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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Here are two more images of the Golden Gate Bridge, both from a more unusual perspective than the usual postcard shots taken from the south parking lot.  I like that this image shows the different types of construction that support the bridge.  While most people think of it as strictly a suspension bridge, it’s also supported from below at the south end, which is what the above image plays up.  I particularly like the arch that was built over Fort Point.  Notice how it dwarfs the lighthouse on the roof of the fort.

The image below was also taken from the south side of the span, and also plays up the supports of the bridge from below.  The trick to both of these images is to get BELOW the level of the roadway.  And that involves walking away from the parking lot.  Lots of neat trails crisscross the terrain, and there’s a walkway that allows you to cross underneath the traffic from one side of the roadway to the other.  There’s also plenty of free parking just a short walk from the vista point, so you don’t need to wait for a spot to open up in the overcrowded lot, or worry about feeding the meters.  The next time you visit the Golden Gate Bridge, plan to spend at least an hour or two exploring with your camera at either end of the bridge.

So when you’re shooting an icon like the Golden Gate Bridge, see if you can come away with images that are different from what you see on the postcards in the gift shops and souvenir stands.  You’ll have more fun making the images, as well as a much more personal reminder of your visit.


The most photographed bridge in the world celebrates 75 years today.  There will be fireworks, but no bridge walk, and I am among the tens of thousands of people who are very disappointed about that.  Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the centennial…I just hope I’ll still be alive and able to walk by then.  What were they thinking?

In any case, I hope it’s a beautiful and safe celebration for all attending.  And if you’re going, be sure to take some pictures!

The hibiscus is the state flower of Hawai’i.  Specifically the yellow hibiscus, although it’s a deeper shade of yellow than the one in the image above.  There are seven species of hibiscus native to the islands, but most of the hibiscus plants in the islands are actually Chinese hibiscus.   Most hibiscus flowers have no scent.  But who cares when they’re this beautiful?

Something I’ve noticed about hibiscus is that there are almost always ants in the flowers.  Attention women:  if you’re picking one to put behind your ear, give it a once-over.  Wearing a flower behind you’re left ear means you’re spoken for, and behind the right ear means you’re available.

One of the things I love the most about visiting tropical places is the diversity of plants and flowers.  That’s certainly true about Hawai’i, although many (most?) of the plants and flowers that we think are Hawaiian are actually non-native.   Anthurium originated in Costa Rica, bird of paradise in South Africa, Heliconia in Central and South America, red ginger in Malaysia…the list goes on.

I enjoy visiting botanical gardens when I travel, and not just in the tropics.  It’s a great way to learn about the culture, by finding out what plants were used by the native peoples, and for what purposes.  You can also find out which plants are edible, just in case you get lost on your next hike.  And last but not least, there are the photo ops.  Lots of gorgeous plants and flowers in one place, most with handy placards for easy identification.

If you’re the geeky type (like me), I recommend getting in the habit of snapping a shot of the sign either right before or right after you shoot a new plant or flower.  Then when you’re sorting images on your computer, you can easily keyword them for future reference, or to sort your images for a particular plant or flower.  Even if you’re not into cataloging your images, you’ll at least have that data on hand in case you ever need it.

Or, just enjoy the flowers for their looks.  Nothing wrong with that either.  As Shakespeare so eloquently put it:  “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I went to Hawai’i a few years ago with someone who had never been there before.  I decided to start our trip in Kona (on The Big Island), which is hot and relatively dry (for the tropics) since a few days later we were going to stay with some friends of mine in Volcano.  The town of Volcano is about 3,800′ and can be a bit chilly and drizzly and not exactly how people picture Hawai’i.  Being on the rim of a volcano is very cool, but it has a different vibe than being at sea level and near the ocean.  I wanted us to get a few days of sunning and snorkeling under our belts before exploring the caldera and lava tubes and forests.

So we got settled in our hotel, where it turned out we were the youngest guests by about 30 years.  I booked it because it was a great deal, but evidently the retired set likes a good deal too, and we felt like we were suddenly in a retirement home.  As soon as we unpacked, we headed out to the ocean, which was only a block or two away.  I had told my companion about the sea turtles and how cool it is to snorkel with them, and she was excited about seeing them up close.

No sooner did we get out to the water, but a turtle appeared, right on cue.  My companion was delighted.  It was early evening, so we weren’t going to go snorkeling until the following day.  (After I told her that sharks feed at dusk, there was no way I was going to get her in the water until tomorrow anyway!)  But we enjoyed watching the turtles from the beach and the jetty.  Because the turtles feed on the algae that grows on rocks, they’re often seen along the beaches and breakwaters, very close to shore.  From the jetty, we could look almost straight down at the turtles.

I had left my good camera in the hotel room, as we were going to go out to dinner after our walk.  So all I had was my companion’s digital “point and pray” camera.  I took three images, and even though the turtles were right at the surface of the water, there was enough distortion from the small waves, the turtles swimming, and the fact that her camera arbitrarily chose a too-slow shutter speed to cause some interesting effects in the images.

When I first looked at them I was disappointed that they weren’t nice and clear like my aquarium shots.  But now I decided that I liked the distortion.  To me it lends a painterly effect.  It emphasizes the liquid medium that is the turtles’ home, and the fact that we are but temporary voyeurs of the turtles while they are feeding close to shore.  They also travel hundreds and even thousands of miles across the oceans and so we aren’t privy to most of their lives.

What do you think?  Are these good images, or bad ones?  Do you prefer the marine biology textbook turtle image, or the art class batik turtle on a tie-dyed sea?  Unlike in school, there are no right or wrong answers.

