Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A new favorite moon set

I was taking Jasper out for his morning pee at about 6:00 this morning.  I saw that the sky was clear and the moon was full.  If you catch it right, you can get the moon setting just as the sun comes up.

I set my camera up out on the deck with a 500mm lens and a 2.0x teleconver.  It was 7 degrees out and I was wandering around in sock feet.    My first few shots were just trying to get the right exposure for the moon.  Cameras seem to always want to get this wrong, so I always do moon photography in Manual.
 As the moon started to set, I got a better sense of exactly where it was going to cross the ridge.  I noticed that someone had been up doing some hiking and backcountry skiing.
 Just as the moon was ducking behind the ridge, the pink-purple glow from the sunrise hit the snow on the mountain top, giving me one of my favorite moon photos.
The only pisser is that I didn't do quite enough to minimize the slight blur from the motion of the camera and lens. The picture looks ok until you do a high resolution version, at which point you can see all the faults.

Reminders to me for my next moon photo are:

  • Get my lazy ass off the deck.  It moves a bit. get on firm ground or pavement
  • Hang my bean bag (16 pounds) off the tripod to keep it still
  • Sacrifice a bit of ISO for a faster shutter speed
Live and learn....

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ski Utah's Interconnect

Yesterday Julie and I did something very different, and something I don't think you can do anywhere else in the U.S..  We joined a group of friends to do something called the Interconnect Adventure Tour.  Normally, you aren't allowed to duck the rope and go from one ski area to another.  On this tour, our two guides led us from Deer Valley to Park City to Solitude to Alta and finally to Snowbird.  Normally we would have added Brighton to the list, but the weather and snow prevented it.
Our friend Bill Benson put together a group of friends, maxing out the 12 people who can do the tour on any given day.  This worked out great for me. I had already purchased a Interconnect gift pass at KPCW's (local radio station) fundraiser auction.

It is pretty easy to get from resort to resort, as long as you stay in the same canyon.  Getting from canyon to canyon can be a lot more work.  To get from Park City to Solitude, you hike up to the top of Scott's and then ski down the back side through the trees. This is the same area that we hiked last fall.
The weather was superb.   It was sunny and warm, but only 2 days after a fairly large storm over in the Cottonwood canyons. Here we have Julie, Deb, one of our two guides, and Bill who put the trip together.
The most interesting trek from canyon to canyon was the Highway to Heaven, which goes from the top of Solitude over into Little Cottonwood canyon, for a quick ski down into Alta. It wasn't that much hiking up. It was mostly just an awkward traverse.  You had to sidestep on a little path for about a quarter mile. Julie seems happy enough doing it.
But here we can see the two definite downsides to the Highway.  First we have Stan on the left.  Because of the bright sunshine and warm day, he has stripped down to a shirt.  Almost everyone was a sweaty mess by the end of the traverse.  Much worse is Tom, the little orange-clad figure on the right.  Coming around the corner, Tom wasn't sure where he was going and skied down below the path. This was not a minor mistake.
This is the view of our two guides who have gone back to help Tom try and get back up to the traverse.  Tom is in good shape but after 30 minutes of trying on his own, he hadn't made much progress. If you double-click on the picture, you can get a better view of the path Tom took.  Climbing in steep, deep, heavy snow is impossible for most of us. I have no idea who the fourth skier is, coming up behind them.  After exerting a tremendous amount of energy, I was amazed at how well Tom did in Alta and Snowbird to finish the day.
After our last run from the top of Snowbird, we took a one hour shuttle ride back around to Deer Valley.

I think the Interconnect is all about the journey, and not about the destinations or the skiing.  You spend a lot of time getting from place to place, and the scenery along the way is gorgeous.  If you had a group of people more determined (and able) to do serious hiking, you could probably get more backcountry powder, but that just wasn't us.  If you aren't in strong shape and an expert skier, I wouldn't consider trying this.  You'll be miserable.  But if you are capable, it's a great trip and the guides are fantastic!

