that is so trend-centric, but paradigms like “that’s so 2013” or “what have you done for me lately” are troubling because they can dismiss an entire body of work for no valid reason.

As far as technicalities go, no, I haven’t made any important changes to my workflow. I mostly shoot RAW files and edit them in Adobe Photoshop, though sometimes I make JPEG images, following the same basic editing strategies. My priorities are color, light, composition, and location, location, location. The images in this entry also speak volumes about equipment and how much less important it is that the photographer. Some of these images were made with cameras such as the Nikon D100 and the Minolta DiMage 7i, incorrectly regarded as unable to deliver. As you can see, particularly from the earlier images, great photographs are made by great photographers, not by expensive equipment.

Year after year Abby and I go to southern Utah and the Colorado Plateau, but I would love to expand our reach: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, and many more locations are on our short list.

That’s the rub, really. My best images from our travels come from visiting the best places. And that’s what makes the adventures, not just the images, great.

Here are some images from over the years, from adventures I think competed well with my most recent efforts. I look at each of these images as one of those moments of success for which we as photographers all strive. They are chronological from oldest to newest, and you can click them to view them larger…

A summer thunderstorm starts to clear over the Pecos River near Villanueva, New Mexico, July 1999.
A summer thunderstorm starts to clear over the Pecos River near Villanueva, New Mexico, July 1999.
The Very Large Array radio telescope facility in New Mexico gathers sunset light in September 2000.
The Very Large Array radio telescope facility in New Mexico gathers sunset light in September 2000.
The seldom-visited gypsum dune field on the west end of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, collects warm evening light in April 2003.
The seldom-visited gypsum dune field on the west end of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, collects warm evening light in April 2003.
I photographed this mission graveyard on the Bisti Highway south of Farmington, New Mexico on a bitterly cold morning in November 2003.
I photographed this mission graveyard on the Bisti Highway south of Farmington, New Mexico on a bitterly cold morning in November 2003.
The last rays of setting sun catch snow in the La Sal Mountains with the Windows Section of Arches National Park, Utah, in the foreground, in March 2004.
The last rays of setting sun catch snow in the La Sal Mountains with the Windows Section of Arches National Park, Utah, in the foreground, in March 2004.
A tree branch takes on the appearance of a bird set against the setting sun at Arches National Park, Utah, on our wedding day, October 12, 2004.
A tree branch takes on the appearance of a bird set against the setting sun at Arches National Park, Utah, on our wedding day, October 12, 2004.
A large boulder forms a passage for the trail through Little Wild Horse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell in central Utah, March 2005.
A large boulder forms a passage for the trail through Little Wild Horse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell in central Utah, March 2005.
The shelf of a thunderstorm show extensive mammatus clouds at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2005.
The shelf of a thunderstorm show extensive mammatus clouds at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2005.
This classic version of the northern approach to Monument Valley was made in October 2006.
This classic version of the northern approach to Monument Valley was made in October 2006.
This image of Big Bend National Park in Texas, shot in March 2007, shows a thunderstorm that tried to drown us just an hour before.
This image of Big Bend National Park in Texas, shot in March 2007, shows a thunderstorm that tried to drown us just an hour before.
My second visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado was in July 2007, and included this image showing hikers as very small figures ascending the highest of the dunes.
My second visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado was in July 2007, and included this image showing hikers as very small figures ascending the highest of the dunes.
I made this image at sunset at the Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in October 2008.
I made this image at sunset at the Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in October 2008.
Early morning sun shines through a doorway on a frigid November 2009 morning at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
Early morning sun shines through a doorway on a frigid November 2009 morning at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
This image was made at the moment of sunset at the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park, Utah, in October 2010.
This image was made at the moment of sunset at the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park, Utah, in October 2010.
This sunset view looks west down Interstate 40 in east central New Mexico in April 2011.
This sunset view looks west down Interstate 40 in east central New Mexico in April 2011.
The Strip at Las Vegas lights up as dusk settles on the City in October 2011.
The Strip at Las Vegas lights up as dusk settles on the City in October 2011.
Illuminates by open sky, Waterholes Canyon is a seldom-visited slot canyon near Page, Arizona. This image is from May 2012.
Illuminates by open sky, Waterholes Canyon is a seldom-visited slot canyon near Page, Arizona. This image is from May 2012.
Many features across the country bear the name Chimney Rock, including this one at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, photographed in March 2014.
Many features across the country bear the name Chimney Rock, including this one at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, photographed in March 2014.
Also from March 2014, in Northern New Mexico, I thought this image was an extraordinary expression of both a wonderful moment, and the tradition of great photographer of the American West.
Also from March 2014, in Northern New Mexico, I thought this image was an extraordinary expression of both a wonderful moment, and the tradition of great photographer of the American West.
Of all the times I have visited Delicate Arch (including getting married there), the signature formation of southern Utah and beyond, I made this image before dawn in October 2014, and it might be my favorite of them all.
Of all the times I have visited Delicate Arch (including getting married there), the signature formation of southern Utah and beyond, I made this image before dawn in October 2014, and it might be my favorite of them all.
This is an April 2015 sunset shot of Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona.
This is an April 2015 sunset shot of Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona.

In conclusion, I encourage all my readers, and everyone wanting to learn and grow photographically, to dig deeper into my rather extensive content, not only on the travel blog, but at the photo blog as well. It is my hope there is greatness deep within.

