Mookie

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Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, Fenway Park, Boston, August 2018

Took the boy to Fenway last Sunday for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite Boston having the best record in baseball, and Tampa Bay being Tampa Bay, the Rays have Boston’s number. Starting with the game we went to, where the Red Sox were shut out on two hits for the 4-0 loss, Boston went on to lose three straight. They then started winning again, only to lose to Tampa again by a lopsided score the other day.

Even before moving to New England, I was a nominal Boston fan. I loved reading about Ted Williams and what a quirky, heroic figure he was, and as luck would have it, I read a huge book about him in 2004—the same year they finally won a World Series for the first time in several generations. Now that I’ve been here awhile, and my sister and brother-in-law (Oakland A’s fans) openly mock me for being a “fan,” I guess I can count myself among the Boston multitude.

I shot the above photo with my 200mm lens, the most reach I currently own. Betts was playing right in front of us, so my best shots are of him. I wasn’t able to get him actually catching that fly ball, though. Even shooting at 1/4000th, I got a ton of frames before the catch and a ton of frames after. Baseball may get a lot of crap for being a “slow” sport, but when something actually happens, the ball and the players who have to chase it are very, very quick.

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Tiny Golfer

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I’ve had an occasional obsession with fake miniature photographs. Creating them without a tilt-shift lens is more an art than a science. I never know what photos will work and which won’t. The above photo of my friend Rob playing golf was taken by another of our friends as he waited to tee off. Rob posted it to Facebook, and when I saw it, I knew it’d make a good fake mini. I downloaded the pic, processed it in Lightroom and Focus CK, and sure enough, it works.

I took these from the plane coming home from Cabo, and they should have worked better than they did:

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Interstate highway, Houston.

 

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Suburban neighborhood, Houston.

 

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Neighborhood in San Jose Del Cabos, Mexico.

 

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Houston trucking company.

 

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Houston trucking company.

They’re amusing, especially the little Mexican neighborhood, but the rest don’t quite work. They’re faded and gritty, and I don’t like how I had to bump the contrast up and do a bunch of other detrimental stuff to counteract the bright Tex-Mex sunshine.

Part of the problem is what I’m shooting through: reinforced aircraft window. It’s (mostly) great at keeping people from getting sucked out of airplanes, an not bad for looking through. But shooting through it is a drag. Also, since you’re moving fast in a jet, even setting the shutter speed at 1/4,000 there’s so much motion it’s hard to get crisp images. You’re also moving fast, and in order to get decent images at all you need a telephoto lens. And guess what telephoto lenses don’t like: movement, something bouncy planes have in abundance.

Cabo

Photos from my week in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sud, Mexico, July 2018.

The Bay Area

Photos from my trip to San Francisco and surrounding territory.

State Line

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State Line sign at Brookline, N.H.

I did a real estate shoot in Ashby, Mass., today. It was a vacation home on an unnamed lake, and the place certainly had seen better days.

I crossed back into New Hampshire at the town of Brookline. I love how the states here are so small that you can cross in and out of them within twenty minutes. I had to do a reshoot for another company last week, which required me to drive from school to York, Maine. The route dove down into Massachusetts to I-495, then to I-95 back into N.H. Because the Granite State has the shortest coastline of any in the Union, less than 15 minutes later I was in Maine. If I wanted to hit all six New England states and wanted to risk a ticket, I probably could leave home after a late breakfast and be back home for an early supper.

I liked this sign, along with the little township marker at its base.

At bat: ‘The Designated Hitter’

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Cover for The Designated Hitter: Inning 1

The debut issue of my comic book The Designated Hitter is out, and a Kickstarter effort to get the second issue up and running went live today. Boston-area artist Brian Bicknell and I are raising $3,000 to produce The Designated Hitter: Inning 2. 

There will be nine such “innings,” and I originally just wanted to pay for one, and maybe kick it around to publishers and conventions and so on. Brian, on the other hand, suggested going the Kickstarter route, one Inning at a time.

We have thirty days to raise the funds, or Kickstarter cancels the project. On the other hand, if we go over the $3,000 target, we can use the extra money for extra printing costs or for “stretch goals,” such as extra “innings” or even a hardbound collection of the issues under one cover.

Kickstarter donors receive premiums, including copies of the comic, signed poster versions of the cover, and more.

Update: The Designated Hitter didn’t quite do as well as Brian and I had hoped. We raised just over $600. Back to Class B ball! Time will tell if Inning 2 ever sees the light of day.