Other tidbits:

  • No snowboarders.  They aren't allowed in Alta or Deer Valley.
  • No kids under 16
  • Hope you get a nice day.  I can't imagine doing this in a storm or when it gets icy. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Last Farmington visit for a while

I decided to head back to Farmington Bay one more time.  The snow conditions are mediocre and the President's Day week brings big crowds, so skiing just isn't interesting.  I am not sure how long the eagles stay around, but I think I have done enough to get it out of my system for a while.

Monday morning brought bright sunshine, but a bit of low fog.  I had to sit around for a while waiting for the fog to clear, so I wandered around shooting pictures of it.  It isn't thick, but it's enough to make the eagle photos too soft.
Finally everything started to clear up and the eagles got active.
Active tends to mean either eating food, stealing food, or defending your food.
This guy had a chunk of fish skin in his mouth.  Kind of ugly, but I liked the other eagles in the background.
I kept wondering why I didn't see more eagle damage.  Those talons seem pretty nasty and they don't seem too concerned about using them.
I also stopped by Antelope Island for a quick visit.  I didn't see much of interest, but I enjoyed watching this coyote calling to his friend.  The Pronghorn were not terribly happy about his presence and the males formed a barrier between the coyote and the females.
His friend was up the hill, laying in the sun.  He finally got up and started walking down towards the lake, but he seemed quite banged up.  He was walking with a pronounced limp and his fur was rough.  He was having a tough winter.
They are calling for some nice snow over the next week, so I hope I have less free time for photographing birds.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Back to Farmington

This may be a recurring theme: trips to Farmington Bay until I get the photos I want.

Today was forecast to be sunny and since it was a weekday, I figured it wouldn't be very busy. As is almost always the case, wrong, and wrong again.  The forecasters blew it completely.  At least it wasn't raining but there were heavy clouds.  I got there around 8:15 or 8:30 and apparently I was the last person from the Salt Lake Valley to show up.  I couldn't even get my car to a good spot for eagles. So, Jasper the toothless dog and I just drove around looking for stuff.

The first thing we found was a flock of pheasants.  They all took off for the brush except this one, who seemed willing to stand in the clearing for a bit.  I like seeing pheasants but I need to get better at identifying the females when there isn't a male around.  At a distance, they look too much like grouse.
When there are 50+ eagles flying around, you don't have to be in a primo spot to find them.  This one flew so close to my car that I couldn't photograph him with my 500mm lens.
When they get ready to land, they give you a good view of just how big they are. All that wing allows them to touch down extremely gracefully.
This was my first good photo of the day.  The eagle on the bottom was sitting there gnawing on some seafood.  Another eagle swoops down at high speed to attack and claim the fish.  In one incredible move, the eagle on the ground does a back flip so that he fends off the attack talon-to-talon.  He kept his fish and the judge awarded him a 10.  (Of course, Jasper was the judge)
Jasper and I continued along the road and found a kestrel hanging out. They aren't the most ferocious looking of hawks, but their color is beautiful.
Then Jasper and I stumbled across the prize bird for the day, a Barn Owl.  He was just sitting in a tree away from all the people.
... and then he closed his eyes and gave himself a big shake.  The move looked just like Jasper after he gets a bath, but the owl wasn't wet.  Quite the fluff ball.
So, cloudy and crowded worked out OK. Otherwise I would have been sitting there shooting eagles all morning and would have missed this guy completely.

