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.

Photography basics: ISO

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve taken one great shot after another only to get home and realize that the photos are all pixellated and grainy-looking when you pull them up on your computer? If so, there’s a pretty good chance that your ISO was high. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had several cameras and phones that would consistently give me grainy photos when I was shooting indoors on Auto. In today’s photography basics post, we’re going to take a look at ISO and what you can do to about it.

ISO is an acronym that stands for International Organization for Standardization. It’s a standardized scale for measuring your camera’s sensitivity to light; in the olden days, this actually had to do with the kind of film you were using. You can read more about that here since I’m focusing on digital photography. In the digital world, ISO determines how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. A higher ISO makes it more sensitive, so you can take photos with a high shutter speed or with a small aperture in low light. However, ISO also introduces noise to your images, which can be undesirable.

I zoomed in on this one so the noise would be more apparent. Click to see the full version.

The noise comes from the way your camera’s sensor works. A high ISO setting causes it to group pixels together, which is what creates those grainy off-color dots you see in a noisy photo. Cameras with larger sensors tend to have more pixels and smoother images in low light. Full frame cameras, which have sensors the same size as a 35mm film frame, are really good for shooting smooth images at higher ISO settings. Of course, a full frame camera is going to set you back more than a few pennies…It may not be worth the investment if you don’t have money burning a hole in your pocket and you’re not inclined to go pro. Newer cameras (say those made within the last 3 years or so) also get better low-light photos than older cameras; they’re designed to reduce the amount of noise and give the grain aesthetic appeal.

In my experience, I got a lot of noisy photos when I was only shooting in auto. Since I’ve switched to manual and taken control of my exposure, I rarely have issues with noise anymore because I try to keep my ISO setting as low as possible. Sometimes it’s unavoidable depending on what you’re trying to photograph, though.

Typical situations where you might want a higher ISO setting are indoor sporting events, concerts (make sure photography is permitted before you go), caves, nighttime or overcast outdoor shoots, or anywhere you need to take a quick picture but just don’t have enough light. Extremely long exposures can also create noise by causing your camera’s sensor to overheat–which is another reason you need to make time to really learn the strengths and weaknesses of your gear. A flash will help but it can also make your images look harsh or washed out, and some places don’t allow flash photography, so it’s not always the best way to go.

Here are a few examples. I took these pictures at the Lost Sea Adventure, a cave in Sweetwater, TN.

This formation was well lit already, but shooting with a low ISO was still too dark. Flash helped to brighten things up a bit more and it doesn’t look too washed out.

 

Anthodites on the cave ceiling. The noise example above is a zoom-in on this shot.
The sea itself is stocked with rainbow trout. Again, you can see the graininess in the water that’s due to the high ISO setting.

Later, I’d like to come back to this subject and talk in detail about things that can be done to reduce the amount of noise that’s present in photos taken with a high ISO setting. For now, I’m just going to give you a few bullet points.

  • Newer cameras have some built in noise reduction, and if your camera is less than about 3 years old, this post may be irrelevant to you. But if you’re a dinosaur like me, there are things you can do without shelling out the big bucks to replace your camera. I mean, unless you just want to buy another camera. (Don’t we all? I like my T3, but I’d looooove to upgrade to a full frame).
  • Keep your shutter speed as low as possible and your aperture as wide as possible.
  • Use a tripod and shutter remote.
  • Consider shooting in black and white instead of color.
  • Shoot in RAW whenever you can. JPEG files are already compressed and inherently contain noise called JPEG artifacts. I have my camera set up to record images as both a RAW (CR2) file and a JPEG. The downside to shooting in RAW is that you have to convert the files before you can upload them anywhere, and a lot of low end editing software and web apps don’t support the RAW format.
  • Edit. I can’t help you much with this one at this time, but you can find tutorials online if you look. The laptop I have right now doesn’t support Photoshop or Lightroom very well. When I upgrade to a better system, I’ll go over this in more detail. I know there are people who criticize photographers for editing photos, but I think some editing is just a part of the process. Authors don’t get criticized for editing their books. How is cleaning up some noise any different than ironing out spelling errors or bad dialogue?

I think that’s all I’ve got for today. Next week, I’m planning to spend a little time going over the math behind the elements of exposure and the relationships they have with each other and with your camera’s sensor. It’s going to be a little more advanced, but I’m hoping it won’t be confusing if you read my other posts first (links in case you missed them: exposure, shutter speed, aperture). In the meantime, please make sure you share this with your friends! Do you have any questions for me? Is there a topic you’d like to see me cover as part of my basics series? Please let me know by leaving a comment below. Thank you!

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!

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!

Street photography

There’s something really special about street photography. At its essence, it’s honest and very pure to me; a good street photo captures a moment in time that can never be repeated. It’s candid, raw, and often imperfect–just like life itself.

Dog riding in car; Seattle 2011
When I first spotted this dog, he was resting his head on the mirror; he had moved by the time I got my camera up, but I still love the picture.

This is what I mean–it’s not a perfect shot; the dog should have been a little more to the left of the frame, and it’s blurry too. But it’s a slice of everyday life, one of those funny moments that will never come around again. Seconds after I took that picture, they were gone.

Humans of New York is one of my favorite examples of street photography. Their work is more thoughtful and composed than I think is typical of the classification, but it’s just so beautiful. I love the stories they tell. I’m not up for taking lots of pictures of people yet–I am intensely uncomfortable around strangers–so I generally tend to focus on things like architectural details, street art installations, landscaping, and whatever else catches my eye.

autumn leaves
A leaf peeks out of the hood of someone’s coat.

 

Heart in a tree
A heart-shaped hole in a tree. The tree is probably still there, but I might never see it again.

 

Waikiki Rainbow
A beautiful rainbow over a jogging path in the Waikiki area of Honolulu.

 

Pulse chalk art memorial
Chalk art in downtown Knoxville on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting

Tips:
Be aware of local laws regarding photographing people (especially children) and buildings; don’t get yourself in trouble
Don’t sweat it if your photos aren’t perfectly composed when you’re first starting out. Try to get your exposure right and let everything else fall into place.
Plan in advance and try to keep your gear down to the essentials. If you’re walking all day, do you really want to lug your whole kit along with you?
Be aware of your surroundings; bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable going alone.
Have fun and enjoy the sights.

I’m sure I’ll have more street photos for you in the future. In the meantime, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. For my readers in the US, have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend! I’ll see you next week. 🙂

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!