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More Praise for the “Travel Lens”

This image didn't succeed because of my lens choice. The lens was just a tool in the tool box. The most important factor for this image was being at the right place at the right time, and being willing to get out of my car and shoot it despite traffic and the cold.
This image didn’t succeed because of my lens choice. The lens was just a tool in the tool box. The most important factor for this image was being at the right place at the right time, and being willing to get out of my car and shoot it despite traffic and the cold.

My wife Abby and I just returned from our 12th anniversary vacation. We had a great time, and made a lot of great images. Most of those images were made with a lens that has become indispensable for travel, the so-called “walk around” or “travel” lens.

There are a number of iterations of this lens for the various formats (seniors sizes.) In my case the Nikon D7100 sensor is 24mm x 15mm, so my travel lens of choice is the AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G II. On other occasions (and for Abby on our most recent vacation), we use the Fuji HS30EXR “crossover” camera with a non-interchangeable 4.2mm-126mm, which performs a very similar role. For Nikon’s 24mm x 36mm sensor, there is a 28-300mm fits the same role.

The more I use the Nikon D7100 paired with the AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G II for travel photography, the happier I am with them.
The more I use the Nikon D7100 paired with the AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G II for travel photography, the happier I am with them.

In summary, we ask a lot of this class of lenses: be a good wide angle, be a good telephoto, be lightweight, be convenient. In exchange, there are some things we don’t ask of these lenses and they can’t deliver: no large maximum aperture, not very sharp wide open, not quick-focusing enough for sports, and so-on.

Our friend Scott Andersen adopted a slightly different philosophy for travel and hiking, electing to carry more equipment for more specialized work. He joined me for a long hike on this most recent vacation, and carried a Tokina 11-20mm, a Nikkor 50mm, a Nikkor 18-140mm, and a Nikkor 55-300mm, obviously hoping to take advantage of the different strengths of each lens.

If broad overviews are you thing, the 18mm end of the 18-200mm can deliver. Compare this image to the next one, made from the same spot with the same lens...
If broad overviews are you thing, the 18mm end of the 18-200mm can deliver. Compare this image to the next one, made from the same spot with the same lens…

Only you can decide what you like to shoot and what you need in your bag, but I strongly recommend a lens like the 18-200mm for travel, hiking, casual street photography, and more. If I were going to Europe for a month, for example, I would bring this lens and maybe my AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 for the occasional low-light scenario.

Finally, a lot of internet forum members, and I, urge anyone in a lens-buying mood to consider that if paying for more lenses means going on fewer trips or seeing fewer things, that’s probably a mistake. Sitting at home with eight lenses will never be as satisfying as spending ten days on the road with one lens and your imagination.

This image of Candlestick Tower at Canyonlands National Park in Utah was made at the 200mm end of my 18-200mm "travel" lens.
This image of Candlestick Tower at Canyonlands National Park in Utah was made at the 200mm end of my 18-200mm “travel” lens.
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In Praise of the 300mm

The 300mm has the kind of reach that can make the difference between ordinary sports photos and impressive ones, like this image shot earlier this year at Sulphur, Oklahoma.
The 300mm has the kind of reach that can make the difference between ordinary sports photos and impressive ones, like this image shot earlier this year at Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Earlier this year I “bought” (using credit card thank you points) a new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. Regarded as a portrait lens both for its natural perspective at face-filling distances and for its ability to throw backgrounds out of focus when shot at apertures close to its maximum, I am delighted with it. I recently shot a wedding with it, and the images were amazing.

But if you are outdoors and want a lens that will take all this to a new level, you might consider a large-aperture super telephoto. For me, few lenses rival the 300mm, both for its amazing reach and for its ability to render backgrounds completely out of focus.

In April 1985, Scott Andersen and I were walking around New York City when we came across a photographer with a 300mm f/2.8 Nikkor on a monopod. At first we couldn’t quite figure out what he was shooting, but a half a block down the street we saw his pouting fashion model. He was using the 300mm to isolate his subject on the street and throw the background well out of focus.

This is the kind of reach you can get with a 300mm lens, in this case my personally-owned AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8. Notice that the background is beautifully out of focus and flattering. No matter how hard you try, you'll never get gorgeous selective focus like this with a zoom.
This is the kind of reach you can get with a 300mm lens, in this case my personally-owned AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8. Notice that the background is beautifully out of focus and flattering. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get gorgeous selective focus like this with a zoom.

Flash forward 31 years. For years I’ve used a wonderful AF 300mm f/4 Nikkor that my newspaper got used on eBay. It was a workhorse, and occasionally combined with a Tokina 1.4x teleconverter and the so-called 1.5 “crop sensor” factor of my cameras, I had all the reach I needed.

Worth Repeating...
I know I say this a lot, but I am seeing a distinct uptick in a number of people around me who think they can buy a skill by buying a lens, and that’s just not true. Remember: You can’t buy mastery; you have to earn it.
I photographed the workhorse AF 300mm f/4 at a baseball game last spring, showing much of the paint on the metal surfaces showing brass from years of service. This lens died last week.
I photographed the workhorse AF 300mm f/4 at a baseball game last spring, showing much of the paint on the metal surfaces showing brass from years of service. This lens died last week.

Last week the old 300mm f/4’s focus locked up and wouldn’t budge, just as my outdoor playoffs – baseball, soccer, softball, and daytime football – were starting. I tried to fill the gap with hope and a cheap consumer 70-300mm, but I was really feeling the loss. When the repair estimate came back at nearly $500, about what we paid for it in the first place and certainly more than it was worth, I urged my publisher Amy Johns to buy me a new one, and she agreed without hesitation. Props to her for recognizing the value of photography and the equipment it requires, and the value of respecting her staff and their needs.

