Tuesday, 7 of July of 2015

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Scenic Vistas from Planet Earth

Scenic Vistas from Planet Earth

Before we get started, the crew here wants me to remind everyone that tomorrow is the last day for the Beach Camera Sizzling Summer Sweeps and that the Colors of Summer Photography Contest will end tomorrow as well. So, hurry up and join in if you want to win cool prizes!

Over on Facebook for the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing images from a group called The Earth Story. These photographs are of natural landscapes found on the planet and generally come with an accompanying explanation of the phenomenon and where it can be found. Where possible, the photographer’s name has been included in the description.

Some of these photos are almost surreal in their features and wonder. Several times I’ve looked at them and had to ask History Geek if the pictures were for real or had been altered in Photoshop. He assures me that they’re all legitimate photographs of strange places. Art Geek also swears that they’re not Photoshopped. Something about they’d look even more surreal if they had been.

So, if you haven’t been following us on Facebook, here are a few of the images you might not have seen.

This photo was taken by Elena Northroup in northern Arizona near the border with Utah. The distinctive wave pattern seen here in the Coyote Buttes North was begun during the Jurassic era. It was caused by erosion when water was drained out after the creation of the two troughs seen in the image. The main contributor to the erosion after that has been dust and the wind. The color patterns are caused by deposits of limonite, goethite and hematite trapped within the pore spaces of quartz.

Amazing, isn’t it? It’s almost difficult to believe that something like that could be created solely by water and wind erosion, let alone that dinosaurs were wandering about, fancying themselves the masters of creation when this landmark began to be formed.

No, that’s not Asgard — though you could be forgiven for thinking it might be! It’s Mount Roraima in South America. It covers the borders of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. This mountain’s flat surface is surrounded by a 400 meter tall razor cliff-face. Its highest point is Maverick Rock at 2,810 meters above sea level. This photo by Uwe George captures the awe and majesty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most photos and satellite images of this mountain show it surrounded by clouds. This phenomenon is caused by the thick rainforests near the mountain. The humid heat makes the moisture from the rainforest rise and condense over and around Mount Roraima, forming thick clouds. Mount Roraima is almost always cloaked in clouds and rainfall is a daily occurrence.

Before you swear that I’m pulling the wool over your eyes with this one: this place actually exists. This is a photo of the Pearl Shoal falls in Western Sichuan, China. These falls are part of the Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve and sit above Mirror Lake and Gold Bell Lake. If you doubt me, you can go there and see it for yourself. I wouldn’t recommend trying to ride down any of those falls in a barrel as some people attempt at the Niagara Falls, though.

Those are just a few of the photos we’ve shared over on our Facebook wall. Drop over there and Like us and you could see something spectacular every day!

— da Bird

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s been an eventful week this week. Some sad news: Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut, passed away. Also, a crazy person shot up a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Thankfully, he’s in custody. Our thoughts go out to the family, friends, and loved ones of all touched by these sad and tragic events this week.

Some odd news: History Geek got a new set of glasses and has finally quit sitting halfway across the room from his computer while squinting at it.

Some good things have happened this week, too. The Olympic flame finally reached London. New, beautiful photographs have been taken. We launched our Photography Contest. We’re also running a sweepstakes where you could win a Weber Q 200 Portable Gas Grill and a Cuisinart 3-Piece Folding Tool Set just by commenting on that entry.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with us on Twitter, then here are some of the things you might have missed!

That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again on Monday!

— da Bird

Photos That Changed History: Apollo 11

Photos That Changed History: Apollo 11

Last Friday was the 43rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. History Geek and the other members of the “OMG Space is Cool” club requested — quite stridently — that I dedicate today’s entry to at least one of the photographs taken during the lunar excursion. Since I owe History Geek a favor for explaining the lyrics to a song I heard last week to me, I figured I’d throw them a bone and discuss the very first photograph ever taken by a man on the moon today.

(Seriously, I’ll award 500 Bird Points to the first person — other than History Geek — who can explain all of the references in that song without resorting to Google).

This photo was taken by Neil Armstrong after he had exited the lunar module and spoken the words that everyone seems to know (“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”) After taking this picture, Armstrong took several more photos of the surrounding landscape before Buzz Aldrin exited the lunar module. Both men had been trained extensively in using the modified Hasselblad 500 EL they took to the moon. The original images, captured on film, are now preserved in the NASA archives. They’ve largely been scanned into digital format and can be viewed at the Apollo Image Archive.

