Been & Going

[Desert Droppings] Another Desert – Another Passover

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Lucky for Moses, all he had to do was free the Israelites from Egypt, part the Red Sea, and listen to their kvetching for 40 years in the desert…oh, and get the Ten Commandments. Moses didn’t have to orchestrate a Passover Desert- 040115- mosescelebration for the “chosen people ” who turned out to be pretty choosy when it came to their desert lifestyle. “What?! Manna from Heaven, again!” “Oy, another day of hot, dry, and dusty!” “Who made Moses the boss, anyway?”
Although Moses was forced to re-check the Tablets in the hope of finding “Thou shalt not whine” on there somewhere, he didn’t have to meld centuries  of Passover tradition with modern mishagas.
It starts with cleaning. Spic n’ Span pales beside Spoon n’ Feather.  The Passover custom is to rid the whole house of every crumb of non- Passover food (called hametz), like bagels, Oreos, Cheerios, and Spaghetti Os. Before Passover can officially begin, we’re told to search the house for any leftover bits of chametz, poking about with the feather, sweeping stray crumbs onto the spoon, and burning them. And who is supposed to scour the house so that there’s hardly a chametz crumb to be found? Not the Rabbis who for centuries pondered and produced these customs, but the hapless, harried housewives of the Shtetl! As Tevye sang to Mrs. Tevye while she scuttled about checking that no piece of schmutz had been passed – over, “Tradition! Tradition!”

And then there’s the food. Those of you who live in east and west coast cities with pro sports teams and large Jewish populations can stop reading right now  and go back to scrubbing and Swiffering. You can find shelves of Passover food at your neighborhood supermarket – no problem!
But, here in ABQ, where a few descendants of those ancient Israelites have settled in another desert, rounding up the Passover staples  is a challenge that makes the Exodus look like a romp along the Nile. Although ABQ supermarkets have been awash in purple bunnies, marshmallow chicks, and spiral hams since Valentine’s Day, Passover items appear in tiny end-of-aisle displays of random Jewish fare assembled by some corporate intern in the product distribution department who vaguely recalls the Passover Seders she yawned through at Grandma’s house.
So, with Passover shopping list in hand, I went determinedly from store to store  – here a box, there a can, is that Cal Seething- 040115- gfreematzognarled thing a horseradish root? Oh look! Gluten free matza made from potato starch, tapioca starch, palm oil, vinegar, honey, and egg yolks. Ewww! Could the “Bread of Affliction” be any more afflicted? And potato pancake mix? What is this, Hanukkah?!

Suddenly, right in the middle of my marathon shopping schlep,what should arrive  in my mailbox, but a Wegman’s Passover Food Catalogue sent by a family member who lives outside of Boston. Now while Massachusetts may have winters that last from October to May with outrageous accumulations of snow that only a polar bear could love, it does have Wegman’s. Another family member from Metro DC describes Wegman’s as the Disney World of supermarkets (minus the measles, of course.) Although I’ve never set foot in Wegman’s, for a long time I’ve been following family members’ comments on Facebook.  “We grabbed Chinese from Wegman’s international buffet.” and “Wegman’s has the freshest baby octopus tentacles for sushi.” and “Who needs Whole Foods, when you have Wegman’s with its three aisles of gluten-free foods.”
And for Passover- don’t ask! The catalogue was bursting with such Seder ready selections as
plus a recipe for Potato Latkes with Salmon and Cream Cheese!Desert- 040115- wegmans
But for me in the ABQ wilderness, Wegman’s is as distant as the Promised Land was for my Israelite cousins many times removed and I don’t have forty years to meander through ABQ supers searching in nooks and crannies for foods to fill the Seder table. I don’t even have  40 days! Passover guests are arriving…Soon!  Passover guests with wheat allergies, peanut allergies, extreme aversion to green veggies, gefilte fish phobia.
And remember the spoon and feather, clean – every- corner thing? Well, should I throw out this stack of newspapers dating from September or clear out that cupboard full of cottage cheese containers that just look sooooo potentially useful? Decisions! Decisions!
Did I mention that guests are coming SOON? Lots of  guests! Do you think I could throw a towel over this old shower bench and use it as a table for the vegetable kugel and salt water?
And what about dragging in the big table from the garage and putting it in the center of the living room, with the kitchen table in the hall, and then use the bookcase  for the brisket  and wine bottles?  Wine! Holy Moses! I still haven’t found any! Would Barefoot Chardonay….?
No! No! Gotta get the Manischewitz.
Ok, folks. Gotta run.
However you celebrate spring – with a roasted egg, a Cadbury cream egg, or some vegan vaguely egg- like substitute, Desert- 040115- wineenjoy!
If you are fortunate enough to live near Wegman’s, raise a glass of their Israeli Barkan Classic Pinot Noir to us desert dwellers.