I had the lens shipped overnight, and put it right into service at a regional playoff baseball game. That’s the way I roll. No test frames. No “playing with it.” Trial by fire.

Before I shot with this beautiful new lens, I photographed it on my desk at work. I later removed the tripod collar, and will probably never use it again.
Before I shot with this beautiful new lens, I photographed it on my desk at work. I later removed the tripod collar, and will probably never use it again.
A closer look at the AF-S 300mm f/4 shows the simple, straightforward controls, including the focus ring, the auto/manual focus switch, the focus limit switch, and the aperture ring. Aperture rings are on their way out of Nikon lens design to save weight and complexity, but still remain on some older designs.
A closer look at the AF-S 300mm f/4 shows the simple, straightforward controls, including the focus ring, the auto/manual focus switch, the focus limit switch, and the aperture ring. Aperture rings are on their way out of Nikon lens design to save weight and complexity, but still remain on some older designs.

I wasn’t disappointed, though I knew I wouldn’t be. Lenses aren’t magic wands. I have a career of experience with the 300mm, and I knew this new one, the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4 ED-IF, would do the job, and due to improvements in autofocus and lens coating technology, it would do it better. Focus is quick and on the money, images are tack sharp, backgrounds are super-clean, and although it is not Nikon’s lightest 300mm, it is lighter and feels better in my hands than the old 300mm.

A coworker saw this lens as I was unboxing it and asked, “It’s just a 300mm?” The prevailing view among many photographers is that a fixed focal length lens, a so-called “prime,” isn’t versatile or exciting enough, but my experience is that my use of prime lenses is responsible for most of my really great images. The 300mm is one of those lenses.

Here is the first frame through my new AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4. Thanks to the f/4 maximum aperture, you'd never guess this was shot through the backstop net.
Here is the first frame through my new AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4. Thanks to the f/4 maximum aperture, you’d never guess this was shot through the backstop net.
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A Great Wedding Combination

My young friend and former student Addi Manning Hudson got married two weeks ago and asked me to photograph the ceremonies. It was a beautiful day, with gorgeous light and a lovely ceremony. I made this prenuptial image with my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8.
My young friend and former student Addi Manning Hudson got married two weeks ago and asked me to photograph the ceremonies. It was a beautiful day, with gorgeous light and a lovely ceremony. I made this prenuptial image with my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8.
One key reason for shooting with the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 is its large, bright maximum aperture. If you've ever shot an indoor wedding, you know how valuable it can be.
One key reason for shooting with the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 is its large, bright maximum aperture. If you’ve ever shot an indoor wedding, you know how valuable it can be.

I have been surprised in recent years by the number of professional photographers who have told me that they either hate shooting weddings, haven’t shot a wedding in years, or won’t shoot weddings at all. I will acknowledge that weddings can be crazy and stressful, but when I am asked, I will shoot them. It is also true that in recent years I am asked less and less, probably due to the perception that professional photographers cost too much, and that some uncle or friend with a “nice” camera can do it for $100.

Nevertheless, I am asked to shoot weddings once in a while, mainly by friends and relatives who know me and trust me with creating images of a very significant moment in their lives. Overall I have been glad to do it, and have always had fun. I’ve tried various gear combinations, always centered around the same philosophy that governs my work as a news photographer: two cameras, one with a wide angle and one with a telephoto.

On the left is the Tokina 12-24mm f/4. Next to it is the excellent AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8.
On the left is the Tokina 12-24mm f/4. Next to it is the excellent AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8.

For my sister’s wedding in 2011 I bought a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8, but have been consistently disappointed by it, so for a wedding of a friend (and former student) two weeks ago I decided to go with one of my all-time favorite wide angle lenses, my Tokina 12-24mm f/4, on one camera, and my new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 on the other. The combination is now without a doubt my go-to combination for weddings. I felt that I never missed a shot, was ready to both reach out with the 85 and go broad with the 12-24.

I was very happy with the shoot and the hardware, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this combination for anyone who wanted to shoot weddings.

I stood on a chair and held my camera as far over my head as I could to get this overview of the ceremonies at Ada's First United Methodist Church. It was made with my Tokina 12-24mm f/4.
I stood on a chair and held my camera as far over my head as I could to get this overview of the ceremonies at Ada’s First United Methodist Church. It was made with my Tokina 12-24mm f/4.
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Why Canyonlands?

The author stands at the edge of a 1200-foot cliff face at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah in April 2011.
The author stands at the edge of a 1200-foot cliff face at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah in April 2011.

Many people seem amazed and delighted when I tell them, or show them pictures, of our wedding at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. It is an amazing, beautiful spot, and the morning we got married there we had beautiful blue skies, abundant sunshine, and few visitors. But it’s not always like that.

Storm clouds brood over the Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park in the spring of 2013. Even the trail circling the campground in this park is spectacular.
Storm clouds brood over the Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park in the spring of 2013. Even the trail circling the campground in this park is spectacular.
Our small wedding party conducts our ceremony in brilliant morning sunshine at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, October 12, 2004.
Our small wedding party conducts our ceremony in brilliant morning sunshine at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, October 12, 2004.

The trouble is that Arches has, like so many once-wild places, been “discovered.” By that I mean that a combination of the internet and digital photography, huge numbers of people have decided to make sites like Delicate Arch their destination. They see gorgeous images of scenes like that and want a piece of it themselves.

The flaw in that kind of thinking is that at this point in digital history, places like Delicate Arch don’t have as much to offer because of the very discovery that made them popular. We’ve all seen these images too many times. I’ll grant you that there is some photographic potential yet to be cultivated there, but you have to take more steps toward the unusual to do it. Sunrise. In the snow. With the Milky Way behind it. And so on.

