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(Marco) Polo! October 1, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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Up until this past September, my only connection to the word “polo” was my elementary school indoctrination with the progenitor of the Spice Road Free Trade Corridor.

That changed when my sweetie Susan took me to an honest-to-God polo match, purportedly the only such match open to the unwashed masses here in jolly ol’ New England.

And people, as one of the 47%, I have to say I dug it.

The horses were very cool, little guys with a LOT of physical integrity:

…built for sharp turns, stop-and-go action, and smart as whips. Not your typical horse show dandies, I’d say.

The action was proscribed by rules of play, as in any legitimate sport. I didn’t know those rules, so just dug the action.

Full-on galloping passes:

For the riders, these matches are a mix of athleticism, strategy and butt-kicking riding skills, including one-handed reining (“Western style,” as I’m given to understanding):

Getting a horse to go where you want it to with one hand on the reins and the other swinging a big-ass mallet around its head is a feat which only happens after endless sessions of building skills and a level of trust worthy of much respect.

Given my dearth of knowledge about the game, I’ll let a few photos speak for the participants.

A mounted (and doubtless equally skilled) Ref monitors the action amidst a many-legged scrum:

Head-to-head races result in a ball being passed forward, here seen below the second chair from the right:

Passing back is as important a skill as shooting for a goal:

It’s an elegant, sweaty dance between horse and rider, with total focus a prerequisite to success:

The action speeds from one end of the field to the other, ball, mallets and hooves flying:

…with each strike of the ball being a coordination of horse and hands, and with a little luck, the depression of a very fast (1/2500th of a second) shutter:

For me, this wasn’t just a great introduction to the sport of polo; it was one of those days when the excitement of shooting takes over and everything else falls away. My apologies to my sweetie Susan who brought me to this revelation –  I hope you weren’t left too much alone as I was taken away by the task at hand. But the contagious energy of the charge toward the goal was powerful:

…as was the joy when a struck ball was perceived to be headed for the space between the goal posts:

Thanks to Susan for encouraging me to take a chance on photographing something I knew nothing about, to Gizmo for reeling in most of these shots, and to the Norfolk Hunt Club in Medford, MA for inviting the public in to watch this very special event.

I have a few more shots from the half-time entertainment in the hopper, and hope to get them posted soon.

But that’s enough for now.  😉

Á La Plage. September 5, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure, Love and Death.
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Ah, the beach. That sandy sanctuary that’s the soul of summer, that haven of heavenly heat. The place where children lose themselves in the sound of the sea and the fury of their imaginations:

There’s so much happening here. The water is teeming with people digging the last of the long days:


Boogie-Boarding boys:

Beach Bocce matches, apparently with different interpretations:

Paddle games:

…and people. Young people posing for the world to witness:

Older people still strutting their stuff:

…some sleeping in the afternoon sun:

…or flying kites in the gentle sea breeze:

…or fishing in the sea itself:

And of course, you’d be unwise to go anywhere near the ocean without an appropriate lifeguard:

I’m not a big beach booster, preferring instead to scramble on rocks, but I enjoyed this shoot. The parade of people was intriguing, and the effect of having a particular lens on and trying to see the world at its proportions was a challenge. Most of these shots were from Gizmo with a 2X Tele-extender for an effective focal length of 800mm, and most are taken using a tripod. The resulting photos look like close-ups, but I didn’t have to get in peoples’ faces to get them. I like that, both because I don’t like insinuating myself into strangers’ days and because getting in close to people affects their behavior, which isn’t what I was there for.

At any rate, these are the shots I got at Olgonquit Beach in Maine this past August, on my way home from my visit to Cape Elizabeth.

Surfin’ The Maine Coast. September 4, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure, Love and Death.
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My friend Mike invited me up to his place outside of Portland ME for a visit, and a chance to get to know his sweetie Cindy.

What a wonderful few days! I slept late, ate like a pig, lounged on the beach and paddled out to an unspoiled island, all in the company of splendid people with generous hearts.

I know Mike from my paddling days, way back in the early 80’s. While my shoulders don’t let me do that anymore, he’s still at it, here surfing the waves on the Maine coast:

That’s not really the ideal surfing rig, being a sea kayak, but then I’ve seen Mike roll an aluminum Grumman canoe in flat water…

It’s a lot more work than your average surfer puts into the mix, though similar in many ways:

…find the energy and ride its crest. It’s kinetic joy!