[Images from the Id] Competition or How Thick Is Your Skin?

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Images from the Id -. Competition or How Thick Is Your Skin?

Photography is a strange way of life. To paraphrase Edison to the extreme, who by the way I have less respect for than history does,tThe best photograph is 99% (perspiration)  in the mind and physical work and 1% in the equipment used (genius). My point is not so much in the numbers but in the leap of awareness that must be taken to achieve the goal of better images. Better still, here are some guidelines.

1- Make a cognitive decision as to what you want to do or accomplish. I have could call these “goals” or worse, a “mission plan” but I think this is different, it is more general. It could be practical and specific but make it a challenge

2 – Get the best equipment you can to support your vision. You may be surprised how simple or complex this may be. For example: to shoot people and street scenes sometimes even an iPhone or the smart phone may be enough. Shooting wildlife is another story and you will have to consider a DSLR and a telephoto lens. Take care not to get cheap junk, that 1000 mm lens advertised for $200 is worthless and if you expect quality results in this area be prepared for the expense of decent equipment. Camera $1000-2000 make sure it has simple fast adjustments. I like the Nikon D7100 or the Canon 7D Mk II. Both are ASP-C sensors giving an extra boast in magnification. Lens can go anywhere from $1000 to $10,000. You can get an excellent one $1000-3000 I use the Nikon 80mm – 400mm at $2800 it is amazing for most needs. You can get the older version for about $1200 and it is a nice lens just a little slower to focus. Canon has a similar lens too.

3 – Learn your equipment. Practice, practice, practice. Take thousands of shots preparing for the one and only chance.

4 – Learn the software. There are several ways to go here. If you are really serious spend the $9.99/month for the Adobe Photographer’s Package. It is a deal. Take the time to learn Lightroom correctly from the beginning. There are other ways. You cannot get by without processing skills.

5 – Join a club. This is probably one of the most important things to do early in your schedule. Pick a club with monthly presentations,competitions and critiques. You work will improve 10 times faster with instruction and get a thicker skin for others impression of your work. It also helps you make connections with other photographers and get involved in other activities.

Actually, the last is the place to start. You might be surprised where you end up.

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Image #1 – “ Common Loon”  This image is an example of practice and a good lens. I thought it was a Canada Goose and I always practice shooting these just for that one chance it is special. The image is pushed to its limits. I got about 20 shots as it flew in, most of them good. Exposure,depth of field and motion are well done. Taken with a Nikon D7100,1/5000 sec, f/5.6, 0 EV, ISO 400, 0 EV, 400/600 mm

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Image #2  – “Caiman Lizard” Shot with the Nikon D7100. The San Diego Zoo is not my favorite zoo for photography. Try Albuquerque. This has won several awards in captive animal competitions. The difficulty here is the dark conditions of the Reptile house. One thing nice about San Diego is the Reptile House is partly in the open which sometimes helps, sometimes causes huge contrast problems and sometimes just makes it impossible to shoot. A tripod is out of the question. 1/15 sec, f/6.7 need a little depth of field, -1 EV rot help push the shot, ISO 800, 105/157 mm (a fixed focal length “prime” macro lens). Extensive processing in Lightroom

[Images from the Id] – So You Got the Camera, Now What?

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Images from the Id – So You Got the Camera, Now What?

Oh, my aching back! After two weeks of growling at a pulled muscle I am finally functioning. I am glad this doesn’t happen often.

There is a certain responsibility which arrives with a new camera which is probably the most ignored factor in learning to become a good photographer. As a friend of mine says RTM – Read The Manual.  I don’t blame the photographer alone for this problem. I got a Nikon D 300 several years ago and the manual was over 400 pages, my new D 750 has 523 pages and those are just the English manuals! Now, I have trouble with anything over 20 pages. It’s a lack of concentration combined with a let’s get on with it attitude. I tend to fall asleep if the material is not a good mystery or Sci-fi. Luckily most of the manuals for the better cameras have great indices and tables of contents so a “how do I do this?”, approach can work well. You do need to take the time to get familiar with the manual and the look at some specific things you will need. To add to the insult our new Prius has 5 manuals from 20 pages to 450 pages. Is it really realistic to say, “Read the manual”? Let’s see, maybe I am trying to set the bar high or impossible. It’s time for a different approach.