This paragraph shows Delicate Arch and its more or less continuous entourage of photographers on an afternoon in April 2013.
This paragraph shows Delicate Arch and its more or less continuous entourage of photographers on an afternoon in April 2013.
Though it is increasingly crowded, my wife and I still hold a special place in our hearts for Arches National Park and its signature feature, Delicate Arch, which we last visited and photographed in October 2014.
Though it is increasingly crowded, my wife and I still hold a special place in our hearts for Arches National Park and its signature feature, Delicate Arch, which we last visited and photographed in October 2014.

But we still see droves of self-important-looking photographers gathered on the approaches to Delicate Arch or in The Windows Section, with their $6000 cameras on their $1200 tripods, squinting joylessly at the target, making the same picture I made the first time, and every time, I go there.

It’s played out. It has become one of the “windshield tourism” National Parks. Even though my wife Abby and I have something of a special claim to the place, when we go there, we don’t take very much equipment, and we don’t take very many pictures.

But there is hope. Canyonlands.

Evening sun strikes sandstone pillars in Monument Basic, a dominant feature at Canyonlands National Park.
Evening sun strikes sandstone pillars in Monument Basic, a dominant feature at Canyonlands National Park.
The author hikes on the Chocolate Drops trail in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park in May 2012. On the entire three-day excursion to this area, I only saw about five other people.
The author hikes on the Chocolate Drops trail in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park in May 2012. On the entire three-day excursion to this area, I only saw about five other people.

There are parts of Canyonlands National Park that see only a handful of visitors every year. In The Maze District, for example, the rangers will warn you when you check in at the Hans Flat Ranger Station that, “You must be capable of self-sustenance and self-rescue.” Presumably this means they can’t come rescue you if you have a flat tire or a heart attack, or that it will cost thousands of dollars and will disturb the other visitors. When Dennis Udink and I visited The Maze in 2012, though, we only saw five other people during our three-day stay.

The Needles District at Canyonlands is, like the other districts, labyrinthian, as in this November 2002 image.
The Needles District at Canyonlands is, like the other districts, labyrinthian, as in this November 2002 image.
This biggest obstacle to most visitors in The Maze District at Canyonlands is the "road," seen here in 2012.
This biggest obstacle to most visitors in The Maze District at Canyonlands is the “road,” seen here in 2012.

Even in the easier-to-access sections of Canyonlands, there are only a handful of roadside turnouts. The rest of the park is scattered trail heads and many miles of trails, most of which I have hiked, but many of which, unlike the trails in Arches, remain on my to-do list. Some of the Canyonlands trails are long enough and difficult enough to require multi-day backpacking trips to make it from one end to the other.

I was able to introduce my wife Abby to Canyonlands in 2010, in the Island in the Sky District.
I was able to introduce my wife Abby to Canyonlands in 2010, in the Island in the Sky District.

Canyonlands is four and a half times larger than Arches, but receives about two and a half times fewer visitors. The most difficult marked trail at Arches is the Primitive Loop trail, so named, I expect, to at least somewhat discourage non-hikers from attempting the hike, which is 7.2 miles long and crosses varied terrain. Still, nearly every trail at Canyonlands is more difficult and primitive than the Primitive Loop.

Land of Lakes?
In November 2007, a park ranger told me that in the early 1960s, the director of the Park Service and the director of the Bureau of Reclamations each wanted to use the area that is now Canyonlands. It’s discouraging to imagine anyone ever considering covering this amazing area in water behind a dam, and I am glad and grateful the Park Service director got his way.

By the time you get more than a few hundred yards down the trails at Canyonlands, the only people you will see are fit, well-equipped, determined hikers. Not only are the trails more challenging at Canyonlands, they’re more fun, pass through more varied and beautiful terrain, and make better pictures.

I made this image, deep in the heart of The Needles District of Canyonlands, in November 2002. It took most of a day to hike to this spot.`
I made this image, deep in the heart of The Needles District of Canyonlands, in November 2002. It took most of a day to hike to this spot.
Spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone, the most common formation at Canyonlands, stand tall on the Devil's Pocket Trail in The Needles District of Canyonlands in March 2010. I hiked nearly an entire day over 12 miles, and saw fewer than a dozen people.
Spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone, the most common formation at Canyonlands, stand tall on the Devil’s Pocket Trail in The Needles District of Canyonlands in March 2010. I hiked nearly an entire day over 12 miles, and saw fewer than a dozen people.

At the most fundamental level of my outdoorism is, I believe, my desire to get as far away from civilization as I can, and the farther I get, the smaller and more humble I feel, and the more I feel like I am really accomplishing something amazing and unique. Canyonlands is one place where I can do that.

To my eye, Canyonlands is even more breathtaking than The Grand Canyon. I made this image from there Grand View Point at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands in April 2011.
To my eye, Canyonlands is even more breathtaking than The Grand Canyon. I made this image from there Grand View Point at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands in April 2011.
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Do Try This at Home!

Special effects photos always make more sense to the audience if we put something in them, like a mountain, a silhouetted fence, a camping tent, or, in this case, my car.
Special effects photos always make more sense to the audience if we put something in them, like a mountain, a silhouetted fence, a camping tent, or, in this case, my car.

I am a little late to this party, but it’s still a neat trick, one I finally tried last night: lighting steel wool and photographing it.

