New Photography Challenges - Engagement Session

As I look back at the years of photos I've taken, I see how the tools of my hobby have changed, I see how the sharing platforms have morphed, and how my abilities have grown. That growth only continues by taking on new challenges, constantly learning and adjusting.

I no longer carry my DSLR with me all the time. I no longer strive to take a photo every day. In reality, I'm less focused on photography and as a result, I feel less creative, but that's OK - it's where I am in today's stage of life. Even though I'm less focused on day to day photography, I still love the feeling of seeing and making an image. I enjoy working with people to create images they will cherish. So I've been taking photos of people via photo sessions. My subjects are long time family friends and sons and daughters of friends. My strategy is to photograph people I know, who have a personal connection to me or my family.

Last month I took on a New Challenge, an Engagement session with Andrew and Alessa

Andrew and Alessa

I had never worked with an engaged couple. Sure, I've done the high school prom photos, but these are certainly more intimate and meant to be treasured for years to come. Alessa is a friend of my daughter's, so there's the personal connection. I think I met Alessa once during a campus event (it was at a bar, and no, I don't recall meeting her, but she remembered meeting me).

I asked Alessa to use Pinterest to document and communicate her ideas and preferences for these photos. That was a tremendous help to me and allowed us to execute numerous poses in several locations at the venue, Allerton Park.
Andrew and Alessa

Andrew and Alessa

Andrew and Alessa
Alessa and Andrew were great to work with, even on this chilly fall day. I did learn something for the future - to make sure the subjects have appropriate clothes for the shoot. At one point, it became evident to me that Andrew was really cold and uncomfortable. This transferred to the photos in his stiff body language and forced smile. We adjusted by moving to a sunnier, less windy area and he put on his coat. I tell folks that if they aren't comfortable, that will translate into the photos.

I enjoyed the challenge of photographing this fun couple and if presented with another opportunity, will certainly do it again.


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Music - Sara Bareilles Amidst the Chaos Tour

A month ago, I dragged a friend up to Chicago to see Sara Bareilles perform at the United Center, a stop on her Amidst the Chaos tour. In reality, my friend did the heavy lifting as she drove us there and back after the concert (2.5 hours each way!) - so thank you, Jill, for putting up with my fan girl obsession with my favorite singer-songwriter.

I've seen Sara perform three times before last night, with the last concert in 2011, after her Kaleidoscope Heart album. Back then Sara played more to the local college scene, allowing me to take advantage of those close venues. I missed out on the Blessed Unrest "Little Black Dress" tour because she performed in Chicago and I didn't want to invest the energy of driving there and back. I now realize that live music is a gift we don't experience enough, so I bought tickets for this tour. Of course Sara didn't disappoint - her voice still rich, beautiful and polished even when challenged by the complexity of her songs. I still connect with her music and lyrics which contrast today's simplistic, manufactured pop music.

The stage's centerpiece focuses on the piano with conical chandelier of hanging pages, said to be lyrics and journal entries, a visual representation of music emanating from the recesses of the instrument.
Don’t Stop Trying to find me amidst the chaos, though I know it’s blinding there’s a way out, say out loud We will not give up on love now. #amidstthechaostour

Orpheus (Prologue) - Sara starts with the chorus of this song, which features namesake of the album and tour with these lyrics - "Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the Chaos, though I know it's blinding there's a way out". The stage, bathed in white light, glistens like a beacon of hope. The stage colors, spotlights and back lights continued to transition throughout the performance, creating a beautiful effect.

She then launches into songs from the current album:
Fire - about feeling the heat of a relationship
Poetry by Dead Men - leaving a relationship
Eyes on You - profiles of everyday people and their troubles and keeping those people close to you in this crazy world

The next song is from her Blessed Unrest album, I Choose You, what I consider to be her most "optimistic" relationship song. It's a piece one might play at a wedding - sweet and loving. It's not my favorite because Sara usually sings about heartbreak, personal discovery and moving on.

She segues into the next song with her backup singers vocalizing jazzy chords a cappella, fingers snapping, syncopated percussion and I'm left wondering what song it's going to be. Until those familiar chords start on the piano - the distinctive start to Love Song. This is what Sara does best - reinventing her songs.

