More Help for Hurricane Victims

A few more charities have come to my attention, so I thought I would make another post. Click here to see the organizations I promoted earlier this week. Many groups are asking for cash donations to help with rebuilding. Food and other supplies are great but storage is limited, especially in the areas like Rockport that were hit the hardest, so cash might be more beneficial at this time.

Once again, I’m trying my hardest to focus on small organizations where more of your dollars will go to those who have been hit the hardest. One of the things I dislike about large non-profits, like the Red Cross, is that so much money goes to marketing and bloated CEO salaries and not to the people who really need it.

The Houston Zoo’s Harvey Relief Fund–The Houston Zoo created this fund to help employees who have suffered losses. Thankfully the zoo itself only suffered minor losses.

Homeland Preparedness Project–This group is currently operating three shelters in Brazoria County and supporting shelters in neighboring Fort Bend County. (This is their homepage.)

Walker County Long Term Recovery Committee–This is run by volunteers in Walker County, Texas, to help community members recover after disasters.

Harvey Helpers 2017–They seem to be collecting donations for many communities. The link is for their Facebook page, where they request whatever is needed.

Brazoria County Dream Center–A community outreach center dedicated to helping people in Brazoria County with their basic needs. They’re currently helping out with hurricane victims, but they operate year-round to provide food, school supplies, and other things to people in need.

Rockport-Fulton Good Samaritans–I’ve heard that they’re collecting donations and supplies for hurricane victims, but I believe they also operate year-round to help those who are in need. Rockport is one of the towns that was hit the hardest.

Please note that if you live in any of the affected areas, one of the best things you can give is your time. Volunteer to help out in the shelters or to help with rebuilding efforts. In most areas, you can contact places like their Chamber of Commerce, Volunteer Fire Department, or City Hall, to find out how to volunteer. Also consider spending your money at locally owned businesses as much as possible, rather than big box stores, to help support people in these communities.

And just like last time, none of this is of any personal benefit to me. I just wanted to do something to help out. Please share this post with your friends, and comment if you know of any other organizations that I didn’t list here. Thank you!

 

Travel

I travel because I dream of touching the horizon.

The mountains call to me. “Come here,” they say, “And we will help you touch the sky.”

The waves whisper secrets as they kiss the pebbled shore. They tell stories of foreign lands and leave treasures in their wake.

In the forests, I find worlds both large and small, as well as the creatures that call them home.

The cities are filled with color and innovation. It’s a different kind of energy that is both exhilarating and draining.

Why do you travel?

Oh Deer

I decided to take a break from photography basics today. I’m hoping I’ll be back next Friday with a post to wrap up my exposure series, but it just wasn’t happening this week. To make a long story short, I was involved in a car accident earlier this week. I don’t know when I’ll have a vehicle again, so right now I don’t have a good way to get out and take photos. Luckily I have plenty of archived photos that I can share with you in the meantime.

My husband’s grandparents fell in love with Orcas Island back in the 90s (how weird is that to say–back in the 90s. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago to me; I guess my age is showing.) and his grandmother still lives there today. We go to visit her as often as we can and it’s just an amazing place–there’s great food, friendly people, and the scenery and wildlife are perfect for photographers.

I found all these photos of deer when I was going through my archives trying to find something for today, and I thought it would be fun just to feature them since there are so many.

I hope you enjoy the photos! I’ll be back next week with more. Have a great weekend.

Mead’s Quarry

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about packing up and moving here. The last time I lived in a large city was when I went to college in San Antonio. It was so crowded and dirty and I just hated it. The part of town where I lived was pretty rough, unlike the polished tourist areas around the Alamo and the Riverwalk. Vandalism and burglary were regular occurrences in my neighborhood and after witnessing one really bad incident, I was afraid to even go outside. I basically hid in my apartment until the school year was over and I could transfer to a college in a smaller, quieter town. And then I stayed there for the next 10 years.

So far, the Knoxville I’ve seen doesn’t intimidate me the way San Antonio did. I don’t know if it’s because Knoxville is actually a kinder place or if it’s just because I’ve grown older and, dare I say it, wiser, since that time, but I’m certainly more comfortable here. There are neighborhoods that are run-down and places that I’ve been cautioned to avoid, but overall it’s not so bad. Downtown seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance; lots of old landmarks and buildings are being restored and that just suits me to a T. I’ve dreamed of renovating an old farmhouse or Victorian home for years, so I love seeing people breathing new life into these old buildings.

But even all the restoration isn’t the best thing about Knoxville.