You will need:

Between the steel wool, the whisk, and some wire, this whole project cost about $3.
Between the steel wool, the whisk, and some wire, this whole project cost about $3.
  • The finest-grit steel wool you can buy. I found mine, labeled #0000, in the paint department at Wal Mart.
  • A large whisk, preferably with a handle or loop on the end, with a piece of string or wire tied to the loop.
  • An ignition source like a lighter. I use the long ones that are made to light a grill or camp fire.
  • A large, open area where it is safe and legal to have an open fire.
  • Some way to safely extinguish the fire and deal with hot embers.
  • A hat and gloves.
  • A tripod and a camera with a controllable shutter capable of an exposure of at least 15 seconds.

Unroll a pad of steel wool and fluff it out, then push it through the openings in the whisk. The looser the steel wool, the better it will burn because more oxygen can get to it.

The idea is to open the shutter and light the steel wool, then move the whisk with the burning wool inside to “paint” with the light its fire creates. Most internet tutorials recommend spinning the whisk, since it will move through the air faster and burn brighter and because it throws off neat-looking sparks. It did that last night and liked the results.

Working in the dark with an unpredictable medium like burning metal is slightly dangerous, which is why I wore work gloves and a hat. Coordinating shutter opening and lighting the metal is awkward too, since it doesn’t always light right up, and since brightness of the surroundings and the burning metal vary. These images were made with a 15mm lens at f/16, ISO 200, for 30 seconds.

I only tried about five pads of steel wool last night, and this ended up being the best of the bunch. I deliberately made these images at dusk so there would be some color to the sky.
I only tried about five pads of steel wool last night, and this ended up being the best of the bunch. I deliberately made these images at dusk so there would be some color to the sky.
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Sensory Perception

At the heart of every digital camera is one of these: an integrated circuit with tiny picture elements - "pixels" - that record light. Most have filters like anti-aliasing and infrared filters, and most have a Bayer Pattern Array filter. This is the modern equivalent of film.
At the heart of every digital camera is one of these: an integrated circuit with tiny picture elements – “pixels” – that record light. Most have filters like anti-aliasing and infrared filters, and most have a Bayer Pattern Array filter. This is the modern equivalent of film.

Yesterday afternoon after a brief electrical power interruption, I noticed that house wasn’t staying cool. I checked and found that the compressor and its fan outside the house were not running. A new compressor would be very expensive, and was not happy about it.

To help distract myself, I mowed and weed-whacked for a while, then when it got dark, I set out to complete a pointless but interesting (thus maybe not entirely pointless) task of taking apart a couple of long-dead digital cameras, a Nikon D100 and a Kodak DCS760.

This is the sensor board from the Kodak DCS760. That's not my handwriting, so I don't know if it was marked this way from the factory or by someone who repaired it at some point.
This is the sensor board from the Kodak DCS760. That’s not my handwriting, so I don’t know if it was marked this way from the factory or by someone who repaired it at some point.
Just a few steps into dismantling this camera already makes it look like a skeleton.
Just a few steps into dismantling this camera already makes it look like a skeleton.

I got both years ago on eBay for a small fraction of their retail price, shot several years of images with them, then stuck them in a box in anticipation of a day like today. Both cameras date from the early 2000s, when digital photography was still evolving by leaps and bounds.

Despite both cameras being rendered hopelessly outdated by the “futuretrash” paradigm, each made some amazing pictures in my hands.

This isn’t a step-by-step tutorial about how to tear these things down, but a look at what’s inside these two cameras, with a few observations about how they were put together.

I only had to remove about ten screws to get the back off the DCS760.
I only had to remove about ten screws to get the back off the DCS760.
The grip handle on the right side of the D100 holds this large flash capacitor.
The grip handle on the right side of the D100 holds this large flash capacitor.
  • The DCS760 was put together as what we used to call a “Frankencamera,” meaning it was two distinct things, a film camera and a digital sensor, stitched together clumsily.
  • The D100 seemed to be more elegantly designed, as though it was designed from the start as a digital.
  • Both seemed like a miracle of science when compared to cameras from the beginning of my career when I honestly had no idea this kind of technology would come along.
  • Both cameras had a lot of electronic bulk that I expect I would not see in newer cameras with more advanced design and assembly techniques.
  • Both cameras were sturdy, and put up a fight when I tried to get inside. I don’t envy anyone ever tasked with repairing them.
The "Frankencamera" aspect of the DCS760 is abundantly clear in this view showing empty space where a film cassette, on the left, and the space for film to wind, on the right, are empty.
The “Frankencamera” aspect of the DCS760 is abundantly clear in this view showing empty space where a film cassette, on the left, and the space for film to wind, on the right, are empty.
You can see many bulky capacitors and other circuits on the bottom of the D100.
You can see many bulky capacitors and other circuits on the bottom of the D100.
This image shows three sizes of image sensor. On the left is the Minolta DiMage 7i at 5mm x 7mm, in the middle is the Kodak DSC760 sensor at 28mm x 19mm, and on the right it Nikon's D100 sensor, which measures 24mm x 15mm. All three sensors deliver approximately six million pixels.
This image shows three sizes of image sensor. On the left is the Minolta DiMage 7i at 5mm x 7mm, in the middle is the Kodak DSC760 sensor at 28mm x 19mm, and on the right it Nikon’s D100 sensor, which measures 24mm x 15mm. All three sensors deliver approximately six million pixels.
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Decisions, Decisions

A Stonewall Lady Longhorn base runner dives back into first base at yesterday's Tupelo Invitational Tournament. This image was made with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.
A Stonewall Lady Longhorn base runner dives back into first base at yesterday’s Tupelo Invitational Tournament. This image was made with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.
Trade-offs: I made this image with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6, zoomed to about 120mm. It's solid action, but as you can see, this lens doesn't have the magic selective focus that an f/2.8 lens offers.
Trade-offs: I made this image with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6, zoomed to about 120mm. It’s solid action, but as you can see, this lens doesn’t have the magic selective focus that an f/2.8 lens offers.

