A Gentle Kiss in the Hot Tub

22 Million Views on SmugMug this year!

As many of you know, I moved over my portfolio to SmugMug this year. Have you seen my SmugMug Review? The team there gave readers here the a 20% savings (!!) — use the SmugMug Coupon of “STUCKINCUSTOMS“.

So, I was recently checking stats and I was surprised at how many views we have gotten on SmugMug in such a short time. 22 million in just over half a year, compared to Flickr, which is at 21 million after 5 years! I have posted shots from SmugMug and Flickr below.

Now, most of those views are just because of the blog, but it does show how heavily I rely on SmugMug. There is one “hidden” feature that you may not know about…. and this is a little geeky, but it helps! I have big photos here on the website… you all know this. They are 900 pixels across. Well, Flickr does serve them up in many sizes, and 1024 across is on of the standards. With Flickr, I need to use the width=”900″ in the html, which forces the browser to make a costly size change.

SmugMug, instead, does the processing on their beastly servers.

For example, I can take the default Xtra Large size link from SmugMug: http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/photos/974189667_iqznc-X2.jpg

and change the end so that the server resizes to 900 pixels across: http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/photos/974189667_iqznc-900x900.jpg

This means that everything is served up super-fast. This is a minor and nerdy point… but it does make the blog a lot faster.

SmugMug has a pretty cool stat tracking system, even though they don't use commas.

I also like the Flickr Stats system, even though I'm 95% sure it is broken.

Still on Flickr

As you can see, I still post all my photos to Flickr as well. I still like Flickr a lot, but it is not where I keep my main portfolio. I find the viewing experience better on SmugMug. Now, SmugMug has less of a community, so that is kind of a minor knock against it… but it’s easy enough to put the photos in both places.

Daily Photo – A Gentle Kiss in the Hot Tub

These snow monkeys are the greatest. I spent so long with them, we almost had a three-way.

They are all wild (in the natural sense, mind you), and they come down from the mountains near Nagano, Japan, for several hours a day to play in the natural hot springs. They gallivant around, have fights, play with their kids, have a bit of sweet carnal monkey fun, check their email, and pose for my camera.

These two monkeys spent a lot of time together… they were in maximum “relaxation mode”. They lounged around in every possible position and took occasional breaks to do a bit of mutual grooming.

HDR Photo

Video Recap – Heartbeats of Japan

We have many new people here on the blog that might not have seen this. There’s a lot more snow-monkey stuff in here for you… enjoy!

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Leo Laporte and the TWIT Cottage

TWIT Cottage

This was shot with a Nikon D3S and the Nikon 50mm 1.4 Lens. This particular one was shot at f/5.6 (f/1.4 would have made the sign blurry beyond recognition). Other particulars are: ISO 800, 1/500 sec exposure.

Join me live on Video today at 1:30 PM PST

EDIT: See the video recorded here.

On Sunday, tune in to live.twit.tv and join up the chat (click Popout Chat at the bottom) to join in the fun! I’ll be answering photography questions, HDR stuff, and the like.

I’ll be on with Leo Laporte on his big show, The Tech Guy, which goes to over 100 US Cities and XM Satellite. Leo is a real photography enthusiast — plus, he’s cool because he’s into a lot of my other interest areas of science/tech/emergent sociology/etc. If you are looking for some good podcasts, check out some from his network!

The TWIT Cottage

For those of you that don’t know, Leo has established an incredible lineup of podcasts, all of which eminate from this unassuming cottage in Petaluma, California. I’ve been over to the cottage twice, and I grabbed a few photos on my most recent trip.

Most of his guests come in via video skype, but sometimes they come there to the cottage. I was on The Tech Guy a few weeks ago, and while I was there, I took these photos.

In the larger one down below, you can see some of the fudge my mom made for Leo. She said, “He seems like a very nice man.”

