Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our Backyards

I believe a common misconception is that we need to travel somewhere to find good subjects and take good pictures. I even suspect that some people only break out their cameras for vacations. Vacation spots are fun and usually provide easy and fresh subject matter, but a lot of great images are probably within a 15 minutes walk/drive from our houses.

I too am guilty of neglecting my immediate surroundings in the backyard and neighborhood, but the holidays' are a good time to reflect and take notice to the little things around us. My yard offers almost daily deer, squirrels, rabbits, numerous songbirds as well as a variety of wildflower and tree species. The sunset tonight was another reminder that you only need to travel as far as your deck for a memorable image.

Reading Museum - Bikes and Marshes

The popular exhibit "Born to be Wild" has been extended a couple of months and today there was a great audience entering the museum. The parking lot was overflowing and cars were even parked in the grass around the perimeter. I have never witnessed such a turnout, but it was good to see the support.

The crowd was as diverse as the exhibits with a number of leather boots and Harley jackets juxtaposed beside loafers and sweater vests, but unanimously they agreed that the bikes were impressive works of art.

"Marshes: The Disappearing Edens" was the other reason I went to the museum. Renowned photographer William Burt impressed us with his 30+ large crystal clear landscapes and bird photography of marshes from his backyard in CT to SK Canada.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Berks County Photos (Ice Storm)

Here are some icy photo pictures that I shot locally. The Friday and Saturday storms didn't produce as much havoc on the roads that was forecast, but did make some dramatic ice effects on the trees, and bushes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

French Creek State Park (Winter Magic Hour)

I needed a little nature to balance out this weekend, so Max and I visited French Creek for "magic hour", or the hour or two leading up to sunset.

Many years ago, I went through a sunset phase where I would stop by Marsh Creek State Park after work almost daily to photograph the magic hour and sunsets. I still like to shoot sunrises and sunsets, but I don't commute by a lake anymore so capturing them is more coincidental then planned.

The last couple of times we tried to lap Hopewell Lake we lost daylight once and got caught in a torrential rain, so we just stayed on the East side. I thought the beavers might be on the move too. In spite of all the tree damage from the beach inlet to the dam, there was no lodge on the East side.

The sun was waining so I waited on the dike until it passed behind the trees. A bunch of shots later the scene was over. On the return walk the temps were dropping fast and the opposite sky was now the show. Great clouds and reflection photos from the fishing pier finished off a successful 2 mile walk.

Goggleworks Open House (Inspirational!)

Once a month, the Goggleworks in Reading has an open house. This gives visitors a chance to meet many of the artists in their studios. Also, many different shops and studios are performing demonstrations.

It is really a neat building where "the arts" have taken over. I would sum it up this way, give an abandoned old factory to a bunch of artists and great things will result. Art can be found in any and all medium, from photography, pottery, woodwork, sculptures, and painting (watercolor to oils, abstracts to scenics).

The gift shop and Bravo cafe were actively serving visitors, one selling unique gifts and the other delicious smelling food. The open, natural-lit galleries on the first floor are the epitome of the way to showcase artwork.

I took a picture of the leisure area, but particularly was interested in the board games that were under the coffee table. Upwords & Rummikub are a pair of my family's holiday favorites.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Christmas Time in the City", New York

I spent the day in NYC with the main goal being to sight see and view the Christmas decorations, especially the massive and impressive Rockefeller Center Tree. It was a blustery 30 degree day so ducking into numerous buildings to warm up offered some relief.

The "Top of the Rock" observation level on the 67th-69th floors in the GE building was a perfect activity for a crystal clear afternoon. The brief 1 minute elevator ride features a glass top and light and video show on the ceiling on the way to the top floor. I thought it might be frigid but the decks are surrounded by 8 foot high plexi-glass windows which offered a wind block at least. The upper-most deck is smaller and offers no glass walls, virtually no weather protection, but more importantly no obstructions to 360 degree views.

At dusk, the Rockefeller Center was just mobbed by thousands of tourists, many were shuffling to the best photo spots of the impressive "Tree" and angels that run the length of the promenade. Saks had crowds 6-deep trying to look into their decorative windows. The front of Saks was decorated with enormous light-up snowflakes that were synced to songs that boomed over their speakers.

Some other highlights of the day were Times Square, Apple Store, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the decorated Plaza, Trump Plaza and all the great sunlit and electronic street scenes. I looked carefully for the "Cash Cab" to ride, but we ended up riding in a regular sedan.

Needless to say, everything was crowded and foot travel was slower then normal due to massive amounts of people. People were full of the holiday spirit and very cordial in spite of the crowds. Bustling should be expected when going to NYC during the Christmas Season, but it is truly fun and motivational.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Birdsboro Waters (Hay Creek Watershed) COLD!

Following the Saturday snow dusting, I wanted to see some snow on the shores of the Birdsboro Reservoir. The parking on SR82 was not maintained and packed down hard and slippery from recent traffic.

The road back to the lakes was snow covered. Max did pretty good initially, but by the end he was ready to get out of the cold and get to his blanket and seat warmer.

