Archives for posts with tag: flying

I have to confess that I’ve been a resident of Southern California for only about six years now. Nonetheless, I have somehow fully embraced the smugly self-satisfied attitude that comes from basking in warm eternal sunshine by the seaside while the rest of the country gets slammed with the freezing slushstorms that bury everyone for three months under what northeastern PR masters and ski lodge owners in the 1940s  managed somehow to get popularly labeled a “Winter Wonderland.” Well, I lived most of my life in the vicinity of Chicago, so I speak from many years of experience of the delights of what non-Californians like to argue is all the “real weather” they’d miss ever so very much in a terrible wasteland where it’s essentially always 70 and sunny (well, except for the month-long “June gloom”–which occurs in May–during which the mornings are somewhat overcast; and the occasional temperature spikes into the 100s; and the rare dips into the 50s, during which Angelenos don their parkas and designer snowboots and whine incessantly about how bitter, bitter cold it is).

Well, those non-Californians lie. Or at least they don’t know, really, what they’d miss.

I used to be that way. I moved to Long Beach in 2008 to take a new job, assuming California would be a terrible, awful place to live: full of shallow, vacuous, image-obsessed people living in a characterless, vast suburban sprawl, their brains softened and their blood thinned by too much comfortably moderate weather. The distinct seasons of the Midwest, I confidently lectured at the time (there are, actually two: one humidly hot and the other bitterly cold, separated by a week or two of phenomenal loveliness referred to as Spring and Summer) made people sturdier, sharper, more creative, more self-reliant, more acutely aware, and generally superior to the idle Eloi of the West Coast.

And then came my first winter here, and sitting on the balcony on December afternoons, and walking on the beach on New Years Day, and visiting the butterflies and peacocks at the LA Arboretum in February. I converted. I drank the Kool-Aid. I succumbed. It may well be a place full of shallow, vacuous, image-obsessed people living in a characterless, vast suburban sprawl, their brains softened and their blood thinned by too much comfortably moderate weather, but by golly it’s nice outside.

Which brings me, after a long and winding preamble, to the point of this post, which is that I spent my Christmas morning this year at the lovely Bolsa Chica Wetlands, about a fifteen-minute drive down the coast from my home in Long Beach, with my husband (yes, that happened in December, too, thanks to a majority of the United States Supreme Court) and the D7000 with a Nikor 80.0-200.0 mm f/2.8 on a stick. And jacketless, in short sleeves, we wandered the paths of the sanctuary, exchanging Merry Christmases with other coastal nature-lovers, and being both humbly thankful for our good fortune in finding ourselves in such a place as well as (and I’m really not proud of this) smirkingly delighted that the only snow we’d see this White Christmas was way, way off on the horizon, up on top of the San Bernardinos where it belongs.

Anyway, enough about the weather. Here are some of the birds we saw on Christmas Day by the ocean. Ho, ho, ho.

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

iridescent ibis

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Willet's Curve

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) leaving a cloudy underwater sandtrail as it hunts, at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufuscrens) hunting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufuscrens) hunting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Pair of White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Pair of White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

I know I’ve been strangely silent since, oh, January or so, I’ve really been quite busy running around taking pictures of people and things, and hope to improve my bloggish periodicity in the future. Like now, for instance.

I’ve written before about my Nikor 80.0-200.0 mm f/2.8 lens (readers may recall from a previous (and very dramatic) post, Evan and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, how a dropped-camera disaster led me to acquire a new lens in a strange city). I’ve discovered a wonderful thing about this lens, which is that it’s absolutely amazing for doing some very nice nature photography. When I’m not working at my day job, or taking pictures of decaying aircraft  or for models’ portfolios (which is, alas, much of the time), I have a propensity for birds and other living things. I’m particularly fond of a local wetland sanctuary called Bolsa Chica, near Huntington Beach, and the Nikor lens lets me capture birds not only from the distances mandated by the shorebirds’ apparent need for space, but its high speed captures movement in a very satisfactory way.

Because the lens is so fast, it compensates for not being as telephoto as other lenses by taking remarkably crisp photos that can be cropped as faux close-ups. And that same speed, coupled with the ability to deal with the low light conditions one often finds when hiking through the wetlands early in the morning, “freezes” birds in flight quite nicely. As we see below:

A triumphant catch for a tern is somewhat less delightful for a fish.

A triumphant catch for a tern is somewhat less delightful for a fish.

Snowy Egret in flight

Snowy Egret in flight

Snowy Egret hunting

Snowy Egret hunting

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

It’s not all about the birds, however. A few weeks ago we went out whale-watching from Newport Beach, and in bright sunlight out at sea, my trusty Nikor let me capture this:

Blue Whale near Newport Beach

Blue Whale near Newport Beach

OK so it weighs about a ton (well, 46 ounces or 1,300g, if you want to be precise), and works best with a monopod supporting it, so it’s not exactly a sprightly lens, but it does some pretty phenomenal work. Not to diminish the vital importance of the photographer’s delicate, sensitive eye and artistic sense of timing, of course, but having the right tools is, obviously, important.