Of the various birds and animals that are adept at hiding themselves in the wild, you wouldn’t think peacocks would be among the top contenders.  Perhaps  chameleons or octopi or some type of lizard or reptile or fish, but certainly not one of the showiest birds in the animal kingdom.  So imagine my surprise when I noticed this peacock “hiding” in the bushes.  Honestly, when he held still, he was all but invisible.  Notice how his tail feathers blend into the foliage.

There’s also a peahen in the lower right of the image.  You can see her brown tail feathers, which don’t look too much unlike a rock at a distance, as well as a tiny bit of her blue neck, which is paler and less iridescent than the peacock’s.

I’m not sure why these two birds felt like hiding, since they were in an area free of predators.  Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism.  Perhaps they like to alternate between being the center of attention, then switching to stealth mode.  Or perhaps they like the idea of keeping photographers up at night, wondering about the birds’ strange habits.

Mission accomplished!

Meet the nene (pronounced “nay-nay”).  These geese (Branta sandvicensis) are currently found on only four islands in Hawai’i:  Maui, Moloka’i, Kaua’i and The Big Island.  They are descendants of the Canada Goose, at least a couple of which either had a very bad sense of direction and/or got blown seriously off-course while migrating a few hundred thousand years ago, give or take a few.  I imagine that after their prehistoric ancestors recovered from their trans-oceanic journey, they took one look around them and said “To hell with those brutal North American winters:  we’re gonna stay right here and raise us a family!”  Or words (or quacks) to that effect.

The nene’s coloring has modified over the millenia to more closely match the terrain they are found in.  In this image, their body feathers are similar to the color of the lava they’re walking on, and notice how well their heads blend into the shadows on the lava behind them.  Even their goslings do a great job of blending in!

The nene can still fly, but they spend most of their time walking.  Their feet have adapted to the sharp lava by becoming thicker and more padded on the bottom, and they also have less webbing between their toes than ordinary geese.  There’s very little fresh water in Hawai’i, and what there is flows quickly to the sea.  So these geese have adapted to their dry climate, not just by mostly walking (instead of swimming or flying) but also by developing the unique ability (among goose species) of being able to breed on land instead of in the water.  Finally, they differ from all the other North American geese in that they breed during the winter instead of the summer.  Winter is the rainy season in Hawai’i, and thus there’s more plant growth, which translates into more food for the parents and their young.

The nene is the official state bird of Hawai’i.  And indeed, after the thousands of years the species has called Hawai’i home, they are no longer Haoles (foreigners), but have earned the honor of being considered Kama’aina (locals).

Yup, those first two Canada geese that today’s nene are decended from knew a good thing when they found it.  And if you were to poll all the nene in Hawai’i and ask them if they wanted to go back to North America, I bet I know how they would vote:  “Nay!  Nay!”

Deer are not dear to everyone.  It seems most people either love them or hate them.  They’re either beautiful, elegant, gentle forest creatures a la Bambi, or uber-herbivores that clean out your flowers beds…and sometimes stealthy ninjas that leap in front of your car at night without warning.

Perhaps all three viewpoints are correct.  They’re lovely to look at until they’ve eaten your prize roses and/or totaled your new pickup.  Then suddenly you contemplate expanding your diet to include venison stew….

I happen to like deer, but that could be because I’m not much of a gardener, and I seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to anticipating animals leaping out into the road ahead of me.  It has served me well during hundreds of miles of automobile driving, and over 100,000 miles of motorcycle riding.  I pray it continues….

This young buck was strolling through a field in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California early one morning.  He still had velvet on his antlers, which stands out with the strong sidelighting.  I was out for a stroll and was able to get a few good shots of him before he casually bounded away.  I love how the color of his coat so perfectly matches the dry oat grass.

He was a dear to pose for me.

This is the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas).  They are found in tropical and sub-tropical oceans the world over.  These images were taken in Hawai’i.

The Green Sea Turtle is not named after its external coloring, which is mostly beige, brown and yellow.  Rather, it’s named for the color of its fat.  These turtles are not carnivores, but subsist on green algae that grows on rocks.  The algae they eat turns their fat green.

I’ve snorkeled with these guys on almost every visit I’ve made to Hawai’i, on O’ahu, Mau’i, Lana’i, Moloka’i and The Big Island.  I never get tired of watching them swim.  For as awkward as they are on land, they are the epitome of grace when in the water, and move through it with seemingly zero effort.

I’ve caught them napping on the ocean floor, but they also like to haul out onto certain beaches at times.  Sadly, some people don’t have the sense to not bother them, so there are now volunteer docents at the most popular beaches to ensure that folks keep their distance and the turtles get some peace.

Sleep tight!

It would be hard to pick my favorite tropical flower.  One reason is that if I picked it, it would die.  But the other reason is that there are so many to choose from.  I would need specific criteria by which to make a selection.

For example, if the criterion was scent, plumeria would be in the top five, but so would tuberose, gardenia, ginger, and even the unfortunately named spider lily.  If the criterion was color, magenta Bougainvillea would be a top contender, but so would the burgundy hue of certain orchids, and shiny red anthuriums.  You get the idea.

But if there was a category for sheer drama, I think Heliconia would top the list.  The flowers grow on long stalks that either stand upright, or hang straight down.  I’ve seen hanging blooms on these plants that are several feet long!  They come in dramatic shades of reds, oranges and yellows, and often combinations of those colors, sometimes tipped or outlined with green.  And they have such a sculpted look!

To me the combination of vibrant green foliage and bright red blossoms is irresistible.  Every trip I make to Hawai’i includes at least one day, and often several, spent shooting in botanical gardens and parks.  And often the bold and beautiful Heliconia steals the show. Not that I mind.

Or maybe more of a maitai sunrise, I’m not really sure.  Definitely a grenadine sun, however.

I’m getting excited about the annular eclipse this coming Sunday, so I thought I’d post a picture of the (non-eclipsed) sun.