Am I a Shutter Bug?

I like cameras.  Check that. I love cameras, always have since as far back as I can remember. So, over the years I have acquired then de-acquired many different ones. Allow me to explain that. It’s all part of my life as a functional sufferer of SAS (Short Attention Span). Well, I don’t exactly “suffer” from this common malady, more like Loretta does. My SAS behavior had been very evident in my love of all things photographic.

Yes, I own quite a few cameras.  From DSLR’s, to Point & Shoots, to digital video cameras, and a lot of vintage film cameras (that last category is somewhat redundant, no?) Anyway, I have a small collection of “keepers”. I say keepers because of our agreed upon camera-buying protocol. You see, I promised Loretta a few years ago that I would (attempt to) abide by the “One-Out, One-In” rule.  In other words, I would have to sell a camera in order to buy another one. This friendly, somewhat loose-knit arrangement has worked fairly well with the more expensive equipment, no so much with the lessor costing items. This statement rings true here, “My biggest fear is that my wife will find out what I really paid for some of these cameras!” (for some dudes, insert in place of the word “cameras”: guns, auto stuff, coins, Betty Page photos, etc). Loretta being such a wonderful spouse, she pretty much gives me free hand to manage this area of the household without much kibitzing…and I appreciate this to no end.

I have never considered myself a great photographer.  Perhaps a seasoned enthusiast would be more accurate…I have my moments! I did have a good run at doing it “professionally” a few years.  Doing weddings and portraits provided some income for a period of time. But, my SAS in addition to my absolute and total aversion to the wedding photography process nixed that. Hmmm, I seem to have become a tad bit nauseous just thinking of my wedding photography days…’nuff said for now except two words: Bridezillas and their evil wedding minions, Mothers-in-Lawzillas. Phew! I move on for now.

I won’t display photos of my camera collection here and now. For one thing, I’m not home…we’re on a short RV trip. But I will show you one of my latest acquisitions. Before I do, here’s the juice on cameras in general. An expensive camera does not a good photographer make. That being said, here is one of the best Point-and-Shoots I have ever had (and I’ve had quite a few). The Hasselblad Stellar (Limited).

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Having recently worked for a few years in the camera department of a large retailer, I got to vicariously “own” most every little camera that came down the pike during that time, i.e., I played with them all in my “down time”. Mind you, this retailer did not carry higher end items, but enough to get an idea of what was out there camera-wise. From $69 point-and-shoots to near $500 low end DSLR’s, I fondled them all. Sony, Nikon, Canon, Samsung, and even Kodak…there were many…most of which of dubious build and image quality. However, I always found the little Sony’s that came along standing alone in image quality…8 out of a possible 10. The ergonomics on Sonys, not so much…perhaps a 5 out of 10…they’re just a bit more difficult to master than say the Canons or Nikon.  That being said, I opt for image quality. Hence…my purchase of the Hasselblad Stellar because, my young padewans, this camera is actually a Sony RX100 re-badged with the Big “H”.  Yes, I own a Hasselblad digital camera, albeit not the $20,000+ model but a $999 one. It’s one exquisite-photo-taking little camera! So now I own a Hasselblad AND a Sony digital camera in the same package. So be it.  It takes great quality images, is not difficult to master with minimal effort, is a great street photo camera (very unobtrusive), and is somewhat of a collector camera being a Limited Edition Hasselblad…(comes in a nifty, black piano laqurered box with nice Hasselblad embroidered wrist and shoulder straps, etc).FullSizeRender 2

Now, unless you are a camera nut like me, I wouldn’t recommend shelling out that much scratch for a camera like this. The Sony version runs about $500 now. A newer version of the Sony (RX100 III) about $800. As I’ve said before, a more expensive camera will not make you a better photographer. When I was hawking cameras retail, I can’t remember the amount of people who wanted to “upgrade” from their point-and-shoots to a DSLR in order to take “better” photos. Almost always, it didn’t happen. “Skip, how come my photos from my new Nikon D600 aren’t as good as my little, old, beat up Sony pocket camera?”  I would bite my lip and NOT say, “Because you stink! You’re a lousy photographer!” I would however say to them before and after their purchase of a $550 Nikon, “Put this thing on full Auto or P, let the camera do all the hard work, and have fun with it. If you start messing around with all the manual options…well, caveat emptor I guess”.

