My 2nd HDR Photo – Arizona Sundown

Hi again,

I’ve traveled all over the world but desert sunsets in the American southwest are like no other. This was taken from our back patio. We’re forced to look at this every night – sundown in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Arizona Sunset

Once again, Photomatix HDR software has taken an average picture and made it better. The colors and the contrast really stand out but the glare from the sun has been eliminated. I used a lot less tonal mapping on this one. Just enough to bring out the colors and contrast that the human eye can see. Compare this image with the one in my Arizona Sunset post. They were taken the same night. Click the link to see the full-size version of the photo.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

My First HDR Photo

Hi again,

Well I’ve been saying for a year I’m going to try my hand at HDR photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It can bring out almost an infinite variety of colors and effects on an image. Some people love it. Some hate it. It is definitely much more artistic than regular photography, but it takes time to set up. It is not a shoot on the fly technique.

The subject of this photo is a California Incense Cedar tree on Palomar Mountain in southern California. They are all around CalTech’s Palomar Observatory. It’s no accident that one of the world’s great observatories is here. This entire area is about as far off the beaten path as you can get. The drive up here is steep and narrow. Along the way, you’ll go from high desert to alpine meadows, where giant cedar and sequoia trees are found.

HDR photo of a cedar tree on Palomar Mountain, California

This particular cedar is just outside the visitor’s center and right next to the path to the 200 inch Hale telescope. I was immediately reminded of the talking apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. Natasha saw the Ents of the Fanghorn Forest from Lord of the Rings. With a little imagination, you can create a face out of the textured trunk. The texture, the colors and the mix of shadow and sunlight made it a great photo. HDR made it spectacular. I shot three bracketed raw images with a +/- 1 EV. After processing them with Photomatix, I played with the tone mapping until I got what I wanted. I’m not big into the surreal or grunge looks in HDR. The effect I’m looking for is one that will have people wondering if it’s a photo or a painting. I think this one does the trick. Click the following link if you’d like to see the full-size version.

Getting into the HDR mode is simple, although I tried my best to make it difficult. First, you need a camera that does auto brackets. My Nikon D3100 doesn’t do it (it only took me several months to figure that out), so I bought a D5100. A tripod and a remote shutter release are a must to eliminate any camera movement. Then you have to become real familiar with the functions and menus of the camera. Manual vs auto, fine vs raw, ISO vs aperture vs shutter speed, bracketing intervals and more. You’ll also need HDR software. The most popular is Photomatix.

The real fun begins after the raw images are loaded into Photomatix. After merging them, you can manipulate the new image to get just about any effect you want. It really is amazing. Anyway, I’m learning a lot and having a great time playing around with it. Expect to see some more real soon.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Arizona Sunset

Hi again,

Here’s something we never get tired of.  Sitting on the back patio watching the sun go down. Sunsets in the desert southwest are the best. I decided it was time to get out the trusty Nikon D3100 and capture one. Two minutes later, the sun was gone and the desert night started to close in. It gets dark fast here. It’s pitch black and deathly quiet except for an occasional coyote.

Arizona sunset

Nothing off the beaten path here.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Random Shots – Cruising Into Kauai

Entrance to port in Kauai.

This is the entrance to Nawilliwilli Bay in Kauai, Hawaii at sunup in early March. It was taken from the balcony of our starboard side aft Deck B stateroom on the Sapphire Princess with the trusty Nikon D3100. The wind, the waves and the sunlight all coming in from the east combined to create a colorful photo that almost seems alive. The lighthouse-looking structure is actually a navigational aid located at the very southern end of the main runway of Lihue Airport. Kauai is great for exploring on your own. It’s small and uncrowded and you can see a lot in one day. We rented a Jeep and took off for the day. (If you go that route, make sure you have a reservation.) One of the hidden gems we found was a state park dedicated to a Russian fort – Fort Elisabeth. Turns out the Russkies had eyes for Hawaii before America did. Aloha tovarich.

dasvidaniya … Boris and Natasha

The Bat Cave – Ruby, AZ

This is the long abandoned Montana Mine in Ruby, Arizona, a ghost town about 75 miles south of Tucson and five miles from the Mexican border. Starting in 1877, a succession of owners spent 40 years carving out a meager existence mining gold and hoping to strike it rich. None of them did and by the early 1920’s, Ruby and its mine were on the verge of becoming a footnote in Arizona history. Then in 1926, a mining corporation from Joplin, MO came in and converted it into a successful lead mine. During the Great Depression, Ruby was a full fledged boomtown. At its peak in the 1930’s, it covered 400 acres and had 1,200 people, 300 of whom were miners. Mining went on 24×7 with an average wage of $3 a day. When the mine closed in 1940, the town died.

The mine was dug into a ridgeline called Eggshell Hill overlooking Ruby. There was a single shaft that went down almost 1,000 feet and nine levels of subterranean tunnels, along with secondary shafts in many directions. There were so many that the entire hill became unstable to the point where several decades ago, a portion of the southeast end of it collapsed. This exposed a cross-section of the mine – just like someone sliced off the end of the hill so you could see inside.

I call it The Bat Cave. From May to September, it’s the home of an estimated 200,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. They swarm at dusk and dawn, blackening the sky above Ruby for almost five minutes. Biologists estimate they eat several tons of bugs every night.

Collapsed Mine

You can clearly see the honeycomb of shafts and levels of the Montana Mine. They keep going down into the darkness but the edge was too unstable to risk a closer look. I was already past the warning sign. With binoculars and proper light, you can see timbers, hopper cars, wooden ladders and railroad track. This is where the Mexican freetail bats swarm in and out of from May to September.