Regular readers will recall that much of July is a very slow period for me, followed by a nothing short of frantic period in August when my newspaper and I cover all manner of news and sports at area high schools and the college.

Among other challenges, I ask myself at every turn about which lenses will work in which circumstance. Although I am in possession of industry-standard lenses, I ask myself this for a very important reason: my body. I am not 26 any more – in fact, I am twice that age, and though I am in great health, it is now a very legitimate consideration to try to carry lighter gear when I can. It’s hard for young photographer to appreciate this idea, since their bones and joints recover faster and hurt less than someone my age when we carry 15 pounds of hardware vs when we carry 1.5 pounds.

Paityn Corcoran and Colby Anderson take turns making faces with each other at National Night Out at Crabtree Plaza on the ECU campus Tuesday night, Aug. 2, 2016. I made this image with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 of 1987 vintage, which I bought for just $74 from an eBay seller in 2011, who warned me that "something is definitely up with this lens." In the five years since then, I have made thousands of great images with it.
Paityn Corcoran and Colby Anderson take turns making faces with each other at National Night Out at Crabtree Plaza on the ECU campus Tuesday night, Aug. 2, 2016. I made this image with my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 of 1987 vintage, which I bought for just $74 from an eBay seller in 2011, who warned me that “something is definitely up with this lens.” In the five years since then, I have made thousands of great images with it.

But Richard, what about image quality? Don’t you want the very best? That’s the rub, really: knowing when a lighter, smaller lens can deliver a top-quality image, and when it can’t.

I have four lenses of various focal lengths that I use for shooting fall sports…

I shot this last night at the Tupelo Invitational baseball tournament, with my 300mm f/4, from the third base dugout. Since it is not a zoom lens, it forces you to be in the right place when the action happens.
I shot this last night at the Tupelo Invitational baseball tournament, with my 300mm f/4, from the third base dugout. Since it is not a zoom lens, it forces you to be in the right place when the action happens.
  • The AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8. This lens is big and heavy, versatile, focuses instantly and accurately, and is sharp at f/2.8 at all focal lengths. It is indispensable in low-light situations where I am at the margins of every element, like high school football at night.
  • The AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8. This lens is the dark horse winner for its lighter weight, sharpness wide open, and superb selective focus. Its main drawback is lack of versatility: no zoom means I need to be in the right place or get there in a hurry.
  • The AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6. This lens is even lighter than the 180mm, and the bigger zoom range than the 80-200mm makes it an apparent winner for sports action. But the fact that so much is crammed into such a small package, and the fact that it’s so inexpensive, means that everything is a compromise. This lens isn’t very sharp at the longer focal lengths unless it is stopped down to f/6.3, meaning that it is really only useful in bright daylight. It also doesn’t create particularly appealing selective focus.
  • The AF Nikkor 300mm f/4. I love this lens for the long reach it gives me for far-away sports like baseball, tennis and soccer, but my back and neck hate it because it is heavier than other options, and it is front-heavy. For some, a monopod might seem to be in order, but I find that monopods are too restrictive of camera movement, and add to the weight of the entire package, which is noticeable when moving, which is all the time.

So what’s the answer? Smart selection. Bright daylight softball? The 70-300mm. 6 pm-start football? The 300mm. Friday night lights? The 80-200mm. Feature photos when I need f/2.8 but not the weight? The 180mm.

All in the family: my fall sports lens selection. From left to right are my 70-300mm f/4-5.6, my 80-200mm f/2.8, my 300mm f/4, and my 180mm f/2.8. At the botton of the frame is a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter, which I sometimes add to my 300mm to make it a 450mm f/5.6.
All in the family: my fall sports lens selection. From left to right are my 70-300mm f/4-5.6, my 80-200mm f/2.8, my 300mm f/4, and my 180mm f/2.8. At the botton of the frame is a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter, which I sometimes add to my 300mm to make it a 450mm f/5.6.
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Sitting on Your Pictures

My photographer friends are among the most talented I know, and we made many wonderful images on adventures like this one at Canyonlands National Park, but where are their images now?
My photographer friends are among the most talented I know, and we made many wonderful images on adventures like this one at Canyonlands National Park, but where are their images now?

One aspect of my Intro to Digital Photography class is on the third and final night, during which I talk about what to do with our images. I show and tell about how to organize, edit, save, archive, share, and display our images. Since I am about to start another class, I’ve been recently pondering something that troubles me a bit: photographers or picture-taking civilians who take hundreds or thousand of images and then fail to do anything with them.

This is your host exploring a badlands area in New Mexico. If I wasn't going to share at least some of my images from an adventure like this, why would I even bring a camera?
This is your host exploring a badlands area in New Mexico. If I wasn’t going to share at least some of my images from an adventure like this, why would I even bring a camera?

The occasions that come to mind are three hiking trips I made with three different photographer friends, one in 2011one in 2013. and one in 2014. We had great times, and these three photographers are three of the best I have ever known, so it is utterly baffling to me when they tell me that after we spent all that time on the road and the trail, and captured thousands of images of what I thought were some amazing moments, that they haven’t done anything at all with their images.

I honestly don’t understand this line of reasoning, and I would be happy to hear a real explanation.

Part of why it bothers me is that I know their images are head and shoulders above the everyday images made in those places when we were there, and that their elegance and beauty would enrich us all.

