Thursday, January 31, 2013

New York City , 99 degrees in the Shade

June 23, 2012

Is there anything in New York City worth photographing that has not already been photographed one million times, in at least one thousand different ways? Ok, yes I'm sure there is, but I'm not holding my breath that I will be the one to discover it. Thank heavens this is a family trip so I can just play tourist and take snapshots of our vacation instead of trying to do something original. I would love to live in New York for a while to see the details you miss as a tourist. But in the meantime, we visited and thoroughly enjoyed the usual tourist sites. We did a top down approach, so the first couple of days are here

99 degrees in the shade meant there were no arguments from any family members on visiting NYC's air-conditioned and wireless museums and galleries, although Johan and Kristina spent as much time looking at their iphones as they did the paintings. And when we left the museums we managed about 30 minutes on the street before being forced to take refuge in a Starbucks and reviving ourselves with an iced frappaccino. Starbucks shares rose during the beginning of the week and fell when we left New York. Now you know why.

Since we spent so much time in the art museums I had to include at least one picture, and "The Sleeping Gypsy" is a good analogy for our first trip to New York. Kind of a scary place where you could be mugged, pick-pocketed or eaten alive. And all that happens is the that big dangerous city gives you a sniff and ignores you, probably because you smell bad from spending all day in 99 degrees...

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In Central Park the real New Yorkers did not seem to notice the heat. They bicycled, jogged, skated and ran without breaking a sweat.

While the ladies shopped Johan and I headed for B&H Photo to pick up a new Lowepro camera backpack since the zipper on my five year old bag was broken. The new model of my old bag was now rain proof. This turned out to be exactly what I needed, since a couple of hours later Johan and I were out on the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge photographing when a downpour came in over us. But no worries with my new camera bag, we ran back to the Manhattan side of the bridge in the pouring rain and took the stairs under the bridge to wait for the deluge to end. A fellow photographer also stuck under the bridge with no camera bag at all was grateful for my B&H plastic bag so he could protect his camera as he also attempted to make his way back to the city.

Later that day we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge once more accompanied by Lena and Kristina and enjoyed great Indian food at Baluchis Restaurant at Smith and Degraw St. This put us close to the Brooklyn Bridge Park for sunset photography of the bridge and Manhattan after dinner. And what a gorgeous sunset it was. We enjoyed every second of it as the four of us with overfull bellies tried to run down to the park before the sun set completely. We failed miserably. Tourists...

Wrong place, right time.

So we had to make due with the afterglow as the lights came on in Manhattan.

What can you say about the Stock Exchange. Profit or loss, life reduced to dollars and cents. Seems to be made for black and white.

On the cruise out to Ellis Island we saw this reminder of what made America great.

Ellis Island is now filled with rich tourists instead of poor immigrants. I suppose that could be considered progress.

The trip back from Ellis Island.
The image above is a good example of what proper use of Photoshop or similar tools can achieve on days with lots of haze. Below is a comparison of the in-camera JPEG, compared to the raw image and in the middle the processed image. With just a few minutes of work adjusting "Levels" and "Color Balance" the image went from being pretty ugly to being a decent snapshot.

Always something happening on Broadway

Just had to include this icon

And now onward to the West Coast, where the temperature is a comfortable 75 degrees.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Natures Hovercraft...

Kestrels are some of the smallest and most beautiful falcons and occur in various species around the world, including Australia and America. You've probably seen them somewhere along a road with chestnut brown wings, hovering over a field, their typical hunting method. Photographing kestrels is usually not too difficult. Those living near populated areas are are pretty tolerant of humans, at least if you stay in your car when you are photographing. The only challenge when photographing kestrels is getting the sun and wind to cooperate, since the kestrel will always hover facing into the wind and if the wind is blowing towards the sun, the kestrel's head will be shaded. So the best conditions for photographing a hovering kestrel is shortly after sunrise or before sunset with the wind perpendicular to the direction  the sun. That will give you a well illuminated bird and if you are early enough, some light on the underside as well.
The top two pictures were taken in Falsterbo on the Southwestern tip of Sweden during the fall migration where many of the birds heading South for the winter are funneled into a small corridor before crossing the Öresund Straits and continuing on to Europe and Africa.

And here is the same bird in an animated GIF image, consisting of 16 still images, which gives a pretty good example of the kestrel in action Double-click on the image for slightly better resolution:

This kestrel is either digesting his latest meal or taking a more leisurely approach to hunting.

And this kestrel has definitely perfected his style of hunting. I photographed him for twenty minutes as he moved from fence post to fence post. Looking into the grass for any movement and then making a small hop from the fence post onto his prey. He was successful twice during the time I watched.But that's another story...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Impressions of Sweden

When I arrived in Sweden for a one year university exchange program in June 1987, I thought I knew what to expect. I had spent a lot time during the previous three years at UCSD hanging out with Swedish university students, and a Swedish/American couple that had moved to the US. I had taken Swedish in night school, and read all sorts of books and guides on Sweden. But despite all my preparation, I quickly discovered that Sweden was not at all as I had imagined. Everyone did speak Swedish, but beyond that most of my expectations were way off. So explaining my take on Swedish culture would take a long, long time, but let me give you a few glimpses...