Start by deciding which thing you must know to start getting the camera working. Second, decide how you want the camera to work for you. To get the thing to work you need to turn it on, charge the battery, format the memory card(s),  and find the button that takes a picture. That is just the beginning. Assuming you want to be a photographer, not just take snapshots and you got a camera that will keep up with your learning curve, there are a lot more you need to know. Most manufactures print a “Quick Start Manual” and they can be a great start. Take the Prius Quick Start manual. It sent me to 5 pages in the Owner’s Manual to set a radio station or something. Use the quick start as a guide to, of course, get started but also for your list. Here is my beyond the basics list to give you some ideas. 1) How is image quality selected and what does it mean? 2) How do I change ISO? 3) How do I Select the mode? (I like Aperture for beginners) 4) focusing mode? 5) Focusing area? 6) Exposure mode and area? 7) What’s VR or IS? (Hey that’s the lens) 8) Other, more than can be counted.

Another way is to think about what you want to do then look up how to do it. Example, How to I control depth of field? Research it and use the index. This work OK except there are many things in the manual you would never think of.

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Image #1 – “ The Christmas Bridge”  Getting great shots of night lights is harder than you think. First requirement is a tripod to allow more choices of exposure and depth of field. The Nikon D750 has unbelievable low light performance and dynamic range. This was at Hudson Gardens Littleton CO. 8 sec, f/13 for Depth of Field (DoF), -2 EV to keep the lights down, ISO 100, 86 mm ( the D 750 is a full frame camera)

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Image #2  – “Moon set at Albuquerque” This is a single shoot with no compositing. The exposure must be perfect for this dynamic range. Taken with the D  7100. 1/1000 sec, f/7.1 for DoF to get both moon and ballon in focus, ISO 400, – 2/3 EV, 112 mm/168 mm crop factor for the smaller sensor,


[Desert Droppings] My Four Thankfuls – Skeletons, Chile, CNN, and You

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Let’s see…according to the Bosses of Been and Going Thanksgiving posts are encouraged to be “angry and political.” Well, so much for my cheery nostalgic look at Thanksgivings past, when huge golden-brown turkeys were cooked by someone other than me; when cranberry sauce with high fructose corn syrup was a staple; and gluten- free stuffing wasn’t even a glimmer in Whole Foods’ eye (and Whole Foods wasn’t even a glimmer in a super market world ruled by A&P markets.)Desert- 113014-tgiving
I guess it’s good-bye to Norman Rockwell and say hello to the new normal November where Bill Cosby is an alleged sleaze; Darren walked; Ferguson burned; and according to Yahoo News,  the polluted Great Lakes are turning to jelly; HIV is out of control in the US; a nor’easter is headed to, where else, the Northeast; and Angelina Jolie is considering a political career  (Lara Croft for Congress?).  Kind of a thankless scene, but definitely a nod to ” angry and political.”

C’mon. Whatever happened to over the river and through the mall and all that? Let’s look on the bright side. “Desert Droppings” is, after all, a product of Albuquerque, where snow’s not likely; my cage-free, antibiotic – free, turkey hind quarter is roasting; and my fridge is bursting with a soon- to- be – prepared cornucopia of organic produce thanks to family generosity and Skarsgard Farms.
Looking back, when I first encountered ABQ, I found several things puzzling. Why did all these houses appear to be made of beige Play-Do awaiting a final layer of bricks or siding?
What natural disaster had turned front lawns into expanses of gravel, rocks, and prickly weeds? And why did gift shops have all sorts of skeleton trinkets that were cute rather than creepy?
I was quickly enlightened about Adobe architecture ( no bricks or siding ever!), xeriscaping (those rocks and spiky plants were Desert-113014-nmmagazinemeticulously placed and paid for ), and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a joyful, early November celebration of Mexican origin which honors the Dear Departed. Parades, colorful altars adorned with items reflecting the personality of the deceased, and a rich array of traditional foods happily commemorate Day of the Dead. Imagine feasting on round loaves of sweet pan de muerto, sugar skull candies, and skull shaped cookies!
Make Thankful #1 – ABQ’s unique, fun, multi- cultural milieu which includes this light-hearted, gone but not forgotten, tribute to the Grim Reaper.
And no, Day of the Dead is not a sneaky lead- in to a burst of The Walking Dead fan talk…
Yes! It is! As TWD Season #5 has taught us DON’T TRUST ANYBODY! “Cooks,” clergy, cops, care providers, scientists, they allDesert-113014-beth LIE! TWD mid- season finale coming up. Get Carol and Beth outta there! Fight Walkers! Fear Humans! Runnnnnnnn!

We now return you to Thanksgiving DD- style already in progress.

