Monday, December 21, 2009

The Photographer's Helper

This young man graciously agreed to help me get my lighting set up for photographing kids at our annual Christmas party. He's the son of one of my co-workers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Photo Manipulation Toys and Map Makers

States I've Visited
Make yours @
Make yours @

Go to the Big Huge Labs site to make a variety of interesting things including creations from photos on your hard drive, phone, or things you've posted on line-- or like taking your passport photo and making it more interesting. The second image is one of states I've visited. I guess there's not been much to draw me to the Midwest and I guess I'll have to go to Idaho to fill in that corner.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Storm Clouds with the First Winter Storm of the Season Approaching

Courthouse Butte, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Courthouse Butte is south of Sedona, Arizona on SR 179 as you enter Sedona from the south (from Phoenix). Today, the day started with not a cloud in the sky and by late morning, the first winter storm of the season had rolled in. Several hours later, the skyline was gone and it was snowing. This shot is an infrared shot taken with my newly converted Nikon D70. Most of my infrared shots were taken with an infrared filter on the outside of the camera, with an IR conversion the filter is placed inside the camera near the sensor. This allows for being able to preview the shot through the lens and allows more light in (therefore allowing more flexibility with aperture and shutter speed). This was shot at f16, 1/200sec, ISO 200.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grand Canyon Lodging Guide

Raven + Moon, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Hi, I'm called a common raven, but I really don't view myself as particularly common. For instance, look how I managed to line myself up so nicely for this shot with the moon in the background. And I did serve as an extra in Ken Burn's National Park film, don't you recognize me?
I'm here to be your guide to travel to the Grand Canyon National Park. I only hang around on the South Rim, but I can give you some advice. First of all, avoid summer travel because it's really hot then-- and in the winter there's snow so you may not be able to get here. April-May and Sept-Early Nov are nice. If you can, stay inside the park. Outside the park are a bunch of chain motels, pizza places, and an IMAX theater, but is that really why you came to the Grand Canyon. There's a list of park lodges at Grand Canyon Lodges.
My first choice is the Kachina Lodge-- basic accommodations, but killer views of the rim. After that, there's the El Tovar Hotel which is an historic landmark and a classic, beautiful national park lodge. Few of the rooms have a view of the canyon though. After that, my next choice would be the Bright Angel Cabins. They're very basic- but also right on the rim but also few with views- if you reserve enough in advance you can get one of the prime cabins with a rim view. After that, would be the Maswik Lodge, on the other side of the tracks (literally) but still an easy walk to the rim. Last choice would be the Yavapai Lodge-- very Motel 6, but still within the park. Everything is easy to get to because there's a shuttle bus system in season and you can drive in your own car from December through late spring. Well, enough on lodging, more on scenic spots in another post.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prime Lenses

New Lens, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Most lenses sold these days are zoom lenses-- they zoom in and out so that you can compose your shot without even moving your feet. They are convenient (especially when you can't move closer to a subject because of a barrier, distance or perhaps it's a bear that you don't want want to get too cozy with). Prime lenses are for only one focal distance. The advantage of prime lenses are that the optics are designed exactly for that focal distance, while a zoom lens needs to have the "flexibility" for a wide range of focal distances but with a trade off of being less sharpness, especially at the extremes. The prime lens will give you a sharper picture, but you have to use your feet to zoom.

This photo was shot with my new prime lens, a 50 mm f/1.8 D. The f/1.8 designates that is also a fast lens and that the f stop goes all the way down to 1.8. (f stop means how much the shutter opens to let light in). I was able to shoot this photo without a flash at a shutter speed of 1/124 sec with just ambient lighting (bluish natural light coming in from the window and a halogen light on the ceiling providing the warmer yellow light).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Homage to the National Parks

Yosemite Valley View, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

This week PBS is running the Ken Burns' film, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. So far, it's a beautiful series showing the history of the national parks in an historical context. It has wonderful music and provides images of a broad cross section of America's national parks.