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Here are my two best tips for novice shutter bugs.  Set the Mode dial to “P”.  This is a full auto mode but allows a few manual tweakings, most importantly turning on the “Fill Flash”. The on-board flash works well for filling in shadows when there appears to be plenty of light or when there is a lot of back light. Play around with it.  It’s one of my favorite tips. I personally put all my cameras on the “A” or “Av” setting (aperture priority) because I like to manage my lens opening (the camera will manage the shutter speed on this setting).  Why do I do this? Because of the bokeh factor, i.e., out of focus backgrounds. I will do an entire blog on these simple tips in the near future.

One last thought on my new Sony RX100…er, Hasselblad Stellar. I hesitated buying it for one reason: my iPhone 6+ takes kick-ass photos with optical image stabilization. A few of the downsides of cell phone photography, at least for me, are the ergonomics (it’s smooth surface is just awkward to take photos, it tends to squirt out of my hands…so far, I’ve managed to catch it before hitting the pavement), slow focus, limited options, and it’s a fixed lens. On the other hand an issue for me with the Hasselblad: it’s tiny and a little inconvenient for my large hands. I’ll suffer. I’m getting used to it.  Besides, Loretta has teeny tiny hands and she uses it on trips when I put it in those little hands. She’s a good sport as always.

My final thoughts. Unless you have unlimited spendable hobby income or are an experienced novice or both, don’t spend a lot of money on ANY camera.  How much? Less than $200 for a pocket digital. Don’t mess with a DSLR unless you can afford the other lenses which can cost way more than the camera body. Cheap DSLR lenses, generally speaking, are made of plastic (break easily), and don’t usually produce the sharpest images.

Two final tidbits of photographic wisdom. Learn how to frame and take a lot of pictures…after the cost of the camera, the photos are free!

Photography 101 – Choosing the right camera and getting better photos.

Two of the most often asked questions I get working in the camera department of a large retailer are: What camera should I buy?  And, What’s the best camera you have (while pointing toward the 36 different models on display).  That second question I will answer first by saying, “That $649 Nikon DSLR is the best camera we have?”  This response will be followed by, “Wow, I don’t want to spend that much!”  At this point I launch into a brief Q&A…ask yourself these questions before asking that silly question:

1.  What am I going to use it for?  Kid photos, pet photos, family photos, travel photos, starting a photo business, etc.

2.  What camera (if any) do I have now and, what do I like or don’t like about it?

3.  What’s my budget?

For the novice photobug, here is a general place to start and what I usually tell well-intentioned camera buyers.

I tell them, “I can take clear, sharp, lovely photos with that $69 camera right there”…with this caveat.  Your options with a cheap, plastic, digital camera are slim compared to a $649 DSLR when it comes to features, ie, bell and whistles.  However, do you need those bells and whistles you get with a DSLR.  I should say at this point that DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex.  Quite simply, the digital version of 35mm film cameras, which, by the way, you can now purchase (top of the line) older 35’s for less than the cost of a cheap DVD player.  More on this option later, back to digital.

So, what’s the difference between that $69 dollar point-and-shoot and THAT $199 point-and-shoot?  Typically, the cheaper camera is made entirely of plastic including the lens.  The more you pay the sturdier the camera and it probably has a glass lens.  Durability is one of the benefits of spending a bit more.

I won’t get too technical and get into megapixels right now except for this.  You’d be hard pressed to find a new digital camera these days that isn’t at least 16 megapixels…cheap or expensive.  Keep this in mind…more megapixels will NOT make you a better photographer.  In other words, a high-resolution, improperly framed and over or under exposed photo image is still a lousy photo, right?

My advice if you are just starting out, or want to replace an inexpensive digital camera, or your camera broke…etc, DON’T SPEND A LOT OF MONEY YET!  So what should you buy?  Look to a sub-$200 Nikon or Canon point-and-shoot for the best builds and reliability for now.  I would also say Sony except for the fact that they tend to have a higher learning curve at times.

If you’ve already purchased something similar to the above.  Here are the most basic tips for getting decent, if not fantastic photos.

1.  Hold the camera still when pressing the shutter.  Less expensive cameras are notorious for having a relatively slow shudder, ie, the lag time between pressing the shutter button and when the camera actually exposes the images.  This is probably the biggest issue when folks show me their somewhat blurry prints, especially in low light situations.

2.  Expsoure…eegads…that sounds too technical!  Put your camera in the most Automatic mode available, usually the little green camera icon, either on a dial at the top or in a menu…and leave it there for now.  The camera will take care of everything else…exposure, shutter speed, and focus.  It will even adjust the ISO setting (film speed in the old days) for lower light photos…and, it will fire the flash if necessary.  Done deal.  However, please always refer back to #1 above no matter what the situation or camera setting.