Our friend Ross took his C-1 closer into shore:

…playing in the breaking waves on this beautiful summer evening.

This was a wonderful way to spend an evening, with the light fading westward as the beach people soaked up the last of the season’s energy:

Thanks to Mike and Cindy for their hospitality, and to Ross for his easy friendship and great humor.

And be forewarned, you Mainers – I’ll be back!  😉

Bridge Of Flowers Foot Race! August 15, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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I spent a good deal of last Saturday photographing, or trying  to photograph, the annual Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic, as well as its little brother, the ’round-the-village 3K starter.

I say “trying”  because the results were fairly disastrous from a number of perspectives, which I’ll try to parse as we go.

The first hurdle one encounters in this endeavor is that police and race officials close the village streets before the race starts, so you as an observer/photographer pick your spot, and there you are. No hopping in the chariot and whipping the horses to get ahead of the action, and good luck packing up your kit and running  to get ahead, unless you’re accustomed to changing your clothes in a phone booth…

…So the logical one spot to be at is the Start/Finish line, which are blessedly one and the same. Forget the along-the-course drama and the rural ambiance which inform the character of this race from the participants’ point of view, and settle for the Money Shot at the race’s end. The official race photography outfit apparently deals with this problem by working as a group, with people at all of the important spots.

But as I’m just me, I tried to game the venue, so to speak. I got in early for a photo of the Start line, with a bit of bustle but no massive crowds:

Racers will line up behind the timers and fill the town’s central Steel Bridge, then stream past where I’m standing and loop the village before heading back across the bridge, up over the killer Crittenden Hill and down around a loop of paved an unpaved Buckland roads near our Regional High School, finishing with one more crossing of the Steel Bridge and a dash for the finish.

I got out of “downtown” just before the roads closed and set up at the farthest reaches of the in-town loop, hoping to get some 3K racers, then get out to the countryside for some action.  With any luck I could shoot for a while, then head back into town to get the last finishers bringing it home. As much as the glory goes to the winners, I think the real heart of these events resides in those who work the hardest only to finish last.

I set up on a corner of Maple Street with my 35-16mm tele on a tripod at knee height, all settings on auto, and Gizmo on a monopod, with the expectation that I’d snap away at 400mm as runners crested a nearby hill and get close-ups of folks cutting the corner close to my lower set-up. Gizmo did his job as admirably as a long lens might without a tripod:

…which is to say, I got something which was viewable, albeit not crisp.  I threw away a lot of these, either because they were blurred or because they were boring, usually both.

My knee-high wide-angle tripod set-up was even less productive; the camera’s auto function was stupidly satisfied to focus on the distant background (hey, it can only do what I tell it to do!) and consequently didn’t do the racers justice:

Sorry, folks.  Perhaps next year.

Oh, one more from the 3K, a really crappy photo of a really inspiring effort:

This smiling little girl flew by me on what looked like a “Cheetah” prosthetic. I’m sorry to have neither a decent photo of her nor her name, but uplifted just knowing that she’s out there in my world.  🙂

I packed it in after the bulk of 3K runners had passed and got back to the car, which would have been boxed in if I hadn’t had four wheel drive and a willingness to plow through tall weeds, and reviewed my shots, cursing and scheming for a way to do better at my next set-up.

Gizmo, I deduced, needed a steadier hand, especially as I’d next be shooting at 800mm with my tele-extender, which also meant manually focusing.  Jeee-zhus! What tangled webs we weave! I resolved to shorten my mono-pod and kneel next to my low tripod, bracing against it for more stability.

Hope springs eternal, or so they say.

During the short drive to the high school I decided to switch out my 16-35mm lens for Elliot, my 24mm tilt-shift job.  I figured if I swapped the tilt for swing and preset the manual focus to catch a near and a far object, my task would be reduced to pushing the shutter button at the moment when runners were crossing that plane.

Ah, “The best laid plans…”  😆

I got to my spot well ahead of the runners and had time to get this all set up, with a little bit of wildflowers as a foreground to keep Elliot from getting bored on me and falling asleep at the wheel, then waited.

And waited:

Finally, the pace car:

…and the first runner:

…Frikadu Lemma of Bronx, NY, well ahead of his closest competitors, and looking very much in control. Thinking of the grueling Crittenden Hill he’d just climbed, I was absolutely amazed. He would go on to win in a time of 32:22. Congratulations, Frikadu!