Sara returns to the new record with percussive Armor, an anthem calling for women to support one another. She then brings opening act Emily King to sing a duet - If I Can't Have You. Emily King collaborated with Sara in writing this song.
The mood slows down (and we get to sit down) with the romantic Miss Simone

The set then detours away from pop music to Broadway with a trio of songs from Sara's successful musical, Waitress.

Soft Place to Land - an ethereal trio
Sara Bareilles
Above Photo credit - Shannon Guest
You Matter to Me - duet with her bassist

Bad Idea - duet with her guitarist

She then goes solo with the piano on what I thought was the best song of the night, She Used to Be Mine. This is what I enjoy the most - the stripped down singer with piano. Sara continues with only the piano and Uncharted, which included a brief audience sing along (yes, I sang along since that’s my thing).
Sara Bareilles
Above Photo credit - Shannon Guest

The band re-emerges for a mash up of No Such Thing / Satellite Call. A common trend for concerts is to perform a song where people use the flashlights on their phones akin to Bic lighters to fill the stadium with light like stars in the sky. It's more effective in a larger or outdoor venue where the atmosphere doesn't reflect the light back. I love the sentiment but seeing the insides of the United center all lit up didn’t give that stars in the night sky effect. When I saw Ed Sheeran in concert outside, this effect was totally amazing.

I know the concert is heading into the last stretch with Let the Rain, King of Anything and Brave.

To end the main set, the band circled back to Orpheus - but Sara performed the full version of the song, creating a sense of completion.

We were treated to two encores - Gravity and Saint Honesty. Sara always sings Gravity for her encores and while I love this song, I found the arrangement too heavy on the low strings for my liking. But Saint Honesty makes up for it all, showcasing the power and timbre of her voice - snippet in the video below:
Rain on Us Saint Honesty
I am always amazed how consistently good her performances are and that she seems like a genuinely nice person, in addition to being transparent about her faults.

So if you like lyrical, complex songs, performed impeccably, go see Sara Bareilles and her Amidst the Chaos Tour while you can. Or, if you will be in London in January (2020), she will be playing the main character, Jenna, in Musical Waitress in London's West End.

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Fall Has Arrived

October gave us summer, winter and fall weather all rolled up into 31 days.

I liked the fall portion the best, even if it was a bit short lived.
Hidden River

Take the Path

Golden Days

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End of Summer Family Photos in the Prairie

Back in July I took photos of my good friend, Grace, and her lovely family using the backdrop of the prairie. I've taken their photos over the last three years and unfortunately, this may be the last time as they move back to the west coast. I wanted to capture the essence of the prairie setting as a reminder of their eight years among the cornfields. Of course, the prairie style park right in our neighborhood provided the perfect setting.

DGOL Family 2019

DGOL Family 2019

I befriended Grace through yoga class at the local YMCA; when she expressed an interest in running, we started running together. She and her oldest son are natural runners and I will miss their energy and exuberance on our group runs.

DGOL Family 2019

Today's Photo tip - Reducing Glare from glasses
One challenge for photographing a person wearing glasses like David here is minimizing glare or reflections from the lenses. The first photo has more glare than the one above. About half way through the shoot I realized there was a lot of lens glare; I re-positioned myself and the subjects to minimize it - this entailed moving to an area where the light was more filtered (like in the shade) and positioning the camera higher. Bonus tip - utilize a step stool to gain height (especially for us shorter people). Aside from my camera and lenses, the step stool is my most utilized tool while taking photos of people.

Grace, David and boys - we miss you but I know I will see you again!

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Glacier Bay National Marine Park - The Margerie Glacier

After our days in Denali, we drove back to Anchorage, met up with my other sister's family and headed to Whittier to embark on phase 2 of our Alaskan adventure - a Cruise of the Inner Passage aboard the Golden Princess. The trip reunited our families and served as a celebration of my father's 80th birthday. The general cruise itinerary (north to south) - first two days at sea viewing glaciers, then Ports of call - Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan before disembarking in Vancouver.

For our 2nd day at sea, we entered into the Glacier Bay National Marine Park:
It's still cloudy, foggy and cold, but we were able to see the Margerie Glacier and the smaller Lamplugh Glacier. Scott spotted some orca whales and we had fun gathering on the verandas for photos, food and warm drinks.

