Category Archives: travel

Look to the Right

Andrew here. Last month, my brother and I took a trip to Mt. Rainier, Washington. This is a favorite destination of ours when out West, and this year we got to spend a couple of nights on the mountain. This also meant we got a couple of sunrises and, since my brother is himself an excellent photographer, it wasn’t too hard to convince him to get up at dawn and visit the famous Reflection Lakes.

We got up before sunrise, as landscape photographers are cursed to do, and were in place when the sun hit the mountain. We had uncharacteristically clear skies both mornings, which meant almost no clouds to catch the morning light and color. While we did get some good reflection shots, I took a more important lesson away from this opportunity: Even if you know what you’re there to shoot, keep your eyes open.

This shot of the treeline and rising sun reflected in the lake is the result of looking to my right, away from the mountain, and realizing this was the shot that really made the most of the atmosphere and light at that moment. I did take shots of Mt. Rainier reflected in the still waters of the lake, but the fact that you’re seeing this shot first should tell you something — the famous scene you went there to shoot isn’t always going to be your favorite shot of the visit, so keep your eyes peeled for what else is around you. You might be surprised.

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Orc Stomp 2015 – GenCon – 31 July 2015

Orc Stomp 2015 Gallery

Sarah here. I don’t know if it’s been obvious in my posts so far, but I am a big geek. I love fantasy and sci-fi and comic books and video games and non-video games (Dungeons & Dragons ftw!). In what seems to be a nascent tradition, a small group of my friends have been attending GenCon in Indianapolis for the past few years as a fun excuse for an annual reunion.

Two of my friends are runners, and this year they signed up for the Orc Stomp 5k fun run bright and early on Friday morning. While I admit I wasn’t thrilled to wake up at 0445 for the second day in a row, I was excited to cheer them on and get some photography practice in.

We couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous morning, and for once I was actually awake and ready to take pictures at golden hour. It also turned out that the event had an unanticipated photographer shortage, so I tried to catch as many people as I could. I wish I’d had a longer lens and a little more practice shooting runs, but it was a super fun event.

The most fun –and surprising, for me– part was how many people grinned and posed for the camera. I’ve always been camera-shy (that’s why I’m on the other side of the lens), so it was a happy shock the first time a runner looked straight at the camera and gave me a big smile. It was awesome! There was so much positive energy that morning, it still makes me smile to think of it.


Running dinosaurs! What’s not to love?


So while I was shooting, this guy staggers up and asks if I’ve got any “hot scoops” on what to do when your thighs really hurt. As I blinked and tried to figure out what was going on, he said something about how he got really drunk, woke up early, and ended up following the runners. I don’t even know if he was part of GenCon, but I can’t make this stuff up.

Support Gear Review: Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola MICROspikes

Andrew here. If you saw my “Preface” post, you know a couple of things about me already — I love “bad” weather, and I like to find gear that lets me go out and take photos in that weather. I took my Kahtoola Microspikes with me to Iceland and they not only worked perfectly, I’d never go to Iceland in the winter without them. They were crucial for getting around since most trails and paths, especially around waterfalls, were frozen over. Sliding around in boots is slow, dangerous, and just unpleasant. The spikes gave us a freedom of movement and a level of safety that made the trip much more enjoyable and productive. After my great experience, I figured they were worth a writeup.

For most people, most of the time, crampons are overkill. They’re also a pain to use. On the other end of the spectrum, my limited experience with Yaktrax was that they weren’t very durable and were best suited for walking the dog on icy sidewalks. What happens when Crampons and Yaktrax meet in the middle? Kahtoola’s Microspikes. And the result is awesome.

The Microspikes have twelve ⅜” spikes on each foot, chained together and attached to your boot with a heavy duty rubber strap. The strap is allegedly flexible to something like -70 degrees F. That’s way beyond where I stop being flexible. These are pretty much the perfect hybrid of real grip and convenience. Overall, these are extremely durable, comfortable, and convenient.

When walking with them, you eventually forget you’re even wearing them. You can just walk on ice like it’s pavement. (For science, I even went for a brief jog on a solid sheet of ice. No problems.) The spikes are short enough and the whole system is durable enough that you can cross mixed terrain without having to take them off. Most of our Iceland hikes involved interspersed icy and rocky areas and it was good that we didn’t have to take the spikes off every 200 meters. I’m sure heavy use on rocky surfaces will dull the spikes, but I’d bet you can sharpen them again. Even with the amount of hiking we did, I didn’t notice any wear on the points.

One concern I had was that they’d be great on ice, but slippery rocks would be a problem if the metal didn’t grip (back to my original use for these, walking in mostly frozen streams). A few tests (without the camera gear in hand) proved my fears were unfounded. They’re awesome for slimy wet rocks too.


This was Day 1 and an early win for the Microspikes which let me easily walk the frozen trail and up the frozen stream to get to this incredible spot.

So, what’s the catch? Just like normal crampons, you can potentially step in a way where they don’t grip. The sides and back obviously don’t have spikes, so if you get too complacent in uneven terrain and forget you’re relying on spikes for traction, you could find yourself without grip. If you’re even mildly attentive to what you’re doing, you’ll be fine… but because they’re so comfortable and easy to get used to, complacency isn’t an unfounded concern. Walking on ice on metal spikes also makes a fair amount of noise, so if you’re planning to sneak up on wildlife, I’d either get there well ahead of time or stick to the kind being eaten by vultures. Finally, they’re not cheap. At somewhere near $65, you’re going to consider how much you’ll use them, but if you’re traveling or hiking with camera gear in the winter, it’s probably a very good investment.