The second and third runners passed, then came the rest in small and large groups, including the first woman, Renee Knapp of Eugene OR, who would later finish third among the women with a time of 39:12, half a minute behind leader Amelia Landberg of Boston:

I didn’t get a shot of Amelia, but Renee here was very focused and running hard, as were all of these front-runners.  Amazing to see, it was.

The groups and singles flowed by, some in pain, some in ecstasy:

That woman in black was the happy hare to a group of glistening greyhounds, perhaps the most Zen-looking bunch to pass. Thanks for the smile, #549 (Francia Wisnewski of Greenfield, I looked her up!)  🙂

Francia was an example of the range of humanity passing my lenses, not all the stereotypical “runner type.” There were Specimens:

You’re welcome.  😉

…there were folks young and lovely:

…old and lovely:

That’s Kathleen Scotti of West Hartford, CT.  You Go, Grrrl!

…There were graceful gazelles who floated lightly over the course:

…and more determined sorts, some of whom pounded the pavement hard enough to leave a mark:

That’s right – cammo, a full rucksack and jump boots. Don’t even think  of saying anything but “Yessir!”

I was surrounded by race workers handing out cups of water, some of which were snatched up by the racers and dumped unceremoniously over their heads, some of which saw an attempt at ingestion:

…not an easy feat at a gallop.

A cheer went up from the cognoscenti around me as they recognized the man coming down the hill, local legend Ray Willis of Charlemont, my home town:

At 83 years young and running through a knee problem, Ray was the “oldest” participant in this year’s event, and proved that chronological age doesn’t necessarily dictate desire.

Q:  How humbled am I???

A:  Quite!!!

…but not as humbled as I was a bit later, when I found my way back into the center of town in time for this heart-swelling moment:

Ray Willis, official time 1:24:17, and still smiling, as was everyone who was there to see it.

And in case you were wondering, Sean Sullivan of Springfield finished his mission as well:

At Ease, Sir.

Whitewater! July 27, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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When water is released through the Dryway section of the Deerfield River in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts, people come from all over the East Coast to play.

It’s not that it’s the biggest or most spectacular whitewater in the East; rather, this is a Class 3/4 river run, challenging enough to entice experts, but not beyond paddlers of moderate abilities.

Plus, it runs through one of the least despoiled river valleys in the Northeast, where one can paddle or float for miles without seeing a single house:

This is a rapid through a narrowing, where the water drops over boulders, forms “holes” and piles up in “standing waves” which look stationary even as water rushes through them.  They’re ideal for experts to play in, and negotiable for reasonably competent paddlers.

There are several rafting companies operating here which allow folks who don’t have skills or knowledge to experience the river, but this post will highlight the other boaters, the ones whose skill and strength and spine gets them through.

There are kayakers, “K-1” paddlers, who can be spotted by their double-bladed paddles:

K-2 boaters do the same in pairs:

Kayakers paddle in a seated position with their legs out in front of them, though that’s not apparent to the casual observer.

Then there are “C-1” paddlers, in solo closed canoes:

They use a standard single-blade paddle and work twice as hard as the kayakers.  “Twice the man, half the paddle,” they’re fond of saying.  🙂

Canoeists kneel with their feet under them, and have a minimal seat to settle onto when they like.  It’s an ideal set-up for little guys like me; I can kneel up to see over upcoming waves, whereas if I’m sitting on the bottom of the boat, I have at least a foot less height and a LOT less sight distance, which makes navigation much more difficult.

There are also some open canoes which run rivers of this grade, though you won’t see birch-bark canoes or your father’s aluminum Grumman.  Rather, they’re high-tech fiberglass or plastic models, with every unoccupied cubic inch filled with inflatable floatation devices:

I’d say, “That’s a MAN’s boat,”  except that women can and do paddle them as well:

That’s a rotary injection molded model, and though I’m sure that woman can paddle circles around me in it, I prefer the aesthetics of the more classical designs:

Full Gnarlz indeed!  😆

There were also a few inflatable catamarans, like this one paddled by a mixed gender team:

…and a few crazy people paddling those new-fangled stand-up boats, sort of a cross between a canoe and a surfboard, but I was too busy laughing at their swan-dive demises to take a decent photo!