3.  Framing.  This is where practice comes in.  One of the biggest mistakes I see when printing amateur photos is improper framing, specifically not being aware of where the subject is in the viewfinder.  For example, when taking a portrait shot, don’t place the subject’s face in the middle of the viewfinder, leaving the top half of the image with nothing but sky or trees.  Get closer, the next biggest issue.  Those little digital cameras have a great wide angle to them.  That works fine with landscapes or scenic shots.  Either get in closer to your subject or use the zoom to frame them so you can at least recognize who it is!

4.  And finally:  Practice, Practice, Practice…shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.  It’s digital for gosh sakes, you aren’t paying for film development.  After you shoot, check out the images….then delete, delete, and delete some more before taking the memory card to your friendly neighborhood photo kiosk for prints.

A few other valuable tips include:  Keep your camera clean, especially the lens.  Protect your camera by carrying it in a small, padded case.  Charge the battery often or keep fresh batteries handy.  Check the settings before embarking on a photo shoot opportunity.  Keep an extra memory card handy.  For the casual amateur, if you faithfully delete the bad shots on a regular basis, you shouldn’t need another card unless you are going on vacation or an extended trip.  Do not…I repeat…do not lend your camera to a friend under any circumstances.  If it doesn’t come back trashed (or they lose it altogether) it will come back with the settings all screwed up.  Don’t lose your battery charger or charging cord!  They are not expensive to replace as long as you buy them on eBay, but finding one in a retail store?  Forget it.  And, the universal ones cost $30 or more.  Along the same lines, buy an extra rechargeable battery, again on eBay (maybe $5-$10 with a charger) as electronics stores charge an arm and a leg, and, they don’t come charged.  Keep your digital images organized on your computer.  In other words, download the good ones to a file and label it.  Then delete the ones you don’t want.

Please know this.  I am not a photo wizard or photo guru.  I just love to take pictures and have been doing it a long while, for myself and, for a time, professionally (weddings, events, portraits).  My main focus now is landscapes and still lifes. I do an occasional portrait.  But I love still lifes and landscapes for the simple reason(s) that my subjects always show up and I can take my time!  Right now, I am a Nikon advocate.  I’ve owned and used Canon, Pentax, Sony, and Minolta equipment among many others…both film and digital.  No “one” camera is the best.  It’s whatever is best for you.  Again, I just get asked these questions on a daily basis.

Another quick suggestion or two:  Invest in a digital photo program for “processing”, cropping, and tweaking your photos.  If you own a Mac like I do, the latest iPhoto has most everything an amateur photographer could ever want.  I also use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  Lightroom retails for about $149 although I think it’s available to download from the Adobe site for less than $100.  Photoshop?  About $600.  With Photoshop keep in mind that you will only use about 5% of what PS is capable of doing.  It’s not a necessary program unless you really want to get into design and special effects.  Open a flickr account (it’s free for the basic one).  Not only can you see other folk’s photos you can post your own and share.

If you have any questions, please drop me an email through this post.  I will try to answer it the best I can.  If you ask me about a specific camera, I will refer you to Google as you will find countless reviews on every camera there.

Coming soon: Watch for Photography 101:  Movin’ on up.  Buying a better camera.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk – A Not So Short Two Hour Drive

The other day, a Tuesday, we finally made the drive over to the coast and Santa Cruz.  Our Google map and driving instructions indicated that Santa Cruz was 118 miles from Modesto, about a 2-hour drive.

Allow me to back up just a bit and say something about the city in which we reside at this moment in time.  We have lived here since 1998, coming up on 14 years as a matter of fact – a long 14 years!  For those reading this not familiar with Modesto or the San Joaquin Valley in general, you should know a couple of things.  First, there is nothing in Modesto for which to drive to.  In other words, unless you are visiting Aunt Sadie and Uncle Billy Bob, Modesto would not be on your bucket list of places to visit before you die.  Unless, of course, you are a complete and total Star Wars geek and wish to tread the same hallowed ground on which George Lucas was raised and went to school.  Modesto Junior College (one of George’s alma maters) is here, and apparently there is some sort of statue of George, homage if you will, in the student union.  And, of course, after all, Modesto was the model for his 1973 break out flick American Graffiti.  However, let it be known that not one foot of film was shot in Modesto..not an inch of celluloid was exposed in Modesto for American Graffiti.  It was all filmed in Marin County north of San Francisco, Petaluma for the most part.  So even though some of the actual location names were used in film, ie, “9th street”, “Paradise Road” (where the finale race took place), even Turlock is mentioned…nothing was filmed here.  End of the George Lucas Modesto legacy part of this blog.

