Fleetwood Mac @ The Toyota Center

After the Geek Gathering I wandered over to the Continental Club where I ran into Chris Gray, the music dude for The Houston Press. He asked if I was free on Saturday as he needed someone to shoot the Fleetwood Mac concert @ The Toyota Center. I told him I was available and he asked if I had a “long lens” because the photographers were going to have to shoot from the soundboard which is a pretty good distance from the stage.

My longest concert lens is my Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 which works out to be about 300mm on my crop sensor Sony Alpha 700. I told him I would give it a try.

When I arrived @ The Toyota Center there were two other photographers, one with a Canon and a 400mm f/2.8 and another with a Nikon connected to a 300mm f/2.8 and each was armed with a monopod, something I have not yet invested in.

We were escorted to the soundboard before the show started and I was a little disheartened at the distance from the stage which was about 3/4 of the way to the back of the floor seats.

This shot was taken @ 70mm and gives you an idea of the distance

Fleetwood Mac

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Fleetwood Mac

Yea, it was back a ways. I shot the show fully extended at 200mm without the benefit of a monopod. Thank you built in image stabilization from Sony!

Stevie Nicks

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Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks

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Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks

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Stevie Nicks

Lindsey Buckingham

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Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham

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Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham

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Lindsey Buckingham

Not bad, but I would have liked to have been closer, or had a lens with more reach and a monopod. Just not sure

God said to Noah There’s going to be a floody floody

We woke up around 4:30 to the sound of pouring rain and loud rumbling thunder. It had been raining since we went to sleep and I knew the water was likely going to be high in the streets. Looking out the door confirmed my suspicions. I shot this in the dark on a tripod just to document how high the water was.

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

Halfway up the sidewalk to the front door was as high as it got, thank goodness. I waited till the sun came up and the rain died down to explore further. This is the highest water I’ve seen in 15 years of living in this neighborhood.

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

This has to be only one of the few times in it’s life this truck is actually “practical” …

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

2009 Flood

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2009 Flood

Venus Moon Rising


Taken @ 6:15 AM April 22nd 2009
View On Black

On the way to work Cynthia and I spotted the moonrise with accompanying Venus. It was sooooo pretty and I really wanted to get a picture. Sadly, I was not carrying the gear needed to get the shot. Cynthia was kind enough to support me in my decision to turn around and quickly go home so I could whip out the tripod and the SAL 70-300G lens and snap this picture.

I confess to a little Photoshop lens flare on the Venus part, but that’s all original for Mr. Moon.

Mini H-Town

It’s easy to dismiss tilt-shift miniature faking as nothing more than a Photoshop gimmick. But in my opinion, when done right the results are still quite compelling. There’s a method to the madness of the post-processing and even if you put aside the digital chicanery, there’s still the matter of getting the right subject matter shot from the proper angle which is instrumental in achieving the desired effect.

And besides, if the photographer is having fun and people smile and enjoy the end product isn’t that all that matters?

As Neil Young once sang – “There’s more to the picture, than meets the eye…

Click the images below to see the full sized versions

Mini H-Town

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Mini H-Town

Mini Minute Maid Park

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Mini Minute Maid Park

Fun Shots From The Trip

While in Valencia I shot a few things with the idea I would process for creativity when I got home.

These first two are HDR’s created from 3 separate exposures shot handheld as we were walking about the city:

Falla In The Mirror

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Falla In The Mirror

Scooter

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Scooter

And a fake miniature from the Teplar Castle in Peñíscola:

Scooter

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Scooter

Wings Over Houston

Drumman Tiger

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Grumman Tiger

This past weekend I was treated to a light plane flight over Houston with my friend Daniel Baker. We took to the skies in a Grumman Tiger and flew over downtown and out to the ship channel before cruising out to Galveston and then back to the Sugar Land Airport.

Downtown

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Downtown Houston

San Jacinto Monument

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San Jacinto Monument

The Fred Hartman Bridge

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The Fred Hartman Bridge

Refineries

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Refineries

Causeway Bridge

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Causeway Bridge

It was harder than I anticipated. The skies were clear, but it was a windy day and at 2000 ft it was a bit bumpy. Keeping the camera steady was a challenge.

I’ll have to do this again, but on a less windy day and maybe at or near sunset to see what I can come up with.

Valencia – It’s A Wrap

In case you were wondering, we’re back. We flew home a week ago Monday. Our flight was early…7:30 am…which meant getting up before dawn, double checking our packing, checking out of the hotel and catching a cab to the airport.