From sweet to spicy – ( Yes, I’m writing this on an empty stomach!)  On the East Coast, I was never a particular fan of hot peppers, but they’re such a NM staple, I decided to try timid tastes at first, just a tongue tip of mild Desert Gardens brand Roasted Garlic and Olive salsa (  then a cracker full. Now, I eat it for breakfast along with O’Hara’s Holy Habanero  jelly and avocado sandwiches  (  and picante sauce on rice cakes. This summer, we raised a bumper crop of green chile peppers ( which redden when left on the vine). I dried a few just for fun and saved a bagful in the vegetable cooler to be added to winter salads, Desert-113014-chilissoups, and spreads.
Not a big thing really, chile peppers, but sometimes it’s the cheerful small stuff that really counts. Trust me!
NM chile peppers – Thankful #2

Coming after down home (or down casa) skull cake and chiles, the next “Thankful” thing defies a segue. It’s CNN and its 24 hour news cycle. What?! No, really. For several weeks, Dish cable company and Ted Turner were feuding over the billions in fees that Dish owed Ted that Dish felt were detrimental to its bottom line and to its customers whom Dish prefers to gouge all on its own. Our CNN channel said, “Removed by Ted Turner,” like he had personally blocked CNN’s satellite beams or whatever from each individual Dish customer’s rooftop. Dish substituted MSNBC for CNN- bad idea! Every time I checked for a glimpse of breaking news, there was a program on prison life with a smirking tattooed hulk in neon orange, describing in nauseating detail why he or she was totally justified in eviscerating his/her ex.
The worst part was that without CNN, I didn’t know what looming threats to national and international well being I had to worry about. Were Ebola carriers lurking in ABQ malls?
Was ISIS plotting a south west caliphate?  Had Congress imploded?  The pre-digested news dollops from Yahoo hardly sufficed. I need Fareed Zakaria, Wolfe Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Don Lemon, et al to tell me what’s wrong or right with the world, because if an impending disaster isn’t being covered by CNN, it isn’t worth the worry. Luckily, given the short attention span of the 24 hour news Desert-113014-turneraudience, bad stuff just fades away after we’ve heard it a few times and CNN finds new crises to again briefly capture our interest. Turner and Dish made up and CNN returned just in time for the Cosby revelations and fiery drama in Ferguson, both of which are now old news and will soon give way to fresh headlines designed to keep viewers engaged and advertisers satisfied.
So – Thankful #3 – The return of CNN and informed anxiety.

Finally- a traditional Thankful #4 for family and friends who have grinned and grimaced at a whole year’s worth of DD posts. It’s been a challenge and a grand adventure to seek out and share the strange, the silly, and, at times, the serious sides of life in the desert and beyond.
With luck and a huge effort at time management, there’s lots more to come.
Happy Thanksgiving!


[Desert Droppings] Witches, Walkers, and Who’s For Dinner?

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Trick or Treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat! Boo!  It’s the Halloween edition of Desert Droppings. Witches, Zombies, and What’s cookin’? Open your Spider-man pillowcase wide and catch these goodies!

The ABQ Journal had a recent front page article about two ABQ women who discovered that they were very distantly related to Desert-110214-witchrelativesAnne Pudeator, who was accused of witchcraft and hanged during the 1692 Salem witch trials.
SALEM!  Glorious flashback!  During a stint as an American History teacher in Upstate NY, my favorite unit of study was the Salem Witch Trials. I visited Salem, MA several times to gather material and immerse myself in the aura of past misdeeds that still haunts this picturesque whaling town, with its historic merchants’ homes, charming colonial gardens, and ardent embrace of tourism.
Halloween, of course, is a prime opportunity for Salem to entice visitors eager for a glimpse of the possibly paranormal, despite historical evidence that the famed Witch Trials  were a mean mix of religious fanaticism, envy, greed, and vengeance (sort of the way I view the volatile Middle East ).
Still, when walking, as I did, at midnight, past the Witches’ Burial Ground, the Witch House, the Witch Museum, the Witch Shoppe, and the statue of one of Salem’s founders with billowing cape and tall hat silhouetted in the moonlight, it is authentically eerie!
Salem is like a New England – style Roswell – a tourist destination famous for being the site of a bizarre historical event, with IST-IS2176RM-00000028-001convincing documentation, a lingering air of mystery…and loads of souvenir shops!