And he is! You always wonder… if these people are actually jerks in real life. But he isn’t… just as nice as your instincts hope he is. It’s a good indicator that talent + good karma is a winning combination for the future. Back in the olden days (especially in media), talent and good karma were practically useless. Now, thanks to the internet, clever guys like Leo have no need to succumb to the Machiavellian nonsense of corporate media structures. Even better, he has a direct feedback loop to the audience he serves. Smart.

Daily Photo – Leo, Hard at Work

This photo below is a 5-exposure HDR. It was shot with a Nikon D3X (see my Nikon D3X Review) in aperture priority. The five shots were at -2, -1, 0, +1, and +2. Of course, Leo was moving around betwixt the exposures, so there are some tricks to fix that. It’s all there inside the free HDR Tutorial.

But you don’t need a big expensive camera like that to make HDRs. I have good/better/best suggestions on my HDR Camera recommendations page.

HDR Photo

Chat Room friends who like all the details can click to zoom into the original sized version. Just click on the "O" (for Original) on the top of the SmugMug page.

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The Falls of Yellowstone and The Best of London?

Where are the best places for photography in London?

Update: See the POLL here !

I’m going to start a poll soon, but I wanted to go ahead and get the list together first! I’ll be in London for about a week, and I’m excited to have that big PhotoWalk on Friday, Sep 10th at 6 PM. Exact location to be announced soon! I look forward to meeting photographers from London and going out to have some fun, and get some great shots! As usual, I’ll be talking through my process, answering questions, and all that good stuff.

But, since I will be there a full week, what are some of the best places to go for some awesome photography? You guys and gals already know the kinds of things I like to shoot, so let me have it! I don’t mind going a bit out of the city either. So rattle off your suggestions of cool spots, architecture, places at night, secret places, etc, down in the comments.  Soon, I can put up a poll in coming days to see what gets the most votes!

Daily Photo – The Falls of Yellowstone

This is a very famous waterfall in Yellowstone National Park. I was there smack dab in the middle of the day, which is just about the worst time to take photos. So be it, Jedi.

I got out the old trusty and handy 200-400mm lens to take a shot. It’s not that big. It’ll fit right in your back pocket. (BTW, see my Nikon 200-400 Review for more).

The colors of the freshly spawned earth are beautiful, especially when right up against the beautiful water from the falls. I believe I shot this with the Nikon D3S, and I got a little video while I was at it too. I’m not sure what the heck I’ll do with the video, but I have a few ideas. Mostly bad.

HDR Photo

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The Blackbird in the Hangar

Reminder on Zooming-In

If you want to get the original size photo, or simply zoom in to see some details, follow these steps:

  • First, click on the image, and that will take you to the SmugMug gallery.
  • Then, look closely at the top. You’ll see an “O”, which is usually to the right of X2 or X3. Click on that “O” – it means Original-Size

Daily Photo – The Blackbird in the Hangar

You may not even really need to be into planes to know about the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. The way those letters and numbers fit together is almost poetic, isn’t it? SR-71. There is a melody to it that flows in a nice way. It almost makes me wonder if there is some military muse that comes up with some of the better names for these vehicles.

In the background there, waaay in the rear area, you can see the space shuttle. What a cool place! Of course, this is the new Air & Space Museum in DC. By luck, there was a rail here for me to secure my camera to take this HDR.

HDR Photo

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Doug and the Horseshoe

New Video – New Shoes for the Horses

The wonderful anachronism the horseshoe is our topic today!  The act of putting making and putting on new horseshoes is one of those dying arts.  There are fewer and fewer places where this is done on a regular basis.  So, I felt lucky to have the chance to watch the big event while I was at that ranch recently.

I made the video part of this with my D3S (see my Nikon D3S Review for more).  I really love how this camera is so easy for shooting video.  I used the Nikon 50mm 1.4 prime to shoot all this footage, although it probably was not necessary to use a lens like that.  I probably could have gotten the exact same footage (and depth of field) with the more flexible 24-70mm.

Daily Photo – Doug and the Horseshoe

Whenever earn would press the burning-hot horseshoe into the foot of the horse, this smoke would billow up in an amazing cloud. The reason they do this is to see how the shoe fits before going back to make a few adjustments. The whole process was awesome to watch, as you can see. I felt like I was time traveling!

