Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

2011 Galapagos Wildlife Calendars

Posted by Arlo on Jan 5, 2011 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel, Website

Galapagos Calendar Preview

One of these days, I should probably try to put into words my philosophy about making money off our Postcard Valet web site.  In a nutshell, we want everything we have to offer – photos, videos, writing – to be free for you to enjoy… but more money means more traveling, and that’s important to us, too!

It would be easy enough to put up some Google ads or to explore other set-it-and-forget-it revenue streams on the site, but I hate how banner ads destroy the aesthetic.  Besides, when I visit other sites, I tend to completely ignore all the ads, anyway.  Don’t you?

The best solution, in my mind, is to create something special that you’d want to spend your hard-earned money on.  For example, we haven’t really pushed it, but we already have a link to our Smugmug gallery where you can purchase a print of any one of the photographs posted under the “photography” category on Postcard Valet.  And today we’d like to present you with our first published product: A 2011 Galapagos Wildlife Calendar!  (Actually, there are two of them!)

2011 Galapagos Calendar Cover (Premium) 2011 Galapagos Calendar Cover (Standard)

Visit our Lulu storefront to purchase one of these calendars!

The premium version of our calendar is printed on glossy white paper, is 13.5″ wide by 19″ tall, and has a coil binding.  It’ll run you $29.79, which puts exactly $5 in our pockets.

The standard version is a little bit smaller at 8.5” by 11”, but costs only $18.79.  Buying it, too, will give us five more dollars to travel on.

If we to sell 20 of these, we’ll be able to add another day of travel to our trip!

I’ve dealt with Lulu, the self-publishing site, before and the quality of their products is superb.  You can order directly from them and have one of these calendars for your own in just a few days.

I put a lot of effort into making this a product that I would want to own.  Hopefully, after you see them on our Lulu storefront, you’ll want to own one, too!

Galapagos Hawk

Posted by Arlo on Dec 17, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Galapagos Hawk

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We were walking back from a “power hike” up over the flooded crater called Darwin’s Lake on Isabela Island.  The plan was to get back to the pangas for a quick ride around the outer coastline before the captain picked us up with the Evolution for a brief whale watching trip before sunset.  We were sort of in a hurry, spread out along the trail.

A few meters in front of me, someone looked up and said, “Oh!  Wow!”  There, perched on a branch directly over the trail, was a Galapagos Hawk.  He was on the lowest set of branches, low enough that you could reach up and ruffle his feathers.  In fact, he was so low, I have no idea how the first few people in our group, including our naturalist guide, managed to miss him!

The rest of us, of course, clustered around the hawk and started taking pictures.  At first, we moved slowly and stayed a comfortable distance away from him, but then, as it became apparent that he wouldn’t fly away, we stepped closer.  Eventually, we were all arrayed almost directly underneath him.

If a hawk can be said to have a personality, I would label this one “curious.”  As we aimed our lenses at him and clicked away, he peered down at us, rotating his head this way and that.  Toward the end of the encounter, I stood directly underneath him with the long barrel of my lens practically up against his talons.  He never seemed bothered, never even flinched.  I would swear that he was as interested in me as I was in him.

When people ask why the Galapagos is so special, I think of moments like this.  There’s no other place on the planet where the wildlife are so comfortable around human beings.  It’s not just the hawks; it’s the sea lions, the iguanas, the birds, and the tortoises.  In the Galapagos, anyone can be a wildlife photographer and some of their best shots will come from a wide-angle lens!

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 4:55pm, 25 November 2010
Focal Length: 105mm
Shutter: 1/1250 second
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Slight crop, Auto color, dodged shadows very slightly, increased saturation very slightly.

Galapagos Hawk and its photographers

Alpha Tortoise

Posted by Arlo on Oct 22, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Tortoise Dominance Games at the Darwin Research Station

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One of the featured attractions of the Galapagos Islands is its giant land tortoises.  Charles Darwin noted them 175 years ago when he surveyed the archipelago in 1835.  In his day, the tortoises were known to passing whalers as an excellent food source.  They would haul them onto their ships by the dozen, flip them on their backs, and they would keep for months at sea.  Fortunately for the turtles, today they are known more for the clear evidence their shells present for evolution.

What you may not know is that there are very few places a tourist can go to see these tortoises at all.

There’s a highland ranch on the island of Santa Cruz that lets visitors in to see “wild” tortoises, but other than that, your best bet is to visit the Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora.  It’s here that scientists and grad students research and breed the different varieties of Galapagos land tortoises in an attempt to reintroduce them to the wild.