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a witch in your family tree? My bubbe used to call Aunt Mindy a witch, but I don’t think she meant the pointy hat, spell – casting kind. Truthfully, though, I’ve never been a fan of What if, instead of find a spooky forebear, I discovered that great- uncle Max, back in the Old Country, owed his prosperous neighbors the Katzowitz family 50 kopeks for the chicken he stole one night while drunk on schnapps (Uncle Max, not the chicken ). With accrued interest, the late Max and we, his hapless descendants, would now owe those shvitzers, the Katzowitzes, $2,534,465.42!  No, this is one family tree that’s better left unclimbed, before today’s Cranston (née Katzowitz) clan can say “Better Call Saul! ”

While our family may not have a meticulously compiled volume of genealogical data like the lady with the allegedly bewitched ancestor, we do have some unique traditions. Now, if you’re picturing such esteemed family practices as Sunday dinner at Granny’s or a Yuletide wassail fest at the country house, you’re barking up the wrong family tree! Our family traditions are more along the lines of wearing ridiculous hats (even when it’s not Halloween), talking to imaginary animals, and starting every phone conversation with Grandma ‘s favorite question, “Are you warm enough?”
Well, at least, none of our family members that we know of, was strung up for “choking, pinching…casting a spell” or “flying like a bird” like Salem’s Anne Pudeator.

And none of our kinfolk has ever eaten anyone! Which brings us to Season 5 of The Walking Dead. Those of you who aren’t among the millions of viewers who have made TWD more popular than Sunday Night Football, may now be excused to sort through your Halloween Candy, take costumed selfies (I just saw one of a guy dressed as a ” social media app”),or string toilet paper on your neighbor’s bushes. We’re going to chew the fat, and re-hash TWD’s shocking, gory, irrational savagery- and that’s just the humans! Desert-110214-termiusbbqSo far Season 5 has given us food for thought, story lines you can really sink your teeth into, and a new ka-Bob recipe.
Yes, Terminus turned out to be a rather unpalatable experience and we’ve shamelessly shuddered through every tasty morsel of it. As yet, we haven’t learned in detail why Terminus turned from  sanctuary to slaughterhouse, but there are hints that some malevolent intruders are to blame.  According to the Terminians, “We let them in. They took over. Catastrophe ensued.”
(Sort of the way I view the outcome of the midterm elections).
And the Walkers- they’re still chomping and lurching about – a minor threat compared to the increasingly heartless humans.
TWD is even spreading its dubious message beyond the flat screen. While mall shopping for a birthday gift for a teenage friend, I was startled to come face to face with Rick, TWD’s hero (or rather his life- size cardboard facsimile). Hot Topic, a pop culture shop for the under 21 set, had the two – dimensional Rick as part of a display for pricey TWD memorabilia. I was tempted to buy dog tags depicting  my TWD favorites, a Glenn doll, and a t-shirt that read, “If Darryl dies, we riot!” But, maturity (ie Wait ’till the pre- Christmas sales) prevailed.

And in the ABQ Journal, there’s a political cartoon that shows chubby Governor Christie sprawled in front of the tv, munching a Desert-110214-christiebag of chips and talking on the phone to airport security. The caption reads, “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie makes his Ebola quarantine decisions  while watching exciting all new episodes of “The Walking Dead.”
Boo! TWD meets the real world! We’re in for a scary ride! Hold on to your funny hats! Eat treats, not toes! Consider November 4 the new Halloween. According to my pet penguin, there are tricky times ahead. Wear a sweater!

[Images from the Id] – On the Road Again or too Much and too Little?

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Images from the Id – On the Road Again or too Much and too Little?

After almost two straight weeks of traveling and shooting, I think I have recovered and getting  back from a little exhaustion and even some photo burnout. The exhaustion is  more emotional than physical and the burnout is a combination of physically being on the move and mentally the result of over 3600 images! Don’t get me wrong I love the balloons and entertaining my sister-in-law, and avid and excellent photographer, but 3600 images and I thought I was being conservative. Me conservative, HA! Just remember, what goes in, snap, must come out, processing. I love the hunt but sometimes I am overwhelmed with just the prospect of sorting and  choosing the images to work on.  Adobe Lightroom 5 is a great help. Without it, I would be totally unable to function. Photographers talk ceaselessly  about their workflow or the procedure they use to catalog, sort and process their images. With the coming of Lightroom it has became and endless discussion of what the best workflow is. I have seen professional photographers who use 4 pieces of software and 45 minutes to do what I can do in 10 minutes with Lightroom. I have known them to waste time making endless, unneeded, Tiff file backup copies are unneeded with an understanding of Lightroom. Point is everyone needs a system. Every photographer from a beginner to pro needs to organize and establish a consistent workflow. For the casual photographer nothing is better than iPhoto or better yet Aperture. These can link all of your personal images together in one place. You iPhone, computer, iPad are all interlinked, but it is only for Apple hardware. The next step up would be Adobe’s Photoshop Elements which is for Windows and Mac. It includes organization software and is easy for the beginner. More advanced is the Adobe Photographers Creative Cloud Subscription. This includes Lightroom 5.6 and Photoshop CC 2014. It costs $9.99/month and is a good deal for those working at growing and producing the best they can. They both take effort to learn but are unlimited in possibilities

Back to my problem. I use  two basic rules for sorting. First, keep only images that you would like anyone else to see. Second, keep any personal images to document a trip or family.