Farmington is teeming with raptors.  In addition to the dozens of eagles and the owl, I probably saw over 25 hawks.  Since I was doing photography and not birdwatching, I didn't bother trying to identify things that were further away. I definitely saw numerous Harriers, Kestrel, and Rough-legged hawks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Finally, some eagles

I went back to Farmington Bay with the hope of getting some decent eagle pictures.  I went a week or two ago, but that was a bust. I started out with a few distant hawks on poles, barely visible in the haze and clouds.  I finally got close to some ducks, and they provided entertainment although they don't match the majesty of an eagle.
Then my luck changed.  I got to an area where I saw a few eagles, mostly sitting on the ground taking eagle naps.  But I have learned that sometimes you just have to be patient.  I stood in the truck with my head popping out the sun roof and watched for almost an hour.  The napping eagles started moving and quite a few more started flying in. I was in a good place at a good time.
By the peak, I was sitting there with about 20 Bald Eagles, all within 100 yards of me and most a lot closer.
These are some serious, powerful and beautiful birds.
Double click on this one to get a better look at his expression and focus.  I would not want to get between him and his meal.
That seemed to be happening fairly frequently though.  One eagle would find a nice piece of carp and then refuse to share with his (or her) buddies.  The fights were exciting but usually over quickly without any real damage.
Look at those talons.  What a great choice as a symbol for a country that wants to be portrayed as powerful.
There was a mix of immature eagles scattered in with the older adults. I enjoyed watching them try and establish themselves higher in the pecking order.
I have a better idea of what pictures worked best and which ones failed. Now I have to get back on a sunnier day and hope the eagles are still cooperating.

I was reading an article that there are approximately 50 eagles at Farmington Bay this winter. Some years it drops to almost zero and one year they counted over 450. They aren't really sure why it fluctuates so much. I would love to be around to see one of those years again.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Awesome Think Tank camera bag for skiing

I have been struggling to find the perfect camera bag to ski with. As you will see, perfect depends on what type of equipment you're bringing.  My problem is that I like to shoot skiers with my DSLR and my Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 lens.  The problem is that when you put the lens on the camera and the hood on the lens, it is 14 inches long. Most bags aren't designed to cope with that much.

My main camera tote is a LowePro Slingshot 302.  It is a great bag and I love that you just sling it over one shoulder, but it is too big for skiing but still, because of its design, can't hold that long lens when everything is assembled.

I just bought Think Tank Photo's Sling-O-Matic 10 and took it out for a trial ski this morning.  No, I am not making the names of these things up. It is tailor made for my needs!
  • It is long and skinny.  This means it fits my camera with the lens and hood attached but without it being to large.
  • It is another sling, instead of a backpack.  This allows me to pull it around in my lap for rides up the ski lift.  It also flips around from my back to my chest, allowing me to open it up safely and easily.
  • Think Tank builds extremely high quality bags.  This thing is bomb proof and will last me forever.
  • It was very comfortable skiing in, even down a black bump run.
This gives you a better view of the camera and the bag.  Clearly, length is my big issue.
This got me to thinking.  I don't see other photographers out on the slopes with a big bag but only one camera and lens.  I began to ponder, what if I was happy with just my little compact camera?  The pictures aren't as good. The lens doesn't zoom in as much.  It stinks in low light. It only shoots 2 frames-per-second (instead of seven).  But damn, that sure gives me a lot of extra room in the bag.

As a test, I decided to pack it with more emphasis on "freewheeling ski tourist" and almost no focus on "photographer".  It makes a wonderfully interesting contrast.

Now I managed to include:
  • 1 Canon s100 camera, which is fairly high quality, but compact.
  • 1 box of lens cleaners
  • 2 Clif bars
  • 1 pair sunglasses, in their case
  • 1 Garmin GPS
  • 1 travel mug of coffee
  • 1 bottle Chivas scotch
  • 1 banana
  • 1 box Anna's Ginger Thin cookies
  • 1 large tube Banan Boat sunscreen
  • 3 airplane bottles of Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1 box Trojans (seemed important for vacationing ski clubs)
  • 1 tube superglue
  • 1 lacrosse ball (great for working out muscle knots)
  • 2 pairs Hot Hands hand warmers (forgot and left them in the top pocket)
So, you still get a camera, but you have enough stuff so that almost any ski visitor to Park City could be happy.  Even with all this, I had a lot of room to spare.

I'm going to have to rethink the whole DSLR and long lens issue.