(Oh, and A Shameless Plea for Attention: Check out my redesigned website at EButterfield Photography, and please Like me on my new Facebook page. Thanks!!)

I am very bad person. I am a scofflaw, and a delinquent, and a wicked villain if ever there was one.  I am a troublemaker, a scoundrel, a reprobate, and a miscreant. I am the lowest of the low, the vilest of the vile, the most evil-doing of the evildoers. I am, in short, very bad indeed.

For while I am an otherwise obedient and dutiful citizen, and follow all the flight attendant’s instructions with regard to how to fasten my seatbelt, and keeping my seat in the upright position and my tray table latched away; while I am scrupulous in taking my laptop out of its bag and removing all metallic devices when going through security; while I am occasionally observant of the request not to take up valuable overhead compartment space with items that could,  conceivably fit under the seat in front of me; while I am in all these ways and more a most dutiful and obedient frequent flyer, I do fall short in one area:

I am frequently in flagrant and willful violation of both 14 C.F.R. § 91.21 and the flight attendant’s clear and meticulous instructions regarding the acceptable use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you: I often do not turn off my Nikon when told to do so on an airplane.

And not only do I blatantly violate federal and airline rules and regulations, I do so with malice aforethought: I frequently specifically request a window seat so I can engage freely in my perfidy.

The aforementioned regulation empowers the airlines to establish their own policies regarding electronic equipment. Most airlines adhere to policies like United’s :

Devices that may be used only when announced by the flight attendants and the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude:

       electronic games

       personal computers

       entertainment players

       recorders (audio and/or video, such as tape/CD/MiniDisc/MP3 players and camcorders)

       calculators

       shavers

       CAMERAS (emph. mine)

       aircraft power ports for laptops.

(Shavers? Really? I have felt many things on airplanes over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt an urgent need to shave, even during a long international flight. There’s usually plenty of time for self-grooming activities once I’m no longer hurtling through the air at 36,000 feet.)

Let’s be clear: There is No Evidence that any electronic device, much less a digital camera, poses any threat to airline systems. Neither the FAA nor the FCC has any sound basis for the prohibition, and neither seems able to point to any solid evidence whatsoever. The FCC states:

The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. Therefore, it decided at this time to make no changes in the rules prohibiting in-flight use of such devices.

In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. For this same reason the FAA also regulates the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs), such as iPods and portable DVD players, during flight.

Now, I am second to none in my appreciation of everyone’s need to err on the side of keeping my butt from falling out of the sky. But until someone demonstrates that turning on a digital camera will cause a 767 to plummet from the sky, I’m likely to accept the risk on behalf of my fellow passengers and crew and, more importantly to me, myself. What studies there are (and there are few) have found no more than indistinguishable background radiation being emitted by digital cameras, with a barely-detectable electromagnetic transient when the shutter is activated. I do not have a GPS attachment for my D90, so it’s not talking to any satellites. I know that in addition to risking a violent and flaming demise, I am also risking hefty fines and even imprisonment for my felonious photography; but in this life risks must be taken, right? Plus, the likelihood of discovery is slim, since during the commission of my crimes the flight attendants are all snugly buckled in somewhere aft. And because my seatmates have also been, shall we say, liberal in their interpretations of when to boot up, turn on, lean back, or plug in, they are unlikely to narc on me. I’m not alone in my badness.

However, my surreptitious activities do not go unrewarded. Full compliance would have made the following images impossible, and that would be, in my view, something of a shame:

Rosemont, Illinois, on approach to Chicago O’Hare International Airport

LAX viewed during takeoff of a flight from Orange County Airport (SNA) to Seattle

Washington, DC on takeoff from National Airport

Red Bull Stadium and Newark, New Jersey, on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport

University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s football stadium, on approach to McCarran International Airport

Las Vegas Strip shortly after taking off from McCarran International Airport

Flying over the Space Needle on approach to Seattle-Tacoma

Boston skyline across Massachusetts Bay, immediately upon takeoff from Logan International Airport

Massachusetts Bay and the city of Boston, a few minutes after takeoff from Logan International Airport

Please visit EButterfield Photography and browse the galleries. Thanks!

One of the few joys I find in my frequent business travel is that I get to look out the window. OK, let me be more Serious: I enjoy taking aerial photos of the landscape. Whatever. Now that, of course, requires that I actively seek out window seats (on long flights, this has the downside of requiring me to climb over two fellow passengers to reach the aisle, but that’s really their problem more than mine).

What I’ve found over the years, using a Nikon D80 and D90, with telephoto and DX 18-105 lenses, is that the landscape, particularly of the southwestern United States, takes on a wildly abstract and interestingly non-geological appearance when viewed from the air. It’s likely a combination of the nature of the landscape itself, coupled with distortions resulting from the extreme angle at which “down” pictures must be taken through a tiny airliner window when the photographer is strapped in inches away from the plexiglass, along with the modest processing the images go through in PhotoShop. But whatever the reason, the results can look more like Jackson Pollock than Google Earth, and I love that.