Albuquerque? I’ll keep most of the balloon shots, what too cool. Steamboat Springs, the barn shots and the waterfalls, lots of instructional images there and some others. Eyes Park? Some good elk shots but the Landscapes were not too hot or actually too hot, no snow or color.

Image #1 – One solution to a problem, when the scene is dull with no contrast converting to black and white may help

Spanish Peaks (1 of 1)-2

Spanish Peaks 1/20 sec, f/20, ISO 100,105 mm, 0 EV Initial processing in Lightroom left these images flat and uninteresting. Converted this one to Black and White in Silver Effects Pro

Ludlow CO – The site of the Ludlow Miner Massacre April 20, 1914

Ludlow (1 of 1)

HDR processed in Photomatix Pro from 5 images 1 f-stop apart. information for average exposure –  1/50 sec, f/13, ISO 100,12 mm. I love the effect of the wide angle lens.

The Road to Santa Fe.


Road to Santa Fe (1 of 1)


Look for something unusual. 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 100, 200 mm Processed in Lightroom. A good demonstration of selective focus. A smaller aperture such as f/22 and too much would be in focus. A bigger aperture such as f/5 and the background would be too blurry. Practice this often.

[Images from the Id] – Friday Morning at the Fiesta or 3:30 in the Morning?

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Images from the Id – Friday Morning at the Fiesta or 3:30 in the Morning?

One of the things we do as photographers is make friends. It is the rare situation when a fellow photographer does like to meet others and talk shop. It is just as important to make friends with non-photographers, it can really pay off. Friday morning in Albuquerque, a bucket list payoff, a ride in a hot air balloon. I have explained about our friendship with the Dee III crew and it was time.

Dawn Patrol is a group of balloons, which because of a combination of training and equipment, is allow to fly before sunrise. As with all balloon flights, the possibility of a flight is dependent upon the weather. Rain and wind can prevent any flights. This year at ABQ the odds looked like about 50%. The plan was, 3:30 am alarm to meet the crew and ride into the Fiesta Park. One of the biggest problems with the Fiesta is parking. The lots are known to fill up by 6:30 am so the early rise is quite worth it. Entering with the balloon is the only way to go. We did this twice and in the future plan to make it the usual habit. On our flight day the weather looked good only a few high clouds.

If you are not familiar with the procedure, the balloon is laid out on a large tarp, in this case blue with white stars. The balloon is then inflated (never say “blown-up”) by two large gas powered fans. The top of the balloon is held down by one of the husky crew members. One of the things Tim, the pilot, likes to do is to take spectators, especially children, inside the balloon through the side vent. Once the balloon is inflated the pilot sets the top vent, this actually goes by many names including deflation vent, parachute vent, etc. At the bottom opening, the basket is on its side and has all of the ropes, cables and fuel lines correctly attached. The pilot does this him/herself to assure it is all correct. When everything is double checked the main propane burner is lit. This is spectacular in the dark. The sound is awe inspiring. The heat produced is aimed into the envelope and the balloon begins to rise from the ground. The crew member holding the top shows his value by keeping the rise under control. As the envelope becomes buoyant, the basket is brought to vertical and as many surrounding by-standers as possible are recruited to add ballast to keep the balloon on the ground. With a small amount of difficulty we climbed into the basket. I blinked and we were 50 feet into the air. Photographing was almost impossible. Low light, small basket and honestly excitement made it difficult. The night view of the city and the park was just beautiful. The balloons have two propane burners one for the hot flame and the other burns less oxygen creating less heat but a bright yellow flame which illuminates the envelope . This is spectacular. Thirty minutes later we skimmed low over the rooftops of a southwestern subdivision, nice to have the flat roofs of the adobe style homes, landing in the middle of a cul-de-sac. Quick, everybody in the chase crew hold on, we climb out of the basket, refuel, new passengers get in and a second take off. We are now part of the chase. The pilot expects the chase to be under the balloon at each landing basically to refuel and hold down the balloon. Navigating the streets at barely legal limits seems a superman task but we are there for landing number two in a field of tumble weeds. The balloon is made buoyant and walked to the street for a repeat, change passengers and refuel. The third chase begins. Morning is almost over, the air is warming and flying done. The third landing is next to a business and bystanders are recruited to help lay out the tarp and deflate. What a day! As I told Tim earlier, I am afraid of heights, Tim’s comment, “I am too” Result NO fear. It was just plain amazing and I will do it again, as I said, “Anytime ballast is needed”

This week I am just doing a gallery of shots. most where at high ISO (1600 or more) low shutter and wide open aperture. You will notice some camera or balloon motion.