Hence, one must venture OUT of Modesto to find something fun to do or nice place to visit.  We are in fact about 100 miles from anything interesting.  San Francisco is 90 miles west.  Monterey and Santa Cruz are about 120 miles southwest. Sacramento is 80 miles north.  Tahoe is 150 miles northeast.  Yosemite is 100 miles southeast. There’s nothing of note to the south except for Fresno, and that is, well…it’s just another city in the San Joaquin Valley.  Don’t make me blather about Fresno, we lived there for a year before we moved to Modesto, partly to get away from Fresno!  There is some saying about shooting yourself in the foot here somewhere.

One of the most popular getaway places for San Joaquin Valleyites is Santa Cruz.  It’s just a couple of hours over the hills and through the woods…and you’re there.  Not!  Here’s the conundrum:  one must traverse through the complexities of bay area traffic in order to get to, not only the bay area proper, but also Santa Cruz.  And herein lies my “Good, Bad, and the Ugly” about our little trip to the ocean the other day.

Let’s get the ugly out of the way first and foremost, since the majority of our visit to Santa Cruz was more than pleasant.  The Ugly: the traffic getting there.  Normally I would insert a photograph illustrating the heinous traffic conditions, but, alas, neither one of us thought of snapping pictures at that time.  Map directions from Modesto to Santa Cruz take you through Tracy, Livermore, then south through places like Milpitas and San Jose – 118 miles and two hours of driving on congested, constantly under construction freeways.  Actual driving time for us:  three hours.  We left Modesto about 7:30 and still managed to get caught up in various backups along the way.  Once through San Jose we hit Los Gatos and Highway 17 (a windy, 16-mile, 2-lane road through pine forests) up and over the mountains to the coast.  Our journey into Santa Cruz on 17 was clean and fast in our little Mini Cooper S.  In fact, Highway 17 was quite a fun drive! The traffic going the other way however (into the bay area) was backed up and crawling at a snail’s pace.  We got to Santa Cruz about 10:15 just after The Boardwalk opened.

Our trip home was not quite as bad, but confirmed the quandary of living in Modesto and trying to get out of Modesto if even for day.  We drove back the southerly route through Watsonville and Los Banos, about 20 miles further than the bay area route.  We figured afternoon traffic in the bay area…?  ‘Nuff said.  So although we didn’t incur the misery of long, slow moving backups driving back, the traffic was still hideous..mostly from very large trucks.  We never had to come to a complete stop, but let’s just say it was another annoying drive, mostly on a 2-lane country road through major agriculture.  We kept looking at each other and saying, “You can’t get there from where we live.  We’re trapped in Modesto like rats.  No matter which route you take, a trip to the coast is gonna be like this!”

A few years ago when we were still doing a lot of Harley riding, we both wore a T-shirt that stated, “It’s not the destination…it’s the journey”.  We don’t ride any longer and that saying, at least for us, has flip flopped.  “It’s IS the destination, ’cause the journey is screwed up!”  Funny.  Again, how things change as one gets older.

On to Santa Cruz.  Now the Bad:  the food on the boardwalk.  To be fair (pardon the pun), it’s all fair food!  From Deep Fried Twinkies to Corn Dogs to Chili Cheese Garlic Fries…you name the fair food, it’s there.  And the worst part of the Bad is that it is all very expensive.  For instance, we paid about $7.50 for a Philly Cheese Steak that unlike the photo on the menu board, it was in reality the size of a hot dog bun.  “Yea, let’s get one of those.  We can split it”.  Envisioning a real Philly Cheese Steak as seen on the Food Network, needless to say we were a bit disappointed to discover that it was in fact a miniature version…perhaps one half actual size.  The 24 ounce can of Bud Light (again $7.50) helped us to swallow the 3-bite half sandwich in front of us. Oh, one more “bad” thing.  They don’t charge to get into the Boardwalk but parking is $12 for a car, $25 for an RV for the day.  Really, when you think about it, that’s about half of what they charge at the Embarcadero in S.F.

