Foliage, Trains and a Camera

For those that may not already know it…..I take a liking to trains and photography. Have been around trains all my life, from my toy train set, to the rails behind my old house (that are now unfortunately abandoned).  Anything diesel gets my attention.  Not a big steam buff, but with a camera in hand I guess I could take a liking to that for sure.

For photography, I have been around cameras perhaps just as long. My mother used to have an old 120 film camera (twin lens reflex) and at that time she had gotten me my 1st 110 camera.  Somewhere in there I also had an 8mm movie camera.  Over the years I did make it to SLR and eventually to SLR full frame.  Is there a path to medium format??? To be determined.

Every year there is a special passenger train that goes from Port Clinton, Pennsylvania to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. This is part of their autumn leaf excursion which draws hundreds of people every October weekend.  The Reading and Northern Railroad hosts this vintage train ride that takes over 2 hours one way.  You get to spend the afternoon in Jim Thorpe which in itself is a nostalgic and historic area and then take the train back to Port Clinton.  They do run both diesel and steam on different days of the weekends.  I have only done the diesel runs (have done the ride 3 times) but perhaps I need to switch it up the next time I go and try the steam ride.

So liking trains and photography, this was a pairing just as good as a great steak and wine.  But to throw in some fabulous color as the leaves are changing was a bonus!

Now it does look odd to have a diesel engine towing antique passenger cars.  But once you get inside the car and sit down you are sent back 85 years in time and you just forget that a diesel is pulling you.  Of course with steam you will definitely get the audible as well to help set the mood back to 1929.

So as my title states, its foliage, trains and a camera.  We already have 2 of the 3 on point (photography and trains).  But for foliage, I just couldn’t decide which photo to place on my blog since I took so many.  This year had to be the best year out of the 3 times I went.  The weather this summer and fall had the right combination of water and sunlight to produce some spectacular shots.

The shots above were taken from another train ride that you can also take while visiting Jim Thorpe.  The Lehigh Gorge excursion will take you along the Lehigh Gorge and the scenery there is just as beautiful and gives you some additional vantage points to take some awesome shots. Even though this train ride is only 40 min long, there is plenty to keep you and your camera busy since they utilize open cars so you can look directly outside at the scenery with no windows.

Not to leave out the town of Jim Thorpe, I took a couple shots of the downtown area where there were thousands in town to partake in their fall weekend festivals which of course coincide with the train trip (good marketing!).

Everyone has to have a hobby. We can’t deny that. I am not sure boredom can be considered a hobby but to some, perhaps.  As photographers, we need to apply our other interests in life to the photos we take as it can only be a win-win and makes the day go that much faster and that much more fulfilling. For me, its trains.  Others with other interests should look to what they love the most and go with that.  Branching out of our comfort zones to other interests that we may find lacking or just downright boring could be difficult, but as a photographer, we need to not let those boundaries hinder us.  I may not like tennis but to consider taking shots of the game and its players could be of interest and perhaps I could take a liking to the sport once I am there snapping off a couple hundred shots, and then reviewing the photos and seeing what it takes to play the game and from there perhaps become more involved in the game (maybe watching it on TV and knowing actually what match point or set point really means)

For next year…maybe I can take the trip with this pulling us along the way:

Till next time….

P.S. If you want to see all the pictures taken from the subset above, please head over to my smugmug page:

Reading and Northern Autumn Leave 2014

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Up for Discussion – HDR Photography

I myself am just getting acclimated to doing HDR. Each photowalk I do, I try to take a few bracketed shots just to see how I can manipulate them. I have Photomatix Pro 5 now along with RC Concepcions new 2nd edition of his “The HDR Book” (that just came in today). There will be naysayers and those that just can’t live without it. What are your thoughts?

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Water, Statues, Flora and HDR

This week I got to take yet another photo walk with some great photographers and this time we got the best weather and some awesome photo ops.  The place we went to was so huge that I didn’t get the chance to see everything nor take all the pictures I had wanted to.  But that just means another visit perhaps later in the year when fall comes around

Where was this place I speak of you ask?  Well for those native to the New Jersey area, you may be familiar with Duke Estates in Hillsborough.  This is 2,000 acres of walking, biking, photography goodness.  But you can click on the link for more info.  Why put out spoilers?