The lunar landing was one of the greatest (“if not the greatest” grouses History Geek as he reads over my wing) human achievements of all time. The images taken during the lunar mission are still well-known today — even by people who were not born until well after 1969. Seeing photos taken by members of your species as they stand on another celestial body has been one of the driving inspirations behind many people pursuing careers in science and space technology. Though driven by the Cold War and the desire not to let the USSR beat the USA to Luna, the Space Race helped to usher in many of the technologies that so many of us take for granted today such as satellite communications, micro-transistors, GPS, and many others.

And, speaking of historical photography: don’t forget that we’re running a photography contest. The theme for this month is The Colors of Summer. Get your photos to us by 11:59 PM (23:59) Eastern Daylight Time on July 31st and you could win a coupon for $50 off your next purchase at Beach Camera!

— da Bird

Photograph for Prizes: Join In Our Photo Contest!

Photograph for Prizes: Join In Our Photo Contest!

We love photography and photographers — whether professional or amateur. In order to encourage more photography, we’re launching a Monthly Photography Contest. We’ll be running this contest one week out of the month so stay tuned to this space if you want to join in.

This month’s theme is The Colors of Summer. Snap a photo that captures the colors of summer to you and send it to us and you could win $50 towards any purchase from BeachCamera.com.

All valid submissions, including the winner, will be featured on our Facebook page and our Pinterest board. If you’d like to be tagged in either, include your username and a link to your profile with your submission.

Good luck and have fun capturing The Colors of Summer!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

The Space Aces have been going on and on all day today about how it’s the forty-third anniversary of the first lunar landing today. History Geek especially is set up about it because he’s comparing the computer in his smartphone to the one that guided the Eagle module down to the surface of the moon. Apparently, the gadgets the geek club use to figure out where to point their telescopes has more computing power than the vehicle that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon.

If you humans have so much more computing power now, then why haven’t you gone back to the moon? And, if you do, think you could take some of the Space Aces with you? I’m sure that they’ll be very helpful.

Well, it was a busy week forty-three years ago and it’s been a busy week this week. Here’s some of the things you might have missed out on if you aren’t following us over on Twitter. Also, we’re doing a giveaway for a Weber Q 200 Portable Gas Grill and a Cuisinart 3-Piece Folding Tool Set. Just drop us a comment at that entry telling us how much you like doing BBQ!

That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again on Monday!

— da Bird

Interview with Michael Yon

Interview with Michael Yon

A few weeks ago we contacted Michael Yon, a writer and photographer who is best known for his Dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan covering the wars there. After giving us permission to use his photograph of Major Mark Bieger and Farah as part of our discussion of historical photographs, Michael Yon also agreed to answer a few questions we had about his work and life.

A few quick biographical facts on Michael Yon: He was born in 1964. He grew up in Winter Haven, Florida and joined the Special Forces in the 1980s. In addition to his dispatches, Michael Yon has written three books: Danger Close and Moment of Truth In Iraq, and Iraq: Inside the Inferno. His fourth book, nearly completed, is The Bomb Boys.

And now, without further ado, our interview with Michael Yon!

You became interested in traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan because friends in the military told you that the media was not reporting the whole story. What has kept you going back time and time again?

“There was more to it than just friends saying that the whole story was not being told. I also lost a couple of friends there in early 2004. After attending their funerals in Florida and Colorado, I became more focused on the wars. It was apparent that few if any people actually knew what was going on, and the few who might know were hard to identify against all the background noise.”

Before you started traveling and posting your dispatches, had photography been a hobby of yours?

“Yes, I have enjoyed photography since I was about 19. I bought a Nikon FE2, which I enjoyed immensely. I would spend many hours trying to photograph hummingbirds and so forth. I experimented with IR film and generally just had a great time. There was and remains something about photography that is satisfying and enjoyable. I often take pictures just to be taking pictures.”

What cameras do you prefer to use? What additional equipment (lenses, flashes, etc) do you find most useful?

“Before going to the wars, I went to digital due to my heavy travels. I made many thousands of images but they were more for note-keeping; primarily I am a writer. So I was using only a Sony F 707. I took that camera around the world more than half a dozen times. Just before going to Iraq in December 2004, I bought a Nikon D70, and used a standard 50mm lens for about half a year. I took one of the most well-known photos of the war with the little D70 and 50mm. By mid 2005, I took a leap to the Canon Mark II 1ds and started shooting with all-pro glass. Still mostly 50mm for a while. Again, I took some of the more well-known photos of the war with that Mark II 1ds, with 50mm f1.2 prime. There was a lot of night combat, so low noise and fast glass were advantages.”