Family Photos - Glacier Bay


Margerie Glacier

Calving of the Margerie Glacier
From Wikipedia - Ice calving, also known as glacier calving or iceberg calving, is the breaking of ice chunks from the edge of a glacier. It is a form of ice ablation or ice disruption and is normally caused by the glacier expanding. We were fortunate to see an abundance of ice calving during our stop at the Margerie Glacier.

Calving of Margerie Glacier

Family photo!
Family Photos - Glacier Bay

Photo of sister taking a photo of the cousins
Cousins Gather Together

This has become one of my favorite photos from Glacier Bay - I use it as my PC lock screen at work:

Sightseeing in Glacier Bay

Next up, our first port, the gold mining town of Skagway
.

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Travel in Alaska - Dog Gone It Sled Dog Tour

Everyone is happy when holding sled dog puppies!

We ended our time in the Denali area by taking a Sled Dog Tour. Dog Gone It Tours is run by Caitlin and Mike Santos in Cantwell (50 miles south of Denali), this was the perfect stop as we drove back to Anchorage. We arranged for a private tour which resulted in extra long puppy holding times! We learned about these amazing animals, how they train for the iconic Iditarod Race and the special bond with their humans.

Alaskan Sled Puppies Dog Gone It Tour

Alaskan Sled Puppies

Alaskan Sled Puppies

Alaskan Sled Puppies

We had a wonderful time with the Santos Family their Alaskan Huskies - another highly recommended activity during a visit to the Denali area.

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Hiking Denali - The Savage Alpine Trail

So far, we completed two loop hikes in Denali National Park and while the park service grades the Horseshoe Lake and Savage River Loop trails as "Moderate" in difficulty, in reality, they are easy hikes. Especially when compared with our next hike, The Savage Alpine Trail (given a "Strenuous" difficulty rating, only one step up from the Moderate rating). With 1500 feet elevation change, this 4 mile point to point hike proved to be a challenge, but with amazing vistas, friendly chipmunks and bonus moose sightings, well worth the effort.

To give you some perspective, a map screen shot of the Savage River loop (red) and the Savage Alpine trail (yellow) is shown below:


As a point to point hike, the park service recommends you utilize the park shuttle bus either before or after your hike. We didn't want to wait on this service so we parked one car at the start and the other car at the end this way: We all drove to mile 15 and dropped off everyone. Teresa and I drove both cars to mile 12 and dropped off her car. The two of us drove back to mile 15 with my car. This gave us a car at each lot.


Traversing the Savage River Alpine Trail

​The trailhead at Savage river starts with a steep and rocky ascent. This part of the trail is the rockier section. By starting at the Savage River (vs starting at the campground and going the opposite direction), the hiker encounters the steepest section of the trail first. For me, that is the preferred way to hike - get the hard part done first!

Rocky Climb


Matty is always joking around:
Always a jokester

Making our way up.


Taking a break:
Hiking Denali Savage River area

The scenery of the Savage River valley below was amazing. The weather was on the cooler side but with no threat of precipitation and partially cloudy skies - ideal for hiking.
Denali Savage Creek


The trail eventually flattens out and traverses along the ridge, high above the lowlands below.
Far Up

These little guys weren't shy!
Friendly Encounter

What goes up eventually comes down, and the descent was quite gradual with plenty of wildflowers and vegetation flanking the crushed trail.

The Views Were Amazing on Today's Hike #getoutandhike #fireweed #mountains #landscape #denalinationalpark #savagealpinetrail #clbm_ak18

Moose Sighting
We encountered another couple hiking in the opposite direction and they let us know that a Mother Moose and her baby had been spotted close by. Teresa and Shirley quickly came upon Scott who had halted along the trail - the Mother Moose was on the trail around the corner!
The pair was blocking our access to the trail, so we waited, watched and took photos. We took care to never come between the mother and her baby - the adult moose is a daunting animal you don't want to mess with.

Denali Savage Alpine Moose

Mother and Baby finally crossed the creek and the trail was clear for us to pass. It was an amazing encounter.

Denali Savage Creek

We really enjoyed our limited time in Denali even though we only saw a fraction of the park. Hiking is a great way to catch glimpses of the vast land and if we had more time, we would do more hikes. For a pdf version of the available trails at Denali National Park, click this link: Hiking in Denali

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