Monthly Archives: May 2014

Neat Things You Can Do With Your Photos

Profile Pic 20x30

Howdy!  The National Parks Traveler site just published my latest photo-related article.  Perhaps it’s a little bit of self-promotion (shamless, of course), but it applies to everybody who wants to do something with all of the photos they capture.  To read the article, just click on the photo above.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography

Remembrance

ENGLAND

My father during his paratrooper training in England

Every Memorial Day, I look at photographs of my father when he was a very young man in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was quite the looker (as was my mother; I get my good looks from them both, you know).

I understand that Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who died during all of the wars, and my father returned from WW II alive.  Nonetheless, now that he is dead, I seem to think of him more often during this day than during Veteran’s Day.

Dad signed up for service and was assigned to the tank division. He decided this was not exciting enough for him, so he became a paratrooper with the 508th Parachute Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division (I don’t know which of these comes first, so forgive me here). He trained in England and Ireland; so it was a little more special for me to travel to Ireland back in 2011 on an organized photo tour, because I knew I was visiting a place that Dad thought was beautiful.

Dad jumped over Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), and fought during Operation Market Garden (September 1944) as well as at the Battle of the Bulge (Dec 16, 1944). Of all the paratroopers who jumped during those battles, Dad was one of the very few to return alive each time.

When Dad returned from the war, he was a changed man. He drank – too much, and I’m pretty sure he suffered from a form of PTSD; I don’t even know if the doctors of that time knew what PTSD was, but they certainly never discussed it. So of course, it went untreated in Dad as well as so many other returning veterans.

Dad never talked about the war…unless he was drunk…and it always ended in tears. What Mom and Granny (Dad’s Mom) and the rest of us learned from these times was that those experiences were horrific, as are all experiences dealing with war and battle. Oh, Dad had some really neat stories to share, too, and he didn’t seem to mind talking about those times. My favorite is the one he recounted of Christmas Eve in Belgium.

My relationship with my father was definitely complicated….well, maybe not. We didn’t get along and we didn’t see eye-to-eye about much, if anything….except photography. I hated his drinking and it scared me. I don’t drink much myself and I think it’s because of this….along with the arthritis medicine I take. Nonetheless, Dad and I had a bond with our photography. And I find it ironic that I am more like my father than I ever realized. I have a temper that constantly needs the edges smoothed. I’m not always a patient person, although as I get older, that seems to be less of an issue. Just like Dad, I have a love for adventure and travel and photography.

So many people don’t understand the significance of remembering Memorial Day any longer (although with all the returning veterans from the current wars, that might be changing a little). As one of the Facebook photos I saw this morning noted: Memorial Day is not just a day to have a bbq (although that’s not a bad thing, if you are with friends and family).

Someday, I am going to get to Normandy. I want to see where Dad fought. I want to take my camera with me. I want to stand and listen to the waves hit the beach. I want to walk along the shoreline. I almost made it there in 2011 for an organized photo tour except that tour was cancelled and I instead traveled to Ireland. I’ll get there, though. I’m planning to travel to Paris in 2015 and maybe I’ll take a detour for a day or two.

I think of Dad now and then, but especially during Memorial Day – moreso than even Father’s Day (for reasons written above). Memorial Day is not just about WWII and all those who died during that time; it’s about all the wars that are fought on our behalf, and all those men and women who did not return to their friends and families, so that we may continue to live our lives as we so choose. I don’t like war, but it seems to be a part of our human genome. Too bad #ArcticBiosystems #Helix couldn’t have figured out how to remove that particular item from our DNA.

So, here’s to another year of remembering Dad.

2 Comments

Filed under Life, Memorial Day

Blooming Cacti

Strawberry Pitaya Bloom

Strawberry Pitaya Cactus Bloom

One of the reasons I traveled so far to visit Big Bend National Park, Texas, in late April, was to view and photograph the blooming cacti.  I don’t know what it is about being so excited to see these lovely flowers as opposed to any other spring wildflower.  Perhaps it’s because I am always so amazed to see something so prickly and painful produce something so colorful and delicate.

Engelmanns Prickly Pear Bloom

Englemanns (?) Prickly Pear Cactus Bloom

Eagle Claw Cactus Blooms

Eagle Claw Cactus Blooms

Bee and Prickly Pear Cactus Bloom

Pollen-Laden Bee and Prickly Pear Cactus Bloom

Claret Cup

Claret Cup Bloom

Strawberry Pitaya Cactus

Strawberry Pitaya Cactus

Cholla Bloom

Tree Cholla Bloom

Bee and Cholla Bloom

Bee and Cholla Bloom

Two Bees In A Prickly Pear Bloom

Two Bees in a Prickly Pear Bloom

Prickly Pear Bloom

Prickly Pear Bloom

Nest In The Cholla View 3

Bird’s Nest in a Blooming Cholla

I used several different methods for achieving these blooming cacti shots – all without the use of a dedicated macro lens:

  • Canon 70-200 or Canon 100-400 telephoto lens zoomed in at their longest focal length
  • Canon 40mm “pancake” lens with a close-up filter attached
  • Pentax WG-3 point & shoot using its macro mode
  • Canon 24-70mm at the 70mm focal length with the image ultimately cropped

Prickly Pear and Chihuahuan Desert

Blooming Prickly Pear and Chihuahuan Desert Scenery in Big Bend National Park

1 Comment

Filed under Big Bend, National Parks, Photography, Seasons, Spring, Texas, Travel, Travel and Photography

Ocotillo

Ocotillo Bloom

For my first vacation of the year, I drove  from my home in southeast Texas to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas – a 13-hour drive (if my friend or her husband had let me borrow one of their brand new Corvettes, it might have only been a 2-hour drive) Winking smile

I’d visited the park back in December 2013 and I returned to that park for two reasons:  the starry night skies (it was a new moon when I visited) and the blooming cacti.