Back in January, when my group passed through the Research Station, our guide gave us a brief tour of the different tortoise pens before he departed and left us on our own.  We had a few hours to kill before we were to meet back on the boat, so I decided to stay put.

There’s one pen in the Station where tourists are invited to mix with these huge animals.  It was early enough in the morning that the five or six tortoises in there were still fairly lethargic.  A gentle rain was starting, so there were very few other tourists with me.  I sat down less than ten feet from a group of three sleeping giants and watched them slowly wake up.  Before long, one ambled over to another and I watched a dominance game play out.

As if in slow motion – well, actually, their motion was slow – two long necks snaked out from their respective shells and climbed straight up.  When neither tortoise’s neck could rise any higher, they both laboriously lifted their shells off the ground as they used their stocky legs to gain a bit more height.  Mouths open, exposing pink tongues behind sharp beaks, the two tortoises hissed at each other… until the one on the right, an inch or two shorter than the other, finally submitted.

Throughout the morning, I saw this display again and again.  While these two turtles never managed to bite one another, I did see one take a chunk out of another’s cheek.  These guys may be slow, but they have some powerful jaws!

Panasonic DMC-TZ5
Date: 10:37pm, 09 January 2010
Focal Length: 5mm (28 at 35mm equivalent)
Shutter: 1/320 second
Aperture: F/3.3
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Heavily cropped, cloned out a coiled garden hose in the background, increased saturation, decreased brightness.

Marine Iguana

Posted by Arlo on Oct 8, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Marine Iguana

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I went to the Galapagos without an SLR.  There, I said it.

It wasn’t my fault.  When I went to Ecuador with a group of eight college students, I made the decision to concentrate on video.  Then only thing less fun than carrying around an SLR and a camcorder is trying to juggle them both on a shoot by yourself.  Even so, I brought along a Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot “just in case” (and because it literally fit in my pocket.)

Halfway through the trip, four of the students decided to spend a week in the Galapagos.  We split the group and I went with them.  While the Lumix proved invaluable for underwater video (with the underwater housing I brought along with it), it was extremely frustrating to use on land.  Not that it can’t take good photos when the conditions are perfect; it has a decent chip and a nice long zoom lens.  My biggest complaint with it (and for that matter, all point-and-shoots) was that I just could not tell if a photo was really in focus until I got it onto a computer screen.

So there I was, at probably one of the best places on the planet for wildlife photography, surrounded by other photographers with 400-600mm lenses, without a decent camera myself.  I did the best I could with what I had.

And I got some good photos, too.  I just lost some great ones while doing it.

They tell you not to use flash photography on the wildlife in the Galapagos, and for good reason.  If every tourist pushed their strobes in front of the semi-tame animals, every iguana, blue-footed boobie, and sea lion on the islands would be stumbling around blind.  I am normally very conscious about rules like that, but I realized, after the fact, that when I took a photo of this little guy, the auto flash had fired.

Granted, the shot really did need a good fill flash – without it he would have been a silhouette against that blue sky – but I felt guilty just the same.  The iguana?  He didn’t seem to mind.  After I moved on, he continued to pose for everyone else in our group, too.

I’m looking forward to going back this November with my new 5D mark II.  I only have a 200mm lens (with a 2x extender, if I need to push it to 400mm), but you can get so close to the animals there that that should be more than good enough.

Panasonic DMC-TZ5
Date: 4:59pm, 12 January 2010
Focal Length: 19mm (112 at 35mm equivalent)
Shutter: 1/640 second (Flash fired)
Aperture: F/4.7
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Auto color and minor cloning to remove a twig from the sky.

Pelicans at Sunrise

Posted by Arlo on Sep 24, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Pelicans at Sunrise, Nags Head, NC

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When I stay at Nags Head, I attempt a sleeping schedule that allows for early morning walks along the beach.  I always think I’ll be able to get up before sunrise, but in reality, I’d have a much better chance of staying up all night.  At the end of every vacation, I’m so ridden with self-inflicted guilt that I inevitably drag myself out of bed too early on the last morning and spend my day traveling back home in sleep-deprived stupor.

This year was no exception.

We arrived in Nags Head just in time for my grandfather’s 90th birthday at the end of July, but we had plans to push on with our road trip shortly thereafter.  I stayed on the beach for less than a week and true to form, on the last morning, I woke up before my alarm and noticed the sun was just below the horizon.  I dragged Oksana downstairs with me to watch the spectacle, both of us fully intending to be back asleep within 15 minutes.

Oksana swung gently in the hammock while I stood on the porch and took pictures.  At one point, a lone pelican flew over the sand dune in front of the cottage and I kicked myself for not noticing it before it got into frame.  It would have looked great in silhouette against the sunrise.

I’d snapped about 20 shots by that point and the sun was about to get lost behind a bank of clouds.  I was talking with Oksana about going back to sleep, but I keeping my eye on the line of dunes behind her, hoping I’d spot another pelican before it got to us.  Just before we packed it in, I looked back out at the ocean and saw a huge formation of pelicans skimming the waves far out beyond where I had been searching for them.

I’m pretty sure I got out a “Holy sh…!” before I was able to swing the camera up to my eye.  I had time to take one picture – just one! – while they were centered underneath the sun.  Looking at it now, I realize I couldn’t have spread the pelicans out – six on the left, six on the right – any better if I’d tried.

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 6:12am, 31 July 2010
Focal Length: 105mm
Shutter: 1/200 second (-1.3 step)
Aperture: F/5.6
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Rotated for level horizon, cropped to third lines, increased saturation to approximate real colors.

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Niagara Falls Panorama

Posted by Arlo on Sep 10, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Niagara Falls Panorama

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Oksana and I were in North Carolina when we decided to go to Niagara Falls for our honeymoon.  Since we were on our way to Florida at the time, it was a little out of our way, but I was seduced by the lure of an internet add for a 4-star hotel with a “Fallsview” room.

Once we got there, we discovered the Sheraton was about three blocks uphill from the falls themselves.  So, while it was true we had a Fallsview room, we also had a Casinoview room and a ParkingGarageview room… At no extra cost!

We drove into Canada the night before and didn’t see the famous falls until the next morning.  Then we took a wrong turn, walking down the street from our hotel, so we ended up approaching the falls from its headwaters.  I actually enjoyed that, seeing it revealed in bits and pieces, rather than coming up from the downstream side.

We battled our way to the railing, shoulder to shoulder with all the other tourists.  Both of us took some photos and shot some video.  As we continued downstream, I finally found a spot that had a good view in both direction and wasn’t too crowded.  I snapped a quick series of photos, intending to use them as a panorama later.

If I had been more patient, I could have waited for the sun to peek out from behind the clouds.  When the mist was just right, and the sun was just right, rainbows would arc out in front of us.  But if I would have waited for that, I would have also had to wait for one of the Maid of the Mist boats to be perfectly centered under the rainbow and, well, I’d probably still be there now.

This one’ll do me just fine.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Date: 17 August 2010; 1:25pm
Focal Length: 45mm
Shutter: 1/640 second
Aperture: F/8
ISO: 100
Photoshop: 9 images stitched together with Autostitch, increased saturation, cloned in some plants in lower left to allow for long crop, cloned out cement railing on extreme right.

Lightning over the Nags Head Pier

Posted by Arlo on Sep 3, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Lightning over the Nags Head Pier

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Nags Head is turning into my de facto lightning photography grounds.  My grandparents have a beach house with a covered porch and hot summer afternoons often turn into evening thunderstorms.  But conditions aren’t always right.  Even when it’s not raining, often the wind blows so hard the camera vibrates on the tripod.

Anyone that’s tried to get a good lightning photo knows that it can take a lot of patience.  Good thunderstorms may display nice strikes every few seconds, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always have your camera pointed in the right direction.  Even if you do, the lightning strikes themselves won’t necessarily be photogenic.  It once took me 57 tries to get a lightning bolt to cooperate with the rule of thirds.

A couple weeks ago, another summer thunderstorm was passing us by at the cottage.  My cousin had a new camera and was out on the front porch trying to get a lightning photo of her own, but I decided to stay inside because it looked like it might rain at any minute.  Eventually she packed up, but the rain never arrived.  Later in the evening, when the lightning flashes picked up in frequency, I stepped out to take a look for myself.

The storm was passing south of us, heading out to sea, and as the warm, inland air advanced out over the sea, bolts of lightning were dancing every which way.  For a storm lover like me, it was a great show.  Even better, from where we sat it, was warm, dry, and there was not a breath of wind.  I decided to run in and grab my new camera.

Our neighbor’s cottage was empty, boarded up for the season. I didn’t figure they’d mind if I commandeered their gazebo overlooking the ocean.  Our porch is set back behind a dune, so it was a treat to be able to look out toward the Nags Head Pier with the storm behind it.  I didn’t even need a tripod; there was an 8-foot supporting column with a nice, flat surface on top.

How good was the show?  It took me exactly four exposures to get this shot.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Date: 9:04pm, 22 August 2010
Focal Length: 24mm
Shutter: 15 seconds
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Minor rotation to level horizon, cropped to 17×6 panoramic, slight saturation increase