My favorite part is all the green space. There are so many parks and Ijams Nature Center is just loaded with things to do. It makes Knoxville feel like less of an urban sprawl to a small town person like me. I got up early Monday morning and decided to explore a part of the park that I hadn’t visited yet. Of course I brought my camera.

I specifically wanted to take more practice shots with my 75-300mm lens. I do pretty well with my other two, but this one is still giving me headaches sometimes. As you can see.

I think I was too close. I would have been standing in the road if I had been any farther away, though.

I think I have a habit of getting in too close. This is a big lens and its strength seems to be focusing on things that are fairly far away. Luckily I’m a lazy hiker and wanted to stay on the path, so I had plenty of opportunities to shoot for things that were not so close to the trail I was following.

Surely it’s too early for pumpkins?! I do love that bright color against all the green, though.
These flowers were pretty far off the path, but my lens brought them into focus pretty well.

I brought all my lenses with me, and I have to admit that the temptation to switch from the unfamiliar 75-300mm to my trusty 50mm was very strong. But I tried to stick with the big guy for the most part because I’m never going to get comfortable with it if I don’t use it.

I’m not a fan of up close and personal time with bees or other insects. So here’s where this lens really shines for me.

 

Mead’s Quarry. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I did decide to switch to the 50mm when I got to the quarry. It seems to be better for those wide landscape shots and I wanted to show them off as much as my abilities and equipment will allow. This is the side of Knoxville I was talking about when I mentioned all the restoration going on–this quarry was converted into a lake with gorgeous views; you can fish or rent boats, part of it is sectioned off for swimming, and there’s even a trail to hike. It’s also a great place to look for wildlife.

Taken from the same spot as above, but with the 50mm lens. There’s just a little…more. Idk how to describe the reasons why, but I like this shot better.

I walked around the quarry for a while, and then reattached the 75-300mm lens and walked back to my car. What a hike! The way back to the Ijams Visitor Center, where I parked, is mostly uphill. I’m not used to these inclines yet, and I’m big-time out of shape right now after having surgery on both legs earlier this year, so I didn’t take many photos on the way back.

I noticed this fungus when I stopped to take a little break on the walk back. I had to do some editing afterward to get the exposure just right, but I think it looks good.
Decommissioned railroad tracks that run through Ijams. This photo is slightly underexposed, but I left it as-is because I love the dark, mysterious look.

I feel so fortunate to have a place like Ijams here in Knoxville. Driving in the mountains makes me horribly carsick, so it’s hard to get out of town on my own and do anything. Luckily there are lots of great sights downtown and plenty of green spaces to explore. Check back on Friday for the next part of my photography basics series. We’ll be talking about aperture again, and I hope to have lots of shots to share! In the meantime, please be sure to give this post a like and a share on Facebook. Thanks everyone!

Test shots and fun

Wow! I guess people really were interested in articles about photography basics. Friday’s post has the highest traffic of any page on this site! How cool is that? I’ll be back on Friday to talk a little bit about how shutter speed affects your exposure, but today is sort of a lazy day for me. I wanted to keep Wednesdays just for fun (although I’m thinking about bumping these back to Tuesdays just to space things out a little).

Taken through a special solar filter. I’m getting all geared up for that eclipse, y’all!

Yesterday, I posted this photo to Facebook and asked you all to guess what it was. It’s the sun! I’m super excited about the solar eclipse next month, and I got a special filter for my camera so I can take photos! If you’re planning on watching the eclipse, please be sure to get some eclipse glasses to protect your eyes. I had to get a filter for the camera to protect its sensor, too. I need to practice with it a bit more so I can get some clear photos when the time comes.

A goldfinch? I’m not sure.

While I was testing my solar filter, I also just took some shots with my 75-300mm lens, which is the one I’m tentatively planning to use for the eclipse. I’m not really used to it yet, and it definitely has some quirks that my other lenses don’t. I’ll probably be using it a lot over the next few weeks, just to get a feel for how it works.

I was surprised to find apple trees at a public park. How pretty!
Another test shot

I had hoped to get out over the weekend and check out a few potential eclipse viewing spots, but I just didn’t get a chance. Where I live, we’ll get a 99% partial eclipse. A short drive will put me into the totality zone. Obviously I want the full experience, but I’m not familiar with this part of the country. I need to find a good place to go, and I have a few spots I want to check out before next month.

I did get out to the botanical garden and downtown over the weekend. You’ll see a lot of those shots on Friday, but I can share a few of them here today.