What is currently in your gear bag?

“I have accrued all sorts of gear. Much of the pro Canon glass, from ultra-wide to the big 400mm f2.8. Camera-wise, I will soon start selling off a bunch. Canon Mark II 1ds, Mark III 1d, Mark III 1ds, Mark IV 1d, three Mark II 5d, one of which is converted to IR with an IR converted flash, and one Mark III 5d. Soon I will pick up a 1DX. Low light and fast focus have been most important during combat. The only flash I ever use is IR converted. Otherwise, I never used a flash on the battlefields”.

What story has been the most difficult for you to report?

“Deaths of US and British troops and civilians is definitely the hardest.”

Contrary to that, which story was your favorite one to tell?

“Winning battles.”

What is life as an embedded reporter like? Were you welcomed by the soldiers? Did any harbor hostility towards you? And how did reporters without your military background get on with the forces they embedded with?

“Well, I have never been a reporter, but as a writer I can tell you. The combat troops welcome you nearly universally. Sometimes there were troublemakers, but normally those were people you never actually met. A handful become angry or resentful when they see other units getting press while they get none, and on my last embed that actually led to real problems. But for the most part, writers, journalists, and photographers are made to feel very welcome. Combat troops who actually are doing combat are generally easy to get along with. The few troublemakers tend to be people who see little or no combat.”

Have you encountered any problems with more traditional reporters and photographers?

“I have never had a problem with a reporter, a photographer, or another writer. They have been easy to get along with. Let me qualify that; I have never had any problems with war correspondents or reporters who were actually in the wars or who spent much time in combat. I have had severe problems with some milbloggers, most of whom never went to war, and the few who did usually went for short periods and saw little or no combat. The stay-at-home milbloggers can be a vicious lot. I started calling them milkooks because, well, they do kooky things like spamming my Wikipedia page with false biographical information. One prominent milblogger reported that I had been kicked off of an embed with Canadian forces for a security violation. I had never been embedded with Canadians. Most of the milblogs lack credibility and so they seem to latch onto other people in an attempt to gain attention. And so, yes, with these people, almost none of whom I have ever met, there have been problems. But the serious journalists, photographers and writers, and especially the real war correspondents, like real combat troops, are usually easy to get along with.”

What was the first camera you took with you?

“The first camera to the war was a Nikon D70 with a popup flash that I taped down to avoid accidents in combat. One of the most known images of the war, a very sad photograph of a little girl named Farah dying in the arms of an American Soldier named Mark Bieger, was taken with the D70 and a 50mm lens. I used the Nikon D70 for roughly six months, and in mid-2005 switched to Canon Mark II 1Ds, with which I made the “Gates of Fire” series.”

“Just over the course of this handful of years, digital camera technology has improved dramatically. If I had the gear that is available now just eight years ago, the work would have been remarkably different. I can only imagine Capa on D-day with a Canon 1Dx and a GoPro on his helmet. It could have defined how we view that day.”

What, if any, special techniques do you use in your photography?

“Most important to me was low light and fast focus. Nobody can be expected to make fine photography on the battlefield. It can be a challenge to make any photography at all. And so that is why I have made the steady march through all the latest gear in search of ever more ISO, using the best lenses I can find. I traveled to Hong Kong to find and buy a 50mm f1.0, which in the end I seldom used downrange, sticking more to the 50mm f1.2 and other lenses.”

If you heard that someone else was interested in becoming a war photographer/journalist like yourself, what advice would you offer them?

“Practice, practice, practice. They must memorize the settings so that they can quickly make selections in pitch black, combat conditions. Often no light can be used at all. Practice night work. When actual combat breaks out, it can be easier because normally fires start, and of course there is fire from the weapons themselves, and so that can provide focus light. Many people say that you need a long lens, but in reality if you are doing serious combat work, you will far more often need wide angle because you will be in the middle of it. Learn how to sing “Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be will be” while you are in firefights and bullets are snapping and splashing close. If you can sing Que Sera Sera while bullets are snapping by, and still successfully set your camera, you are ready. Don’t skimp on gear. Some people will say that a great photographer could do it with a box camera, but that is bull. That is like telling an F-22 pilot that he should be able to do the same things with a biplane.”