The Good:  the Boardwalk is a well built, colorful, clean, amusement park on the sand that doesn’t charge an admission to get it.  There are lots of rides for adults, kids, and thrill seekers alike.  Ride tickets are sold separately including all day and season passes that really reduce the cost if you are into that sort of thing.  Individual tickets are a buck each and the big rides take 4 or 5 tickets to ride.  Again, not cheap.  But, we pledged not to partake in any rides, as they just don’t hold the same fascination for us as they once did.  Loretta’s eat a linguica on stick then ride the zipper episode a few years ago at the fair kind of ended it for her!

I realize that most Santa Cruz residents will say that the Boardwalk isn’t really Santa Cruz.  The hoity-toity purists don’t usually sanction those touristy things in their town anyway.  Like Pike Place in Seattle or Pier 39 in San Francisco…The Boardwalk is what it is:  a fun place to visit and a good place to start in Santa Cruz.

The wharf is our next destination when we visit Santa Cruz.  It’s just up the beach a short way.  Evidently you can park on it (metered, of course) and there are some nice shops and restaurants.  Next time!

We were there a little over 3 hours.  The weather was incredible, a little cool at 10 am, but sunny and warm (70 degrees) as the morning rolled on.  We got there just after the park opened, about 10:15.  The shops (there are many), the food vendors, and the rides don’t open until 11 am.  We had plenty of time early on without the crowds to walk around and just check things out.  Will we go to the Boardwalk again?  Sure.  During the summer, there are free concerts on a large stage on the sand.  This summer:  Berlin, Blue Oyster Cult, Great White, the Fixx, and Eddie Money to name a few.

Like I said, the Boardwalk is very clean and well maintained.  There is a lot to do and see, especially for kids as they have quite an extensive children’s ride section. We were there on a Tuesday, early.  It was getting quite busy as we left about 2 pm.  I would guess weekends in the summer are really busy.  Our next trip will be in the Fall when the crowds subside.  The weather will still be nice and we will have room to move.

Whether or not the things on the boardwalk hold any attraction to you, there is always the beach, right there.  Pristine sand, well cared for.  It’s beautiful.  A bit of advice for the beach uninitiated:  use sunscreen…even if the air temperature is 65, you will get burned in a short amount of time.

It was short and sweet.  We had a blast at the Boardwalk.  Note to self:  bring more cash and check out all the food booths before committing to buy something like The Curly Deep Fried Potato on a Stick thingy!  They always look much better than they taste!

(More photos from our time at the Boardwalk here)

My unrequited love affair with San Francisco

Maybe it’s a result of my perception of San Francisco. It’s certainly not from spending a good amount of time there. I’ve only been there a few times and most of that time has been spent at Pier 39! What ever the reason may be, I’m at the very least infatuated with the city by the bay. My love affair with San Francisco is an unrequited, unconsummated relationship. And I want to move our relationship forward, take it to the next level so to speak.

Let’s face it, unless I come into some sort of financial windfall, I won’t be living there anytime soon. My time with San Francisco will have to be on a part time basis. We live 90 miles from the city proper. Most of those miles traverse nasty, busy commuter traffic-laden freeways that always seem to be under construction and in need of maintenance. Heck, the bay bridge itself, Highway 80 west, has been under a major renovation for several years. But the bridge is only the last few miles leading into the city. Despite the travel shortcomings, we plan to try to spend more time there – more time other than on the embarcadero.

The other day, we drove to San Francisco (on a Saturday) and it was a tourist madhouse. I thought it might be fun going when there are a lot of people there. After all, people watching is fun too. But when there are so many people that you only can see the ones right in front of you, it’s not so fun. Throw in the huge Saturday farmers market near Pier 3 and what seemed like an over abundance of joggers and bike riders and the SF experience wasn’t what I had led myself to believe. Plus, parking..OMG! We got there early so it wasn’t hard finding a parking spot in one of the parking garages that line the embarcadero. But we’re talking $8.00 an hour. We were there about three hours, ie, $24.00. The fisherman’s wharf lot (smaller and more convenient to the crab cocktail sidewalk merchants) charges $9.00 an hour.
Our conclusion upon leaving? We will drive to the Dublin BART station (about 55 miles), park the car, and take BART to Pier 1 on the embarcadero. From there, a cable car turn around is only a few steps away. Then we will visit some of the areas we’ve only talked about: Union Square, Chinatown, etc. In the long

run the cost will be about the same as the outrageous parking near the wharf. And, we’ll make our next trip during the week in the Fall, after the tourists have migrated back from whence they came.