A little powder. A little skiing

Julie and I went over to Deer Valley to enjoy the 7 inches of new snow, that were forecast as 1-2 feet.  I get so tired of the weather forecasters being wrong.  I'll take the 7" but we could really use a lot more.

Julie has been taking advantage of the benefits of her Deer Valley job.  One of them is five days of free ski rental.  This is a great thing to have when you are trying to decide whether or not to get new skis and if so, which pair.  Today she was mixing it up on both the groomers and bumps in a pair of Rossignol S3's.
 I have the S7's, which are a real powder ski.  The S3's are good in powder but do better on firmer snow and even groomers.
 She enjoyed them and plans to go back another day and try them in a different length.
If you can afford to be patient, this is the way to shop for winter gear.  Try everything out during the season and figure out what you want.  Then wait for the end of season sales, or even mid-summer, and pick things up for 50% off.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Friends from Raleigh

It has now become an annual habit.  Our friends Dick and Cosette come out a few days early for their timeshare at Snowbird to ski with us.   This year we did one day each at Deer Valley, Canyons and Park City.
We've skied with them quite a few times over in Meribel France, which is just over the ridge from Courchevel. Park City and Courchevel are "sister resorts" so we have skied the Courchevel run in PCMR and the Park City run in Courchevel.
We hope to get over to Snowbird or Alta next week to ski with them again.

Now, on to the unplanned meetings.  I am used to the small town feel of Park City where at any event you may see a dozen people you know.  This went way beyond that.  While eating lunch at Deer Valley, I was approached by a person from the table next to us.  I look up and it is John Zeiger, from Raleigh.  John worked in my department at IBM back around 1990. It has been many years since we have run across each other. I guess one of the benefits of living in a resort town is that there is a greater chance of stumbling across someone who lives thousands of miles away.
I couldn't resist throwing this in for reference.  My department was a bit strange.  I'm top right and John Zeiger is top row, second from the left.  I can't even begin to remember why we were dressed this way, but it wasn't that terribly far from our normal work day.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Dual Moguls Competition

Julie, Greg Glynis and I went over to watch the finals of the Dual Mogul competition at Deer Valley.  Like so many events in Park City, it was free and the paper reported 10,000 in attendance.  We were lucky to have nice weather this year.  Some of the competitions have been held in near zero temperatures.
The single mogul competition is one person racing down the bumped uphill, doing two jumps along the way. Your score is based on speed, style and jump difficulty.  High score wins. For the dual moguls, you are competing against the person next to you. The finals started with 16 competitors for both men and women, which was whittled down to 8, then 4, then 2, then a winner.
It hurts my poor knees to watch these people.  Their legs are slamming up and down like pistons with a speed that I could never imagine replicating. I liked watching the women, who in addition to the normal rapid body movements, often had pony tails flying every which way.
You can see how they keep their bodies pointed straight down the hill and twist their knees and feet underneath them.
These two guys were coming off the bottom jump, about 50 feet from the finish.  Can you get any closer?
I'm not sure what part of human nature makes us so focused on watching the unfortunate parts of competition, but it definitely exists.  People watch the wrecks in Nascar.  They watch the fights in hockey. Sure enough, with the mogul competition, the crashes can be the most exciting.  We saw a number of wrecks, but in every case, the competitors got up and skied down to the bottom.
Blasting through the moguls is hard enough without having one ski up in the air.
He took a big fall, but finished the race, and only a little bit behind the winner.  I was amazed at how quickly they would pop back up and start skiing, even though they knew they had lost.
You can't even see this person.  The snow on the left simply exploded as the skier plowed into a mogul at high speed.
Yes, the sponsorships make all of my pictures look like a Visa commercial.  I understand the need for money to fund the competition, but it just seemed like too much.
This guy was apparently feeling the emotions of the crowd and just plowed through one of the signs. Unfortunately they are able to put them right back up.
The competition was exciting to watch and it's a pleasure to live in a place where the best athletes in the world come to compete.