I came fully prepared to take different types of photos and as most of you saw in my last blog post, I basically stuck with long exposures.  This time I wasnt sure what to expect so when we arrived at the farm and I saw how the weather looked, I kinda had HDR in mind.  Having a camera that can do up to 7 bracketed shots had me hoping for some good opportunities.  So lets take a look at what I was able to capture.

The mini waterfall

As we entered the walk path around the estate we came across this small lake and waterfall. My friend Khurt had just recently purchased a 10 stop ND filter for his camera and wanted to take some test shots just to get familiar with how to set up his aperture, and shutter.  I gave him some review of an app for ios called photo pills which he immediately downloaded but really didn’t have time to figure out.  So I just called up my trusty app for ND filter calculations and we did some experimenting with his camera till he got that perfect shot. So…I guess I might as well do the same before we headed deeper into the estate.  My shot wasn’t really as long as his (his was a 20 second shot, mine was more like 1/8th).  When I got home and looked at it, I immediately saw no color (still waiting for the greenery to emerge here in NJ) and just converted it to B&W.  This was touched up with OnOne Perfect Effects.


The lonely daffodil

A little further up the path we came upon this one lone daffodil.  Seemed like a good shot with a little more color than my waterfall.  Tripod out and low I went ahead and did a 3 shot bracketed.  I had to really focus my efforts on using rule of 3rd.  I think this one works nicely with the rule.  HDR done with Photomatix Pro 5




Moving along we come to an area where Doris Duke decided to place a sculpture garden.  The quality of work on these sculptures was exquisite.  Although not HDR I did use Perfect Effects to bring out and accentuate some of the highlights of these beauties.  Photos really can’t do them justice.  You just have to go visit them for yourself.

The estate also has its own greenhouse with an abundance of orchids and other flora.  I did what I could with my trusty 24-70 f2.8L.  This was a place where a 100mm macro really would have came in handy.  So we have seen 3 out of the 4 items in my blog title.


By this time the weather was getting pretty warm and folks were getting hungry so before we ended our day at the estate we were able to make it to the clock tower.  Here is where I felt I could get the best HDR shot since I could see the shadows next to the building and the highlights of the sky around us.  It wasnt quite high noon but fortunately the sun was not directly hitting us, so no harsh light to really worry about.

This was done with 5 bracketed shots about 1 stop apart.  I didnt want to go surreal HDR so I tried to keep it a bit more natural but still give it some pop. In my haste to post this up on the internet, I forgot to do a little tilt alignment so bad on me for being a little over anxious.  I will be going back to this picture to straighten out the tower.

Overall an excellent day when it comes to April weather, plenty of attendees on this walk which made discussing our skills so much more invigorating and just trying out some new ways of doing long exposure and HDR.

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Coming out of hibernation (well…almost anyway)


So I figured I had my rest for the winter and now its time to awaken the blog from its slumber and to get back outdoors with camera and friends in hand to see what I could find. Read more ›

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That time of year to hide the scale…and bring out the camera

Food and photography….synergy in the making if you ask me.  What is it about food that wants to make you go out and take a shot of it with your camera?  Just recently the obsession to want to snap a shot of your food and post it on instagram has been spreading like mad. Selfies are so passé these days.  Hey there are even courses on how to take photos of food.


Don’t get me wrong, if your profession is to take photos for menus, displays, art, whatever, that’s fine and dandy.  I think that some folks take it to the extreme and just forget they are in a restaurant and will take a shot of that exquisite desert with their feet on the chair, head facing straight down and using flash no less!   Really??  Its food people.

So where the hell am I going with this ranting?  Photography is all about creativity, its about pushing your limits.  Its learning new ways to show the same object, perhaps in a dozen different ways.  So why not just grab your camera or camera phone and just snap away?  For one you could come off as a total geek if not done correctly.  The other is that you need to know your surroundings and be mindful of others that may not want to be in the picture or perhaps you are impeding the flow of traffic or worse yet, could be creating a safety issue.