I have begun to suspect that there is a battle raging within many Swedes.
They are overachievers with an inferiority complex. There is this thing called the "Jantelag"; (the law of Jante) that basically says "Don't think that you're anything special." And most Swedes follow that law, no matter how brilliant they are.
My Swedish friends in the US were very outgoing and always up for a party at the beach or a game of tennis. But in Sweden Swedes can be a bit shy; dying for someone to talk to, but can pretend to be asleep on a crowded bus for fear that someone might speak with them. The brother of a good friend didn't attend her 50th birthday celebration because it was basically mingling while having dinner and drinks . In Sweden they do sit down dinners with assigned seating. (And by the way, they have song books at dinner parties and sing "My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean", in case they don't have anything to talk about.)

Swedes are efficient and practical to a fault; I was walking in Lund with Kristian a friend from the University when he ran into a friend of his and they exchanged greetings and spoke briefly. All the while I was waiting for him to introduce me, thinking, it will come any second. And then they said goodbye and his friend went on his way. I asked Kristian why he hadn't introduced me and he said "Oh well you're never going to see him again..."
Swedes have among the longest life-spans in the world, a beautiful country with public access to virtually all land (even private), outstanding socialized medicine (speaking from experience as the father of a 19 year old asthma sufferer), and empty freeways (with the exception of downtown Stockholm and Gothenburg) that the rest of the world dreams about. Yet they are convinced that life is better Denmark, Germany, US, UK, Thailand, well almost anywhere else...

Falu red; the red color of all Swedish cottages and many Swedish homes. It started as the waste product from the Falu copper mine in Sweden, and turned out to be a pretty good preservative of wood. (Yes I have taken artist liberties with the saturation)

Swedes are good at planning. They fill their calendars months in advance with dinners and lunches, meetings, trips and vacations, all the while they wish they could be spontaneous. If only they had the time.
You can't invite a Swede home for dinner without having known them for a while, in part because they're shy and would feel threatened and besides their calendar is full. But you can invite them for fika (coffee, tea, snacks etc).
My theory on the root cause for much of this is that children between 5 and 15 go through school with the same 20 or so classmates. Then when you're fifteen you go to gymnasium (high school) and spend the next four years with a slightly larger but equally stable group of classmates. And quite similar at university. So the Swedes are open to meeting new people at ages 5, 15, and 20. If you didn't get to know them at the designated ages you have an uphill battle ahead of you.
But sooner or later they warm up, and if all else fails give them a shot of aquavit :-) Take my wife, we were in the same university history class, and for three months I tried to make conversation and get her attention, but she was completely uninterested. As luck would have it with two weeks left before the end of the term she asked for help with an English essay, "No problem" I said, "But you have to go out with me". I made her stir-fry Chinese in her dorm kitchen and she was sold. The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach...

So it would be close to impossible to make you understand what I have experienced, but I will try to give you a glimpse through a few pictures that have some symbolic value for my encounter with Sweden and Swedes...

This is the group of students from the University of California that I came to Sweden with in 1987. None of us knew you had to take off your shoes when you entered a Swedish home. Some of us still didn't get it when we returned to the US.

July in Abisko (above the arctic circle) 1987, the land of the midnight sun. What's wrong with this picture?
You might say the snow, no sun, looks cold. Well that's the way it is in Northern Sweden even in the middle of the summer. But a Swede will look at his picture and immediately spot that these must be four foreigners or complete amateurs. NOBODY in Sweden goes to Norrland (the Swedish arctic) without gummistövlar (rubber boots, wellingtons), shell pants, a parka and walking poles. And for good reason I might add, we had to wring the ice water out of our socks numerous times during our 10 mile hike in the snow and fog. But we lived to tell about it :-) Southern California boy that I am, I still wear sandals even in the winter.

And of course in the winter this area is famous for the Ice Hotel

Petroglyphs at Tanums Hede Sweden has been inhabited by some pretty good artists all the back to about 1800BC.

Every fisherman's dream. Sweden has some great salmon fishing and I have spent at least 50 days and 15000kr ($2000USD) fishing in the Mörrum River with only one 3 pound salmon to show for it. But Camilla Hedlund is one of Sweden's more accomplished fly-fishers, and has landed countless salmon in salmon rivers across Scandinavia. I gave up and bought a boat.

It's uncrowded and beautiful. The archipelagos around both Stockholm and Gothenburg have fabulous scenery where you can be completely alone just minutes from the largest cities in Sweden.

Swedes have a Lutheran work ethic, but they're not very religious, at least they don't go to church very often. Swedes are all about being practical and rational. This sometimes clashes with other cultures where small talk and socializing are the openers before getting down to business. The Swedish EU delegation recently figured out (after 15 years in the EU) that they were missing a lot of negotiations that were going on in the restaurants of Brussels during the evenings. The Swedes had been going home to get a good nights sleep.

