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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.

Your Daily Bridge. August 13, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I just can’t stay off of that damned thing!

But this particular visit to the Bridge of Flowers in nearby Shelburne Falls was a furthering of my investigations of the combination of my 400mm Gizmo and a Canon 2X tele-extender.

The combo is cumbersome, shaky and slow – the auto-focus on my 5D Mark II doesn’t work in this configuration, and the 2X closes the maximum aperture by two stops, leaving me with a max ap of f/11, which makes hand holding difficult for this shaky old relic. I addressed that problem with a monopod collapsed short and canted against my thigh in a kneeling position. It made for wet knees on a dewey morning…

Hey, one does what one must to get that shot!  😉

So, the results:

People can be photographed from enough of a distance to not be self-conscious – here gardener Carol works to keep things beautiful:

Thanks, Carol!  😉

The tele-extender doubles the magnification of my 400mm Gizmo without increasing the minimum focusing distance. Glads from just over twelve feet:

Crisp focus is difficult with 800mm hand-held, and nearly impossible for these hands with a twirling subject:

…but she was too darling to not include in this post. God bless the children!  🙂

I did better with stationary subjects like dahlias:

The effect is nearly macro-like, with a peek-a-boo look which brings a viewer into the scene, or so it seems to me…

…and the depth of focus includes the entirety of a blossom while utterly excluding the background:

This is exactly what I was hoping for from this visit: find the strengths, isolate the weaknesses and develop strategies to contend with them.

I’m pleased.

A Homecoming! August 5, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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My recent Dash’n’Snatch run to Boston was to retrieve my elder daughter Mer and my new grandauger Franchesca, who are moving to Boston from California.

I’m thrilled to have Meredith back where I can visit regularly and perhaps even help out once in a while!

Here they are, visiting the Bridge of Flowers while staying with me for a few days:

…and again at the Hail to the Sunrise Park in Charlemont:

This was my first time meeting Chessie, and she’s a real sweetie!  🙂

After a few days here, it was off to her Mom’s house, where Chessie was greeted by the Neighborhood Welcome Waggin’, Cooper:

I suspect Pagan Sphinx will have plenty of photos from their visit, as Mer is likely to spend somewhat more time with her Mom – there’s a lot more to do there, places of interest within walking distance and a friendly dog to play with rather than our skeptical Mr. Cat, who pitched a hissy whenever Franchesca suggested that they PLAY!!!!!!

Hey, he’s a cat, she’s a dog, and never the twain shall meet.

Anyway, Welcome Home, Meredith and Chessie!  🙂

A Blue View. July 13, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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The Bridge in blue:

…well, blue-ish.   It certainly ain’t red.

A wasp on Blue Sapphire Sea Holly.

And these tall white things, unlabeled and so anonymous to me:

…and that’s it for my tour of the Bridge, and of the color wheel.


The Bridge In Yellow. July 13, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Continuing along the color wheel, here are a few shots of the gloriously yellow blooms on Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers:

That last shot looks here as it did there – surreal.  It’d make a passable wallpaper.  😉

The Bridge In Red. July 13, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers is a constantly changing gem of beauty.  It yawns and wakens with the first snowdrops and crocuses and evolves throughout the warm months and into late Autumn, resolving into a clattering of improbable dry forms thrumming in the winter winds.

Right now it’s a blessing of colors the whole rainbow come down to light on an old trolly bridge for us to marvel at.

And I do, with ridiculous regularity.  I tell myself I’ve got too many thousands of Bridge photos, but if the light is right I just can’t help myself.

Thank God I’m not paying for film and developing!

Anyway, here are some reddish shots from the bridge:

That’s the reds; other colors to follow.

Another Perspective On The Bridge. June 19, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I’ve photographed Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers ad nauseum,  unless of course you love flowers and can’t get enough of them.

Yesterday, as I once again succumbed to the urge to park and walk and photograph, I thought I’d try something different.  I put Gizmo on the box, and where I more commonly take macro photos,  I looked at The Bridge from a telephoto perspective.

A cascade of roses, taken from the town’s central Steel Bridge:

Tourists, either ecstatic or antsy, depending on whose idea this excursion was:

Roses, a major player this time of year:

Many of The Usual Suspects formerly photographed with a macro lens, now viewed from a distance:

…and a gone-by allium set amidst roses:

It’s a different way of seeing, I guess, something which I’ve been looking at for years.

Hey, it’s cheaper than airline tickets, which is another way we get to see something new.


Irises On The Bridge. May 28, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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It happens that as I write this the irises on Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers are blooming spectacularly.  If you’re in the area, take a little time to visit.

If you’re not  in the area, consider taking a little time to see what I saw on a recent visit.  I know, you can’t smell them (they’re glorious!) or feel the wind against your cheek, or see the smiles of old folks with walkers or little children pointing with chubby fingers, but at least you can share in the beauty which envelopes us here this time of year.