Balloon (7 of 7) Balloon (6 of 7) Balloon (5 of 7) Balloon (4 of 7) Balloon (3 of 7) Balloon (2 of 7) Balloon (1 of 7)

[Desert Droppings] Balloon Fiesta Adjacent

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(This post is dedicated to my father who was a great fan of Balloon Fiesta. Dad journeyed on his “final flight” during Balloon Fiesta 2012.)

When we first moved to ABQ and I heard people talking about Mass Ascensions, Glows, and Dawn Patrol, I thought I’d stumbled upon some arcane ABQ cult. I soon learned that this was balloon- speak referring to the main attractions of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. “Divine” doesn’t even begin to describe this exhilarating 9 day celebration of hot air balloons which arrive from around the world.
The 2014 Balloon Fiesta which just ended featured 559 balloons including 100 astounding “Special Shape” balloons. As the name Desert-101514-shapesimplies, these immense balloons are shaped like Snow White,  a butterfly, Darth Vader, Yoda,  Elvis, a costumed chicken, Spiderpig, a fairy tale coach, and lots more objects and characters. See for yourselves. Google “Albuquerque balloon fiesta special shapes” and tap “images” and “videos.”
For 9 glorious days, ISIS, Ebola, midterm elections, and the rest of the gloomy, gritty, nerve – wracking daily news fades away, as we concentrate  on Balloon Fiesta weather reports,  which Balloon Fiesta events to attend, where to take Balloon Fiesta guests, and what time to leave for the Mass Ascensions (mornings on which most of the balloons launch) or Glows ( evenings when the balloons are tethered but inflated and glow as their burners are lit.)

We chose Saturday as our Mass Ascension day, but didn’t  quite leave at  4:30am as planned.
Yes, 4:30 am! And that’s  even late by Balloon Fiesta standards! By the time we got packed up
(iPad, camera, gloves, hat, water, foil wrap to take home a cinnamon bun, sunglasses, sunscreen) and out the door, it was close to 6am. Yikes! Big Mistake!
As we sat in a long line of cars inching our way toward the exit to Balloon Fiesta Park, we could see the Dawn Patrol Balloons (a dozen balloons that launch  early to test the wind direction ) shining in the still dark sky. Suddenly, cars began to pull out of the main line of traffic and move quickly forward in the second lane-
“Hey! They’re trying to break into  the line farther down. Lots of luck! ABQ police control the flow of traffic into the Park and no one butts in!”
But cars kept  leaving our lane.  And then, on nearing the exit, we realized why.  Those cars had the Balloon Fiesta app on their smartphones and had found out that Balloon Fiesta Park had run out of parking spaces and was closed to further traffic. 100,000 people had already arrived by 6:30am!  What! We’d  been waiting in line for 45 minutes and couldn’t get in?!

Luckily, in a rare burst of common sense, someone in local law enforcement decided to allow the backed-up, shut-out-of-the-park Desert-101514-balloonshillcars to drive up onto a sandy hill adjacent to the freeway and view the balloons as they floated north from the nearby Balloon Fiesta Park launching site.
And that’s how we experienced “Spirit of the Winds” (the 2014 Balloon Fiesta title) from a different perspective than in all the  previous years we’d gone. That’s how we came to watch hundreds of brilliantly colored, fancifully named balloons drifting among the clouds in a vast blue sky – “Sun Racer,” “Enchanted Diamonds,” “Dawn’s Delight,” “Dances With Winds,” “Silver Spirit” ( to name a few) slowly floating by…Dad would have loved it!

The vision of hundreds of magnificent balloons sailing silently above the freeway is a dream-like image waiting to be recalled and savored on those wintry days to come when the world seems bent on self-destruction and the desire grows to sail off in a basket dangling below a huge, bright hot air balloon.