Still, we did have a nice time. The weather was overcast and breezy when we got there at

10 am, but cleared up an hour or so later – it was a nice day in San Francisco. We ate lunch at the Pier Market Restaurant. It too was very busy with a 30 minute wait. But wait? Loretta and I love sitting at the bar…and there was plenty of room there. Let the families and large tourist groups stand around in hopes of getting

a table by the window – we’re ready to eat now! And we did. Waited on by a friendly, enthusiastic bartender name Scottie, we had a nice lunch. Loretta ordered a bread bowl of chowder with Caesar salad. Me a bowl of chowder, which, by the way, was excellent and blazing hot. We both got a draught of Stella Artois, enjoyed the Boudin sourdough bread on the side, and had a super lunch. The Pier Market is a great restaurant with fast, friendly service (even when it is busy) and clean rest rooms.

At fisherman’s wharf, you can order shrimp or crab cocktails, dungeness crab, crab salad, crab stuffed lobster, etc, etc, etc. It’s fun to watch the sidewalk “hawkers” trying to get tourists to spend their Euros at their establishments. Fun as in seeinghow mechanical and contrived they are – some holding huge live lobsters, others waving live dungeness crabs in girl’s faces so they squeal. Others just standing there waving their restaurant’s menus around and pointing at the specials boards. We strolled around back of these establishments to see one of the small marinas and got a glimpse of the tail end of their places. One probably shouldn’t do this if one plans to eat at one of these places. The seedier side of the restaurant business – but a good photo opp!

The south side of the embarcadero is where most of the shops are. And that is also where the “hawkers” from these places harass you to spend money in their stores. So now you’re not only dodging rude tourists trying to negotiate their ways down the sidewalk, if you walk too close to the entrance to the stores, well…you get the picture. Anyway, to make a long story short…you must visit the embarcadero at least once…then, spend the majority of your time in San Francisco other than there.

By the way, the lines for the harbor cruises and for the cable cars were, to say the least, incredibly long. At Pier 39, the line to the lady’s room was at least 100 deep. Funny, the men’s room almost never has any wait. The nature of the difference between men and women I guess. Does it really need to take that much longer for women to pee than for men, or…do women have smaller bladders? I’ve never quite figured that out. I digress.

Regarding the ubiquitous Pier 39 sea lions? Well, not so ubiquitous it seems as they once were. Evidently they go elsewhere to do their “business”, ie, breed, relax, vacation, etc. There were a couple dozen festooned on the farthest pontoons, plus a couple off on their own near the railing. We’ve been there when battles for an open spot on the floating piers went on constantly. Not this time. One thing that was quite noticeable near the viewing area: The Attack of the Sea Gulls! I had never seen them so aggressive, dive bombing unsuspecting tourists dumb enough to be holding articles of food near the railing, ie corn dogs, waffle cones, and the like. The pigeons out in the plaza were just as pushy and much more numerous. I watched one snatch the remnants of an ice cream cone right out of a child’s hand. The parents laughed. The child cried out in terror! That’s entertainment at Pier 39.

The old Golden Gate was mostly obscured by fog up until the time we left. The bay was nice and sunny with lots of sailboats out for a Saturday soiree on the choppy water.

Yes, it is all quite touristy but a must visit for those who live in

and around the valley. The weather? It’s always a nice respite from the oppressive heat, dust, and lack of humidity around Modesto. Bring a sweatshirt and prepare to remove it as soon as the fog clears. Oh, and bring money…you’ll need a decent amount to get through the day. Nothing is cheap!

Check out more photos from our day on the embarcadero at my website here.

My photo blog…number 12 or so?

Let’s face it.  Besides at times having the attention span of a dyslexic flea, I just get bored easily.  I get bored of my jobs over the years, cars, homes, some friends, certainly girlfriends when I was young, dumb, and…well, you know the rest.  I’m not proud of this characteristic, it’s just the way I was made!

The same loss of interest, boredom, lack of attention span can be applied to my long list of photo blogs/websites I have started, then abandoned, over the years.  First let me explain the “why” of having a photo website.  I am, for lack of a better explanation, a (frustrated) starving photographer.  Frustrated simply because I am never satisfied with my work.  Starving because I have not reached a point where I can make a respectable living from applying my passion for photography in the commercial world.  So, I need to have an online showcase (as it were) to, well, showcase my work…an online portfolio.  Hence I have struggled over the years with starting and stopping several photography sites, all of which of the free ilk, ie, generic templates, limited graphics, lack of creativity, boring!  I have never had one built from scratch, mainly for lack of funds since it can pricey getting custom web work done.  Refer back to the “starving artist” fact.