The shots above were taken last Sunday at a church function that my wife asked me to attend so that I could get some candid shots of the event for  use by the church at a later time. At no time did I pop out the flash and push people out of the way to get the shots.  What I did do was wait for people to move at their pace and when the shot was open I took it without flash.  I prefer to be as stealth as possible and to allow the folks there enjoy their day and not have this guy walking around acting like he owns the place and has priority to every nook and cranny in the place.  No one would appreciate me just walking into their kitchen to snap off shots while they are working.  We all know that.

With every event I go to, I always try to take a few shots for practice, ones I know that I wont be giving to anyone else.  This way I get some skill sharpening in there to better myself.  With these 2 shots I wanted to push my depth of field skills with backlighting.  Of course metering in one spot and focusing in another was key in order to keep proper exposure.

The result are shots that bring your eye to the main subject in the shot and the vignetting helps with that. Some blurring also supports that when appropriate.

Color also brings peoples eyes right to the subject as with the gluten free cookies.  The red and white pop out enough to bring you right to them.  My fav though are the choco chips.  You have all those other dishes there but the cookies offset the bright window in the background nicely.

So just be patient, be courteous, and be ready to take your shots.


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Finally, finally, finally….our bathrooms are done

So we now have 2 complete bathrooms albeit they took longer than expected and created ALOT of dust in the house that we are slowly getting to, one room at a time. We have been using both bathrooms for a few days now but you know there’s a story in there somewhere….of course there is…allow me to give you the full rundown.

  • We wanted to start this project right after Labor Day but instead it starts on 10/7.  That was the best we could do between our home schedules and the contractors.
  • Demo on the 1st bathroom goes great.  Taking a closer look, we see some framing and subfloor issues so now its time to break out the permits and to schedule an inspection.  This work is out of scope so cha-ching…mo money, mo money, mo money….
  • Inspector does a drive by and never shows the 1st time so we had to reschedule a 2nd time.  Delays, delays, delays.  But he finally shows and gives us the green light
  • Bathtub, floors, walls, vanity, counter, etc all go in nicely as it should since this bathroom has all the proper dimensions.  I do my part with the painting to help offset some costs. I also mounted the towel racks, hooks for the robes, put up the shower rod and curtain.  Final part was to put a shower head on with a 6ft hose for more flexibility.
  • 1st bathroom is done and we all get to use it while they get ready to demo the 2nd bathroom.
  • Demo of the 2nd bathroom is done and as you already know, more framing, subfloor and some exterior wall work. Cha-ching!
  • 2nd bathroom gets its walls, tiles, floors, shower pan, shower door.  I will stop there for a moment….I paint the room all nice just like I did with the 1st bathroom.  The contractor has to break out his magical shoe horn since the 2nd bathroom, unlike the 1st bathroom has no standard dimensions so the wall where the vanity has to go is only 47 inches and not 48-49 inches as one would expect for a normal and standard size vanity that you could find at Lowes or Home Depot. Some shaving here and there and we have the vanity and counter installed but not without some damage to the walls.  The contractor breaks out the spackle again and fixes them up.  Round 2 for painting for me. Not all that bad but not what I was planning on doing on my weekends.
  • 2nd bathroom finally gets done and we have 2 working bathrooms upstairs.  Or at least we thought comes the twist!.  Over the weekend the 1st bathroom develops a nice crack in 2 of the tiles that are butted up against the bathtub.  Say it aint so!  Its a brand new bathroom and how could this be?  Well this means no one in the shower in that bath so everyone has to use the 2nd bath.  Its a Saturday night when this happens so on Sunday I pull out the camera and take a couple shots and send them to the contractor.
  • That following Monday morning bright and early I get an email reply back stating that they are going to send the contractor back out to repair.  It took us a month to get them to come out to start and only 24 hours to get them back to make the repairs? How could that be?  Made no sense to me and I was anticipating a few days before they would even acknowledge my email.  Why promptly respond to me now after I had already made the final payment on the project? But sometimes people will surprise you.  They show up and replace the tiles.  Fortunately we had excess from the project and there was no need to wait on the contractor to get more tiles.
  • Tuesday morning they are back after letting the tile adhesive cure.  Time to grout and then back out the door
  • Wednesday morning they come back one last time to clean off excess grout and to silicone around the faucet.  I get the story that the contractor believes that when he was doing the 2nd bath (which shares the same plumbing lines) he may have pulled the pipes back a little and that pressure of the faucet spout against the tiles may have created the pressure point that caused the cracking.  So he fessed up, which was a nice gesture.