Instead, they sit in a folder on the desktop of a laptop computer somewhere.

Maybe the point of this entry is to encourage anyone who has a folder full of great unshared images to open it and start to explore their potential. Even if most of the images in that folder are throw-aways (most of mine are), there are certainly pearls amongst them. Set them free!

A fellow photographer was standing right next to me when I shot this, and almost certainly has something similar, or different and better. I want to see those images.
A fellow photographer was standing right next to me when I shot this, and almost certainly has something similar, or different and better. I want to see those images.
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Point and Watch

I photographed this cicada on the fence in our front yard this morning with the Fujifilm AX-655.
I photographed this cicada on the fence in our front yard this morning with the Fujifilm AX-655.

I recently inherited an orphaned Fujifilm point-and-shoot camera from the dusty drawers of my newsroom. A previous editor bought it last September without consulting me, just prior to the company issuing everyone in news, sports and photography (me) a new iPhone 6S. Now everyone in the building shoots with their phones (even me, sometimes), so there was no reason at all to buy this camera. EXIF data shows that fewer than 300 images were made with this camera. I imagine this kind of oddly wasteful spending happens at every business on the planet.

My Olympus FE-5020 is the best point-and-shoot camera I've ever owned, because it has a sharp lens capable of a very effective wide angle of view.
My Olympus FE-5020 is the best point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever owned, because it has a sharp lens capable of a very effective wide angle of view.

So I’ve been carrying this thing around for a few days, thinking I’ll use it. The point-and-shoot vs the smartphone contest isn’t quite settled yet, despite the overwhelming prevalence of smartphones. The point-and-shoot camera’s trump cards are its more intuitive and available controls, and real optical zoom lenses. A less but still real consideration is how shooting pictures with your phone, particularly in groups, makes you look like a trend-follower, and the most disturbing trend is seeing people making smartphone images of their lives instead of experiencing their lives firsthand. In some ways, it’s like watching your children grow up on a television screen.

I’ve made one or two images for my newspaper with this camera, the Fujifilm Finepix AX-665. There’s nothing special about the camera, and I’m actually glad about that, since I find it frustrating that controls on digital cameras have constantly been repositioned by engineers, often ending up back where they started, to stimulate interest and sales instead of serving the real needs of photographers.

The AX-665 has the welcome four-way selector under the right thumb, and the equally welcome zoom rocker just above it, so I don’t have to hunt for them. The lens is sharp and focuses close (though not true-macro close), but the zoom range only covers the blandest coverage angles. It’s easy to understand how smartphones are taking market share from these cameras, given their zoom ranges. That’s why I like my Olympus point-and-shoot so much better: it has a nice wide angle at the short end of the zoom, wider than any smartphone.

For me, the bottom line is, despite the shortcomings of one machine of photography vs the other, is this: every camera is a tool in the toolbox of photography, and the most important thing you can do with it is express yourself.

This is the orphaned Fuji Finepix AX-655 that has fallen into my hands. I hope to have some fun making great pictures with it.
This is the orphaned Fuji Finepix AX-655 that has fallen into my hands. I hope to have some fun making great pictures with it.
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Nik Knack

This is the full-screen dialog using Nik Collection's Silver Efex Pro 2 filter.
This is the full-screen dialog using Nik Collection’s Silver Efex Pro 2 filter.
Installing the Nik Collection creates this floating selective tool pallet when used with Adobe Photoshop.
Installing the Nik Collection creates this floating selective tool pallet when used with Adobe Photoshop.

Earlier this year, Google started offering a collection of plug-in filters under the name Nik Collection. Prior to this move, I was hesitant to spend the $499 for this software, which Google later lowered to $149, feeling that I could accomplish most of the looks it offered without spending the money. But Google’s offering is now free, so many photographers, myself included, downloaded and installed this software.

This is an image of the Pecos National Forest from our June trip to Santa Fe, as it came directly out of my Fuji HS30EXR.
This is an image of the Pecos National Forest from our June trip to Santa Fe, as it came directly out of my Fuji HS30EXR.

This software isn’t a stand-alone application, but a set of plug-ins that work with Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom, and Apple’s out-of-production Aperture.

I have only begun to play around with these filters, but so far, I’ve found them to be capable and fun, and I recommend you get them here (link) and try them. The only caveat is one I have stressed since the days of high dynamic range (HDR) overuse: these filters are just a tool in the toolbox, and can easily be used too often and too strongly. But with discretion and taste, they are a good tool.

This Pecos image was made using Nik Collections's HDR Efex Pro 2 single image tone mapping function. I would say that it created an improved, but not spectacular, image.
This Pecos image was made using Nik Collections’s HDR Efex Pro 2 single image tone mapping function. I would say that it created an improved, but not spectacular, image.
This rendition of the Pecos image was created using the Nik Collection's Color Efex Pro 4's "Indian Summer" setting, creating a very different feel from the same image.
This rendition of the Pecos image was created using the Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro 4’s “Indian Summer” setting, creating a very different feel from the same image.
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Pictures at an Exhibition

Yesterday I posted this photo on Facebook of myself showing many of the new images I recently printed and hung in the halls at my newspaper. Cue Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition…

Your host turns up the welcome vibe in the entry hall at The Ada News.
Your host turns up the welcome vibe in the entry hall at The Ada News.

Props to our Publisher Amy Johns for facilitating getting these big prints made.

One Facebooker asked me how I go about picking images for such a display, and the answer is one I have always stressed when teaching: ruthless editing.