We flew from Valencia to Paris where we caught the overseas flight back to Houston. As it turned out, our flight to Paris was delayed and we found ourselves running through the Charles de Gaulle Airport fairly certain we would miss our connection. STRESS! Bleh! We worried for naught, though. They held the flight and we made it in plenty of time.

Valencia was a spectacular city. It’s hard to figure out why Rick Steves has not covered it in any of his extensive European travels. The Holy Grail, The City of Arts and Sciences, the museums, the beaches. Those things alone make it a worthy place to visit. Add the Las Fallas Festival and you have the trip of a lifetime.

Prior to departure Cynthia had lost her voice. This was a concern because her Spanish language skills really come in handy and, not only that, she has more fun when she can speak the language. Fortunately she had mostly recovered in time for the trip and it was not an issue.

The festival was really something. Throughout the time we were there we wandered the city to check out the fallas. There were literally hundreds around the city and we only managed to see a small percentage of them.

We also took in the other sites and just enjoyed the festival atmosphere. It was hugely crowded, especially on the last day, but we managed very well. Fireworks started about 8:00 am each day and detonated all over the city all day long and culminated in a spectacular display at 1:30 each morning. Not only that, but individuals had their own fireworks which they set off all over the place. I even had my own “petardos” to splode when the mood struck me.

The noise, the crowds and the scheduled events all combined to make the overall trip an adventure in sleep deprivation. We capitalized on the afternoon siestas and strategically planned our meals to minimize wait times.

My social networking experiment paid off big time. I contacted Manel via Flickr and Twitter and when we got to Valencia we made contact. He came out one day and give us an insider tour of the city for a few hours on the final day of the festival. He couldn’t hang out too long as his family had their own fallas celebration he needed to attend. After our tour he suggested driving us to Peñíscola on our last day to see the Templar Castle.

Manel didn’t speak much English so it was mostly him talking to Cynthia and her translating. I got the gist of most of the conversation. I can understand more than I can speak. There were times though that he was talking tech in Spanish and it was actually me doing the translation from Spanish geek to English geek so Cynthia could understand.

It’s hard to describe the whole experience. To boil it down it was noise, crowds, fires, explosions and really good food and company. As foreigners much was lost on us in regards to the cultural and historical significance of the various events, but it was fantastic to witness none the less.

Photographically, this was my best outing ever. The tripod and the 30mm Sigma f/1.4 lens were of the greatest benefit in the evenings, but the Tamron 17-50mm was the true workhorse overall. The Sony 70-300G came in handy, but ultimately saw little use and the Sony 11-18mm was an excellent wide angle standby. The gallery is up here. If you want context you should view the commentary under the blog topic Las Fallas – Valencia.

My best/favorite picture from the trip has to be this one of La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia:

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

That being said, the fire parade shots which I shot with the Sigma and the shots of La Crema which were taken with the Tamron are real highlights for me.

I doubt it’s something we’d ever do again, but we are sure as heck glad to have done it once. As Cynthia says, it’s a big world and time and money are short. Repeating a trip is never as fun as going on a totally new adventure so we’re in search of the next one.

Thanks to everyone who followed along and made comments via this blog, Flickr, Twitter and even Facebook. It was awesome having an audience to share the experience with.

Peñíscola

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

For our last day in Valencia Manel agreed to pick us up at the hotel and drive us the 120 kilometers (75 miles) to Peñíscola which is a beautiful city located on the coast and is topped by a castle that was once home to the Knights Templar and Benedict XIII (an Antipope). It was also the filming locations for the movie El Cid.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

When you climb to the top of the castle you have a pretty spectacular view of the beaches and surrounding city.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

The full sized version of the panoramic image can be seen by clicking here.

We had a fun time climbing around in the castle and shooting pictures.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

Eventually we climbed back down and walked the beach for a bit for some lunch and then headed back to Valencia with a stop at a Horchatería where Manel introduced us to horchata which is a traditional Valencian beverage and quite tasty.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

We’re very grateful to Manel for all of his kindness and hospitality and we could not have had a better send off!

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia

It was worth packing a tripod just to get these extended exposure shots of The City Of Arts And Sciences in Valencia, Spain.

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

Life Is A Beach

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Friday was the first day after the official end of the Las Fallas Festival. We needed something peaceful and easy going after a solid week of late nights, loud noises and huge crowds so we decided to hop the bus and head to the nearby beach.