I was never much of a photographer but have become increasingly interested in it as we continue our adventures in retirement. As such, I’ve always got a camera with me primed and ready. You never know when you’ll run into the mythical “Place That Nobody Knows About and Few Have Seen.” This one definitely qualifies.

Collapsed Mine

Here’s a closeup of the top of the cave in. You get a much better view of the remnants in the shafts. With binoculars and some favorable light, you can see even more.

Almost all of my pictures are done on the move and on the fly, with little planning and setup time. You come upon some great shots but grabbing them can be challenging. Neither of these pictures really do the area justice. It’s a massive cave in and it goes down into the blackness almost 1,000 feet. There’s a single strand of rusty barbed wire fence around the top and a warning sign – both of which I ignored. Anything for the shot.

I took both pictures with a Nikon D3100 on automatic settings, an 18-270mm lens and a circular polarizer. It was about 4:00 PM in January and the light/shadows were not helpful. In the original photos, the mine area is pitch black and the sunny slopes are almost whiteouts. I edited them in Picasa to bring out as much detail as I could. By altering the light and saturating the color, they came out pretty well. If we go back, I’ll try a series of shots for an HDR photo.

Ruby is a fascinating place. If you like ghost towns, you’ll love Ruby. You can read all about it on our website.

Here’s another recent blog posting about Ruby that you might like.

To the batcave … Boris and Natasha

Random Shots – Palm Trees at Sundown

Palm trees at sundown

I was sitting on the balcony of our snowbird condo in Tucson a couple of days back, enjoying the evening breezes. As I watched the shadows start creeping up the nearby palm trees, it almost looked like a painting. So I fetched the trusty Nikon 3100D and snapped away. It’s simple and uncluttered. The contrasts, colors, shadows, shapes and light all make this an interesting shot.

Munzee – Geocaching with QR Codes

The evolution of the geolocation stashing game continues as technology advances. First, there was letterboxing. Created in Scotland in the 1850’s, it involved hiding a box somewhere then providing written clues on how/where to find it. It was 150 years before the next generation appeared – geocaching in 2000 – enabled by the Internet and GPS. Both of these activities involved finding a container and signing something in it. Now even that simple task has been rendered obsolete by techology.

Say “hello” to Munzee. It’s the latest entry into the geo-game realm.

In letterboxing, you need a compass. In geocaching, you need a GPS device. In Munzee, you need a smart phone with the Munzee app and a QR code reader.

A Munzee

This is a Munzee. It’s a registered QR code on a sticker, a magnet or a tag. When you find it, you scan the code with your smart phone, digitally signing and recording the find. How cool is that? You can make your own through the web site or you can buy them from Munzee, all ready to go. We ordered 50 stickers. It cost $17.50. No sign or guardrail is safe now.

The word Munzee comes from the German word “mûnze” (moon’-za) which means coin. Originally conceived using coins for game pieces, it evolved away from that but the name stuck.

Munzee has only been around since 2011. It’s the brain child of a group of hobby geeks in Dallas, TX. They originally thought of the idea in 2008 but QR technology wasn’t ready for prime time yet. Now apparently, it is.

Munzee on a sign

Munzee sticker on the back of a sign.

In many respects, Munzee is like geocaching (although none of the developers had ever geocached before). It uses GPS to place and track down the munzees. The entire gaming environment is run by a central web entity – munzee (dot) com. It does, however, have its own language. Munzees aren’t hidden – they’re deployed. Munzees aren’t found – they’re captured. People who play the game are called munzers. People who don’t hunt munzees are muggles. Munzers find deployed pieces on the Munzee web site, then track them down with the Munzee app on their smart phone. The capture is done through the app, which opens the QR reader for you.

Munzee capture

Natasha captures a munzee.

Although the parallels are obvious, so are the differences. Munzees can be hidden anywhere. A word of advice – Be careful and selective about your munzee hunting locations. People have deployed munzees helter skelter everywhere including very public locations and private property. The world being what it is today, people get understandably nervous when they see someone snooping around with a cell phone and taking pictures. It can be very suspicious looking. We had an encounter in 2015 with a manager from a Cousins sub shop who wanted to know what the f— we were doing in “his” parking lot. If you stick to parks, ball fields and outlying areas, you’ll be fine. Rest areas on the interstate highways are hotbeds of munzees. We haven’t been to one yet that didn’t have some. It’s a great way to stretch your legs.

Also be aware that munzees have a high casualty rate. They get scraped off, painted over, bleached out by the sun and various other fates. If you go for one and it’s not there, don’t take it personally. There’s lots more where that came from.

Munzee in a geocache

Some geocaches have munzees in them – a twofer.

The entire Munzee environment was designed with an eye towards competition and rewards. Munzers rack up points. Families, teams and corporations have had Munzee competitions. Businesses have seized on Munzees as a way to market themselves. Unlike a geocache, a Munzee can easily be put inside a business, which will bring munzers inside. Restaurants put them on menus. Boutiques put them on shelves. Some businesses offer discounts or deals for getting Munzee points at their establishment. Munzee has opened up a whole new world of possibilities previously unheard of in geo-games. Or, you can just go out and have a good time with it, which is what we do.

Consistent Internet connectivity is crucial to munzers. The game is played in real time. That’s why you won’t find any back country munzees – yet.

Munzee on a fence.

Coming soon to a fence post near you?

One other thing – munzee is free. You don’t pay anything for membership or the app.

So that’s Munzee in a nutshell. We just stumbled on to it five years ago. As soon as we tried it, we were hooked. It’s a natural extension of geocaching with some new twists. Now we do both. When we visit with our grandkids, the first thing they ask is “Can we go munzee hunting”? They get to run all around and use a smartphone. How can you resist?

Munz on … Boris and Natasha