Competent paddlers find a way to thread rapids like this and get to the bottom in one piece; folks with higher skill levels will “eddy out” at every opportunity, then turn upstream and play, paddling against the current to the crest of a standing wave and surfing its upstream side:

Sometimes they’d get eaten and flushed, and roll up downstream; sometimes they’d drive forward into the trough, lean forward to bury their bow and do numerous cart-wheels, then resume surfing – amazing!!!

So here’s the part where I try to get you to hold your breath:

How’d I do?  😆

Well, you can breath now – they mostly  all popped up and paddled away…

I’ll leave you with these last few photos:

…I have a fireworks display to shoot tonight, and I’ve got camera prep and dinner still to do!


Green River BALLOON Festival! (Part 3) July 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure, music.
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When the Green River Festival began 26 years ago, it was largely a hot-air ballooning event with a few musical acts hired to entertain those gathered to see that spectacle.

Sadly, by this year’s event, the balloons seem to be little more than an afterthought.

That’s not to say anything less than respectful about the event as a music festival, but rather to lament the diminution of the magic which is evoked when one sees these beautiful behemoths floating incongruously off into the blue July sky.

I made it part of my mission to document this year’s ballooning, at the cost of missing some of the music; hey, there’s only one of me!

Anyway, the balloonists pull into town on Saturday afternoon, staking out their staging turf in the lower field, waiting for the air to cool and thicken, and for the evening breezes to (hopefully) begin to stir.

This is the first year I took the time to watch the process literally unfold:

The spread-out balloons are attached to their baskets, then partially filled with large fans.  The field becomes a rippling sea of color:

Ground crews pull fabric outward as the envelope inflates:

…button up baffles and attach tag lines:

When the balloons are inflated enough, propane burners are fired up.  It’s a dramatic moment – here pilot/owner Jonathan Niccum fires up Day Dreamer:

…and the field comes alive with the magic!

Pilots and riders pile in, the engines fire again, and up they go!  Some stick around, giving “tethered” rides for small money:

..while others cast off their lines and float elegantly away, going wherever the winds take them:

But don’t cry, Dorothy – they’ll be back before nightfall.  After all, they wouldn’t want to miss the 9pm Balloon Glow!

It’s beautiful, and gets a lot of “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” from the appreciative crowd.

The next morning is another opportunity for sailing off into the dawn air.  Local piper Eric Goodchild set the mood as the sun breached the horizon:

…and the process begins again, crews and pilots working, watching the weather, wishing for just a wee bit of wind.  Balloon Coordinator and Master Pilot Paul Sena went about his work efficiently, the result of many years of honing his skills:

…hooking up tanks, testing his engine:

When the whole thing came together, lightly dancing on the dewy grass, Paul smiled and called to me, “Hop in!”
I didn’t make him say it twice!!   🙂

…and we were off!

Children ran to pick up a shower of Worthington Ballooning business cards (that be Paul’s gig) as we gained altitude, chasing the early departed:

…chased by those just cutting themselves loose:

What an amazing experience it was to be floating soundlessly, watching the Earth recede, rising over the valley farms:

…floating past forests and fields:

…surrounded by beauty:

Paul’s piloting was masterful as he checked the altimeter with each puff of breeze, mapping the varying air currents in his mind, then rising or falling to catch a breeze going his way:

There’s a quiet camaraderie among the folks who float over the dawning day, a shared peace tempered with the cautions which accompany any such endeavors, and I was thankful to be sharing it:

Paul “boxed” the valley, moving around the area at different heights, taking cues about wind direction from our fellow travelers as I marveled at the broad horizon:

…and then gently descended to the festival grounds, landing (with a helping tug from his ground crew) right where he wanted to be for the final photo-op of our flight:

After the work of packing the balloons away, the pilots and crew assembled in the First Aid tent to carry on an age-old tradition, sharing a bottle of Champagne with the land-owners where you happen to come down:

…which, they gleefully noted, was US!  😆

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  Thanks to Jonathan Niccum for putting in a good word with Paul, to Paul Sena of Worthington Ballooning for his generosity and skill, to Joe for hopping out and giving us that last bit of momentum to enable the spiffy parking job…

…start ckickin’ them heels together, Joe…

…and to my Sweet Sixteen, my Canon 16-35mm L-Series lens for delivering the goods.

