Top of the Rock to Vegas

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Is it really April already? I finally have time to post pictures of some amazing adventures that have happened this last month!
February ended with a blizzard and visit from my sister and nephews. On their first trip to NY they did the mandatory “Gabe tour” of walking the Brooklyn Bridge and Museum hopping. So this time I had to come up with a new itinerary. I just finished reading Metropolis, which is a very engrossing historical fiction account of NYC during the 1860’s. The author’s main character is the city itself and two aspects that she goes in-depth about is the building of the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the construction and maintenance of the sewer system. The highs and lows of the city are mirrored with many of the other “Gangs of New York” type characters throughout the book. So this got me to thinking about how New York is such an incredible infrastructure city. My nephews would be fine and dandy just riding the subway their whole time. Sorry, New Hampshire barely has buses, so when I took them to the NY Transit Museum which incorporates the old Court Street station, they were thrilled! The boys weren’t too interested in the history of the sandhogs and the work that went into creating the first underground subway system in the United States. However when they realized that they had complete access to all the subway cars from the 1930’s-80’s,  I didn’t think we were ever going to leave!  The subway museum was one of the first places I visited when I moved here 9 years ago and I highly recommend it for learning more about what makes New York so NY.
So what next? Take them to the Empire State Building? I remembered my good friend and fellow Photo of the Weeker, Brandon, taking some amazing shots of NYC from the top of the Rockefeller Building. What was so great about being on top of the rock is you are able to see the Empire State in all of its glory, which is much better then being on it! So 70 stories into the sky and we arrived at the Top of the Rock! A little snow was in the air and had put a brilliant light white coat over the city.
The next week it was off to Vegas. I go there for business a few times a year and as I am not a gambler the Vegas shine has worn off. However, one of my favorite things to do in Vegas is put a Lensbaby on my camera and go shooting around Fremont Street in Old Town. The more nostalgic neon signs are a perfect match for the creative focus you can attain with the Lensbaby.

Next up ~ Valley of Fire…

St Johns Watertower, Portland ~ Photo of the Week

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Had a quick stopover in Portland last week to visit an old friend, Angus.  Plenty of bridges to document my ongoing Bridge Project, but it was this image of St Johns Watertower that won my photo of the week!
Ironically, this is the 2nd time that this watertower has won!  The last time it was captured via a pinhole camera.  This time I thought I would take “a shot in the dark!”

The wide tower is truly part of the neighborhood, it is approachable from all directions, and has no gate to keep people out.  All are welcome to take in this unique view of an urban park.  How often do you get to gather under a water tower?  Most are 10-20 stories high in the sky with security fences surrounding them.

The tower was built in 1953 by the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel companies and holds over 150,000 gallons of water.  And it has a twin, St Johns is actually home to two of these unique watertowers.
So next time you are in Portland, get a different perspective from under the watertower!

Pyramid Lake at Night ~ Photo of the Week

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What to do in Reno for fun?

First off, I’m sorry.

You can go check out the strip which is like old old old town Vegas, with many of those shuttered $39.95 Neon Hotels no longer flickering. However with Northern Nevada having the largest Basque population in the United States, I highly recommend taking in some delicious Basque food. We had an amazing 5 course meal at Louis’ Basque Corner just off the strip and the double cut lamb chops at the Santa Fe Hotel look scrumdiddlyumptious as well.
After that, I recommend getting out of town. Take Pyramid Way for 30 minutes north and you’ll come to Pyramid Lake. I had been to Pyramid Lake once before, on my way to the Playa for a pre-Burning Man festival. I remember walking along the lake and I getting some great surrealscape shots. The lake is surrounded by mountains and has many tufa formations in and around the lake that enhance the primordial landscape.

Pyramid Lake will probably become a more sought after destination once Apple’s iPad starts shipping in late March. The screensaver on the iPad is a night shot taken on an 8×10 camera in 2004 by Richard Misrach.  I can see it now, Apple will inspire the masses to dust off their 8×10 cameras and flock west. The next time you go to Pyramid Lake, good luck, there will probably be a wall of tripods that you will have to contend with to get your shot!

Now, I like to stay a little ahead of the game. So when I asked for the map of Reno at the rental car office, I had to smile at my luck as to how close Pyramid Lake was to Reno!  The next night a group of us headed out. I can’t really tell you much about the drive through the desert to the lake, except that it was really dark. With only a crescent moon lighting the way high ISOs or real long exposures were going to be the only option.
As we struggled in the dark to find a shooting location we finally stumbled across a marina in Sutcliffe, which ironically looked like a similar location to where Richard Misrach took his photograph. My high ISO test shot didn’t reveal anything good on the back of screen until 30 seconds at 2.8. Normally I like to shoot in the 6-8 minute time zone, but with the star trails circling and reflecting in the lake I definitely wanting to take it a little more extreme. The final product was a 20 minute exposure at f4 and ISO 500 with noise reduction on, which meant I had to wait 40 minutes to see the image! I think it was worth the wait, and what really surprises me about the images is the different colors in the star trails. I have never seen orange and blue star trails before and if anyone can explain it please share. We were all awestruck with the amount of stars that could be viewed. I fired off one more image below that was four minutes long and captures more of that celestial feeling that we got standing at edge of time as the stars shone all around us.