This photo, Yosemite Valley View, is shot in Yosemite National Park, the first national park. The view is from the entrance road to the Yosemite Valley (from the west) and features El Capitan prominently on the left and the iconic Half Dome in the middle. To see a collection of my national park photos, go here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tropical Textures

Languor, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Infrared photography done in good light provides for sharp contrasts and all the shades of gray in between very black and very white. Palm trees are the perfect subject with IR because of the intersting textures and angles. These shots Palm Bouquet and Languor were taken at the El San Juan Hotel in Isla Verde (outside of San Juan), Puerto Rico with an Olympus 2000Z and a Hoya R72 infrared filter.

Isla Verde is one of the few places in the San Juan area with sandy beaches since the city of San Juan itself is on a rocky coast. Isla Verde, although with nice beaches and nightlife (pluses and minuses to that), doesn't have the charm of Old San Juan.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Homeless Haiku

Homeless Haiku, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Garden within the Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Men line benches
Grayjing fog
Becomes a pillow

All through Beijing we found men lying on park benches sound asleep. This seemed rather odd given how tidy everything was in general and how the poor were kept from view. There was even an orderliness to it as each building had only one sleeping homeless man. This photo represents so much about Beijing-- the sleeping man in a t-shirt on the porch of a centuries old building, the gray sky full of pollution that locals referred to as "weather", and the murky green water below. There's an illusion of wealth on the avenue with modern skyscrapers yet these random homeless men who had come into town for day labor jobs. The illusion of progress yet most days having sky filled with pollution so dense that the sun shining brightly above was mostly blocked out.
This photo uses HDR technique from one RAW image to bring out details in otherwise poor lighting: f4.5, 1/125 sec, ISO 250

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cowtown Rodeo Here I Come

Making a Break, and Ride'Em Cowboy originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Here's pics from the Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, NJ. The rodeo was quite an experience for lots of reasons and certainly you should visit a rodeo at least once in your lifetime-- a bucket list item?. The photography was tricky because I was pretty far back and had to shoot over a fence with only the available lighting of the stadium lights. This photo was shot at 1/320, f4.5, 200 mm at ISO 3200. The high ISO is what gives it the grainy look which I'm pretending is an "old west" effect.

Interesting Sponsors

Seen at the Cowtown Rodeo in Jersey, these sponsors made me wonder a little. I guess if your name is George Sparks (click here for the photo on Flickr to see the full width of the photo) you would of course become an electrician and the rhino linings are for trucks and have nothing to do with the zoo. The M&S Pet Removal business, offering "Private Cremations" surprised me, seems like a bit of a niche business to be advertising in an arena.

Both of these shots were taken in the evening with the sun setting, but shining right onto this part of the arena giving it such good illumination, f 4.5, 1/320 ISO 350 at 100 mm

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In the Clouds on the Great Wall 慕田峪

In the Clouds, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Here we are on the Great Wall in the Mutinayu section, about 50 miles north of Beijing but obviously not out of the pollution that surrounds the area. There's only been one day of blue sky in our week here. We only hiked a short segment because of the elevation, bad air quality, and 90 degree heat/ 90% humidity, but it was amazing to see.

Monday, August 3, 2009

China's Past and Present 天安门广场

This photo at the entrance of the "Gate of Heavenly Peace" (translated means Tiananmen" is at the northern end of Tiananmen Square and leads into the Forbidden City. Everywhere we go, there appears to be conflict between the old China, both imperial and communist times, and the more westernized modern "hip" China of electronics stores and nightclubs that appears to be their future. Yesterday, we were still among the very few Westerners we saw and a number of people stopped us to ask to have their pictures taken with us.

Just Playing Around-- With Swords 太极拳

Tai Chi Challenge 太极拳, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Senior citizens here are mostly quite active. Tai chi in the park, walking, etc. This photo was taken yesterday while there was still sky to see before the smog rolled back in.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Global VIsion

Global VIsion, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Here is one (and probably the cutest) of the 13 million residents of Beijing. We're quite an oddity here and get a lot of stares, especially in the part of town where the conference was and there weren't many tourists. Adults and children alike stare because we're not part of a tour group and so are unexpected. We've been stopped by a couple of "unofficial" sorts to inquire what we're up to.