HDR Photo

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My Hollywood Adventure, Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of 3

Continued…

I’m getting closer to the CAA building, but still taking my time with my 50mm to poke about.

I feel prepared to deal with strange bits and pieces that might crop up while I am here. Maybe there is something about being a photographer. I feel like I can grasp meaning from ambiguity. Or, I can take that ambiguity and make it more tangible.

Has anyone here read Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer? I feel a bit like I had read it to prepare me for these sorts of events.

Of course, Beverly Hills is a redonkulous place. Personally, I’m not much of a shopper, but I do know this is quite the mecca for people that are really into this sort of thing.

I felt a bit like a redshirt on an away mission, studying the peculiarities of the local inhabitants. The women would walk from one store to the next with a sense of purpose. Of real purpose. In fact, they had as much seriousness in their movements as I did taking photos of the scene. So I try my best not to be too judgmental, since I figure it doesn’t matter what the heck you do with your life, as long as you do it with a sense of purpose.

Everyone needs a hobby, and I guess shopping ranks right up there with other “gathering-esque” ways of spending your time. I’d argue that photography is a better and more fulfilling hobby, but maybe that is me. Of course, I am writing all of this now because I was thinking of it at the time… And I also made a mental note that I should write an eBook entitled You Need A New Hobby: It’s Photography! and then lay out inside all the goodies and the first few steps to getting started in a productive and enlightening new hobby… But who has time to write all these eBooks? Anyway, I decide to put it on my to-do list and keep moving about.

But then I am still thinking about it while I am walking about, even though I tried to get it off my mind by resolving to put it on the to-do list. I was reminded of some quote… I could barely grasp the edges… something to the effect of, “You cannot find yourself; you must create yourself.” I think that sounds nice.

Then I was thinking of another quote from Buddha that I have always liked, “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.” It’s quite tranquil, and I need to figure out a way to work that into the blog or the Stuck In Customs thing in some way. It’s a very nice little saying… maybe I’ll squeeze it in somewhere? Don’t want things too cluttered… maybe replace “Daily Photo Adventure” with that nice little quote? I don’t know… I resolve to let it simmer in my subconscious for a few more months before making a decision.

Sometimes I force decisions and sometimes I just let things work themselves out. Making decisions in the flow of time with many other moving variables can be tough. I’m not sure the human brain is great at dealing with this. I believe I grasp at the shadow of time and place and do my best to bend it around to my will. It only sometimes works.

Seeing the cars driving around the streets, I remember an interesting analogy about decisions and time and variables. I’m sure you all have experienced the following. Sometimes, you’re driving along on a pretty crowded road. You need to pop over one lane because your exit is coming up. It’s not immediately coming up, but in a few miles. But there is a car hanging out there in the perfectly wrong place. You can’t get over naturally. Then he moves along and is replaced with another car. And then that car speeds along and another car swoops in to block you. It is almost a perfect symphony of things getting in your way… as if the universe is conspiring against you. So, you begrudgingly decide just to wait a minute, perhaps change the radio station or direct your attention elsewhere for a short bit. And then you remember you need to pop over one lane. You look, and it’s wide open. It’s hard to remember exactly what made this so difficult before.

Sometimes I go ahead and force the decisions through anyway — and other times I just let them drift along until the move is obvious, calm, and almost Zen-like in execution. I prefer the latter, of course, and I do my best to help things flow in that direction.

As I’m walking through the streets, it’s beginning to get a little warm. It must be about 75, which is not traditionally warm, but I am wearing some blue jeans and a button-down shirt. It’s fairly heavy, made of one of the thicker Robert Graham designs. I have a messenger bag thrown around my back with my laptop and an extra lens. I unbutton one more notch to keep it cool.

I take photos of interesting bits, happy that I have decided on a “square” composition for everything. I think to myself I should do it more because it’s different and challenging. It’s quite tough because the viewfinder itself is a rectangle. I have to ignore what I see on the edges… this is harder than it might seem.

