Hanging on for dear life

We recently took a family “spring break” trip out to Washington D.C.  As part of a “behind the scenes” tour of the National Cathedral, I spotted this little gargoyle through a tiny window in a service door:

Hanging on for dear life

Even from just a few steps away from the door, it took 110mm of focal length (220 in full frame terms) to capture the little guy.

Steinland

A scene from this year’s “Christkindl Market” in downtown Denver, Colorado — shelves of beer steins on sale at a vendor’s stall:

Steinland

Oddly enough, it was only on a recent trip that we discovered that while the word stein is German, this style of beer mugs is only called a stein in English-speaking countries.  Stein is an abbreviation of the German steingut (stoneware), the material they’re made of.  But in Germany, bierstein (“beer stone”) is the term used for a scaly deposit built up in poorly-cleaned brewing vessels.  A mug like one of these would be called a krug, or more properly a bierkrug.

So there’s your language lesson for the day, more about the “Christkindl Market” in subsequent posts.

Monet Pool Fiori

Another piece of art glass by Dale Chihuly (two pieces, actually), currently located in the Denver Botanic Gardens‘ Monet Pool:

Monet Pool Fiori

This arrangement is one that absolutely looks better at night.  In the daytime, you’re distracted by people and plants and benches behind the piece (from this vantage point).  At night, the lighting on the glasswork helps isolate it from what would otherwise be clutter.

EXIF info:
Oly 12-40mm f/2.8 lens at 21mm and f/4.5 on E-M1 camera
1/25 sec at ISO 1600

White Tower — day and night

Time for some more Dale Chihuly art glass, as seen at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  My wife and I both decided that some pieces looked best in daylight, while others were real stand-outs when lit up at night — so for comparison’s sake, let’s look at the installation White Tower over a few hours’ time.

White Tower, daylight

White Tower is a fine piece — but in daylight, we both thought it was most interesting up close.  Those magenta spots on the white branches (tentacles?) aren’t painted on — they’re clear areas in a white outer layer, which let the inner color shine through.

Unfortunately, the background is a bit too cluttered to really set the piece off, at least from this angle. Continue reading

Blue Icicle Towers

For the next few months (through November), the Denver Botanic Gardens is hosting an exhibition (part of the Garden Cycle series) of glass art by Dale Chihuly.  When you first walk into the gardens, you’re greeted by this sight:

Blue Icicle Towers

It’s called Blue Icicle Towers, and is one of Chihuly’s new works.  Like most of his art, it’s neither small nor subtle — but it’s an eye-catcher and will leave you wondering just how he and his crew make everything.  More to come…

Governors, Turtles, and Tourists

A segment of a panorama from the ancient Maya ruins of Uxmal — covering the Governor’s Palace (left) and the House of the Turtles (right), along with a few scattered tourists:

Governors, Turtles, and Tourists

I initially didn’t expect this image to be of much account. It’s part of a panorama I made for later reference, one of many I made at a number of sites on my last trip to the Yucatán, primarily so I can double-check the quality of the maps I draw for my eBooks.

But in the process, I discovered that a modern iPhone (!) can make surprisingly good panoramas.

Offerings

A few years ago, we were fortunate to be able to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre, a.k.a. ATM) cave in Belize.  It’s a 3-mile long wet cave (i.e., there’s a stream flowing through it), and a pretty “tough ticket” in that only a few guides are permitted to take tours through it — and the number of groups passing through on any given day are strictly limited.  It’s a physically demanding visit, too — you wind up climbing over and under boulders, swimming a significant part of the way, etc.

Offerings

But the restrictions are all for good reason.  The cave was used for sacrificial offerings by the ancient Maya, largely during the classic period (roughly 250 – 900 AD).  As the classic period wound down and the local situation worsened, increasingly dear sacrificial offerings were made increasingly far into the cave.  Tours extend as far as “The Crystal Maiden,” the calcified skeletal remains of a teenage girl sacrificed near the end of the classic — but she is only one of 14 individuals whose remains have been found in the cave, and less macabre offerings predominate anyway.

The Crystal Maiden

Sadly, in 2012 a tourist dropped their camera on one of the 1,000 year old skulls in the cave and fractured it — the skull was repaired to some degree, but as a result of that one tourist’s inattention, visitors are no longer allowed to bring cameras into the cave.

Fireworks in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

This past weekend, our family was able to spend a few days (including July 4th) in Steamboat Springs — always a treat and source of plenty of photographic opportunities to boot.  This is the first time, though, that I had the opportunity to photograph the town’s fireworks.  So since there’s not a whole lot of information about the show online, I thought I should do a quick write-up to help future visiting photographers.

July bouquet

At least when we visited, the fireworks were shot off from three locations on the sides of Howelsen Hill — centered roughly on the ski jump, south and west of downtown. This means that many spots downtown will give you a partial view of the fireworks, but they seem to be fired to a low altitude — so unless you’ve got rooftop access, you’re likely to have an obstructed view. Continue reading

Notice of notice

So I noticed this notice on a recent business trip to Florida — apparently it’s now a required feature on vending machines there, but I can’t for the life of me tell what purpose it serves:

Notice of notice

It doesn’t have any inspection certification, or license information, or any obviously useful data like that.  But somehow this thing struck me as being oddly familiar.  Then in Steamboat Springs this past weekend, I noticed a sign from a distance that may have been the source of my dim recollection…

2014.07.04 Steamboat fireworks 023

Coincidence?  I think not!

The Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lens — a user experience review

I recently picked up Olympus‘ new pancake kit zoom lens (formally, the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lens) and its automatic lens cap. Rather than boring you with test charts and such, I thought taking it out on a walk would be more interesting (and help give everybody a better idea of its benefits and limitations).

OM-D compared

For starters, the lens’ big benefit is size (naturally, for a pancake) — at least for the time being, it’s the shortest pancake zoom for the micro-4/3 system, extending just 22.5mm from its mounting flange. Above, you see my E-M1 with an Oly 12-40mm f/2.8 lens mounted, next to my E-M5 hosting the 14-42mm EZ lens.  Even with the grip attached, the E-M5 is pocketable (well, in a decent-sized coat pocket) in this configuration.  The automatic lens cap isn’t exactly cheap, but that extra $30 buys you an impressive bit of engineering in a small slice of plastic — and makes this combo a potent and quick-to-use street shooter.

But on to the walk…

Continue reading