So one day before Thanksgiving (11/27) we are done and have 2 working bathrooms again.  Definitely a venture to put in the books and many lessons learned from this ordeal.

So now for the remainder we have a lot of cleaning up to do.  You would never know but spackle and sheetrock dust can get EVERYWHERE.  Even though they were outside (partially in my driveway and partially in my garage), that crap gets all over and its very fine so dusting and vacuuming is going to be going on for quite a few weeks until we have everything in the house cleaned up.

With that out of the way I can now focus my attention back on what I originally started this blog for…photography.  Well that’s the main reason, but it is a blog so it can’t always be about photography every day.  Coming up in a few weeks I will be out at a meetup to do some night shots of some sculptures that are being lit up for the holidays.  Good op for me to practice my tripod and night shot skills. Have two “students” that I am helping with getting them more familiar with their DSLR’s and one of them has already signed up for the event which is nice. Practice is what its all about right?

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My kitchen ceiling needed painting anyway (next bathroom day 2)

In my continuing saga of the bathrooms, I did not actually anticipate one small detail….in order to properly attach the tub and shower pan drains, the contractor must have open access to the underside of both to be sure that the piping lines up correctly.  Sure?  Why not? Just open up the kitchen ceiling above the sink and refrigerator Mr Contractor!  Well…its a mess but its a mess that was absolutely needed to be sure that I wasn’t going to have leaks later on and have the rest of my ceiling come falling down on me or the rest of my kitchen.  And I do appreciate the foresight of the contractor to do this.  Back in the 70’s when my house was built, parts were not of the quality you would expect.  Brass was thinner and over time it actually wears out and then you have this leak from your drain trap that eventually is going to cause you issues with your sheetrock and wood flooring both upstairs and downstairs.

So kudos to my contractor for taking a proactive move to align my new traps (PVC) with the drains so that there will not be any leaks later.  The holes you see here are now covered, but still need some additional spackle and sanding before I can repaint my ceiling.  Like I said in the title, I needed to really paint it anyway so this was perfect timing.

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The next bathroom now in progress (day 1)

Let me preface this by saying….ALWAYS EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED! 

So this is the next bathroom up for reno. This time around I had the common sense to take some “before” shots prior to the contractor ripping everything down.  When purchasing an older home where there has been 2 owners before, you can never tell what lies underneath till you take it down and inspect.  Well 1st off, who puts a brown sink in with blue tile and blue toilet? and wallpaper??  That was my 1st indication something was not quite right.  But we took the house as is knowing that eventually we would do certain renovations and hey, if it works, why break it?

But underneath that nice looking floor tile (8×8) there was that hideous 70’s mosaic tile that I was glad to see be gone.  I wont bother to ponder why the previous owners never bothered to rip it up when they placed the new tile down.  Cost?  Perhaps. But when you are looking at a house that is roughly 40 years old, you don’t want to take any chances.  So I had the floor totally ripped up so I could see the joists and of course all the walls had to come down to see how the studs held up after all these years.  So back to my 1st statement above.  I had already anticipated and expected to see some water damage.  Its a bathroom, its seen its share of humidity and wetness and its from the 70’s when cement board was not around and the builders placed tile on sheetrock.  Not to mention that floors back then only used 3/8th inch plywood.  There was some water damage to the studs and also to the exterior wall plywood and some of the insulation had actually deteriorated to nothing.  Not a good thing for sure and not something that any homeowner wants to hear or see.  But having a good contractor also pays for itself and they will usually come up with an idea to  help you save money and yet maintain the structural integrity of your home.