I’ve looked at (and coveted) hundreds of photo websites, a handful of them appealed to me as something similar to what I would imagine mine looking like.  Simple.  Elegant.  Streamlined.  Easy to navigate.  And absolutely never, nein, zip, zero on the music!  There is nothing more annoying than opening a photo site, or any website for that matter, and have some obnoxious song come blaring out at you, usually at high volume.  I laugh at myself scrambling to find the icon to turn off the music…or simply just using the back button to opt out completely.  Also, embedding too much animation is just as distracting has having to listen to Taco’s 80’s version of Puttin’ on the Ritz slathered on an over-abundance of a Ken Burns effect slideshow from Hrundi and Kumar’s wedding.  Just show me the photos…I don’t care what the couple’s favorite song is!

This brings me back to my photo website…number 13 or so in the last ten years.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means my ultimate website.  Yes, I am still not satisfied, but it’s better than most of my past falls from grace.  It’s pretty straight forward,  Clean.  Simple. And has the option to sell my prints.  And, to anyone who is interested, gives folks the opportunity to see a wide variety of photos I have taken over the years.

A photographer’s body of work, or portfolio if you will, is always changing, evolving with the addition of new photo projects.  Although I prefer working alone on fine art or landscape pieces, I will venture out from time to time for portrait sessions.  However never, ever a wedding again.  I’ve said it before, it’s just not gonna happen.  I tried that for a few years and discovered, at least for me, each wedding removes approximately one year from your life span.  I remember speaking to a wedding photographer at my friend’s daughter’s wedding a few years ago.  He looked particularly old to be doing this sort of thing, 80-ish, when in fact he was 45!  This may be an embellished exaggeration but not far from the truth.  Weddings tear you up, chew you up, and spit you out from the beginning to the end.  I will leave this end of the photography business to youngsters or to seasoned olders who charge an arm and a leg and leave most of the grunt work to their assistants.

Again, my photo site (not a total freebie by the way, I pay for the Pro version) is far from finished and will evolve from time to time.  Perhaps someday I will jump into the custom website spring (an option offered by smugmug) and pay to have it tweaked and spiffed up a bit.  For now, Skip Hansen Photography’s online portfolio will reside here.

At the Zoo

“Someone told me…it’s all happening at the zoo.  I do believe it, I do believe it’s true.” – Simon & Garfunkel

The first few words from that iconic 1966 Simon & Garfunkel song, At the Zoo.  After a short visit to the Sacramento Zoo lately, I’m not at all that sure “it’s true” any longer.

First off, let me say this.  We have been contemplating a day at the zoo for quite some time, it finally happened the other day.  Our days off coincided, the weather had cooled down, and we jumped in the Cooper and made the 75 mile trek north up Highway 5 towards Sacramento.  At least we committed and got out of the house for a few hours.  Done deal.

Besides just having the opportunity to get out for a while, I was looking forward to using a new camera and getting some shots at the zoo.  After all, it is the ZOO – a ready-made photo opp, right?  Not necessarily.  More on that in a moment.

To be perfectly honest at this point, I must admit that I am tainted, spoiled rotten from years of going to the only zoo I knew:  the San Diego Zoo.  An unfair comparison perhaps?  Perhaps.  And, admittedly, my attitude toward zoos in general may have changed over time.  What?  Yes!  I’m not sure zoos are the right thing to do to wild animals!  Especially less than stellar zoos, like, well, the Sacramento Zoo.  Now, before I get accused of being a panda-hugging bleeding heart liberal, let me explain and give credit where credit is due.  The Sacramento Zoo is a relatively well-maintained, clean attraction.  They seem to do a pretty good job of sequestering their wild animals in their tiny, little enclosures.  The cages were, for the most part, well kept.  Again, please try not to compare me to Jeff Goldblum’s character (Ian Malcomb) in Jurassic Park…I’m not anywhere near that fanatical but I do subscribe somewhat to the “chaos theory”.  More on that at a later date.  Bear with me, as there will be at least one other reference to Jurassic Park a bit later!

Compared to a nice little zoo like the Sacramento Zoo, one could cite many heinous examples of animal cruelty in the news.  Makeshift, privately-owned wild animal compounds need to be more tightly regulated or outlawed completely in my opinion.  There have been some crazy stories coming out in the past few years.  For instance, “family pet” chimpanzees tearing neighbor’s faces off!

