Summer in Chicago

The weather here has been pretty miserable the past few days: cold, windy, rainy. Oh, and a mid-April snowstorm a few days ago. This time of year, summer can’t get here quickly enough. This photo just screams summer to me: green trees, flowers in bloom, a warm sunset, and people congregating in the park. Those days aren’t too far away, though it sure doesn’t feel like it right now.

Chicago skyline at sunset with a park in the foreground.

Early sunset at Sunset Cliffs

Sunsets can be hit and miss, since the quality of the light is dependent on the amount and location of the clouds. A perfectly clear sky looks boring but too many clouds and the sunset isn’t visible. Ideally, there is a moderate amount of clouds high in the sky. But many days are not ideal. The day in San Diego that this photo was taken was one such day. This photo was taken about half an hour before the sun was supposed to set. Because of the clouds low on the horizon, the sun had already disappeared by this time and minutes later all color in the sky was gone. When photographing sunrise or sunset, it is always a good idea to arrive early, because you never know if the light will be good early, late, or somewhere in between.

Sunset over the ocean in San Diego

Sunset in the Magic Kingdom

While I generally prefer the great outdoors when it comes to vacation, there is no denying that there is something magical about Disney World. The parades are brilliantly done, the shows are the perfect mix of humor and cuteness, the castles are straight out of a fairy tale, and while the rides may not be as thrilling as at other theme parks, they are full of charm. The entrance isn’t cheap and the crowds can be a little excessive, but for those who are young or merely young at heart, a little magic is worth the cost of admission.

Castle in front of a sunset at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Botanic garden sunset

The highlights of the Chicago Botanic Garden are the beautiful flowers, impressive bonsai collection, and the peaceful Japanese garden. While those all provide wonderful photo opportunities, the lake near the entrance to the garden isn’t bad either, especially on a calm day when the reflections in the water are clear. We just happened to be walking towards the exit as the sun set on this day, so how could I not stop and take a photo?

Sunset at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Sunset #3

Everyone loves a good sunset photo, so why not go for 3 sunsets in a row. This photo was taken on the island of Holbox, located in Mexico, a couple hour drive and ferry ride from Cancun. The small island has dirt roads, most people get around by golf cart, bike, or by walking, and the island has no shortage of beautiful beaches. This photo was taken on our walk back from attempting to walk to Punta Mosquito, which we realized was not going to happen when we reached a river we would have to swim across to continue, a river in which crocodiles swim, so you can understand why we turned back. Fortunately, this meant that we were walking along a beautiful stretch of secluded beach as the clouds in the sky lit up as sunset approached.

Sunset on a beach in Holbox, Mexico.

Sunset surfer in San Diego

We’re going with a sunset photo for the second day in a row, because who doesn’t like a good sunset photo. This photo was taken in San Diego, more specifically from Windansea Beach in La Jolla. It was a perfect early November evening with just enough clouds in the sky to make for a great sunset, a beach full of people, and an ocean full of surfers. It took me a few tries to get a decent photo of a surfer, either I would mis-time the photo or they would fall before getting to the position I wanted them in, but eventually I got this photo of a surfer catching a nice wave in front of the setting sun.

Sunset with a surfer in the foreground

Grand Canyon sunset

While the scenery down in the Grand Canyon is wonderful, the most iconic views are from the rim of the canyon. The views are great all times of day, with the shadows in the canyon constantly changing with the angle of the sun. The National Park Service operates a great shuttle system to get to the scenic viewpoints on the south rim, which helps control the traffic during the busy season, while the more remote north rim requires driving along narrow winding roads to get to the best viewpoints. This sunset photo was taken from the south rim, we got on the shuttle without any plan of where we were going and had the decision made for us when the shuttle stopped at this viewpoint since it was almost sunset. The sun hitting the canyon walls was as warm as it appears in this picture, and the walls being lit by the sun really contrasted with the valleys deeper in the canyon that were already quite dark.

Grand Canyon at sunset

Sunset in Siena

Several years ago we spent a couple days in Siena, a city in the Tuscany region of Italy. While not as well known as more popular tourist destinations like Florence and Pisa, Siena is a beautiful town with tons of charm and impressive sights like the cathedral and main piazza. This photo is of the Basilica of San Domenico. The outside of the Basilica is not very aesthetically pleasing in my opinion, so when we got this wonderful sunset the night we were there, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a silhouette photo. There are so many great places to visit in Italy that it is hard to see them all, but Siena is definitely worth a visit. Rick Steves, who I have always found useful when planning travel to Europe, has some good information about Siena on his website.

Silhouette photo of a basilica at sunset in Siena, Italy

Futuristic Chicago

HDR Photography

HDR, short for high dynamic range, is a type of photography which is used to capture a greater range of luminosity than is possible with standard photography. This is especially useful in high contrast situations (e.g., sunrise or sunset) because cameras are not able to capture the range of luminescence that our eyes are able to. So, that beautiful sunset that we see comes out with the sky looking great but the foreground completely black in our photos. HDR has been around for many years but started to really become popular about a decade ago. Trey Ratcliff, who runs the website Stuck In Customs, was the first photographer who got me interested in HDR photography. Looking back at my earlier attempts to create HDR photos, many of them have the classic “over-cooked” look that many people do not like about HDR. I got away from HDR photography for a while, partially because the software available was not incredibly user friendly, but started taking more HDR photos recently. I generally try to use HDR to capture the moment as I saw it (or at least how I remember it looking in the moment), but occasionally I go for something a little more artistic and less realistic. Most newer phones have an HDR mode built in that tries to replicate the more complex process of taking multiple photos and blending them together, but I still like the greater control of doing all of the processing on the computer.

Futuristic Chicago

I took this photo on a photo walk in Chicago, led by Trey Ratcliff. When I started processing this photo, I wanted to make it look as realistic as possible, but somehow I ended up with this result. It has a futuristic look to me, not necessarily what the city will look like in the future, but how it would look in some low budget sci-fi movie. I’m not completely sure what it is, but there’s something I really like about this photo.

Early evening photo of the Chicago skyline