First Days in Kenya

African Tree-8On Friday, my wife and I embarked on a two-week trip to Kenya.  After a 14 hour flight to Dubai with a 5-hour layover and finally 5 more hours to Nairobi, we arrived exhausted to our hotel.  My first impression of Nairobi was a general feeling of lockdown.  All the buildings seemed to be behind fortresses of walls and razor wire.  We were greeted at the hotel by an armed guard searching the vehicle.  Upon entering the lobby, we had to run our luggage through x-ray.  Personally, I didn’t mind.

Day one started with a 5 hour grueling drive to Amboseli National Park.  Here lives the largest number of African Giant Elephants in the world.  Each day we headed out a sunrise, returned for a rest during the middle of the day and then went out for late afternoon light.  Our driver was excellent and very patient as I directed him to move 50 meters this way, 20 meters forward, etc.

One evening, we heard through the CB (yes, CB) that there was a lioness about 5 miles away.  We arrived to find her sound asleep with two cubs hiding in the grass behind.  We waited over 2 hours for her to wake up, hoping she would go out looking for food or that the cubs would emerge from the grass to frolic in the evening sun.  Well, she rolled over a couple of times, yawned and continued her slumber even as a herd of elephants approached in the distance.  Once they caught her scent, they veered away and she continued to sleep.  As the sun was setting, I asked the driver to race towards a tree that I had seen earlier in the day which I caught backlit by the beautiful sunset.

On the third and final morning, we set out at early light.  There was much more activity.  As the sun rose, I caught three lions drinking at the side of the road.  A beautiful lion wandered across the plains as elephants grazed.  I saw wildebeests grazing under a lone tree as an elephant approached.  It was a gorgeous morning.

Below are a few of the images from these early days.  I took over 1800 photos and haven’t looked at but a few, but these were shots that I knew as I took them, I would like.  Most of these were shot with my Nikon  D7100 and Nikon 200-400mm f/4.  I bought the D7100 just for this trip as the cropped sensor gives me a 1.5 additional reach which I needed.

Lightroom Update 2015 6.4 Available

Adobe released an update to Lightroom today that, if you are running the current Creative Cloud version, will take you to 6.4.  This adds support to several new cameras as well as, allegedly, fixes issues that Nikon and Leica users had tethering on the latest MAC platform.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve not been able to tether my Nikon D810 or D4s to my Mac.

To update Lightroom, choose Help > Updates…

Or click “Update” in the Creative Cloud desktop application next to Lightroom CC 2015.
If the update is not showing, click the Gear menu > “Check for App Updates” in Creative Cloud desktop application.

New Camera Support in Lightroom CC 2015.4 / 6.4

  • Fujifilm X70
  • Fujifilm X-E2S
  • Fujifilm X-Pro2
  • Leica M (Typ 262)
  • Leica X-U (Typ 113)
  • Panasonic DMC-ZS60 (DMC-TZ80, DMC-TZ81, DMC-TZ85)
  • Phase One IQ150
  • Sony ILCA-68 (A68)

Some other updates include:

  • Nikon 1 J4 Camera Matching Profile added
  • The panorama merging process should complete roughly twice as fast as Lightroom 6.3
  • Improved quality when applying Auto Straighten and Upright “Level” mode
  • A preference was added to the Mac to prevent accidental “speed swiping”
  • Metadata is added to merged panoramas to support Photoshop’s Adaptive Wide Angle filter
  • Customers can now set the location of where photos are stored when downloaded from Lightroom mobile or Lightroom web in the preference panel or contextually in the folder panel
  • Thumbnails update much quicker when copying and pasting settings in the grid view
  • Images load faster in the Library module when you are zoomed in and navigating images
  • Tethered support added for the Nikon D5500 and Nikon D7200

RIP David Bowie

bowieI know internet has been flooded with eulogies for David Bowie, but I have to chime in.  I’ve been listening to his music since I was 8 years old when I first heard Space Oddity.  Few artists, since the Beatles, have changed the face of music more than David Bowie.  With each new work, he would take his music to a new level, always experimenting and pushing the boundaries of creativity.  I’ve met each new release with the excitement of wondering what he was going to bring us next. 