Eclipse 2017

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Total solar eclipse from Gallatin, Tenn., August 2017

Like millions of other people, I braved the crowds and traffic jams to catch the Great American Eclipse on Monday. I didn’t quite get the shots I wanted, since I don’t have the kind of long lens necessary to magnify the sun and moon’s discs, which have only a half-degree of angular diameter. (That’s the width of a pencil held at arm’s length.) At the wide end of the scale, when I upgraded to my new Canon, I gave away my T-5 Rebel and my 10-22mm wide angle lens, which would have allowed me to get more of a landscape view with people and structures in the foreground. My new lens—which in other ways is orders of magnitude better—couldn’t do what I wanted. Worse, we were viewing the eclipse in the South, which means the sun was high up and at 24mm I didn’t have the span to get anything but leaves and branches. But that’s where I started, bracketing down from 1/4000th down to the mutli-second exposures. I’m happy that I live-view focused properly. Everything was sharp.

After getting ten or so wide-angle shots, I took a break to just enjoy what I was seeing. My son was with me, and we had endured a long drive and many misadventures to find ourselves in this little park in eastern Tennessee. Given all of that, fiddling with a camera the entire time felt wrong. But I only had two and a half minutes to work with, so it was time to get a few more exposures in. I zoomed in to 105mm, but the whole thing was still pretty small. I might have had a shot at getting something interesting along the limb of the sun—Bailey’s Beads, prominences, etc.—but by the time I was shooting zoomed in, my exposures were still too long. I was at 1/100th or something when the moon slid out of the way. There was an unbelievably bright flare in my eyes and on my last image, then a cheer from everyone in the park. The big event was over.

I have taught astronomy, written about it, read about it, obsessed about it. I know how an eclipse works. In fact, it’s rather boring: one thing blocks the light from another thing, coincidentally the first thing is small but the bigger thing is far away, etc. But I was not prepared for how it would feel to see a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. For two and a half minutes, I stood at the toe of some benevolent giant, one who could have stepped on me and everyone at that park and kept on walking. Instead, he looked down at us, gave a friendly wink, and wandered off.

Pulpit Falls

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Pulpit Falls, Winchester, N.H., August 2017

I took a couple of chances with my safety to reach this waterfall, which is tucked away in southwest New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border. The sun was almost down, and it was about a half mile hike up a path that hadn’t been used in a while. All I could think about was the sun going down and not being able to find my way back to the car. About ten seconds into the hike, I lost the signal from my phone’s map program, and I was hiking blind. Fortunately, there are blue ribbons hanging from the trees marking the trail. Without those, I’d have been screwed. But I’m glad I took the risk.

New York City V: The Empire State Building Strikes Back

I’m glad I made the trip to the ol’ ESB. The new(ish?) Observation Deck and museum is really nice, and well worth the $30-$60 you’ll spend for a trip to the top. I went at sunset, and I was not disappointed with the view. And of course, since I can’t take high-ground photos without tilt-shifting everything to death, I was able to process to my heart’s content. I also got to post the Flatiron photo on Facebook and post my standard gag about building a model of it on my table. Two or three of my Facebook friends always fall for it.

I should feel bad when I do that. But I don’t.

New York City IV: A Day at the Museum

I’ve wanted to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York since I was 8 years old and could name for you not only the dinosaurs, but all of the periods of the Mesozoic Era and probably a few from the Paleozoic, too.

After finally getting to check it out, I learned that 1) an afternoon wasn’t enough, and 2) they need to update the astronomy exhibit. I ditched dinos for space the day after seeing Star Wars for the first time, and I’m a little disappointed that my newer love wasn’t well represented. The dinosaur skeletons were amazing. Meanwhile, the exhibits in the Hayden Planetarium look like they were last updated in the early 1990’s—relativistic jets emerging from quasars, for example, aren’t attributed to supermassive black holes, they way we now know they should be.

That’s right, Neil Degrasse Tyson, I’m calling you out! (I’m kidding! Ha ha! You’re smarter and tougher than I’ll ever be please don’t kill me.)

New York City II: Yankees Win

On my first full day in New York, I Ubered out to the Bronx to catch my first Yankee game. They still alive for a playoff spot, with only a couple of games left. I got to see Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka strike out 15—the most ever by an Asian pitcher in the Majors—and flirt with a perfect game until the fifth inning. The Yanks won 4-0, and even though I’m a Red Sox fan (if I’m anything at all), it was a nice day at the ballpark.

Boston and The Whales

Now that I’m living closer to civilization, I can do stuff like “heading to the beach,” and “whale watching” and “going to Boston without it taking six damn hours.”

I’m still editing much of the stuff I took with the new camera yesterday. Lightroom is really strange about taking up all of your hard drive space, so I need to clear out my laptop.

Seriously, the new Canon is super sharp. I don’t have as much reach as I thought I’d have with the 24-105mm, but even with the whales a quarter mile away, I could crop heavily and still have a nice image or two.

Confidential to the really wonderful couple I met on the boat: 1) I’m still really, really sorry for Americans who have no manners or common decency; 2) I hope you’re feeling better; 3) email me at mrcpblair “at” gmail, and I’ll get you your photos.