Welcome to Beijing

Red Bridge, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Finally, the conference is over and the sun is out. It's a beautiful sunny day in Beijing. This photo is from a park on the way from the hotel to the Forbidden City. We walked to the gates of the Forbidden City and then were intimidated by the masses of weekend crowd, so will defer until tomorrow.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Surreal in Beijing

The Cube, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

This is "The Cube", the place where Michael Phillips won all his medals. From the outside, it looks as if the wall itself is filled with water, but it is an illusion. By the way, Facebook is blocked here, so the only way I can post is put a photo on Flickr, blog it to blogspot (which is also blocked), and blogspot automatically transfers to my Facebook I'm assuming). Also, for some reason the Philadelphia Inquirer is blocked (but not the New York Times). The first day here, he went to the convention center next door in a Kafkaesque experience to register for the conference. The building was filled with a convention of magicians so everywhere we went we asked "Medical?" and we were told "Magic, yes". Now, I know doctors are sometimes thought to do magic, but this was a bit odd. Every hallway we were sent down had people doing magic tricks-- rabbits from hats, disappearing coins, etc.. Apparently a national obsession here in China right now. Jet lagged as we were, we kept trudging along, but the trick was on us, because our conference was actually in a different conference center across the park, where indeed there was little magic happening.

Bird's Nest

Bird's Nest, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

This is the National Outdoor Stadium, aka the "Bird's Nest" on the Olympic Green in Beijing, China. You might be able to tell about the incredible amount of haze from the sky from the smog. I've only been able to make out the sun once briefly at noon. It made it almost impossible to get any daytime shots. For this evening, I loaded up my equipment (the conference and our hotel is across the street from the Olympic complex) to go take some night shots and arrived only to have them turn all the lights off at 10:00. So this shot was made with reflected light from the security lights, on a tripod with exposure of 0.5 sec, f 4.5.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hello Faux Kitty

Hello Faux Kitty, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Count the number of cat statues in this shot from Eastern State Penitentiary. The cat statues depict the semi-feral cats who roamed ESP during the time that the prison was closed and then re-opened. A volunteer visited several times a week to feed them and check on them. (There are 4 - click here to go to Flickr and see where they are)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Two different doors, one open and one closed. Both of these infrared photos are from the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, PA. The bottom is a bit of an anomaly because it's on one of the cell blocks which otherwise appears so impenetrable, yet here is this simple door to the outside. I particularly like it because of the loose panel where light is filtering in. A color version of this door is here. The top door is to a small area (seen here) where prisoners were taken to get sunlight and fresh air for a brief time each week. The inmate was brought with a hood over his head to ensure that he didn't see any other living soul and was left in the "courtyard" to further reflect on his crimes in a solitary way with the belief that this "solitude" would bring insight into his life.
Both of these photos taken with an Olympus 2000Z with an R70 Infrared filter, ambient light 1/15 sec, f/2.0 and 1/30 sec, f/2.0.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Variations in Light

Eastern State Penitentiary is open to the public after restoration and serves to educate the public about how prisoners were treated in the 19th to early 20th centuries. This wind is only partially restored with the paint on the walls flaking and debris scattered. Prisoners were placed alone in cells to silently reflect on their crimes in the hope that this "penitence" (hence penitentiary) would lead them to an understanding of their crimes and to a path towards correct behavior. Later, in the prison's history, the cruelty and lack of efficacy of this extreme isolation was realized and a more social environment created. The site is open for self-tours with audioguides on Fairmount in Philadelphia. The website has a coupon worth $1 off. They charge an extra $10 to use a tripod, but the fee is good for the entire year.
This photo is a HDR created from 3 raw images, shot with a Nikon D300 using only ambient light and handheld 1/125 sec, f 5.0

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Invisible Light and Shadow

Norwich in July, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

This photo in Norwich, New York (my hometown) is another demonstration of the surreal nature of infrared photography. The shot is in the park at the corner of Broad and East Main Street and at first glance looks like winter and a fresh fallen snow. On closer look however, the people on the bench are dressed in shorts and you can see the texture of grass in the "snow". This shot was at noon with the light bright enough to still show detail in the shadows with the sun directly overhead. The IR filter decreases the amount of available light by filtering out non-IR light, so capturing detail in shadow can be difficult. Taken with an Olympus 2000 Zoom, f 2.0, 1/100 sec with an R72 infrared filter, hand held.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Court House Perspective

Court House, originally uploaded by Cocoabiscuit.

