Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A C750-UZ top 40

So, my camera has basically died. The Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom that I got something like ten years ago. All of the pictures of mine you have seen on this blog were taken with this 4 megapixel camera from the turn of the century.

It still takes pictures, but I can't change it from the Auto setting, and there's that crack in the middle of the lens that often made it look like people had a holy light shining out of their crotch.

So I have bought a new camera. But in memory of the years of wonderful pictures that the old camera brought me, I have compiled this list of the top 40 photos I took with it. Obviously this is somewhat arbitrary, and I wish it was worth the trouble to get other people to vote on what the top 40 really are, because I have very particular tastes and I'm probably keeping from you lots of photos that normal people would like very much but I don't. However, here are the photos. Please click on any you wish for a larger version.

A dewy-winged cicada on top of a trash container somewhere in the Midwest. Possibly the only photo I have of anything in the Midwest.

Chimney Rock, near my geology field camp in Shell, WY.

An upright piece of petrified wood in the wilderness, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

A cleft in the rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ.

Me with guitar.

A shot from Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, MT.

A figure is dwarfed by the walls of the Great Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, UT.

Lots of little turtles for sale at a street fair, New London, CT.

Driving through the north part of Zion National Park, UT.

Backpacking in the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Sledding in Groton, CT.

White Sands National Monument in NM.

View from Sun Point, Glacier National Park, MT.

Collared lizard with spider on its chin, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Morning glory on my balcony, New London, CT.

Canoer, Lake Ogontz, NH.

Cattle graze under the Bighorn Mountains, WY.

Sunset in the badlands, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Candlestick Mesa, Canyonlands National Park, UT.

The Needles, Canyonlands National Park, UT.

A friend's pet crayfish.

Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

Snails on a rock, Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Charles at Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park, WY.

A poppy outside my apartment, New London, CT.

Heading to work, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Jess and friends, Green Mountain, CO.

Mountain biking in Sedona, AZ.

White Sands National Monument, NM.

Me and some other field camp students, Wind River Mountains, WY.

Sunset in the badlands, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

A clay head I made that is about 1 inch long.

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ.

Sunset at Chiricahua National Monument, AZ.

Midday in the badlands, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Sunset at Ocean Beach Park, New London, CT.

The Rattlesnake. Dinosaur National Monument, UT.

A beluga whale up close, Mystic Aquarium, CT.

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, MT.

Friends' shadows, Arches National Park, UT.

There are some interesting trends in these photos. One is location--I have broken down the locations of the 40 photos by state, below:

AZ: 11
CO: 2
CT: 8
MT: 3
NH: 1
NM: 2
OH: 1
PR: 1
RI: 1
UT: 6
WY: 4

Obviously, Arizona and Connecticut are the most beautiful states. Actually, I consider Utah the most beautiful state, but Petrified Forest National Park (AZ) is one of my favorite places on the planet, and I'm sure this has some correlation to the number of photos. As for Connecticut, I did live there for longer than anywhere else (yet).

Indoor photos: 3
Outdoor photos: 37

Not sure there's anything special about that. Perhaps 37 out of 40 of everyone's best photos are taken outdoors.

Outdoor photos taken in the morning: 3
Midday: 16
Evening: 18
Night: 0

It's hard not to take a good picture in late afternoon or evening light. But I think when I'm on vacation I'm more likely to be out and about during midday than anything else, so that accounts for all the midday ones.

Photos taken at home: 10
While traveling: 30

Despite the fact that for the past few years I've spent, I dunno, "only" 1/3 of the year traveling or otherwise away from home, 3/4 of my good pictures are from those periods. Part of that may be that I'm more likely to be carrying my camera when I'm traveling, but, plainly put, the nicest things to photograph tend to be "out there," not close to home.

Photos without people: 31
Photos with people: 9
Portraits: 0

I know I've taken at least one portrait, which was actually pretty good, but in general it's not something that even occurs to me. Taking pictures of people! People exist to provide a sense of scale in landscapes.

I think about what makes pictures good and I think about how so many of the nice pictures I've taken could have been taken by anybody. Were probably taken by other people who happened to be there at the same time as me. This photo, say, required the least amount of skill:

There's nothing special about the light, the weather... or even, from a particular point of view, the scenery, which probably looked like this on and off all summer. Thousands of people probably have this same exact photo. The only element of skill is that I made sure the horizon was (sort of) horizontal. It is very pretty, though, all the same.

Most of the nice photos I have incorporate a small element of skill in them, though, I suppose, in that I chose to take them between the hours of 5 and 9 PM when it's hard to take a bad picture of anything remotely pretty. Sometimes I even waited until the shadows of clouds were artfully arranged. And I guess I make some decisions about how to frame the photo--what to include in or exclude from the frame--and how to crop it later.

And then there are the photos in which I just got very lucky about what I stumbled on, like the snails, the lizard, the snake. In a way, anybody could have taken those too. But I suppose not everybody chooses to hike the backcountry of national parks or wander for hours along a deserted Puerto Rican beach.