As an aside, check out FStoppers’ awesome video series with Elia Locardi in which they discover they probably should have gotten themselves a few pairs of these before their trip to Iceland. You can see one such instance here where the icy terrain stopped them from getting the composition they planned, but I’d definitely recommend checking out the whole video series.

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[Thanks to my friend Norm for taking the awesome shot of me on Skaftafellsjokull glacier sporting my spikes.]

You can, of course, buy them through Amazon (if you buy through the links on this post, we’ll get a small percentage which will go toward more photography and support gear):
Kahtoola MICROspikes

An Ice Sunset

Andrew here. If you saw my teaser post on the Iceland trip, you already know we didn’t have the most cooperative weather for photography. To be more specific, we had hurricane and “strong gale force” winds, rain, sleet, snow, and/or hail for a lot of the time. This meant we also had a lot of dim, flat, gray light to work with. The one morning we had some good light was one of the days my camera was completely non-functional (more on that another time), so the few shots I have with anything resembling interesting light tend to stand out for me.

This is the famous glacial lagoon of Jokulsarlon in the southeast corner of Iceland. A glacier calves icebergs off into this large body of water, which empties into the sea. The glacier is shrinking rapidly, so the lagoon keeps getting larger. It’s a famous site for photography; you see lots of photos of clear ice on black sand beaches taken near here.

We got there for sunset, which was mostly obscured by heavy clouds but for a brief window when just enough light and color was poking through to get me this scene. Photography frustration aside, I’m happy to say that just being there to see these amazing features is reward enough. That said, I’d be lying if I said I’m not hoping for better light next time…

Keep Trying

Andrew here. I’m rarely somewhere scenic for long. I’d say 99 times out of 100, I’m in front of something photographically compelling once, either as an intentional destination, or stopping while in transit to somewhere else. If I’m going there on purpose, I *try* to time it for good conditions — the right light, the right time of year, the right weather… and so on — but that’s not always an option. That’s even less likely when I happen upon something interesting.

So, on those rare occasions when I will be spending time at or around something with good photographic potential, I really try to make the most of it.

In this case, I spent most of a week at the Grand Hotel Baglioni in Florence, Italy. I was there for work, so I couldn’t really focus on photography but because I was there for a week, I did have many chances to check out the incredible view of Florence from the rooftop. I saw it in the morning, I saw it at night (no tripod… alas!), I saw it in the rain, and I saw it at sunset. In this case, I saw it in the rain at sunset, and when I saw the side light start poking through the clouds, I grabbed the camera and headed for the roof. I didn’t stay for long (thunder plus rooftop shooting = bad idea), but I managed to come away with a few shots, including this one.

Always Stop for Gelato

Andrew here. I still intend to revisit a few things from my recent trip to Iceland and I’ve got a couple of gear reviews in the works too, but last month I spent a few days in another “I” country — Italy — and decided the story and this shot were worth sharing.

I was in Florence for work and I knew I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to do most of the main tourist things, so I made a point of going walking around in the early mornings and evenings. Turns out this was a good plan.

One evening, I was walking back toward the hotel via my favorite Gelato shop (somehow *every* walk back to the hotel took me past there even though it was a mile or so from the hotel …how odd), when I noticed the sun starting to set over the Arno river. It wasn’t an epic sunset yet, but the height of the clouds and the stillness of the water told me that the scene was just going to get better.

To make a long story short, I spent over an hour (and a melon gelato) there watching the sunset progress and go through a variety of stages. This is the peak of the saturation and color, but I came away with a series of nice shots.

Over the week there, I’d gotten used to the locals being thoroughly uninterested in everything I found intriguing. After all, life in Florence was just everyday life for them. In this case, however, the bridge was lined with both tourists and locals, cell phone cameras in hand like electronic butterfly nets trying to capture the amazing colors. At one point, a police officer stopped his car in the middle of the road, came over next to me (I had the prime spot in the middle of the bridge) and took a few shots with his cell phone too. I asked if he minded if I take a photo of him taking the photo (always a good idea to ask law enforcement – especially in foreign countries – before photographing them), he cheerfully obliged, then asked me what camera I had. Turns out he’s a photographer when not working as a police officer and was wishing he had his trusty D700 with him instead of his iPhone.

The moral of the story — always stop for gelato.

Iceland Teaser

Andrew here.  I just got back from a week in Iceland, so take a look back here soon for some observations about gear performance in hurricane force winds, snow and rain in one of the coolest places on earth.  Spoiler alert — My support gear worked impressively well, a piece of my tripod head disappeared into an icy waterfall, and my camera stopped working on Day 2 of 7.  Yep, it was an interesting trip.

I did get some images at least, and I’m working through those now to see if I can salvage a few shots.  This one’s from Gljúfrabúi, the “Hidden Falls” behind Seljalandsfoss in the south of the island.  As with most of the island, it feels like a magical movie set.

More to come.