Next up, if I can stand another day of sitting in front of my ‘puterbox: Sunday’s musical line-up.  I promise to be brief, on account MY BUTT IS GETTING SORE!!!  😉

Horses, The Jumping Kind. July 3, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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I stumbled upon this equestrian gathering at the fairgrounds in Northampton the other day, wandered in and snapped a few off before moving on.

One from Gizmo, hand-held at 400mm:

And some shots from Allie, my 24-105mm L-series zoom:

This one is cool for having all four off the ground, a testament more to the speed of the horse than the height of the jump:

And finally:

In that last shot, the horse and rider had just cleared the jump at left at high speed, wheeled and attacked this jump while still making the turn.  I don’t know if that’s considered “good form,” but it sure was exciting to watch!

A Surprise On Mount Greylock. June 19, 2012

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This past Sunday afternoon I headed up to Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.  At 3,491′ it’s not a Giant in the Pantheon of Lofty Landforms; still, it rises a steep 3,000′ above the valley floor, providing exaggerated wind currents and a micro-climate which attracts migrating birds which otherwise wouldn’t stop in our State.

So, with Gizmo and my new-ish 2X Tele-Extender on the box, I headed up the steep and winding road from North Adams, stopping at the first overlook which afforded me a view of the Veterans’ Memorial Tower on the summit:

I was a bit disappointed with my summit view, the 800mm combo of lens and extender giving me tremendous vibration for this hand held shot.  By rights I should have set up a tripod, manually focused (a necessity with this lens configuration,) locked up the mirror to isolate that vibration, then used a wireless shutter release to avoid touching the camera.

But as I wasn’t at my destination yet, I did none of that – I just hopped out of my car, rested my lens plate on the guardrail, and snapped one off.  If I saw any interesting birds I’d go the extra mile toward some “keeper” photographs, but I wasn’t there yet.

And I was disappointed as only a nature photographer can be to encounter mostly robin’s-egg blue skies with puffy white clouds.  Not much drama there, no tension between Mother Earth and Father Sky, just… a pleasant  day.

Oh well.  Perhaps I’d snag some pleasant  bird photos.

The road to the summit wound around the south and east sides of the upper mountain, and I stopped once more at the Adams overlook, lamenting the flat light on the town and farm fields far below.

Suddenly a shadow flashed across my windshield – a large bird?  I got out of the car, Gizmo in hand, and scanned the sky for the shadow-caster…

…and there it was – a paraglider!  It darted into view, circled gracefully and disappeared behind the peak.  I jogged around to the other side of my vehicle to lean my lens against it, cursing that I hadn’t gotten up there in time to do a proper set-up, expecting the opportunity to have passed…

But there it was again, coming through the spruces, 50 yards over my head!  I focused furiously to keep the rapidly moving target in range and pushed the shutter release:

I groaned at the palpable vibration of the mirror flopping up and down, then made a few quick adjustments – boot the ISO up to 400, open it up to f/11, see what the shutter speed might be… Eureka!   1/2000th of a second.  I hoped that  would outrun the vibrations, at least as much as this hand-held scenario would allow.

The parasailer circled and appeared again, which is the photo above, reasonably crisp given the stiff winds of circumstance blowing against my efforts.

I continued shooting, getting far more shots off than I’d imagined I would.  This guy was good!   He played the mountain air currents like a symphony, hanging in place like a hungry seagull, swooping and diving like a kestrel:

He swooped in close enough for me to see his face and read the make of his gear:

He was sporting a spiffy new Advance Impress 3, designed by champion parasailer Chrigel Maurer for his X-Alps flights in 2009 (I Googled it,) ten pounds of comfy heaven, with an insulated footbox, on-board navigation capability, built-in hydration options… pretty cush stuff!  And…

…a built-in reserve ‘chute, in case, you know…  The red handle at the pilot’s hip is the rip-cord.

Mr. Bird descended gracefully toward the farms and fields of Adams:

…then rose up above me and… What The… !!

He began circling his wing in Giant Swings (though I’m sure the sport has a catchier name for them,) going round and round as he plummeted toward the valley below:

…then leveled out:

…looking over his shoulder at the dairy cows ruminating far below.

He circled and rose once more to a position above me, where an unearned trick of the light gave me this gift:

These shots were culled from many dozens snapped off in a hurry.  Frankly, I wasn’t prepared for this kind of action and doubted if any of them would be viewable, but was pleasantly surprised with the keepers.

Alas, I didn’t get any bird photographs…