There is a strange sense of beauty here in Beverly Hills. Very strange. Everything is manufactured and hyper-planned to the point of undeniable beauty. No matter the store, the shrub, or the sign, the viewer is meant to be left with a feeling of awe. And it is all quite nice, but almost in an overly-manufactured manner. Like Stepford Wives. Or like a snow globe of a perfect village. People glide around inside the bubble, mimicking the beauty.

But around and through this bubble, I think there is perhaps real beauty. Bits if it here and there, and it’s as elusive and surprising to find as happiness.

I think of that wonderful promo ad made by the Discovery Channel. Have you seen it? Here is a link to the video of “I Love the World”. It is both cheesy and spot-on… smart.

I turn onto “Avenue of the Stars”. How can a road with such a silly name actually exist? More importantly, what is someone like me doing on it?

I’m just about the only one walking around. LA is a driving city. It’s pretty much just me walking around, the occasional homeless person, and drained-looking people who are walking from huge buildings to bus stops.

Soon enough, I approach my quarry: the CAA building.

The front of the building has a long driveway, filled with fabulous cars, scary-looking body guards, security personnel, drivers, and lots of black suits and dark glasses.

This is the vaunted spot where countless stars are whisked in and out of their cars for meetings with the agents inside the CAA offices.

It suddenly occurs to me that security will assume I am paparazzi, since I am walking up to star-central with a giant camera.

They don’t.

I get several sunglass-ed nods. I don’t know if it is because CAA knew I was coming or because I did not look the part. Either way, they did not bother me… My spidey-sense is always on high alert around people that are ready to hassle you for taking photos. Just in case, I have a rich array of oratory comebacks, ready and armed for full frontal assault. But, alas, I did not get to unleash the salvo.

What good is it to think about this stuff? I have no idea, I think to myself, as I walk in the doors…

This was Part 2 of 3

Beverly-Hills-Walk

Walking through the streets of Beverly Hills is filled with just the sorts of things one might expect to see.


Beverly-Hills-Walk

The entrance to the CAA building, which I would soon reach, made for interesting subject matter.  The staff there figured out I wasn’t paparazzi once I started taking photos of the building itself.




Beverly-Hills-Walk

The buildings that tower around the edges of my walk could be seen as rather mundane.  In fact, they were quite mundane.  So to find their proper edges within a frame was challenging.




Beverly-Hills-Walk

Jane Goodall would be proud.  I observed the youths from a safe distance.  These young females, now of the age of mating, mimicked the gathering patterns of their mothers.  Nearby, a richly festooned elder female sat, attended and cooled by mechanical horses.




Beverly-Hills-Walk

The famous street in Century City, which lies on the southern edge of Beverly Hills.  The name of the street is more interesting than the actual street itself.




Beverly-Hills-Walk

Many architectural designs from 20 years ago can be eyesores.  This building had a feeling of 50 years old, so it kept a certain charm.   Certain designs have a timeless feeling to them, while others fade in and out of fashion… I don’t know why things are this way.




Beverly-Hills-Walk

As I approach the CAA building, the drivers and cars align the driveway, waiting to whisk Hollywood stars to and fro.  I’m clearly not one of those people, so they largely ignore me and give me a vibe of general disdain.

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Clyde Aspevig Interview

A New Mini-Documentary Video

I’m very excited to show you this little interview!

In case you don’t know of the great painter Clyde Aspevig (or you missed that bit in my book where I referenced his paintings), then this is a great chance to do so.  I was lucky enough to spend several days with him again in Montana at a ranch, and I did not waste it.  Many of you know my fascination with the French Impressionists; the idea that I was able to talk to a modern day reincarnation of one was thrilling.

Daily Photo – Clyde Aspevig in the Wild

While I was out there with the D3S (see my Nikon D3S Review) taking video, I also grabbed a number of stills.  While Clyde was in the middle of one of his paintings, I knelt down to grab this one.  I love it… I think he looks like a demigod.

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The Forest on the Mega Volcano

Interview on Trip Atlas

I'm making this 200-400mm lens look a lot lighter than it actually is. Shortly after this shot, I collapsed in screaming agony.