Ribergsborgs Kallbadhus in Malmö. Built in 1898, the cold water bath, (all the way at the end of the pier) on the open ocean, open all year round. Swedes will take the plunge into the icy waters before taking a bastu (sauna). There are separate sides for men and women in case you want to swim in the nude. While Swedes are VERY open about sexuality on a political and public level, the same is not true on a private level. They will however tell you they have to pee even at an exclusive dinner and restaurant. No restrooms in Sweden, here we have toilets...

Industry and agriculture is what this Sweden's welfare state was built on, but recently a lot of industries are being sold to foreign investors and in many cases shut down. I'm not sure anybody has figured out what Sweden will live on in the future. Maybe we can become au-pairs for the Chinese?

The back streets of Lund are charming and give a glimpse into how life and cities looked hundreds of years ago, sans bicycle...

Southern Sweden has traded hands between Denmark and Sweden several times since the Vikings ruled, and the Swedish dialect in Southern Sweden is not easily understood by Swedes North of the region of Scania. In fact most Scanians have a greater affection for Denmark than for Stockholm and Stockholmers who are sometimes called "08s" referring to the telephone prefix for Stockholm. But in Southern Sweden we gladly travel to Copenhagen which is a mere thirty minutes away.

I still get a lot of questions from Swedes on how I could leave Southern California, so I show people this picture. "Oh", they say understandingly "you love the Swedish ice cream."

For more of my pictures of Sweden see:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Favorite Red-Necks...

The park along the boardwalk, not far from where I work, is the daily starting point for countless joggers, runners, walkers, and dogs and their owners. During the summer months the number of visitors explodes as everyone heads to the beach. There are several man-made ponds in the middle of the park, and all though they are probably only 20-30 meters wide, from March until October they are home to gulls, swans ducks, geese, coots and my personal favorites the red-necked grebes. These normally shy birds have figured out that the joggers, cars and dogs in and around this park are not a threat, and that in fact this busy little park makes a pretty good place to build a nest and raise a family. As a result I have been able to approach these grebes and photograph them without them feeling threatened. The number of grebes breeding in the park varies between 3 and 10 pairs; the number has declined the last couple of years due to the large number greylag and barnacle geese, whose feces have caused the pond to become filled with algae and scum, but that's another story...

Lying down on the grass at the edge of the pond with 1DmkIV and 500+1.4 or 2X extenders provides a great perspective on the grebes and their chicks, you just have to avoid the "landmines" left by the geese...

Courting starts in March with the grebes finding mates, and calling to each other with a rather noisy and irritating pig-like squeal. Once the pairs are established they will continue to greet each other for the coming months with the same ritual of noisy calls and head shakes.

The primary diet of the adults is fish, and if they can catch it they will try to swallow it, although sometimes I have seen them give up after trying unsuccessfully for 10 minutes.

Most pairs have from one to three chicks, but third chick has low odds for survival. The gulls in the park have figured out that the chicks are easy pickings.. They have a much higher success rate when they have two chicks.
The young are fed insects, larvae, small fish and even feathers which supposedly line their stomachs to prevent damage from point fish parts.

The first couple of weeks the chicks spend most of their time hitchhiking on their parents back, which is the safest place to be with all the hungry gulls around.

After six weeks the young are pretty independent and the parents may even start on a second clutch of eggs if they began early enough in the spring. By September the grebes and their young have moved out to the open ocean and congregate in larger groups, without the fights over space and food they faced in the park.

Hopefully in a couple of months the first arrivals will be in place for a new season.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Kingfisher Squabble Animated Gif

Our kingfisher session in the hide in September 2007 yielded hundreds of great images included a couple of kingfishers squabbling about who would be king of the fishing perch. And while I took a total of 16 images with the Canon 1DmkIII only a few of them were critically sharp. But I have saved all 16 images thinking there might be something I could do with them. Well I had completely forgotten about them, but them browsing through my Lightroom catalog I rediscovered them and got to thinking... How about an animated gif of the series. Said and done, below is the sixteen image clip combined into one animated gif.

Double-click on the GIF to get a slightly higher resolution.

Of course it would have been better if I had actually been filming the sequence in full HD, and I will certainly do more filming in the future, but in the mean time, it's cool to see how new technologies provides us creative ways to use our photography.

The original blog post with still images can be seen here:

Technical image details can be found along with additional kingfisher images at

Thursday, January 17, 2013

For Lois

A special post for Lois, the sister of a fellow IBM:er Jim Wiltsch, who is starting a new round of chemotherapy. A few shots of some of the beautiful places and things we have seen to and prayer for your speedy recovery.

Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Sunrise on the island of Gotland, Sweden

2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures: 

Tuolomne Meadows, Yosemite
he leads me beside the still waters.

Summer evening,10 PM in Överkalix Sweden, on the Kalix River, near the Arctic Circle

 3 He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

The West Fjords of Iceland

 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 

Starlight over the Grand Canyon
I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.

Sunset on the Lighthouse near Alnes, Norway
 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

Lena (L-R) Kristina and Johan at a table in Isajordur Iceland

 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 

Sunset at Fredshög, the Southern coast of Sweden
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Michael Gehrisch

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