The lighting was beautiful, but conditions uncomfortable with a 29 air temp and 20+MPH wind gusts. Skies of blue with puffy white clouds were as much the subject as the water. No mirror-like reflections due to the constant wind, but the sky color was still present in the layers of little waves.

In my minds eye, the lighting looked spectacular, to the camera's eye it became confused. Nearly every shot had to be overridden to overexpose or underexpose due to the bright snow, dark shadow and trees and super bright sky. Many of the shots with the best potential needed a tweak in Kodak's Easyshare to reflect how I remembered them. The best advice for these lighting conditions is bracket and experiment. The keepers are well worth the additional editing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas at Joanna Furnace

The third of the "must see" events at Joanna Furnace is the "Christmas at Joanna". Usually the first full weekend in December when the weather can be unpredictable.

About 3:00PM Saturday afternoon, it started snowing and since it was below freezing, it stuck. Fortunately, it was a gradual snow, so if you needed to get home you had a window of opportunity before it got nasty, which it did. Years ago I bought an AWD crossover and on nights like this one, I'm glad I have it. Not that if affords you the foolish option to ignore the conditions, but AWD does give added confidence and can help prevent a situation. On SR10 to Joanna Furnace other cars weren't as fortunate for they were spinning on the hills and even off the road completely.

With the drive behind us, the Joanna Furnace was even more seasonal then ever. A light snow blanketed the grounds and immediately put every one in the Christmas spirit. Hundreds of luminaries marked the roads and paths throughout the furnace.

A small fire was lit for the three wise men and their llamas (in lieu of camels) and another for the shoppers of crafts and food, while a huge bonfire was the center piece for story telling. The "living" manger is a reminder of the true spirit of Christmas.

In the woodworking barn, older gentlemen demonstrated period skills. A horse drawn wagon with a full load of passengers clopped past and was faintly visible in woods where you could see the kids catching snow flakes in their open mouths. Carollers walked around singing and period dressed men and women brought back the tradition of Christmas' long ago.

Hitting the spot on a cold night was the hot mulled cider and soft pretzel combo. Hot chocolate, coffee and soup were the other tempting options. Another warm escape is inside the decorated stone building were period women offering stories and cookie treats for all who wanted.

West Reading Favorites

The appeal of West Reading continues during the holiday season with tasteful decorations and great stores offering unique gift ideas. One of my favorites is Curious Consignments (605 Penn Ave.) The epitome of unique and affordable gifts can be found here. Even local celebrity Kelly McGillis contributed some of her collectibles. Extensive inventory in visual appealing artistic displays make this a fun visit too. An amazing, peaceful garden oasis behind the store leads to the furniture gallery in the back building. (You might forget that you're even in a store) The proprietors are friendly and knowledgeable and who let their merchandise sell itself.

For truly top notch refreshments, Haute Chocolate Cafe is the place. Another visual appealing spot that features ever changing art on the walls and maybe the most unique powder room ever. Needless to say, the chocolate is ambrosia, but that only makes up a portion of their decadent menu of pastries, gelato, numerous hot chocolate concoctions and great coffee. The staff always greets you with a smile and perfectly prepares each order with pride. You can spend as much or as little as you want knowing anything you get will be great.

Reading Public Museum (Motorcycles)

When I first heard about the Reading Public Museum's "Born to be Wild" motorcycle exhibit, my first thought was, "how are they going to pull this off?" Needless to say, they totally nailed it. Not too much, not too few, but a great sampling (55 total) of past and present bikes including some pop culture icons (Easy Rider) and remarkable custom choppers.

I was also interested in the "Masters of American Photography" exhibit. They have a new gallery on the first floor which I think suits exhibits better then the alcove and hallway walls. There were some truely classic shots and some other not so famous, but very nice examples of photojournalism. I plan on visiting another photo exhibit coming next weekend called, "Marshes" The Disappearing Edens."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

R. B. Winter State Park (Winter Wonderland)

We joined SR192 and had a short 4 miles until we rounded the bend and saw the R.B. Winter State Park and Halfway Lake from the overlook parking lot. It was partially drained and getting lower due to a running pump, but still beautiful with it's 3-6 inches of fresh snow.

This park offers something for everyone for all seasons. A beach, playground, hiking trails, picnic tables, cookout areas, numerous pavilions with fireplaces, concessions and ultra modern heated auto-everything restrooms, all in close proximity to the main parking areas. As a child and teen I remember coming to "Half Way Dam" as we called it back then, for a day on the beach and family cookout. It has been totally upscaled since then and feels resort-like now.

Winter Wonderland
The parking lots were plowed but the park was blanketed in snow. We were the only visitors at that time. Hiking around the beach, picnic areas and stream lined roads and paths was a true challenge and joy to photograph. Max isn't crazy about long exposure to snow for it chills his low lying chest and feet, but he loved being off the leash to run on the empty beach. (Normally he's leashed, but the park was empty)

The outing ended with a frantic search for my cell phone which jumped my belt clip somewhere as we hiked around the park. It turned out to be near the car for that is where I last checked it.

The lighting on the drive home or east bound SR192 spotlighted fields and a great old barn.