But the only photos I really consider to have taken skill are the few that incorporate all those elements--light, framing, being in the right place at the right time--and also having seen a photo opportunity that was not completely obvious to everyone there. So of all the photos above I think the last one was, perhaps, the only one that really required skill.

Unique among all the moments I've captured above, this one was gone after only a second. (Even The Rattlesnake stuck around for a few minutes!)

Anyone can take amazing photos without an ounce of skill, if you follow three rules:

1. Have a camera that is at least pretty good quality and represents colors pretty accurately.
2. Put the time and money into traveling to see amazing things, things that make you say "wow" before you even remember you have a camera.
3. Take photos of these things in the low-angle light of morning or evening.

That's all you need. Obviously really great photographers often get stunning pictures without needing to follow rules 2 and 3. But they have skill. We may not!

But, my readers, I am curious: out of all the photos presented today, which is your favorite?

Friday, September 09, 2011

All of the other things

My tenure at the park is over, but there remain a few photos of interesting things.

I don't have much to say about these, except for the rattlesnake. But I shall caption them.

A nighthawk.

A ponderosa pine. Ponderosa pines have a silhouette that is itself a classic icon of the west. They can be recognized by their rounded tops.

A damselfly. Damselflies are similar to dragonflies, but are slimmer, and fold their wings onto their backs when they rest.

The Yampa River after the big storm we had while rafting. The storm turned the waters reddish-brown beyond a certain point at which the reddish Phosphoria Formation, above the pale Weber Sandstone, was washing down the cliffs into the river. Here the water behind the sandbar is its original yellow color, the water beyond it more reddish, which color it remained for several hours.

Many ranches have posts over the entrance with various horses, cowboys, bulls, etc. upon them. This one near the park was a little more creative.

DP rides a captive brontosaurus.

A news item in Vernal.

The mineralogy book that my field partner found in the middle of nowhere, in a crevice in some rocks far from any trail. It had a name and a number. However, the number didn't have the right amount of digits to be a phone number. And I can't imagine why anyone would put their SSN in a mineralogy book.

Old juniper wood.

A flower. Obviously.

This cabin is on one of the county roads that allow access to the east end of the park. The sign reads: "$1,000 REWARD for information leading to the CONVICTION of anyone STEALING, MOLESTING or POACHING [illegible] or PROPERTY [illegible]."

My hat, and some scenery.

A worked point (i.e., Indian artifact) I found in the field.

My field partner at work.

A storm beyond the housing area.

Students and volunteers on the University of Utah team doing research in the park pause in trying to remember the Seven Dwarves to catch a Sharpie, here suspended in mid-flight.

DP in a slotty portion of what was generally a non-slot canyon.

Investigating the nicest track site we found. The prominent trackway stretching from foreground to background was made by a small mammal-like reptile walking up a dune 200 million years ago.

Not The Rattlesnake, but a rattlesnake we walked right past before realizing it was there, a foot from our feet.

Fantasy Canyon, south of the park.

Also Fantasy Canyon.

Sunset from Fantasy Canyon.

Flaming Gorge, north of the park.

Flaming Gorge Dam.

A sign below Flaming Gorge Dam that practically invites you to read it the wrong way.

There were many signs here.

Cross-bedding in sandstone.

The moon rises over Blue Mountain. As seen from the housing area.

Some trees on the Ruple Point Trail.

A picture of me at Moonstone Arch outside the park, taken by a co-worker.

And me hiking back from a day of field work.

And me in front of the wall of bones at the visitor's center that will reopen this October.

I scale the stegosaurus model outside my office. For no good reason.

Also for no good reason.

Oh, yes, back to the beginning of the summer, when I was trying to get the frisbee off the roof with a grappling hook made of two pairs of salad tongs.

We take the pledge to become Junior Paleontologists.

Our album cover. Actually, this is the team I worked with for part of the summer.

Second album cover.

Third album cover. Obviously, this is after we fired our drummer.

My goofy field partner Keegan at the wall of bone.

We pose in some shots for my supervisor's blog.

I look up at the reverse image of some footprints.

Our evil supervisor watches over us as we slave to dust off a fossil trackway.

Me and femur.

Now, The Rattlesnake. My field partner and I were hiking through a wash on our way back from a hard day of field work when he told me I just stepped on something. I looked around. This is what I had just stepped on.

It was a baby midget faded rattlesnake eating a lizard. The rattlesnake did not do anything; it just sat there.

We watched it for a bit.

"It can't bite us," I said. "It has a giant lizard stuffed in its mouth. We can touch it. This could be the only time we're ever able to touch a rattlesnake."

I touched it. It sat there. After several minutes of gathering up his courage, my field partner touched it, wincingly.

Immediately after he withdrew his hand, the rattlesnake spat the lizard out with lightning speed and slithered away, keeping its head turned to watch us, shaking its not-quite-a-rattle-yet tail, to coil in some grass a couple feet away.

Okay, so it totally could have bitten us. One of the stupider things I've ever done. Still, we survived!