So- that was our Balloon Fiesta morning. In the afternoon, we went to Balloon Fiesta Park where the crowds had thinned, the balloons were absent, but the vendors were open. We couldn’t miss going to our favorite silly hats shop to buy a gift for a family Desert-101514-chickenmember who collects (and wears) hats that are snaky, fuzzy, creepy, and toothy.  There it was! This year’s pick -a plush version of a roasted chicken (turkey?) Just the thing to wear for Halloween and Thanksgiving dinner.
“White meat or dark?”
“I was going to wear my Jets cap, but I chickened out.”
“Cluck if you share my passion for poultry.”
“How’s this for fowl weather gear?”
“My other hat’s a scrambled egg.”
Add your own What-you’ve – never- seen- a- guy- in- a- chicken- chapeau- before one liners.

We also bought a jumbo frosted cinnamon bun to go, but prudently passed up the extreme State Fair- style offerings like the deepDesert-101514-foodsign fried bacon green chile cheeseburger, the deep fried Twinkies, the deep fried alligator bits, the fried pickles, and the sausage on a stick.

After a quick stop at the Official Balloon Fiesta Souvenir Tent to buy 2 glittery Balloon Fiesta pins for my collection, we headed home to welcome special Balloon Fiesta guests, prize-winning photographers who had actually flown in a Dawn Patrol Balloon and who were bringing 800+ truly spectacular photos of the week’s Balloon Fiesta events. BTW, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is said to be the most photographed event in the world!

Mark your calendars – October 3-11, 2015 and come to NM real quick for Balloon Fiesta which will be titled “Where Dreams Take Flight.”Desert-101514-sign
Where? Right here in ABQ!
Dreams take flight?  YES! They really do!

[Images from the Id] – Sitting in Albuquerque With Something to Do or Did I Really Do That?

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Images from the Id – Sitting in Albuquerque With Something to Do or Did I Really Do That?

Any one that knows me knows I have always had an extreme fear of heights. It manifests itself in climbing ladders, walking on the roof to service the cooler, anything above 5 feet will do. Fear, vertigo and general shaking will kick in but I also have the philosophy of challenging myself to the limits of my abilities and range of activities.

Scenario – After making fiends with a couple of hot-air balloon pilots about 3 years ago at the Steamboat Springs Balloon Rodeo, we kept in contact through Facebook etc. At the Rodeo this July, my wife “cons” Tim Taylor of Dee III  to take us for a flight. She was thinking of the Colorado Balloon Classic in Colorado Springs on Labor Day. Tim was extremely enthusiastic and suggested the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta because although he would be at the Classic he would not be flying. Three months pass and with mixed emotions we arrive in Albuquerque. Understand, I don’t like large crowds and you can guess that the anticipation of a flight left me a little shaky.

Thursday morning, alarm at 5 am. Yes, balloons do fly in the cooler air and less wind of the morning. The day’s schedule included a Dawn Patrol of a few balloons with “running” lights launching before dawn, the inflation and assent of the special shape balloons, glow of the special shapes at dusk, then fireworks. We had ordered tickets in advance for the shuttle bus, bypassing the worst part of a large crowd, parking. To limit my description to a few words is very difficult. The fear of the crowd was no problem- the site is huge and the crowd is spread out. Then there’s the balloons. To use a term I generally hate, OH MY GOD, I have never experienced anything like that. I have seen and shot a lot of hot-air balloons but almost 500 in one place at one time was overwhelming. We found a spot about in the center of the field. Four Dawn Patrol ( I think that term maybe trademarked) balloons took off a little late. The sun started to gradually light the field and inflation began.

Hot-air balloons are first inflated by two portable gasoline powered fans. Once the balloon is inflated on the ground, the burner is fired up and the air heated to raise the envelope. The photo opportunities are infinite. I love shots of the colors and shapes of the balloons. Don’t forget to get the patterns of inside of the balloon as it fills from the fans. I have a couple of shots from the interior looking out. Albuquerque is a hard shot because so much is happening everywhere and the exposures are extremely difficult. You mush continually check your histogram and over-ride the camera. If you are very experienced with manual exposure you’re way ahead. The weather co-operated because the ability to fly needs almost perfect conditions and the skies where beautiful. 400 shots later, many will go in the trash, At 9 am, we happily return to the room via the shuttle. There was no glow that evening because of the weather but we missed our turn off of I-25 because of the fireworks. Next week, Friday Morning at the Fiesta or 3:30 in the Morning?

I think I counted 19 balloons in this shot. I have one shot with about 90 balloons. They just surround you. 1/320 sec, f/7.1,-1/3 EV, ISO 400, 90 mm/135 mm



Chariot – One of 90 different special shape balloons. The details are great. 1/400 sec, f/5.0, ) EV, 65 mm/97 mm, ISO 100



Pigasus – Flying pigs really do exist. 1/640 sec, f/5.0, )EV,ISO 400,70 mm/105 mm