Photo + Story: A Bluebird Day on the Slopes

I’m not sure how prevalent is the term “bluebird day”, nor do I know where it came from.  But it’s a phrase well known to skiers. I do wonder if it came about after the song “Bluebird of Happiness”, which was composed in 1934. I don’t know the lyrics, but I can say with all certainty that a blue bird day on the slopes makes me happy.  On bluebird days I will even chuckle excitedly to myself as I ski down the mountain.

Bluebird days just make a skier smile... or they should!  They are defined as days with a solid blue cloudless sky, made all the more remarkable by the contrast against a snowy landscape.  Polarized sunglasses help, too. (Note that a polarizer was not used in the image below.)

For many people, the above definition is complete.  But in my opinion, a bluebird day needs something more.  I am sure many western skiers would agree that a blue bird day in its highest form requires there to be a fresh thick coat of overnight powder.  Of course, here in New England we need to make some adjustments for our lighter snowfalls and the fact that so many ski areas these days have all-night crews rolling (i.e. packing) the snow.  Seen below, there’s about six inches of new natural snow, some of which has been rolled and some of which has not. Regardless, I was happy and smiling and chuckling all day!

Panasonic DMC-TS3 waterproof, shockproof, dustproof P&S camera
4.9mm focal length (28mm fffl)
ISO 100

Blue Bird Day at Mt. Sunapee


Photo Story: Old But Not Handicapped

Imagine the smile on my face when Laurie and I turned into a Dunkin’ Donuts in Searsport, Maine for a cup of coffee and saw these two parked “old timers”. The sky was so beautiful and the cars were so shiny!  They were the only cars in the parking area, so I knew I had to act fast.

Every year when we travel Maine's Route 1 coastal route, our routine is to stop in at the same Searsport Dunkin' Donuts behind the Sunoco station. There are plenty of quaint local coffee shops along the way, but every trip we nevertheless stop at the same Dunkin' Donuts for caffeine refueling. I think it is all about timing.  We seem to drive through Searsport at the same time every year, between something like 2-3 pm.

Before going inside to order coffee I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the scene before more cars pulled into the parking area or before the owners drove off.  I love the colors here.  The blue car and blue sky look so good together, and the red car provides a nice contrast. Everything is so bright and shiny. I liked the sky so much that I dropped to one knee to get this low-down angle that allowed me to capture the cars and a big patch of blue sky.  The 4:3 aspect ratio of my Olympus camera helped.

But there is also something about the two cars parked with the empty handicapped parking spot between them that made for a story... and gave me a title for the photo: Old But Not Handicapped.

Olympus EM-1
Olympus 14-54mm v.2
ISO 200
Old But Not Handicapped


Photo Story: Mt. St. Helens Ground Squirrel

This is perhaps my favorite photo from our trip to Mt. St. Helens in June.  This surprises me because it is not exactly a big beautiful sweeping panorama (though I do have some of those too, here).  What I like about this photo, other than the cooperative ground squirrel, is the nature story that goes far beyond the squirrel.

Mt. St. Helens is a volcanic peak in western Washington that blew its stack in 1980.  The main blast resulted in the largest landslide in recorded history, causing the entire north face to slide away following an earthquake, and removing 1300 feet off the top of the mountain.  The debris avalanche that ensued traveled more than 13 miles at the speed of 110 to 155 miles per hour. The blast was followed by a volcanic eruption that spread ashes over a dozen states and sent a plume of ashes 15 miles into the atmosphere.  

The aerial photos I have seen taken afterward show denuded forests looking like boxes of matchsticks all stacked together, lying side by side in one direction.  No vegetation. No color. Just de-barked tree trucks.

I think with that information as a backdrop, this photo becomes very interesting.  From what I read at the visitor center, it was the burrowing animals, like the golden mantled ground squirrel, that were among the first to come back.  It was said that some did survive by the fact that they were underground. 

In the background of this photo you will see lots of colors.  These are wildflowers.  At the time of our visit wildflowers were everywhere.  Many of course are not species originally found in this area, but now that there is a different soil chemistry and there are no forests to block the sunlight, wildflowers are able to thrive.