“US and British combat troops tend to be great to work with. (If you are embedded.) Just listen to them and do as they say when it comes to combat. They will look after you, but you also have to look after them and yourself. Bullets and bombs have taken many correspondents in Iraq and Afghanistan. One minute you have legs, and the next minute you don’t. Nobody can guarantee your safety and you are guaranteed to be in great danger. It often becomes hardcore.”

“Some correspondents, such as the famous Michael Ware from CNN, come back with severe, life-altering PTSD. I heard from him just today. He was out recently with Charley Sheen on assignment, of all things, in Hollywood. As with many war correspondents, Mr. Ware lost his job, his family, and any peace of mind he may have had. He was a courageous reporter whose cup got full. It can happen to any and everyone. Even if you do not get shot or blown up, if you stay in the wars long enough you will see an endless barrage of horrible things. You might come back with your ears ringing—you can’t keep earplugs in all the time—and an endless movie of war replaying in your head.”

“Before going off to war, one must consider these high risks, including the risk of returning with severe PTSD, which can cost you everything. If you are good with all that, there is more war out there than any one man or woman can ever cover. War, like the rain, never ends.”

“Finally, I believe that still photography is the most powerful method of communication, bar none. Nothing else, in a general sense, even comes close. Not writing, not video, not music, not oration or anything else. There will be examples where writing, for example, eclipses the power of photography, but in a general sense photography is king comm. That Canon in your hands is more powerful than any cannon ever made. It has the power to stop, start, or alter wars.”

“Why are photographs the most powerful conveyance? There are many reasons. Firstly, transmissibility. If photographs were a disease, they would be the most transmissible disease ever. They would be viruses that spread through soil, saliva, blood, air, animals, water, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and eating unwashed vegetables. With writing, the audience needs to be literate. Not only literate, but literate in the languages that it appears in. Writing takes time to read, and you have to be up close. Photographs are instantly transmitted in every language—including to illiterate people. Photographs can be seen from afar, and can be included in videos, printed on coffee cups, or rendered in a million ways, such as Che Guevara’s mug that we see on everything from t-shirts to bumper stickers around the world. Photographs can be “reprinted” on the radio and in writing. Do you remember the image of the naked girl running from the bombed village in Vietnam? Chances are, everyone reading this remembers that image, and that sentence just “reprinted” that image in the mind’s eye. Writing does not reprint that easily, nor does music or any other form of mass communication. And if a radio host says, “Do you remember the photographs of the Hindenburg disaster?” no doubt he just reprinted that in every mind that is listening. Generally speaking, no writing is ever that powerful. A powerful photograph with a potent caption is a little book, a little movie, that unfolds in your head.”

“Millions of copies of a photo can be made and transmitted around the world in seconds. (Already translated into every language on the planet.) Unlike video, you do not need electricity or a computer or television to see it. One momentary glance at a powerful photograph will suck you in like no writing or video can do, thereby increasing its transmissibility. Photographers must respect the power in their hands, and they should strive to use that power with the utmost ethics and caution. One photographer with one little camera can change history in the blink of an eye.”

Thanks again, Michael Yon, for both the interview and for your work!

– da Bird

Beach Camera Sizzling Summer Sweeps!

While we love photography at Beach Camera (after all, it’s in our name), we also enjoy doing other things on occasion. The Space Aces enjoy playing with the telescopes and staring into the night sky trying to find new stars, galaxies, or asteroids to gawk at. Some others here love working in their gardens, making the outside of their homes just as neat, orderly, and beautiful as the insides. A few are more into the music scene and either are DJs or just hang around them.

However, one thing everyone here loves is grilling out on the BBQ. The smell of meat and veggies sizzling over a grill is something that all of us can agree is pretty awesome. Whether it’s beef, chicken, or pork, food cooked out over an open flame tastes better than anything you can whip up over a stove. And vegetables steamed or broiled over a fire are a wonderful addition to the main dish.

So, since we like grilling so much, we want to share that with you! Drop us a comment below or like us on Facebook and you could win a Weber Q 200 Portable Gas Grill and a Cuisinart 3-Piece Folding Tool Set. And, feel free to tell us why you like cooking out on the grill or share your favorite BBQ recipes with us!