A typical blue iris, in typical splendor:

These are no less amazing because of their ubiquity, and each one I passed called me to smother my face in its beauty:

Even the standard Blue Flags courted the affections of their neighbors, like this rose bud which couldn’t resist sneaking a kiss:

And there are irises of many colors besides blue, such as this tangerine beauty:

…and these virginal white lovelies:

…and their little tenants, bees and bugs and beetles:

Of course there are a lot of other flowers in bloom on The Bridge, but I’ll leave them for another post.

This one’s for the irises.


A Visit To The Bridge… May 18, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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…of Flowers, of course!

I’ve been photographing here for enough years so that I now seldom bring my camera when visiting.  Our town’s art spaces and galleries are full of images from here, some magnificent, some pretty OK.  And frankly, I’m not looking for a place in that queue.

But still, whenever I’m in town I find the short walk across the Bridge of Flowers to be irresistible, and if  I don’t have my camera with me I regret it.

So the challenge becomes to take a photo I haven’t before, to see things a bit differently.

Enter Elliot, and the prospect of limiting  the area of sharp focus rather than increasing it.  It’s counter-intuitive for me, as I usually try to extend my depth of field in my landscapes, but the distinctly non-planar landscape of The Bridge demands a somewhat different approach.

Well, enough words, and on to the images from yesterday, some more pronouncedly limiting focus, some laying a plane across petal-tops.  All the result of my undying love of The Bridge.

The depending blossoms of Solomon’s Seal:

A blossom on a bush peony which would easily fill both of my hands:

Alliums, thigh-high and beaming:

Azaleas (at the far end of the A’s):

A sprig of blue lupines:

…all taken on a breezy day, with a great deal of effort expended to counteract that fact, except for in this image of wind-whipped wisteria wound around a bit of superstructure:

I courted both the stasis of the woody vines and the kinetics of the dancing leaves, and am happy with the take-away.

All of these were hand-held, experiments as it were in tilt-shift photography, and encourage me to get back there with a tripod and attempt to do it right.  A more deliberate approach might yet yield fresh images.

Good News And Bad News. August 29, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.
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Well, like all rumors, the news that Shelburne Falls was destroyed was, thankfully, somewhat of an overstatement.  The truth is that there was a hell of a lot of damage done, but much of the village was spared.  The sad part is that what was most affected may be irreparably damaged.

By the time I got a good look at the place (by a slightly duplicitous ploy; as I sat at a Route 2 roadblock watching the police turn Eastbound cars around I saw an emergency vehicle go around the police car and continue eastward, so I threw on my yellow roadwork vest and followed the next official-looking vehicle through, shouting “I’m with him!” to the helplessly waving officer) the waters had receded substantially.  I got to the observation deck at the former Mole Hollow Candle store to find the dam running at (by eye) about 10,000 cubic feet per second, compared to a usual summertime high of 1200 cfs:

The Lamson Cuttlery Factory, the complex of red buildings to the left, has by all accounts been rendered junk and may well be demolished; it was quite deeply involved at the height of the flood.

How deeply, you might ask?  Well, if this is 10,000 cfs:

…the whole tree left on the bank attests to what this scene must have looked like at the river’s high point of 40,000 cfs.  The pink building at left used to be a quilt shop; it’s a total loss, and the houses around it may be as well.  I counted perhaps a dozen businesses in the immediate vicinity which are similarly total losses, and suspect there are many more which I missed on my cursory inventory.

At its height the flood did indeed top the Bridge of Flowers and slosh over the deck of the town’s central Steel Bridge:

…but just barely.  A pile of 12″ logs wedged between the steel and stone of the road bridge attests to that:

While at first glance the Bridge of Flowers seemed relatively unscathed:

…it was ghostly silent with no one on it, and a peek around the upriver side yeilded a heart-wrenching sight of structural devastation due to the battering inflicted by passing objects such as great whole oaks, cars, trucks and buses (Crabapple Rafting lost at least one), and the seventy or so van-sized propane tanks ripped from their moorings at the Rice Oil and Propane depot in Charlemont, as well as various deck and barn pieces:

There’s talk that the structure may be a total loss, though at this point it’s just talk.  We’ll have to wait and pray and see what happens.

As long as I was out I threw a load of washed clothes in the dryer at the local laundromat – they doubtless need the business in this nearly shut down town – and ran some errands in Greenfield, absent mindedly hopping on Route 91 Southbound for a quick trip back to  the west side of town, forgetting that the Interstate was closed eight miles farther south because of possible damage to a bridge over the lower Deerfield.  I spent an hour and a half going the short two miles:

Heading back westward, I took one more spin through Shelburne Falls to pick up my laundry and noticed this sign in the window of the great West End Pub, which is one of the riverside businesses suffering enough structural damage so that its fate is dubious at best:

I’ll have more shots soon of my reconnaissance to find a way westward for Tuesday’s return to work.