I recently entered this image in a “contest” at my photo club.  The judge did not like the bleached wood in the foreground. He did not explain, but I suppose he found it a bit distracting. I guess I understand that. But I like it, as it is an important part of the story. This log was a standing live tree in 1980.  Huge swaths of the region are still covered with tree trunks lying in a direction leading away from the blast.  Old denuded and sun-bleached logs are part of the Mt. St. Helens story. Neither the judge nor the squirrel likely understand this.

Mount Saint Helens Ground Squirrel

A Nice Web Tool For Understanding Your Weather Forecast

My brother sent me a link to the National Weather Service website a couple of years ago.  Being a very visual person, as it seems are most photographers, I find it very helpful in planning my time outside with a camera. Actually, I look at it every morning because it gives me a sense of the flow of the weather throughout the day.

Being February in New England, I find the site valuable in planning my ski days.  I love to ski when the sky is blue and the cloud cover is 0%.  And I dislike driving while it is snowing. 

It is also nice to see what you will be up against or will have working in your favor when grabbing your camera for outdoor photography.  For example, when I visit our local botanic garden, I like  some cloud cover to diffuse the sunlight and I also examine the windspeed forecast.

Unfortunately, the government website is a bit cumbersome.  There is no app available with this same information, as far as I know.  So, what I have done on my iPad is to go to the site in Safari, then click on the “up” button, and then choose “add to favorites” to place a thumbnail on my home screen.  This way it appears in Safari on all my devises: iPad, iPhone and Mac Book Pro.

Here’s a link:

Once on the home page, type in your location.  On the next page view, if you cursor down the right side you will see a chart like  the one below.  Just click on it.  It is this final page that I have bookmarked as a favorite.

If this is hard to see on your monitor, click on it and it should give you a larger view.


Photo Story: Camden, Maine from Mt. Battie

Each year my wife and I take a couple of trips along the Maine coast.  Usually it is once in the summer and once in October.  The picture below is an October photo.

Camden is always a fun stop.  It’s an old town with a picturesque main street and the downtown area sits right up against Camden Harbor, home of many yachts and sailing vessels, including some old schooners and “Windjammers” that are available for day charters and longer trips.

Two miles north of the town is a park and campground called Camden Hills State Park.  There are trails to the top of Mt. Battie, but also an auto road.  The drive to the top takes about 5 minutes and if you are over 65 it’s $3 per car load for non-Maine residents. The elevation is only 780 feet but you get a sweeping view of Penobscot Bay and downtown Camden. 

Unfortunately, unless you are there in the afternoon, the sun will be shining toward the front element of your camera lens.  I’ve tried a polarizer to cut glare off the ocean but it’s hard to get the sky looking nice because the angle relative to the sun isn’t quite right.

EM-1, 14-54mm Olympus zoom at 25mm (50mm fffl), 1/1250s, F8, ISO 200.

Processed in Lightroom, I made ample use of the dehaze feature to clean up the shot.


First Nor' Easter This Year

Temperatures fell throughout the day and the wind has been significant, especially along the Massachusetts coast. I can hear the wind howling through the trees. And the snow is falling nearly horizontally. We're in the 14-18" snowfall band. Boston is reporting the first Blizzard in two years. 

I didn't even bother to go outside today. I spent the day looking through photos, staring out the window at the falling snow, and listening to my Neil Young station on Pandora. The snowblower is all gassed up, but overnight the wind-driven snow will just fill in the driveway again.  So I'll wait until tomorrow.

Just past our backyard is a forest of relatively young get maples. I'm guessing that the area was logged some 20 or 30 years ago.  I enjoy looking deep into this stand of maples on snowy days. I think the images I've captured work well when converted to black and white images. 

Here's one I took today, by standing sheltered in the doorway of our backyard screen porch. Taken at 1/100s you can see a bit of purposeful blur from the falling snow. The other settings were RAW, F8 and ISO 1250 on a mFT sensor (EM-1 and 12-100mm lens.) Processing was done in Lightroom using one of the included black and white presents.


The First Time I Skied Mt. Sunapee was 1963... and Hodge Podge Lodge

I’ve checked my math a few times now.  1963 was 54 years ago.  Right?  That’s incredible.  Over half a century ago.  That is such a long period of time, yet it seems like yesterday to me.  