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Photos That Changed History: Major Mark Bieger and Farah

Photos That Changed History: Major Mark Bieger and Farah

We’ve reviewed enough historical photos on this blog in the past few weeks. However, as History Geek likes to remind me, despite what Francis Fukuyama’s book may have been called, history will never end as long as there is any creature possessing the requisite intellect and self-awareness to observe, remember, and pass down word of the events. Thankfully, there are brave journalists, writers, and photographers who continue to go out the world over to chronicle the events of modern history. One of those writers/photographers, Michael Yon snapped a photo in May 2005 that showed one of the many faces of the Iraq War.

In this photo, you see Major Mark Bieger, an American soldier in Mosul, Iraq, who was on patrol with the rest of his unit. The Stryker vehicles were driving down the road in a neighborhood with children dancing around them and jumping up to greet the soldiers when a suicide bomber drove his car into one of the Strykers. Major Mark Bieger saw that one of the children, a four-year-old girl named Farah, had been badly wounded by the attack. Wrapping her in a blanket, he and several other soldiers rushed her to a hospital. Sadly, Farah did not survive. As the Major was taking Farah for treatment, Michael Yon snapped this photograph:

Major Mark Bieger and Farah by Michael Yon

This photograph, while difficult to look at for many people, helps to bring a human tone to what is a difficult subject: war. The photographer, Michael Yon, is often tolerant of non-commercial and non-political use of this image. However, as the image is under copyright, any commercial use needs his permission. Even though it is well known among journalists and photographers that such rules and codes of conduct exist, numerous agencies have run this photograph — without attribution or permission — for political purposes. The first to do so was a French magazine called SHOCK that ran this image on the cover of their news magazine released during Memorial Day 2006. SHOCK claimed to have gotten the rights to do so from Polaris Images — a company that Yon had no ties with and had never granted distribution rights to. After pugilistic discussions, SHOCK’s parent company HFM agreed to pay a licensing fee.

This photograph was used again, in 2008, without Yon’s consent when Michael Moore featured it in a political banner ad on his website.

The reason that such high-profile publications have tried to use this image is precisely because it is so powerful. Yon, well aware of its power and the exact circumstances around the photograph, is very careful with whom he allows to use it. Photographs within war zones can show the true circumstances of a battle and the true cost of war. However, when those photographs are distributed without context, without knowledge of the story behind them, they can oftentimes dishonor and insult the subjects of the photographs. Just as the Execution of a Viet Cong Guerrilla taken by Eddie Adams in 1968 and the photo Phan Thị Kim Phúc by Huynh Cong Ut showed some of the brutality of the Vietnam War and helped to turn American public opinion against it, this photograph of Major Mark Bieger and Farah could do the same for Iraq if, like those other two photographs, it became divorced from the true circumstances of its creation and were instead used to score points on the political pulpit. That, perhaps, is why war photographers are careful to explain their photographs and choose their words wisely and skillfully.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Michael Yon’s dispatches. He’s not only a great photographer, he’s also a great writer. We’ll be posting an interview with him soon as well so check back for that!

– da Bird

Photograph: “Little Girl,” Major Mark Bieger and Farah, © 2005 Michael Yon. Used with permission

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday. And it’s the 13th. Among you humans, some of you get really freaked out by that. I’ve still not figured out why unless it’s that you’re watching far too many scary movies with homicidal maniacs in ski masks. I asked the Geek Club about it and they all just rolled their eyes. History Geek attempted to get me up to speed on the history behind it but, to be honest, his attempted explanation just left me more confused.

At any rate: it’s Friday! Yay! Tomorrow is Saturday. It looks like it’s going to be a rainy weekend here in New Jersey but that’s not a bad thing. It means that things might finally cool off a bit. And, speaking of cooling off, there’s been plenty of cool things going on over at @BeachCamera this week. Here are some of the highlights if you haven’t been following us there.

That’s all folks. Don’t get too freaked out on your drive home tonight. We want to see all of you back on Monday!

— da Bird

Photos That Changed History: The Tetons — Snake River

Photos That Changed History: The Tetons -- Snake River

I love nature. It’s very pretty and majestic. Mrs. Bird and I like to take trips up to see the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and we’ve even been down to the South to see the verdant forests covered in kudzu. Kudzu. A plant native to Japan but that has devoured most of the southeastern United States in less than a century. Who needs Godzilla when you can accomplish much the same with a plant?

Long story short: I like nature and I like nature photography. When I see a beautiful photograph of a natural setting, it makes me positively giddy. