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Composition Tip # 1

30th September 2010

Creative framing is one of the secrets to taking top notch photos.


Often, the photographer feels compelled to frame the entire subject. But you may find it equally interesting to be more selective about how much of the subject to include in the viewfinder. Suggestion: Move Closer I call this zooming with my feet.

Here we’ve included most of the wooden sculpture. You can see that the background is slightly distracting.

By moving closer to the sculpture, we have paid special attention to the face and also eliminated the background.

The large number of balloons make for a very colorful scene. However, the balloons don’t stand out very well because of the building in the background.

For this shot, we concentrated on a single balloon. By moving closer to the balloon, we are able to isolate its bright color against the blue sky.
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Fun Tip # 1

15th September 2010

This is the first “Fun Tip” that I’ve written. It has no purpose whatsoever except that it’s a fun thing to do.

What does a fish see?

A fish views the world differently than we do. A fisheye lens attempts to duplicate that view, but the cost of one can set you back $600 to $1000. Some cameras including the Nikon D3100 and D5000 let you reproduce this fisheye effect for FREE.

This is the “before” photo. To get the most from this effect, you should compose the photo so that it is centered. Also leave empty space around the main subject (not too close to the edges)

Using the Retouch Menu on the Nikon D3100 and D5000, I’ve turned this shot into a pseudo-fisheye photo. Experiment and you may encounter just plain fun!

Suddenly in early August, the summer turns busy for me.

My son Paul asks me to drive with him from our home in Grand Rapids to Orono, Maine to pick up a new vehicle (see below) to be returned to Michigan. This is a trip of 1000 miles each way through Canada and rural Maine. I agree to accompany him provided that I can enjoy a fresh Maine lobster and spend a few hours in Acadia National Park. Paul shakes on the “deal” and we’re off.

Our drive takes us through eastern Michigan, over the St Clair River Bridge into Canada, past London, Toronto and Montreal where we stop for a late lunch. Then eastward towards the Canada-USA border and finally south to Orono. After sixteen hours in the car, we arrive in Orono and settle down in the hotel for some sleep.

The next morning we are up early and conduct and conclude our vehicle purchase. By noon we point the car towards the resort town of Bar Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean and also the gateway to Acadia. Here’s where the lobster part of the “deal” is satisfied.

picturesque church in rural Quebec close to the Canadian-USA border


Acadia is largely situated on a few islands along the rugged Atlantic coastline. Visitors often spend weeks exploring the vastly different environments of the park. But now, I have only a few hours to satisfy my scenic cravings for this gorgeous part of the USA. To move this story along here’s the outcome:

Promise 1: our chef preparing a Maine lobster

Promise 2: a few hours at Acadia National Park

I stuff myself with lobster and stuff in a few hours of picture taking on the Atlantic.

Fast forward a few weeks (it’s still the busy month of August) and we’re visiting our daughter and grandkids in Oregon City, but only for a short 2 days. We decide to take a day trip over the coastal mountain range to Seaside and Ft Stevens on the Pacific Ocean. Again I am able to stuff a little more picturetaking into the visit.

the grandkids playing on banks of the Columbia River with Grandma

fishermen hoping for the big salmon catches

huge freighter entering the Columbia River from the Atlantic Ocean

clouds at sunset over the coastal range

While the purpose for being on both coasts has nothing to do with photography, I am able to walk away with some fun and interesting shots. As is often the case when traveling, when you’re pressed for time, it is still possible to squeeze in those pictures. Travel is one of my passions, but I also enjoy recalling the pleasures of travel through photos.


This is the vehicle that we picked up in Maine – a full service kitchen on wheels. We’re looking forward to some quality food.
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Sports Photography

10th September 2010

Many know that one of my passions (besides Abacus) is training for and racing in triathlons (swim bike run athletic events). Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate to participate in dozens of organized runs and marathons and Ironman-distance triathlons.

During all of these sanctioned races, photographers are contracted by the race organizers to be stationed at ‘strategic’ locales along the race course to photograph athletes at their best (or worst). I can remember my first race, I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even see the photographers until I saw one past the finish line! It’s pretty cool getting your photo taken during the races.

These professional sports photographers that contract with race organizers throughout the US have photographed me (as well as thousands of others!) from the beginning of a race to the climatic end.


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Wine tasting notes

10th September 2010

I’ve been a wine lover for some years now. And I’ve had the good fortune to have been treated to and enjoyed some very wonderful wines with close friends.

The trouble is that I’m not real good about remembering all of the great tasting wines that I’ve pleasured – at least not off the top of my head. At first this was troublesome for me as I struggled to recall the names and vintages. I often jotted the wine info on the back of a paper napkin and collected them in the pocket of my suit coat. Then I’d forget about the wine tasting notes until the next time I wore that suit and stuck my hand in the pocket.

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Two years ago when I originally wrote this article, sales of GPS Navigation devices were in high gear. Most of you already know how a GPS device works:

  1. receives multiple satellite signals
  2. determines the geographic location by 3D triangulation
  3. displays your position superimposed on a map on its small LCD screen
  4. accepts your desired destination
  5. provides driving turn by turn instructions to reach the destination

I was interested in adding location data to my snapshots – “geotagging”. Geotagging is equivalent to performing steps 1. and 2. I found my geotagging solution in the reasonably priced PhotoTrackr.

Keep that camera handy

07th September 2010

At times when I’m on the job, I dutifully carry a camera and accessories so that I am ready for the shoot.

Most often though, when I’m off the clock, I leave the photo equipment behind. One incident from 1989, changed this habit. I was in West Berlin in early November of that year. To the surprise of much of the world, the East Germans started to dismantle the infamous Berlin Wall. At this historic time, I was regretfully camera-less.

This lesson nudged me from this time forward to carry a small camera so that I wouldn’t miss those “once in a lifetime” photo opportunities.

I wrote this article almost two years ago. The purpose of this cross country journey was to deliver an auto to Phoenix. Whenever possible, I try to record my travels through photographs. Since I’m planning another repeat of the drive from the Midwest to the Southwest in a few weeks, I wanted to refresh my memory to see how I might stuff even more photos into my next trip to Phoenix.

Written: November 2008.

Here’s some rambling about nothing in particular.

When the weather starts cooling off in Michigan, Mom starts thinking about going to the warm environs of her Winter home in Arizona. Normally she waits until after the Christmas Holidays, but this year she decides to travel early.

Here’s where I come in. She flies and I drive. As the designated driver, I drive her car from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Phoenix, Arizona to use for the months that she is there. I don’t mind, in fact I look forward to the 2000 mile trip. After delivering the car to Phoenix I’ll fly back to Grand Rapids.

During the cold months to avoid bad weather, the preferred driving route is through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and then on to Arizona. When I leave Grand Rapids on Friday at 7PM, my plan is to follow this route. But two hours into the trip I call my son Paul by cell phone and have him check the road conditions forecast for Colorado. According to, he assures me that the roads through Colorado are clear. So I decide to take the more northernly route through Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado. The reason is simple – the scenery in Colorado is preferable to the scenery of Missouri and Oklahoma.

Except for refueling, a rest area just east of Des Moines is my first stop at 3AM. Mom has thrown a blanket and pillow in the back seat for me so I recline the car seat for some sleep. My alarm clock is the cold temperature of the car. After a few hours sleeping in an unheated car (the engine is off), I’m too cold to sleep any longer so I’m back on the road. I reach the Iowa-Nebraska border at 7AM.

I fill up the tank again in York, Nebraska where the gas is only $1.99 per gallon. This turns out to be the lowest price for this trip. As I pass by the large and fragrant stockyards in Ogallala, Nebraska I know that I’ll soon be leaving the East-West Interstate 80 and heading south into Colorado.

Since I’m getting a little drowsy, I pull off into a rest area in Sterling, Colorado for an hour nap. Then I’m back on the road through Denver and a short jog onto US 185. Now I’m passing through the very pretty mountains and high plains of central Colorado.
Although today is a Saturday, the roads in rural Colorado are nearly traffic-free. This makes my drive through the mountains very relaxing. Five hours later I arrive in the southwest corner of Colorado and the picturesque town of Durango.

Durango is most well-known for its narrow gauge railroad that climbs the steep mountains to Silverton. During the summer, this unique railroad attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the cozy town. A few years ago, our youngest son lived in Durango so I know the town well. So I point the car towards East by Southwest Restaurant to treat myself to sushi after my first 24 hours on the road. Then on to the Best Western motel.

After checking in, I ask the clerk for a 6AM wakeup call and hit the pillow for some real sleep. The next thing I know my wakeup call is harkening me back into the car. It’s still dark out when I pick up a coffee from McDonalds and leave town driving south.
A few miles out of Durango I cross into New Mexico. Northwestern New Mexico is also the Navajo Indian Reservation. I stop in Shiprock to snap a few photos of the famous monument. Then I continue south to Gallup where I pick up Interstate 40 westward into Arizona.
An hour later, I’m at the entrance to Petrified Forest National Park. Although I’ve passed through this area a dozen times before, this is my first visit to this National Park.
The 28 mile loop through the park yields about 75 photos. Then, I’m back on the road for the last leg of my journey. In the scenic east central area of Arizona I drive over mountains and through winding canyons and past the cactus covered deserts. I arrive in Phoenix just as the sun is setting.

Here’s a few observations from this cross country drive.

My biggest surprise is the cost of a medium chocolate shake at McDonalds in Holbrook, Arizona – $3.81 including tax (ouch).

Best breakfast – Golden Corral in Gallup, New Mexico

Best dinner – East by Southwest in Durango, Colorado

Prettiest site – Shiprock monument in Shiprock, New Mexico and Painted Desert overlook in Petrfied Forest National Park

Sleepiest section – eastern Iowa at 1AM

  • $2.03/gallon – Walcott, Iowa
  • $1.99/gallon – York, Nebraska
  • $2.59/gallon – Sterling, Colorado
  • $2.58/gallon – Farmington, New Mexico

Mom’s Toyota Camry performs OK. I check the mileage twice and find that it gets 25 miles per gallon on the interstate highways where the speed limit is 70 mph to 75 mph. However in the high plains of Colorado where the speed limit is 55-60 mph, the car gets an impressive 35 miles per gallon. The bottom-line to maximize your gasoline dollars – slow down.

I pull up to Mom’s house at 6PM – just about 48 hours after leaving Grand Rapids. I unload her belonging from the car, have dinner with my sister and brother-in-law (who also live in Phoenix) and then retire for the night to get some sleep. I’m up at 5AM the next morning for my early flight back to Grand Rapids.

Here’s a few observations about my return flight on Monday morning.

A one-way ticket from Phoenix to Grand Rapids is a sky-high $470.

The leg from Phoenix to Chicago is overbooked. United Airlines asks for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for free travel. Within 5 seconds of the gate agent’s announcement, a dozen volunteers are offering their seats. This is not surprising. With high prices for airline tickets, consumers are on the lookout for ways to save money. Since I want to get home, I don’t volunteer.

One of the passengers confesses that she is upset over the $15 charge for checking her luggage.

Onboard, I find that not only are United’s prices for beer and wine up from $5 to $6, the prices for purchased meals is also up from $5 to $6.

After the 3 hour flight to Chicago and short connection to Grand Rapids, I’m back home by 3:30 PM. Mom’s car is now in Phoenix awaiting for her arrival. I’m happy to have a set of photos from the cross country trip and I’m also happy to get back to work. And all of this completed before the snows begin out West.

Water Fun

04th September 2010

Sadly, summer is quickly drawing to an end in our part of the world. We’ve been blessed with unusually hot and sunny weather which means that water sports have been a vital part of the our recent recreational activities.

For the most part, water and cameras don’t mix well. But by taking a few precautions, you can minimize any danger to your camera at the pool or beach when capturing the fun. And if you’re a serious outdoor fanatic, you can make a waterproof camera part of your photo gear.

Again and again and again…

03rd September 2010

First a little background.

As an avid picture taker, I learned early on that unless I had a way to organize my pictures, I would find it increasingly difficult to keep track of my growing collection of photographs.

Although I’ve been taking pictures on film since the 1960’s, it wasn’t until 1998 that I began my digital collection. I discovered a software program called Thumbs Plus for the PC and have been using it regularly to catalog and manage more than 100,000 of my digital photos. By adding keywords to an individual photo, I am able to easily and conveniently locate and retrieve photos from the past. Thumbs Plus has dozens of other useful features but for my purposes, organizing is its most important feature. For the past decade Thumbs Plus (and 3 or 4 upgrades) has been one of the most used programs on my computer.

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