Sunapee isn’t my favorite mountain.  It’s a big mountain, but it’s (still) a tame mountain. For a day trip, I’d much prefer Waterville or Cannon; however,  Sunapee is closer to home.  The drive home after a cold day on the slopes is always tiring, so I appreciate that it is only a 1 1/2 hour drive.  Getting home in time for a hot shower and dinner is oh so nice!  All of this is much aided by route 89, which didn’t exist in 1963, as far as I recall. But then, I wasn’t doing the driving back then.  

Nor was Sunapee a day trip for us back then.  As a family, we rented a big house with 8 or 9 other families from back home.  We called it Hodge Podge Lodge. I remember the season rental per family that first year was $250.  I also remember my first season pass.  As the “first junior” in the family, my pass cost my parents $60.  Today, this is about the price of a weekend day ticket!  My brother was the “second junior” and his pass was $40.  Day tickets for juniors were $6, so I pretty much made up my pass by skiing the school Christmas vacation. (We used the word Christmas back then.)

On my dad's 80th birthday twelve years ago we took a summer drive up to Sunapee.
Here we (dad, my brother, and me) are checking out the old place.
I thought it was cool that the street number is 64 and our first season
was the winter '63-'64.

Patches were quite fashionable back then.
HPL = Hodge Podge Lodge

I wish I had some photos of our Sunapee days from back then.  But we didn’t tote cameras around. 

The first picture below was taken this past week.  It’s just one turn below the top of the mountain and the trail is called Bonanza.  This particular area was called Bonanza Ledges back in the day. It looked a lot different. The trail was narrower and covered with rock formations.  There was no snow making and the grooming was primitive.  We had to pick our way through the ledges, using one or two goat paths. Timid skiers side-stepped through the mess, causing others to queue up above the ledges. My friends and I usually just went straight through without turning, hoping for enough loose snow at the bottom of the ledges to make a turn or two to slow down.

Years later the area was blasted and smoothed out.  My guess is that as uphill capacity was increased (seen here is a high speed quad which gets four people to the top in 6 minutes (I need to verify that) compared to a slow double chair that got two people to the top in 12 (or was it 20?) minutes), downhill capacity needed to be increased.  Trails were widened too so that snow making could be maximized, and traffic jams like what was created at Bonanza ledges had to be eliminated.

So easy now.  Here there used to be ledges to negotiate

Also a recent picture, this next image I call “Dad’s View”.  This was taken along one of his two favorite trails.  This one is called Skyway.  The other favorite is called Blast Off. My dad passed away a year ago at age 90.  I’m guessing he was 70 when I last skied this trail with him.  Of course, I think about him often when i ski Sunapee.  I have some great memories. Even though Sunapee is not my favorite ski mountain, it’s the ski area with the most meaning to me.

I’ve put together a small portfolio of Sunapee pictures on my website.  Nothing particularly special, just snapshots.  All were taken with a digital point and shoot camera.  The oldest snapshot of the bunch was taken in 2009.



A Few Black and White Prints From Mpix.com

I don’t do any of my own printing.  I’m actually a bit afraid to “get into it”.  I am worried that I might like it, which would mean buying an upscale printer and supplies, learning to print on different kinds of paper, learning about color profiles, etc, etc.  It would be a huge investment of time and money.  It might also be fun.

But so far I have resisted.  Instead, when I need prints I order them online from mpix.com. It is very simple, though print-purists might question the image quality that can be obtained by uploading merely an sRGB file.  But the results are beautiful.  I’ve created awesome prints as big as 20” x 30” from my m43 gear. 

I decided last week that I needed to get some black and whites done.  Each month in my local photo club, we can submit one color print and one black and white print for judging and critique.

I have a few color prints stashed away from the last time I ordered prints. However, as of last week, I had no black and white prints that I could use for the photo club. So I smiled when Mpix emailed me a note with a coupon code for 25% off all prints. (By the way, it makes sense to buy a bunch at a time because of the $8 flat shipping charge.)