New York City I: Nice Day for a Walk

 

I was 16 the summer of 1986 when I won a trip to the United Nations. At that time, New York City was a different animal. And by animal, I mean animal. As in “feral.” It was every bit the horrible urban hellscape we saw on TV, only worse. Our hosts (the Odd Fellows Lodge) were strict about the rules: Stay in your lines, keep your wallets in your front pockets, and for God’s sake, no matter what you do, don’t talk to anyone.

This was good advice. For the entire week, we marched up one side of stinking Manhattan and down the other, sweating in our sport coats or formal dresses. We stepped over street people sleeping on the sidewalk, tried to ignore the piles of garbage stacked like greasy beanbags outside the restaurants, and flinched at the sound of women screaming and chasing the crack addicts who had stolen their purses. The copy of New York Newsday, left on our bed by the maids on Day One, bore the lovely headline COP SHOOTING. To a kid from Cottage Grove, Ore., population 7,000, New York was terrifying. It assaulted the nose with sewage, fryer grease, and urine. And by the time I left, I was in love with it. I loved the buildings that disappeared into clouds. I loved seeing A Chorus Line at the Schubert Theater. I loved seeing all those important places that I’d always heard about on the news. When the bus pulled away and started the long trip back across the continent, I knew I wanted more. Someday soon, I’d return as a writer or a talk show host or some other sweet gig that would put me right in the middle of that beautiful mess.

Thirty-one years later, I finally made it back. I never got that book contract or that sweet NYT job. But I did have a couple of vacation days, some money in the bank, and my Canon. Mindful of the fact that New York wasn’t entirely tamed, I kept my 74-105mm and 200mm lenses at home and forced myself to get by with my 50mm—or, the “Nifty Fifty” as one blog put it. It sticks out of the camera body about 2 inches. It also forces the intrepid photographer to get close to the action.

I’m a little sad to report that New York … just wasn’t the same. That was mostly good, I guess. I could walk the streets without fear. I was ready for anything, of course. But it just wasn’t necessary. This new version of New York reminded me of when I lived in Portland, with maybe more angry car horn-honking but with fewer street people. (I counted two of them, and they were tucked away off the sidewalk, politely sleeping on boxes.) This time around, only hazard to walking around before dawn was getting inadvertently sprayed with a hose, because apparently they clean the sidewalks now. Servers in restaurants were much less cranky; new accents had replaced the standard dropped-R: Dominican, Eastern European, and others that I couldn’t place. But oh, New York. What happened to you? The fight has left the place. I don’t know if it was the much-maligned Disney-fication of Times Square or whatever, or if the city is still recovering from 9/11. Or maybe the creeping automation and Amazon.com has eliminated the need for people and storefronts to be stacked on top of each other.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked the cleaner, safer Manhattan 2.0. But I wanted some of the old New York. I wanted to be yelled at by a cop or something. Just once.

All in all, though, it was great to go back. And now that I’m only four hours a way, I won’t wait another 31 years to do it.

I’ll post a new batch of photos every day this week:

  • I—Nice Day for a Walk (today): I walk around smiling at stuff like that stupid U2 Vegas video.
  • II—THUUHHHHH Yankees Win: New York beats Toronto, David Judge gets tagged out after overrunning first base, and I pay $12.50 for an IPA.
  • III—Central Park: You could fit downtown Manchester in this thing and still have room for the rest of N.H., too.
  • IV—Day at the Museum: Doesn’t anyone around here know how to dust?
  • V—The Empire State Building Strikes Back … by taking $38 of my money for an elevator ride. Oh, and your tilt-shift cup runneth over.

New York City III: Central Park

What can I say about Central Park? It’s big. It’s a park. If you go looking for it, it’s in the center of Manhattan.

Hence the name, people.

Hence the name.

Seacoast

Portsmouth, N.H., and all along the seacoast

 

 

Maine

 

Maine seacoast and west toward New Hampshire.

Saturn


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My adorable telescope, plus the camera adapter minus the camera, but including a bottle of A&W Cream Soda. So I am now a diabetic.

 

A few years ago, I spent about $100 to be able to mount my Canon DSLR to my telescope. I’ve since discovered that shooting anything other than the moon is pretty much impossible. Focusing on something that small (though bright) through a cheap telescope and 100 km of turbulent atmosphere is not something my camera likes to do. The object is never sharp enough to see in a photo. My telescope doesn’t track, either, so there goes photographing any deep sky stuff.

So, yeah, I’m pretty much stuck with the moon.1

Fortunately, the Canon comes with a video camera option. With Saturn lurking just over the southern horizon, I made this little clip:


 

1. Yeah, taking pictures of the moon is cool through a telescope, I guess. But the photos aren’t that great. They’re dark and grimy looking no matter what, and even if you’re live-view focusing, they’re never very sharp. You can do just as well with any decent zoom lens and some cropping. If you want to look at the moon, you’re better off just peeking through the eyepiece, where the view is much prettier for some reason—tack sharp and well lit.

Catching Up

It’s certainly been a while. Here are some photos ranging from mid April to just this week.