Two Bees In A Prickly Pear Bloom

So, where does the ocotillo come in?

Ocotillo and Chihuahuan Desert Scenery

Because it’s not a cactus.

Ocotillo Thorns

Even though it has thorns.  Lots of ‘em.

Ocotillo Bloom

No, an ocotillo is a shrub.  Most of the year, it looks dead.  But, when it rains, it puts out lots of little green leaves and these beautiful, orange-red tubular blooms.  The leaves fall off pretty quickly in an effort to conserve water, but these blooms remain for a bit longer.  Ocotillos can live between 60-100 years and grow 20 feet tall.

Early Morning In The Park

The ocotillo is a pretty cool plant.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Bend, flowers, National Parks, Photography, Texas, Travel, Vacation

The Road to the Stars

The Road to the Stars
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Camera Exif Data:  Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 16-35 (16mm focal length), ISO 5000, shutter speed 30 seconds, f3.2

The Road To The Stars

Here’s another starry sky photo.  I spent two different nights/mornings capturing images.

During the wee hours of Mondy morning (4/28), long before I took that long hike up Pinnacles Trail, I hopped in the car and drove out to several favorite spots for some starry sky shots.  I’d timed my trip to the park during a new moon so nothing would mar the sky’s night canvas.  At my first stop, I was looking for the Milky Way but didn’t find it.  So, I decided to go for an interesting shot by plunking myself and tripod smack dab in the middle of the road.  I wanted a leading line image that would take the viewer’s eyes straight into the vast night expanse.

I didn’t stay out there very long. I was a little wary about standing out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night (ok, early morning hours) with black bears and wild cats and coyotes possibly lurking nearby to keep me a bit on edge. I could hear the crickets and other regular night sounds so I figured as long as nothing suddenly went silent, I was probably ok. Grin.

2 Comments

Filed under Photography

Starry Skies Over Big Bend National Park, Texas

Los Portales Morning

Los Portales Morning, Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas

My first vacation of the year was the last week of  April 2014.  I drove 13 hours from my home in southeast Texas all the way over to southwest Texas to Big Bend National Park…in one day.  I wasn’t able to get a room in the Chisos Mountains Lodge for Saturday the 26th, so I instead stayed in the beautiful Gage Hotel in Marathon, about 60-some miles north of the park.

One of the main reasons I timed my trip for late April was because of the new moon.  When I visited Big Bend back in December 2013, there was a gibbous moon, the light of which blocked out the wonderful stars and purple-white line of the Milky Way.  For this trip, though, the stars out-performed themselves.

Casa Grande Morning

Starry skies over Casa Grande

Chihuahuan Desert Starry Sky

Stars and the Milky Way over the Chihuahuan Desert

Starry Morning on Basin Road

Stars and the Milky Way along Basin Road, toward the Chisos Mountains

I used three different cameras for these shots:  my Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 1DX, and a rented Nikon D800.  For the Canons, I used two lenses:  24-70 and 16-35; for the Nikon I used a rented 24-70.  The ISO was 3200, f-stop was 3.2 and I varied the shutter speed between 20-30 seconds.  I had to use manual focus because of the lack of light for autofocus.  The images were all taken between 2-3AM.

The park’s most recent newsletter talks a lot about the starry skies in Big Bend, as well as the problem with light pollution elsewhere (which is why parks like Big Bend are so important).  Many nocturnal creatures guide their lives by the stars and even by the straight line of the Milky Way, believe it or not.

If you ever have a chance to visit this amazing, out-of-the-way park, try to go during a new moon so you, too, can see the starry expanse of the night sky.

Los Portales Morning2

The Milky Way over the Los Portales rooms of the Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX

1 Comment

Filed under Big Bend, National Parks, Night Photography, Photography

My Review of Mindshift Gear’s Rotation 180 Panorama

RLatson_Panorama At The Top

The National Parks Traveler just published my latest gear review:  The Rotation 180 Panorama camera pack.  If you are interested in reading about this, click on the photo above.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Bend, camera backpack, Equipment, Mindshift Gear, National Parks, Photography, Travel and Photography

Tomorrow, Back to the Real World

Why is it that vacation days pass by so quickly?  Where has the time gone?  Tomorrow, I start the 13-hour drive from Big Bend National Park back to the real world in the Houston area, with all that the phrase “real world” implies.  Sigh.

Relaxing On The Balcony

I’ve spent 6 days here in Big Bend and have come away with some awesome images of which I will be using in various future posts on this site and in articles for the National Parks Traveler.  I’ve tested a new camera bag about which I will write a review for The Traveler, and I have learned that I like my Canons much better than the rented Nikon D800 (sorry, Nikonians); I’ll explain why in a future post (it’s a personal thing, as subjective as is the art of photography).

So, stay tuned, folks.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Big Bend, camera backpack, Canon, Equipment, National Parks, Nikon, Photography, Travel and Photography