What you cant see behind the new insulation is a new 1/2 inch piece of plywood running along the exterior wall to help reinforce the main exterior panel.  So the exterior wall is now 1 inch thick with plywood and also had new R-13 insulation.  What you do see is the sister studs that mount next to the existing studs to help reinforce them as well. There was also some additional framing done to help reinforce areas where the contractor thought they would work and that had not been done at the time of initial build.  Of course there was a cost for this extra work.  When planning your remodels, always count in some contingency money for the unexpected above and beyond your parts and labor costs.  I cant stress this piece enough.  Never assume the framing is still intact, never assume the plumbing is still good (next blog will show why).  And of course never assume your electrical will be adequate for your new remodel.  Codes change and what may have been ok 40 years ago wont cut it now a days and your contractor will tell you that you have to update or upgrade in order to meet code.

So today I am just waiting for the building inspector to come and give it his blessing. If there are no issues the contractor is back tomorrow putting the new walls up and will press on with tiles after that.

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Finally a finished bathroom (or also known as Bathroom day 5)

I am a few days behind on posting this entry so forgive me.  I was just toooo busy trying out our new bathroom.  C’mon, have to do quality control on everything to make sure there are no issues.

But I am very content with the outcome and the quality that the contractor provided. As you can see we included a matching vanity with the toilet topper for added storage space. The tub is a deep 20″ soaking tub for those days where you want to play with your rubber ducky with plenty of “Mister Bubbles”.  Not sure I can find a “Fuzzy Wuzzy Bear” anymore. If you have no clue what I am talking about, you’re too young.

We opted not to drill holes in the new tile for a shower curtain rod.  For now its just a tension bar but perhaps later we may opt to go with a perm rod or just go for sliding doors.

The lighting is vastly improved.  We used to have a puny little fluorescent light above the sink that hardly lit the room up.  Now with the 3 bulb sconce lighting and the new fan that includes a night light and 2 CFL bulbs, its so easier to see in there.

What you really cant see too much except for a couple shots are the accessories such as the towel ring by the sink, a double rod towel holder (seen in the mirror) and what you cant see..a robe hook off to the side of the door.

Next up is our master bath. That will be in tomorrows blog.  Its already been started and is still in demo mode but once the inspector does his blessing, we should be smooth sailing for next week.

So…what the heck does this have to do with photography?  Its a bathroom right?  You are probably wondering why I would be posting home improvement photos…Wonder no more…Photography is not just about cute babies, landscapes and portraits or small critters taken with a macro lens.  Its about color, contrast, texture, lines, shapes, etc.  These photos perhaps can help inspire someone later on.  One never knows.

The vanity and toiler topper came from Lowes, the others came from a local plumbing supply company.  Some of the accessory hardware came from which came in cheaper than some other places.  The tiles came locally as well.  I believe in supporting your local merchants but as we can all attest to…sometimes you have to find the better deals online.

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Bathroom Project Day 3

bathroom day 3

bathroom day 3

So today I get home from work a little early to catch up with the contractor and to see how he made out with tiling.  Gotta say its nice to say a project start to come together.  By the end of the day he had the floor and walls done for the tub/shower.

If all goes well the grouting should be done on day 4 and then the rough painting can begin and then the vanity, mirror, light sconce, toilet and cabinet can go in.  I wont count on the grab bars and towel bars  since that would just be too much for one day.  Hey the paint has to dry ya know.

We decided to go with diagonal on the floor with long tile side going horizontal on the shower wall.  The deco going across the wall really adds a nice touch as well as the stone shelves.  Being brighter as well as having the diag cut on the floor should hopefully give it a larger feel being that its a small bathroom to begin with.

As you will see in later posts, the hardware will be chrome that should accent the tiles and wood pretty nicely.

The best part is that the light we had installed in the ceiling that comes with a 140 cfm fan and night light does such a great job lighting that room up that I wonder how much use we will get with the sconce on the wall above the mirror and vanity.  Will be interesting to see.  Not sure why back in the 70’s they only had one little light above the sink that had no way to shine towards the shower so you could see what parts of your body you were cleaning.  Guess back in those days you didn’t need to use your eyes, just feel around and hope you got all the parts clean.

And just for clarification…this is the hallway bath that is basically the public bathroom.  Our master bath is up next once this is completed…but I have to be careful with that term master bath.   These homes don’t have “large” bathrooms so don’t think its like a Mc Mansion style bathroom by any stretch of the imagination.

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