Aerial view of Green River, Canyonlands NP, UtahAerial View, Great Salt Lake, Utah

I’m not sure what to call this. “Aerial photography” always sounds to me like someone with too many pockets on his shirt rented time on a Piper and flew around taking fabulous pictures leaning precariously out an open doorway. Snapping photos while twisted around in a 17-inch wide coach seat, lens pressed against a scratched 16×11 plexiglass window, holding the camera at a wrist-aching angle, doesn’t really qualify, at least in my mind, as something as exotic and professional-sounding as “aerial photography.”

Nomenclature aside, though, it’s something that I like to do, and that makes the frequent business trips I take much more creatively stimulating. I don’t mind that I make something of a spectacle of myself–a bald, middle-aged guy contorting himself and clicking his camera rapidly out the window like a nine year old on his first flight. I may not be leaning precariously out an open airplane window, but from time to time I brazenly defy the order to “turn off all electronic devices” and take photos with my digital camera during final approach and landing. I am terribly sneaky about this, waiting for the flight attendants to go to their seats before surreptitiously pulling the camera back out and shocking my row-mates with my flagrant scoff-lawery. My Nikon has yet to interfere with Boeing’s complex electronics, however (to the best of my knowledge) and does not seem to have brought down any planes. I do apologize for putting my fellow passengers at risk, but sacrifices must be made for art.

Aerial View of Seattle, with Space NeedleAerial view of UNLV's football stadium, Las Vegas NV

The biggest challenge I’ve found to this sort of aerial photography is picture quality. There is simply no way these puppies are going straight from the camera onto the web. At thirty thousand feet, even on a clear day, there is haze and glare that simply must be Photoshopped away. The image below shows the before (on the left) and after versions of an aerial view of southern Arizona. As you can see, there’s a lot of nasty haze and glare that the camera picks up that my eye, at least, doesn’t really register. The “after” image looks pretty much like what I recall seeing.

Comparison of original v Photoshopped aerial image of AZ desert

Here’s how I do it. There may be better ways, different adjustments to make, but I’ve found through a lot of trial and error that the most natural-looking and final image, the one most faithful to the actual appearance of the landscape, is achieved through two steps. First, a basic manipulation of RGB layers. Then some tweaking with contrast and desaturization (to eliminate the over-coloring that can result from the contrast change).

In manipulating an aerial photo to eliminate haze, the first step in Photoshop is to go to Layers and select “New Adjustment Layer” and “Levels.” That will pop up a window asking you to name your new layer. The default is fine, so click OK. That will open the RGB adjustment window. Simply drag the black pointer that’s on the left side of the display slowly toward the right, until it is directly beneath wherever the graph begins (usually with a simple horizontal line), and click OK. Here’s how that should look:

RGB adjustment

Now you’ll need to save the image as a JPG, since all this diddling with levels will have autosaved it as a Photoshop file. Once that’s done, open your new image and make any necessary adjustments to contrast, spot fixes, etc. You’ll likely need to adjust saturation down; these adjustments often result in colors that are a bit too vivid. Remember how that landscape looked while you were peering at it through your camera? Try for that. The goal (well, at least my goal; others may have different goals of course) is to illustrate how the natural landscape resembles abstract art, as accurately as possible.

Aerial view of AZ desert from 38,000 feet

Of course, as I said earlier, sacrifices must be made for art. I have, I must confess, occasionally wiped out entire small towns, farmsteads, and roads that interfered with the abstract image I was trying so hard to recreate naturally. I justify such artifice by telling myself that the goal is to show the abstract landscape, and the manmade objects mess that up. In any case, don’t be afraid to carefully spot-heal away villages or random buildings that distract the eye and give away the game.

There’s something else I love about my obsession with window seats, and that is this: It makes me look out the window. On long business trips I could, of course, pop open my laptop and peer obsessively at Excel spreadsheets. I could (and do, of course) turn on the Kindle and read, or plug my ears into my iPod and bounce in my seat while Lady Gaga tells me to “Show Me Your Teeth,” immediately followed by somebody singing about being the very model of a modern major general (I’m eclectic in my music). I could (and sometimes do) take a nap. But mostly I can look out the window, at the surprisingly consistent beauty and interest of the landscape below. Sometimes, there are even surprises:

Aerial view of natural geological formation somewhere in southwestern Colorado, due east of Egnar and south of Naturita. Coordinates 37.91219123585559,-108.597316688116.

The desert southwest is particularly photogenic, I’ve found, but there’s a majesty in the irrigation circles that dot the flat land like checkers on a board across the midwest. There’s the mystery of small cities drifting beneath the plane’s wing, filled with thousands of people who have no idea who I am or that I’m staring down at them. The old and rippling landscape on the eastern side of the country is beautiful, and the oceans, while a little monotonous, occasionally spring a surprising reef or island or some enormous ship going from someplace to somewhere. It’s all out there, a fabulous world beyond my window. Oh sure, I whine and complain about having to travel to cold and boring cities to sit in endless meetings in anonymous hotel ballrooms, but really in this case, as in so much else in life, the treasure is in the getting there. Right outside my window, as long as I keep looking.

shadow of jet on clouds, with rainbows circling

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