Shooting up from a low position can make a photo that has lines that are already fairly imposing appear even more so. For this shot, I sat on the grass and shot up (and got lucky when the cloud positioned itself just right). The wide angle of this shot adds a little bit of curative to the edges that additionally makes the shot more interesting. Shot with a Nikon D300 f11, 1/500 at 18 mm.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ground Zero

Ground Zero
Construction site at Ground Zero, New York. Formerly the site of the World Trade Center with this link showing where the buildings were prior to 9/11/2001. It is the future site of the National 9/11 Memorial Museum and a new world trade center complex. This photo is a composite of 3 shots processed as an HDR image. Go to Flickr for the full view of this image cropped to fit on the blog.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Higher Ed? - Seen on a steet in Seattle

I found the ad for "Earn While You Learn" at this strip club in Seattle to be less than enticing and wonder exactly what one might be learning. I guess it's part of the "stimulus" plan...
Taken with my D300 on manual settings (f 4.5, 1/320, ISO 3200). I used the light meter to get an approximation of settings, but it was too light, so gradually decreased the shutter speed until I got the desired effect (and a sharper picture).
For more of this photoblog, go to

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Still water with morning light shining almost parallel to water can create the most interesting reflections...
(Images from San Juan Island, Washington, Infrared with an Olympus 2000Z, Hoya R72 filter)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Morning Light Can Turn 2-D Into Almost 3-D

This image of steps leading into the US House of Representatives with the Capitol Dome in the background is an example of how light can increase dimensionality (is that a word?) of a photo. I took it at 7:30 AM, soon after sunrise, so that the light was coming almost parallel to the ground. This creates areas with bright highlights and dark shadows, adding to the depth.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

US Grant Memorial

This dramatic memorial, at the base of the US Capitol steps in Washington, DC, looking out over the Mall, is in honor of Ulysses S. Grant. Built in 1902, it is the 2nd largest equestrian memorial in the world. The central figure is Grant on his horse, guarded by lions at the base of the statue. At either side is a grouping of cavalry soldiers seeming to leap out of the metal they are made from, charging into the middle (and perhaps down the mall for a swim in the reflecting pool). The high contrast between shadows and light in these photos are from the strong morning light shining almost perpendicularly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How the seemingly ordinary can be extraordinary

Robert Adams, an American photographer, is the latest winner of the Hasselblad Award. Here's a story and some of his pictures on NPR. Adams photographed the "New West" as it was described in the 1970's when suburban sprawl started to become a dominant theme in previously sweeping landscapes and gas station signs began to compete with cactus. His images are a mixture of man made and mother nature's adornment to the landscape.
The award is from the Hasselblad Foundation,based in Sweden and a collection of his works will be on exhibit there this summer. Previous American winners include Ansel Adams, Richard Aveden, and Cindy Sherman.
Hasselblad's fame is in producing high quality medium format cameras that are a favorite of nature photographers, including Ansel Adams. Medium format negatives are 600 cm wide (compared to the 33 mm film size familiar to most). Advantages are images with great detail and little noise, but the cameras (and film if non-digital) are very expensive.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Photo show at the Marketplace at East Falls

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My new website and a new logo...

I've finally made the leap from using Flickr and this blog as my websites. It's still under construnction and needs some tweaking, but here it is: Blue MoonBeam Studio

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Photographing People - Exploitation or Celebration?

While walking through the medina in Marrakesh, Morocco, my new traveling friend Peter, encountered a man who was upset that he was taking a picture. Peter tells me that he takes photos of things to later paint. Peter tried to show the man that he was photographing a building and no person was in the shot, but the man was still upset.
Our guide explained that people sometimes feel that they are like animals in the zoo, with crowds of foreigners going by and taking their pictures. He felt that these pictures ended up in publications in the West making them appear exotic and other. We were also told that some of the people believed that you would bring them bad luck by singling them out to take their picture.
This conversation has really made me think about my photography. I take a lot of zoo pictures, so I had to consider how this was different, because it feels different. My feeling is that if someone doesn't want their photo taken, I certainly am not going to photograph them (even if it feels compelling artistically). My goal in photography is always to capture a feeling for someone viewing the image of having been there. Too few people have the chance to go to Morocco and experience the scenery, the light, the people. I think that without seeing through photos, it's easy for Americans to view Muslims and many foreigners as the enemy and potential terrorists rather than as just people like they are. The clothing may be different and they may have donkeys instead of cars in some places, but essentially we're all under the same sun on this rotating orb just trying to make our way. My photography is not about trying to find the exotic and point out the exotic, but instead to show the common humanity.
In the top picture, Berber Biker, substract the desert background and he could be on the Sahara or a boy down your street. In the bottom picture, Donkey Parking Lot, the gentleman by dress and surroundings is clearly not in the US, yet his face and his expressions, his sense of purpose seems so familiar.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More on perspective