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

I forget sometimes what a beach with clear blue water and light colored sand looks like. Valencia is right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and it is a magnificent beach.

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

We just spent the day walking along the paseo from one end to the other. We came across this cool fountain which we’d seen pictures of previously

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

The beach was not overly crowded, but there were a number of people out. Some were walking like we were, others were sunning themselves on the beach or fishing. Some were running and launching themselves into the air

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Around 2 pm we headed to an area on the beach that was lined with upscale restaurants and took a seat on the patio to enjoy some sangria and world famous Valencian paella.

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Everyone we knew who has been to Valencia said the paella was fantastic, and they were right. It was a tasty tasty meal!

After a bit more walking we headed back to the bus stop and made our way back to the hotel.

It was a great day!

La Crema

The main event. Midnight is the time all the fallas are burned.

La Crema
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La Crema

We decided the above falla would be the one we watched burn. It was within easy walking distance of the hotel and was facing a wide open area along the dry riverbed so we would not be crammed into a small space by the throngs of onlookers.

We got there an hour before the burning time which was midnight. The crowd was very large and enthusiastic. Once the firemen cleared the electric lights and lowered the fire screens that protected the nearby buildings a series of fireworks detonated and the falla began to burn. At one point the fire was so hot we could feel it on our faces. It’s a wonder the people up close were not injured. I suspect there’s more than few eyebrow-less festival-goers after this.

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

It burned to the ground in about 10-15 minutes.

By the time we got back to the hotel there were plumes of black smoke all over the city, billowing into the Firework were going off everywhere. Within a few hours the entire city was covered in a haze of smoke.

The next day, silence….

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

The fire parade was a must see. It started just after sunset and was not too far from the hotel so we headed out early to stake out a spot for an unobstructed view. After the crowd filled in there was a reconfiguration of the barricade that actually put us behind some people. Most unfortunate, but not as bad as it could of been.

The parade started on time and at the beginning it was peaceful and really rather tame. The dancing girls moved along the parade route followed by a live band.

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

They were followed by a slow procession of Falleras (the women in traditional costume seen in my previous post. Apparently only a select few. Probably award winners from the champion fallas.

Then the main event.

Men and children dressed in flame retardant devil costumes with all manner of fireworks in tubes, on sticks and as part of elaborate constructs that looked like engines of war. The ran up and down the street and at points in the parade we were showered in sparkling fire embers. It was kind of scary. Cynthia thought we would be set on fire as she huddled behind me. I shielded myself as best I could and took some pretty satisfying photos.

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

This is only a small sample of the photos. Check out this Flickr slide show to see the entire collection

What… is your quest?

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

The Chapel of the Holy Grail claims to hold THE Holy Grail. It has even been certified by the late Pope John Paul as almost certainly being one of several potential candidates for being the One True Grail.

We went off in search of the Grail and actually got a little lost. We were pretty sure we knew where it was, but not absolutely certain. Cynthia mused at the conundrum of having to actually utter the sentence “Excuse me, but we seek the Holy Grail.” It just sounded ridiculous.

We did find it on our own, avoiding having to answer these questions three or being taunted by French guards, tricked by Grail Maidens or menaced by a bunny rabbit with huge gnashing teeth.

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

The Grail is back in a special chapel and behind bulletproof glass and the closest you can get to it is about 20-30 feet so it is not possible to truly scrutinize the relic.

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

William The Sheepie was in awe of seeing the Grail, much as he was in awe of being blessed by the Pope when we were in Rome.

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

Of course we needed proof we’d found it

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

Ofrenda

The Ofrenda is the flower offering to the Virgin Mary. Two days of parade of traditionally clothed men, women and children marching to the square to bring flowers which are used to create a giant effigy to the Holy Mother.corners of the city and converge on the square so you pretty much can’t go anywhere without running into a procession.

It starts with just the bare structure in the Plaza de la Virgen

Offrenda
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Offrenda

And then, over the course of two days literally THOUSANDS of women dressed in traditional costume make there way to the square to bring flowers that will be used to construct the effigy. The women are escorted by husbands, fathers and children and it seems to go on and on forever down several main streets.

Each group represents a family or a neighborhood and most of the groups have a marching band that accompanies them to the square and back home so there’s lots of music, singing and dancing.

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

This goes on from around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and wraps up at midnight and starts all over again the next day.

When we went out this morning the virgin was only half complete but starting to look quite amazing

Offrenda
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Offrenda

They should be finishing up about now.