One reason I photographed myself yesterday was that I dressed up. My tie has little cameras on it.
One reason I photographed myself yesterday was that I dressed up. My tie has little cameras on it.

Like all of us in the 21st century, I make a lot of pictures. But unlike almost everyone else, I know the value of editing, and how an audience is able to view and enjoy images, and how that comes together to express a message.

These principals were essential as I gathered images for this project, which I am pleased to say is a work in progress. As it stands today, there are 32 new images on the walls, culled from a folder of about 300 images.

The process isn’t easy; over the years I have been privileged to cover thousands of events in our community, and the result is tens of thousands of images. The subset of these images for this project is recent digital color images.

This is also the difficult process we face each year when contest time rolls around.

With that in mind, I decided to challenge myself even farther and get this collection down to just five images, taken from the collection of 32 pieces that are now on the walls. I decided to find an image that represents each broad class of photography: portrait, sports, spot news, feature, and nature.

Portrait: Back to School Kids
Portrait: Back to School Kids
Sports: Softball Celebration
Sports: Softball Celebration
Spot News: Fire in a Snowstorm
Spot News: Fire in a Snowstorm
Feature: AdaFest Girls
Feature: AdaFest Girls
Nature: Waterfall in the Park
Nature: Waterfall in the Park
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“Preserve Aspect Ratio”

also known as “Constrain Proportions.”

If you keep the "constrain proportions" box checked in Adobe Photoshop, it will automatically retain the correct aspect ratio.
If you keep the “constrain proportions” box checked in Adobe Photoshop, it will automatically retain the correct aspect ratio.

I was amazed and disappointed recently when I had to reject a number of poster-sized prints my office and I had printed at a profession printer, because despite my exact words “preserve the aspect ratio” of the photos, eight of the 22-image batch had been squished to fit the poster. My disappointment came from the fact that a professional print ship should know better.

But I am aware that many of my readers might not know what this means. In short, almost all of the images of news and sports that I shoot are cropped to a custom aspect ratio for compositional purposes. Aspect ratio is the relationship between the width and the height of an image. Some of my images are square, some are long, thin rectangles, and so on. What the printer did wrong was to either let their machine resize the images, or did it manually, to fit inside a 20×24-inch box so it would fit to the size of the posters I ordered. I was clear in my order that if an image was a square, it should stay square, and if it was long and thin, it should stay that way, and they could trim the print to match the aspect ratio of the image.

My guess is that one employee took my order and another filled it. I’m not terribly upset about it because they understood their mistake and fixed it at once, but it did mean lost time and productivity for me even though I was perfectly clear when placing my order.

The image on the left is the way it should have been printed, followed by trimming off the grey areas. The image on the right is what they actually did.
The image on the left is the way it should have been printed, followed by trimming off the grey areas. The image on the right is what they actually did.
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Summer Breeze

Carolyn Ross and her daughter Gracie Ross play the Banana Eating Game during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Carolyn Ross and her daughter Gracie Ross play the Banana Eating Game during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
This is Zach Gray, who was making pictures of his July 4 experience with a mint condition Mamiya C220 twin lens reflect film camera. I'll have more to say about that later.
This is Zach Gray, who was making pictures of his July 4 experience with a mint condition Mamiya C220 twin lens reflect film camera. I’ll have more to say about that later.

The public might not realize that news photographers live a life of feast or famine. At the first of March, we spend twelve hour days darting between basketball playoffs, car crashes, assignments for special sections, and baseball team photo days.

Then when school’s out, editors impatiently tap their feet as we can only give them a photo of a kid in the splash park or somebody running a weed eater.

Then, July 4 happens. In Ada, it’s a huge deal. It starts in Wintersmith Park at 7 am with the Fireball Classic 10k/5k race, Oklahoma’s oldest such event. That’s followed by kid’s games in the park in the morning, then grow-up’s games in the afternoon. Finally, Wintersmith Lake is surrounded by spectators for the traditional Independence Day fireworks display.

For me, it is one of the busiest days of the year, and one of the funnest. It always makes great photos, everyone is always glad to see me, and I always have a great time.

Kids scamper down Scenic Street in Ada's Wintersmith Park during the kid's race at the annual Fireball Classic 10k/5k run.
Kids scamper down Scenic Street in Ada’s Wintersmith Park during the kid’s race at the annual Fireball Classic 10k/5k run.
Children participate in "giant" turtle race during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Children participate in “giant” turtle race during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Lana Glover hula-hoops covered in colored powder during the kid's games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
Lana Glover hula-hoops covered in colored powder during the kid’s games at the Independence Day 2016 celebration in Wintersmith Park Monday July 4.
One of the teams in the "Water War" takes aim at a plastic barrel mounted on a cable. They and their opponents try to push the barrel to the opposite end.
One of the teams in the “Water War” takes aim at a plastic barrel mounted on a cable. They and their opponents try to push the barrel to the opposite end.
A woman uses a phone to record the fireworks display in Wintersmith Park.
A woman uses a phone to record the fireworks display in Wintersmith Park.
As I was photographing fireworks, I saw a drone above Wintermith Lake. This morning, I had a CD from the operator, Tony Matthews, with some of his photos from the drone, including this one.
As I was photographing fireworks, I saw a drone above Wintermith Lake. This morning, I had a CD from the operator, Tony Matthews, with some of his photos from the drone, including this one.
Loud, bright and colorful, fireworks burst over Wintersmith Lake. I always enjoy them, both photographically and as the kid inside.
Loud, bright and colorful, fireworks burst over Wintersmith Lake. I always enjoy them, both photographically and as the kid inside.
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