This is the full version of the flower from today’s header. I thought a little editing might be fun for a change.
I don’t know what this is, but I love this color.
Gay Street after dark. I love the lights and theater signs (and the ice cream shop down the road).

That’s it for today! Are any of you planning to watch the eclipse? Let me know what you have planned! And of course, check back on Friday to see the next post in my photography basics series.

 

Random summer photodump

I got a new lens last week (a Canon 75-300mm for anyone curious) and spent the weekend testing it, as well as practicing with the 50mm lens that I’ve had for a while. I don’t feel like I have enough experience with either of them yet to give you a thorough review, so I thought I’d just upload some photos today.

I’m really pleased with this batch; I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvement in a short amount of time. My ratio of good to bad pictures is getting higher every time I go out to shoot and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of what all those numbers on my display mean. I hope everyone here is noticing some improvement over my earlier posts as well.

I’m also doing a lot of work behind the scenes, so to speak, planning future posts and doing research on both my camera equipment and upcoming local events. I have a list of things I’d like to try out at some point, and I think some of it is going to be really exciting stuff. I’m also starting a new series of basic photography advice, which will run on Fridays starting this week. If there’s anything you’d like to see in a future post, please leave a comment and let me know!

Cades Cove

Visiting Cades Cove is like stepping back in time. The structures in the valley date back to the 19th century, and the mountain scenery makes it feel like today’s fast-paced world is hundreds of years away.

A 19th century cabin at Cades Cove
A cabin at Cades Cove

My husband and I decided to make the trek from Knoxville after some friends suggested it might be a good place to see bears. We weren’t lucky enough to see any of the bears that make their home in the area, but we did enjoy exploring the old cabins and churches, and the loop road itself is an easy drive one-way around the valley. Admission is free, although there are several donation boxes and a gift shop. There is only one stop that has a public restroom.

We didn’t stop at every marker along the loop, but I did take photos of a few of the remaining buildings and some of the scenery. There were a lot of tourists, though, so it was hard to get pictures that don’t have people in them. I plan to go back sometime in the fall when the leaves are changing and kids are in school, probably on a weekday, and try again.

19th century log cabin in Cades Cove
The same cabin as above, from a different angle
Baptist church in Cades Cove
A Baptist church. One of three primitive churches in the Cove.
Smoky Mountains
Smoky Mountains in the distance
Smoky Mountains
Another shot of the mountains

We were also lucky to see some wildlife, even if none of the bears in the area put in an appearance. According to a park ranger, there are two mother bears with two cubs each that have been spotted frequently around Cades Cove this season. We did see several deer, a wild turkey, many other birds, fish, and snakes. Most of our sightings were from the car and I was driving, so photos were out.

The exception was when I almost wandered into a nest of snakes along the banks of a creek. Trust me, this photo was taken from a distance. There are only two species of venomous snakes in this part of the country–copperheads and rattlesnakes–and though these (probably rat snakes) don’t fall into that category, it’s still not wise to approach wild animals.

Also, there were at least four of them in that place. I took one picture and got out of their territory; I didn’t realize until later that I didn’t get all of the snakes in the shot, but that’s okay by me!

Snakes in Cades Cove
A pair of snakes

Looking back, I wish I had focused more on the scenery and less on the structures. I also wish I had brought my tripod and focused more on getting clear shots and less on what the people around me are doing. I’ll be sure to keep all of that that in mind for my next visit. And fingers crossed, we’ll see some bears!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Please be sure to like and share this with your friends!

Summer fun, part 2

Last week, I posted about my visit to Rock City and promised to share photos from another location we visited in that area, Ruby Falls. We got a double play pass when we visited Rock City, so Ruby Falls was included in the ticket. Since I already told you all how we ended up in the area in last week’s post, today is just going to be another photo dump. Enjoy!

 

 

Tips:
The double play is a really good idea if you want to see more than one attraction on Lookout Mountain. They have other deals if you want to visit even more locations, like the train, but we were really just interested in Rock City and Ruby Falls. Do a little research before your trip and figure out which is best for you.
Go to Rock City when they open in the morning. Save Ruby Falls for the afternoon; it’s cooler underground, so you’ll be able to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.
Don’t bother with a tripod at Ruby Falls. Although it would be nice to have for pictures, you’ll be with a big tour group down inside a cavern; there’s limited space to set it up and someone might trip.
Have fun!

 

As always, if you enjoy what you see here, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. You can also like my page on Facebook for more photos and updates. See you next time!

Summer fun

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post.The opinions here are my own and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Rock City.