Shooting from different angles can give you very different looks. In these two shots, the bottom one Joe Camel and Friends is a typical vacation picture. Someone stands with a camera and shoots upwards at the subject with the dual purposes of showing the person(s) of interest and enough of the scene to give context for someone looking at the picture to know where its taken. In this shot, further interest is added by including (on the right), the shadows of the subjects of the photo and the photographer. The top photo, Caravan, is more interesting and artistic, taken by the person on the camel pointing forward at another camel (and the camel driver). It's more fun, presents a different perspective, but doesn't show the folks back home who is actually on the camel.
Both of these shots were taken on the Erg Chebbi Dunes on the Sahara in Morocco.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Toledo Textures
Sometimes, rather than photographing a building from a traditional perspective, it is interesting to get low and shoot upwards as in this photo, Toledo Textures or shoot from high above downwards. This shot is of the train station in Toledo, Spain. The building was interesting, but it was difficult to get far enough away to get the whole building in the picture, but this one is more interesting.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Night Photography

Night photography can be difficult because of the long shutter speeds required to capture the light. It is almost impossible to do this without a tripod, and even then, if the image is moving it may be blurred (or at least without the sharpness that you would see with normal daylight photography). To maximize your photo: 1) Use a tripod 2) Set the ISO* up to the highest that your camera will allow without resulting in a grainy image 3) For moving objects, shoot them as they are coming towards you rather than as they go by because then the motion will be minimized and 4) Use the largest aperture and longest shutter speed that will still give you the desired effect. Shorter shutter speeds will capture action, diminish movement, but may not be possible in low lighting. The settings for this photo, Spectramagic, a parade of lit floats at Disney World in Orlando Florida were: Shutter: 0.013 sec(1/80), Aperture: f/4.8, ISO Speed: 3200

*ISO (also called ASA) is the setting that sets light sensitivity (and is a holdover from film photography). ISO with film referred to how sensitive the film was to light and could be adjusted in the process of making the film. With a digital camera, ISO sensitivity refers to how much light the sensor will collect. If you turn it up too high, it will collect your image, but also a lot of light "noise" leading to a grainy image. Generally, in good light, shoot at 100 ISO for the best saturation and the least amount of noise.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tricky Lighting

Photography at the extremes of daylight (dawn and dusk) can be the most rewarding, but also difficult. Light at these times is often more colorful, in this photo, of Yosemite Falls taken in Yosemite just before sunset, the light is golden/brown. The advantage, other than color, is that the sun at the horizon acts like a spotlight and illuminates parts of the scenery that in a direct overhead light at noon might not be well seen as the light rays pass in parallel. The tricky part is that there are also more shadows in other parts of the photo, as seen in these photos. Metering the area in the spotlight will usually give you the best result. You can also "cheat" as I did in these, by bringing out the shadow areas better using HDR (see a different posting for more on HDR). The falls were really the point of the photo (being the highest falls in North America and quite beautiful), but if I had metered the light in the area of the falls, the detail in the area of the golden light falling on the granite cliffs would have been lost by overexposure.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Composition: Rule of 3's

Composing for photography, as a rule of thumb involves "3's"- both vertically and horizontally. Divide your scene into thirds looking horizontally and vertically. In this photo, Launching Pad, a viewing place on Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, the platform occupies roughly the middle third looking both horizontally and vertically, Horizontally, additionally, there is the sky with the treeline, the frozen lake, and the ground at the foreground. In some photos, you'll want to vary the thirds or do interesting angles, but especially in the beginning of thinking about composition try to divide the scene into thirds.