It seems to me that a 25% discount is offered several times each year at Mpix, though I don't think it is possible to predict when that will be.  If you are interested, get on their mailing list so you will know when it happens! Last year I even bought several 20 x 30" prints during a 50% off sale.  That is quite a substantial savings, as the full retail price for a 20 x 30" color print is $32.39.

Below are the four black and whites I ordered last week. The first and last ones were printed at 10 x 15" (full retail would be $7.69), the bridge photo was printed at 11 x 14" (full retail would be $7.49) and the square image was printed on 10 x 10" paper (full retail would be $4.59).

The turnaround time at Mpix is very fast. I ordered my prints on Wednesday, they were shipped from Kansas on Thursday via 2 day Priority Mail, and they were delivered to my office in Massachusetts on Monday.  The prints were packed flat and sandwiched in heavy cardboard all surrounded in plastic, inside a sturdy flat box.  I have used Mpix for nearly 10 years and have only once had a problem with a print, a problem which Mpix quickly solved (re-printed) at no charge.

Penobscot Bay from Weir Cove, Maine

Chowder and Sandwiches, Stonington, Maine
Old North Bridge, Concord, MA
Mount Saint Helens, Washington


Olympus 12-100: A Visit to the Botanic Garden

After exploring the close-up capabilites of this lens and reporting on it in several prior posts, I thought this past Saturday was a good day to try out the 12-100 at our local botanic garden.  I took only the EM-1 and only this lens. A polarizer would have been nice, but I don't yet own one big enough to fit the 72mm filter size.  That's too bad, as there are a couple of images below where I would have liked to have seen what a polarizer would have done to reduce reflected light off shiny surfaces.

Nine of the thirteen images below were shot at 100mm. One image was shot at 70mm and three others were shot at about 50mm. I used 100mm wherever I wanted maximum magnification (i.e. with this lens, that means filling the screen with a subject 3-3.5" wide).

All were shot hand-held at F4 and with focus bracketed, using the in-body focus bracket feature.  The number of bracketed shots ranged from 5 to 10 (I was experimenting) and the distance between shots was set for "3" (choices range from 1 to 10).  The next time I will set it for 10 shots and a distance of "2". A lower number decreases the distance between the chosen number of shots.

I'm especially pleased with the green and orange leaf directly below. That was the result of 10 hand-held stacked images each shot at 1/15s at 100mm (200mm equivalent).  That is quite a testament to the image stabilization system of the Olympus.  My understanding is that the stabilization of this lens on the newer model EM-1.2 is even better!


Olympus 12-100: The Second Thing I Do With a New Lens

As I reported in several earlier blog posts (starting here), the first thing I like to do with a new lens is to test it out to be sure it's working correctly. Since I live a short walking distance from a brick building, a brick wall becomes a good place to check out sharpness, distortion, and vignetting.  But mostly I look for consistency.  For example, if the right side of an image looks fuzzy and the left side looks sharp, then it might make sense to return the lens within the 30 day return period and to order another one.

In this case, my testing was with the newly minted Olympus 12-100 that arrived just before Christmas. In the brick wall test, I compared it to my older 12-40.  The 12-40 is already known to be a very sharp lens, and my copy has been more than satisfactory over the three years I have owned it.

If you have read the earlier post(s), you will know that the 12-100 passed with flying colors!

Once I've decided that a lens is a "keeper", the second thing I do is spend about $2 on eBay for a generic pinch style lens cap with which to replace the often expensive branded cap. Actually, at that price I usually buy two.

This was my order on eBay. With postage it worked out to be $6 for two.

I just hate the thought of damaging the original lens cap (I can't tell you the number of times I have dropped lens caps on pavement), ... or losing it. This is especially true with the beautiful caps found on the Olympus PRO model lenses.

$15 versus $3

The 12-100 takes a relatively large 72mm lens cap.  That's not large for folks using larger format cameras like APS-C or full frame.  But for me, the previous largest filter size was on the 14-54mm Olympus zoom I bought alongside my first dSLR, the Olympus E-520. It measured 67mm.

[Unfortunately, at 72mm, this also means I have currently no polarizing filter for the 12-100 and will need to buy one. This is unfortunate. In hindsight I should have bought a 72mm polarizer and step up rings years ago, and used it on all my lenses.]