Back in April, before I even started this blog, I had to take a trip to Texas to do some work on the house that my husband and I are trying to sell. I made it a point to visit my grandma while I was there and my aunt, who was her primary caregiver, suggested that my cousins and I get together and go through Grandma’s curio cabinet.

Grandma and Grandpa traveled a LOT, both when he was serving in the military and after he retired, and most of the curios in the cabinet were souvenirs they had picked up on their trips. Among other things, Grandma had a small collection of bells she had bought at various tourist traps over the years. My cousins and I divided them up among ourselves, picking and choosing from places we had visited or stories that were important to us for whatever reason, and putting any extras into a pile for Goodwill or a yard sale later.

One of the bells had a rock formation painted on it along with the words “Lover’s Leap.” No location, no other information, just the usual Made in China label on the inside. Nobody had ever heard of it, so we looked it up. Turns out Lover’s Leap is part of a larger tourist attraction, called Rock City, that’s just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s just across the state line, so even though it’s just a few minutes outside Chattanooga, it’s actually in Georgia.

I added the bell to my pile; the following weekend, when I got back to Tennessee, my husband and I made the drive down to Rock City. If it was a place Grandma had been, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

And what a sight it was.

It was a delightful day, and although I only had my phone with me and not my camera, I got a lot of ideas for pictures I want to take on a future visit. I probably won’t go back until sometime in the fall, when the summer heat and tourist crowds have died down somewhat, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. By that time, I should have enough experience with my DSLR to get some really great shots.

I hadn’t planned to write about this trip since it happened before I started Saga Shots, but my local newspaper mentioned this list on their Facebook page yesterday and it looked so good that I wanted to share it with you all. Rock City is GoBankingRates.com’s America the Beautiful bucket list entry for Georgia, and for good reason. It’s actually one of several tourist sites on Lookout Mountain, all of which would be great for photos or a family vacation. Next week, I’ll share the photos I took at one of the other Lookout Mountain tourist destinations, Ruby Falls. Until then, please leave me a comment and share this with your friends!

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post. The opinions here are my own, and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It’s really just my observations and photos from a day trip my husband and I took a couple of weeks ago.

I meant to post this sooner, but then family stuff happened and I didn’t have the time or the energy to figure out exactly what I wanted to say here, and how I wanted to say it.

Not too long ago, my husband and I took a trip to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys in Gatlinburg. We’re new to Tennessee, and we try to get out and do tourist things when we have the time and funds. Because how else are we going to get to know anything about the area?

I love aquariums and zoos, and animals in general, so I was really excited to go. The last time I went to an aquarium, aside from the little one they have at the Houston Zoo, was several years ago on a trip to Seattle (2011-ish, I think), before I got my DSLR. Most of the pictures I have from that time are either super blurry, super noisy, or both.

So bad I’m embarrassed to upload this…

I was really excited to see what I could do with a more powerful camera than the point-and-shoot I had with me back then.

As you can see, my expectations were much higher than my actual abilities.

I started out shooting with my 50mm lens, but it just wasn’t working for me and there were so many people (so, so many pushy kids!) that I was uncomfortable taking the time to figure out what I needed to do to get good shots. So I switched to my kit lens, which I’m more accustomed to using. That helped some, but something was still not working out. The light was wrong, I kept getting reflections off the tanks, photos were blurry or noisy or too dark…Between the camera issues and the crowds, I was getting so frustrated that I just wasn’t enjoying myself. It wasn’t a total bust–I did get a few good shots, and even the bad ones were better than the point-and-shoot photos from Seattle, but it wasn’t what I had been hoping to achieve.

 

I ended up putting my camera away and getting my phone out instead. I have a Google Pixel, and I love it. On a good day, I do get better photos with the DSLR than the phone. It’s usually worth the effort to take the time to figure out what I need to do to get those shots with my camera. However, given that the aquarium tickets were not cheap and I don’t get many days like that to spend with my husband, I think I made the right choice. Sometimes it’s important to take the easy route and just have fun.

Overall I enjoyed the aquarium, but I would recommend skipping the glass-bottom boat ride; it’s an extra $10/person and just not worth it. They take you a lap around the shark lagoon and the bottom of the boat was so dirty that it’s hard to see much, let alone take pictures. Plus it’s next to impossible to get a shot without somebody’s feet in the way. So…yeah. Not really my thing.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my aquarium adventure! Tune in next time (probably Friday) for more photos. In the meantime, please be sure to give this a like and share with your friends if you enjoyed it. Thanks, everyone!