His Brian Eno trilogy in the 80s sounded like nothing else.  Last year, he surprised us with his first new material in over a decade and I was blown away by it. When I first heard that “Black Star” was coming out on January 8, I could not wait to put it on the turntable.  And now, he’s gone.  He left us with an album that’s being called his best since the seventies.  I’m sitting on an airplane right now and haven’t been home, but his new album is waiting for me. 

Tonight, I’ll light a candle, pour a dram of my best bourbon, and revel in his last gift to us, to me.  He knew it would be his parting gift and I’m so grateful.  He’s given me 40 plus years of joy and I will miss him and his music dearly.  Thank you, David.  You will never be forgotten.  I can only hope that someday, I’ll create a photograph that will have a tiny fraction of the impact he’s left.  Rest in peace, Sir Duke. 

I’m stepping through the door

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today

Kill Bill Church

Sanctuary Adventist Church The Sanctuary Adventist Church, formerly the Calvary Baptist Church is a working church located at the intersection of 198th Street East and East Avenue G in Lancaster, CA

It is also known as the “Kill Bill” church. In Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2, the Sanctuary Adventist Church stood in for the supposed El Paso, Texas-area Two Pines Wedding Chapel where the Deadly Viper Assassination Team (aka Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, and David Carradine) attempt to kill “the Bride” (aka Uma Thurman).  The church was also featured in the 1981 film True Confessions with Robert Duvall and Robert DeNiro.

Kill Bill Church

Devil’s Punchbowl

Nestled directly on the San Andreas Fault is the Devil’s Punchbowl.  Per Wikipedia, “The peculiar uptilted rock formations found in the area are layers of sedimentary rocks formed long ago by water depositing loose material in horizontal layers. Later they were squeezed into their present, steeply tilted form by ongoing uplift action along the Punchbowl and Pinyon Faults and by pressures along the San Andreas Fault. The Punchbowl Fault is to the south of the rock formation, while the Pinyon and San Andreas Faults are to the north.”

We arrived just before sunrise and hiked a short, easy trail in search of the right shots.  I didn’t find too much in the way of interesting larger views, so I concentrated on shooting some of the interesting trees, dead wood and cactus, paying close attention to the rising sun and using it to my advantage.  I’m quite pleased with these three shots.

Cactus-2 Cactus-4 Cactus

14 Days with the New Nikon 24-70 f/2.8E VR

32d820d181314e01a102aed67d0a0fa7I just spent a couple of weeks playing with the new Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR lens and, while this isn’t a full review, I thought I’d give a quick first impression.  The first thing you’ll notice is the size.  This thing is a beast.  It’s 20% longer and heavier than the older model.  This is due to the extra glass and the VR mechanism.  While it’s not really an issue when on my D4s (it balances this big camera body quite nicely), it’s a bit of an issue on my smaller D810 when not attached to the grip.  While everyone else is going smaller with the mirrorless cameras, it seems a bit crazy to go bigger when I’m already carrying around a 6 pound camera.

While the VR may help to get slower shutter speeds in lower light (up to 4 stops), I never really missed the VR in my older model.  At 2.8, the lens is already quite fast and typically, I don’t need slower shutter speeds when hand held.  At least for my photography.  However, when needed, it is definitely nice to have.  My biggest concern with this lens is the sharpness.  While I think sharpness is a bit overrated, I do want my images crisp.  I have to say that when stopped down to 2.8 or even 4.0, this lens, to my eye, seems less sharp than the older model.  This is especially visible at a wider angle or at the 70mm end.  At 35-50, it’s quite sharp, especially at the edges.  The edge to edge sharpness does trump the older model, but I typically shoot this lens at 2.8 and I want sharpness at the center which the older model has.  At $2400, this lens needs to be at least as sharp as my older workhorse.  It isn’t.  I thought it just might be my copy, but I’ve read this elsewhere.

I will say that this lens has lightening fast focus.  The older model is quite fast and I’ve had no issues in this department.  I’d say the newer lens is just a tad faster, but we’re talking milliseconds.  Again, not enough to warrant a $2400 upgrade.   My other concern is the 83mm filter size.  For me, this would add another $250-$500 to the cost as I’d have to purchase new CP and ND filters.

I’m not going to go quite as far as to say I was disappointed with this lens.  The build quality seems the best on the market, the focus is fast and the distortion is minimal.  But when I compare it to my older 70-200 f/2.8G, I just can’t justify spending $2400 on this lens.  Even if I can sell my old one for, say, $1400 (which may be difficult to the flooding of the market by upgraders), that’s still $1000 investment in a slight and minimal upgrade.  I’d say if you’re a wedding photographer and need to shoot hand held in low light, the VR might help (but even then, you’re not typically going to shoot longer exposures because people are usually moving around),  then it might be worth the price.  For me, I’m not convinced.  I returned my lens without too much reservation.

Gordon Sage

20151010_HonorFlightLAW_3189-EditThere are a lot of benefits to making your living as a photographer, but one of the best is being able to meet people you wouldn’t normally come across otherwise. As many of you know, I am a volunteer photographer for the Puget Sound Honor Flight. This great organization is made of of over 150 chapters nationwide and is all volunteer. Their mission is to take every remaining World War II veteran to D.C. at no cost to them so they can see the monuments that honor their service. These guys are now 85-98 years old and most of them have incredible stories. How often do you get a chance to talk to and hear about the life of someone at that age. For me, not often. For many of these guys, this trip allows them to get closure on the experience and nightmares they witnessed over 70 years ago. To capture these moments is quite an honor.

In October, I went on my third flight. I got to know an amazing gentleman by the name of Gordon Sage. At 93, he’s a bit frail but still sharp as a tack. He’s a marine and was one of the survivors who fought at Iwo Jima. Mr. Sage is funny, friendly and kind. I saw another side of him once we got to the Iwo Jima memorial to the marines. He became quite emotional. At one point, he came up to me, in a wheelchair guided by his daughter, and handed me a piece of paper. He said he only brought two copies and wanted me to have one. On this paper, was a copy of a poem he wrote on the boat taking him away from the battle of Iwo Jima. I want to share this poem because it is because of guys like this, and countless others, that we enjoy the freedom and liberties that we have in the United States. Every day, we endure the onslaught of tales of our violent culture, inefficient government and, often, ignorant or lazy populace. But the fact remains that we live in the greatest country on earth and should count our blessings that we were born American (or was welcomed here legally) thanks, in part, to men like Gordon Sage.

Four thousand strong they lie there
Beneath their crosses white,
The heroes of this bloody lair
No more shall see the light.

O’r their graves the ensign flies
Their comrades pay respect,
But they look up with sightless eyes
No thoughts their minds reflect.

Above them shifts the bloody sand,
Below them rolls the sea.
Conquerors of this wasted land,
Champions of the free.

At home the sun shines overhead,
Some people they are gay.
They soon forgot our hallowed dead
The price we had to pay.
— Gordon Sage at Iwo Jima

Gordon, I’ll never forget. Thank you for your service.

Paul Weller at KEXP & The Neptune Theatre

For over 35 years, Paul Weller has been at the top of my list of favorite musicians. My favorite band in high school was The Jam with which Paul was the singer and guitarist. In college, Style Counsel was one of my favorites. And, ever since, Paul’s solo recordings have always brought me hours of enjoyment. I was extremely honored, and nervous, to be able to meet and photograph him at KEXP last week as well as his show at The Neptune. I can only hope that my images did him justice!