Zoos have been around for hundreds of years.  And in these modern times they are well regulated and taken care of.  I didn’t see any examples of less than proper housing at the Sacramento Zoo.  But here’s my point in the form of a question, to which, by the way, I don’t have an answer:  Should wild animals be caged?  On the positive side, these animals are well-fed, safe from predators, and reside under the watchful eyes of veterinarians.  When a tiger has a toothache, it goes to the dentist.  When a giraffe as an abscess on it’s hoof, the doc takes care of it.  When a lemur appears tired and slow, it’s given vitamin enriched food.  Get the picture?

There was a young, male lion walking around its enclosure.  An area maybe 60 feet square by the way.  He was near the back wall as I watched him lick the water dripping from a hose bib.  I’m certain there was a water supply for him back in the cage area, but this action just seemed so undignified for a lion.

As we moved down the row of African animal enclosures, here was the Hyena compound.

…and the Snow Leopard compound.

Both no-shows this day along with the orangutans and several others.  I neglected to get photos of their empty cages.  One grandfather type explained to his grandkids when they questioned, “Where is it?”  To which the grandfather replied, “See that cave looking thing way back up there?  It’s sleeping in the cave.  See?”  “No, I don’t!”  Another line from Jurassic Park, “Ah…at some point, Dr. Hammond, we will see dinosaurs, right?”

We did see some forlorn looking chimps out for a stroll in their cage.  Does this guy look happy to you?

Loretta and I chuckled out loud when a young boy commented about one of the chimps, “Look at his butt!”  I must admit, the south end of a northbound chimpanzee leaves a lot to be desired in the eyes of a child.  Sorry, no photos were taken of the chimps butt!

One of the high points of the Sacramento Zoo in my opinion is the relatively new Tall Wonder exhibit where can get an up close and personal look at one of my favorite animals:  the giraffe.  They were out and about and very majestic looking in their new habitat.

Giraffes are exquisite creatures and seeing them was worth the price of admission.

Alas, back to a comparison of “greater” zoos…no elephants, no rhinos, no gazelles, no hippos, no gorillas, no cheetahs, no aquatic animals, no birds of prey, no bird or other animal shows, no rain forest animals, and no meerkats…just to name a few.

I did manage to get a few shots…

So, I would recommend taking your kids to the zoo.  Try to teach them a little about conservation and extinction, etc.  I’m not sure I have the answer to the zoo or no zoo question.  I just know that it’s not always “happening at the zoo”…not every zoo anyway.

A few pics of Arroyo Grande, our future home…again.

I lived on the Central Coast of California for almost 25 years, specifically, Grover Beach (formerly Grover City), San Luis Obispo, and Arroyo Grande.  We are planning a move back to the CC sometime next year, when all the stars, cards, and ducks are aligned properly.

Living in that area once again will afford us the opportunity to visit both Moms, several children, a few sisters, and some old friends on a more regular basis, how often that will be, who knows?   At least we will be within a few miles of all, less than hour for some, a few minutes for others.

It means living back near the ocean, AG is a couple of miles from the beach including Pismo Beach.  The weather is nicer, although Loretta had some issue with the cloudy days at times of the year she has since overcome.  She joined me in my complete and utter disdain for the hideous heat the valley has to offer a good 6 months of the year.  For the most part, the weather is nice a lot more often than here in Modesto.  Air conditioners on the CC are not really necessary, it just doesn’t get that hot that often.  Heaters, yes.  A/C no.

We will be visiting Mom and sisters on the CC sometime in January if all goes well with work schedules, chemo schedules, and so on.  The last time I was there I wandered downtown AG for a while and took some pictures.

This last photo with the AG  T-shirt kind of says it all.  It’s a nice little town with “normal” people.  We miss living there and will get back as soon as we can.  We will both be putting in for transfers to the AG Walmart!

Just some Fall colors…

There is nothing in these photos you haven’t seen for yourself of late.  I just thought I would plug a few of the Fall color shots I’ve managed to punch out the past couple of weeks in our neighborhood.  For a photographer Fall is one of the best times of the year not only for the colors of the leaves but for the cloudy blueness of the sky.  Soon, some of these same trees will be bare of leaves and the color, and winter will have settled in.  We don’t get snow down here in the Northern Central Valley of California, it just gets foggy and cold most days until January or February when the rains come again.  If you click on each photo, it will open a larger version.