There is a new interview at Trip Atlas. We talk about this and that. How’s that for a description?

Nikon 200-400mm Review

I have put up a new Nikon 200-400 Review here on the site and sprinkled many new photos inside! I rented it from Borrowlenses.com last week while I was in Yellowstone. It was a fun lens to use and quite different. I pushed myself to do a few landscapes with it, and one of these is posted below!

Daily Photo – The Forest on the Mega Volcano

I would guess about 50% of people know this, and I should not take it for granted that everyone does.  But Yellowstone sits on top of a giant caldera, and it’s due to go off any time (at least, geologically due!) If you look at a map of Yellowstone from above, you can see the clear outline of the caldera.  When the mega-volcano strikes, it’ll be a doozy!

In the meantime, the ultra-thin crust of this area gives way to some remarkable geothermal events. There is a period of the morning when the air is cool and the earth is hot.  It creates an exceptional amount of steam in some areas.

I woke up about 5 AM to go catch this morning steam.  I use the D3S as my backup camera, and I had the 200-400mm affixed.  I challenged myself to capture some compressed landscapes, and this area seemed just about perfect.
This is a single-shot HDR that came from a RAW file.  These RAW files contain a lot of light information nowadays.

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Shopping in the Rain & Portofino Print Available

New Numbered Print, Limited Edition – The Boat in Portofino

This one is definitely a big favorite, and we have gotten many emails asking about when it will become available. Well now it finally is!

Now, let’s be clear. This isn’t really Portofino, but it sure does look like it, eh? We might even make the case that it is more pretty than the real Portofino! This is a beautiful resort in Orlando, over at Universal Studios. The lake is filled with a bunch of little boats, each of which has a different little Italian girl’s name on the back.

Daily Photo – Shopping in the Rain

Today we have another street photography shot from Tokyo. It was quite late at night, quite cold, quite rainy, and quite dark! But, it certainly made for an interesting challenge.

Street life is quite vibrant and pretty in the rain at night. I always struggle with bringing what is so obvious on the scene into the final photo. Getting the feeling right in the final photo without artificial life is tough.

This businessman was strolling down the street, doing some light window shopping. The 50mm 1.4 prime did most of the work here for me, even though it did require manual focus. That bit was hard. Real hard. But, I’ll do my best to put everything together into an upcoming post on the top 10 tips in street photography.

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The Gentle Eye of the Beast

Amazing Time with the Wounded Warriors

Last night I had the chance to meet and present to a group of wounded soldiers that have recently returned from combat.

I’m still here at this ranch in Yellowstone, and we had some recent arrivals. There is a program called the Wounded Warrior Project, and many groups of soldiers come out to Montana to do a bit of fly fishing.

I sat by Dave Kumlien at dinner tonight (read about Dave here), who helps lead the Warriors & Quiet Waters program. He’s a master fly-fisherman (we call him the “Trout Whisperer” around here). He told me a bunch of different stories about this program over the last four years. He’s worked with over 150 vets and has 150 stories about how they have changed. I’m trying to convince him to write a book about it!

Anyway, after the big dinner, we all retired to the Great Room, and I gave a little half-hour presentation on photography. We had a great time during and afterward — and I was happy to meet and talk to them all.

Daily Photo – The Gentle Eye of the Beast

I gave a little impromptu workshop a few days ago.  I took a group of friends for the afternoon and we went out for an instructional photowalk, followed by a hardcore critique.

On the short walk, we visited a barn and a stable.  I gave assignments to people to all gather photos of the same subjects, find unique bits, and then submit a few photos for critique.  I’ve done this sort of thing many times before, and I’m always surprised at what I see.  Everything from the mundane to the stunning.  However, I am always impressed at what people find that I did not see.  I sometimes like to think that I can find many of the cool tidbits and angles, but then I am humbled when “newbies” find things that I completely missed!

Anyway, we had a great time milling about and comparing notes.  I did the whole assignment myself, and submitted this one into my own critique.

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