UPDATED ~ From Lance Keimig, night photographer pioneer and educator.

Gabriel- The colors in the stars have to do with their chemical composition and age. The younger, hotter burning ones are bluer, and older, cooler ones are more orange. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s true.

Night Snow ~ Photo of the week

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Snow definitely brought a change to the landscape of New York this week. It snowed all day and night and when I got back to Brooklyn I was inspired to get the tripod out and risk the elements. Wonderful images can be captured in the rain and snow but no matter how weather sealed your camera is it is important to keep your camera dry. I’m a big fan of the kata rain covers which give you full access to your camera and controls while keeping your camera dry.

Lens hoods will also do a great job keeping the elements off the glass of your lens. For the image above I did shoot into the snow so having a lens cloth to dry off the lens in between shots is also helpful. When I was shooting in Pittsburgh last month the temperatures were in the teens and I noticed that my rechargeable batteries were quickly dying. I extended the life of my battery by warming it up in my hands every so often. I’d also advise keeping an extra battery warm in your pockets that you can swap out.
So don’t be afraid to get out in the elements, rain and snow can bring unique reflections and alternative ways of seeing.

Pittsburgh’s North Park Water Tower ~ Photo of the Week

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With the temperatures in the teens, ski masks on, two pairs of gloves, and foot warmers inserted, Tom Persinger and I braved the Pittsburgh nights to see what the full moon would reveal. We started in Pittsburgh’s largest park, North Park. Tom suggested that we check out the old Water Tower, officially called the Allegheny County North Park Water Supply System Standpipe. The only information I can find on this beautiful old tower is what was written on the plaque at the base of the standpipe:
Height of Dome – 101.6 ft
Height of Tank – 81 ft
Diameter of Tank – 35 ft
Storage Capacity – 300,000 gallons
Observation Deck – Elevation 1360.8 ft
Steps from Ground – 154
It was planned in 1935 by Chas. C. McGovern, W.O. Mansfield, and E.M. Barrr.
It was erected two years later, in 1937 by JNO. J. Kane, Geo. Rankin Jr., and Hohn S. Herron. I’ll spare you the controller and county department of works people but it was Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, Project No, PA,1422 0.

The tower is no longer a functioning public works and is open every so often for people to tour and see the observation deck. On this bitter night the gate was locked and as we approached we were surprised to see 50+ cars parked in the lot. What made things even more surreal was that the people getting in or out of the cars were dressed in Medieval costumes. Tom and I figured to have the whole Park to ourselves, but if you are going to share, why not with medieval folk? As it turned out they were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism and were performing a play about St Nicholas at the nearby park and rec building.
“The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our “Known World” consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.”

Anyway aside from dodging the knaves and wenches who were turning on and off their car lights (uhhmmm those aren’t from the pre-17th century), the water tower was amazing to shoot. The image I chose as the photo of the week was shot on the second night. I went back because it was a much clearer night and I wanted to play with star trails against the water tower. Long exposures taken towards the east or west yield longer and straighter star trails then if you were to expose towards the north and south. Knowing this, I found a western angle of the tower and cropped in a slightly abstract way as to get the feeling that the star trails were shooting out of the water tower’s observation deck, which looks a bit like a lighthouse.
On the first night of shooting during the full moon it was overcast during the first half of the evening. Notice the images below that glow purple, they are from the first night. The mixture of the overcast moonlight and sodium vapor lights created a purple color temperature that I embraced.
We decided to photograph the boathouse next, and on our way we saw people playing platform tennis outdoors under floodlights, 10pm and we were lucky if it was 20 degrees out! And when we got to the boathouse another 20 cars were parked outside. As we set up our shots, 20 bundled up people started walking over to us using their ski poles to balance their rapid walk. As it turned out this group was part of Pittsburgh’s Venture Outdoors organization, who were out on a Wolf Moon hike.  The Native Americans call the first Full moon of the year the Wolf Moon “Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages.” It is usually the biggest full moon of the year according to astronomers it is 30% brighter and 14% wider.  This happens because the moon revolves round the Earth in an elliptical orbit and at the time of the wolf moon it comes closer to Earth than usual. Again, ironically they probably thought we were the strange ones taking pictures in the cold!
I’ll be posting some other night images from our Pittsburgh soon, some of Tom’s are already posted here.
And if anyone knows any more information regarding the history of the Allegheny County North Park Water Supply System Standpipe please share.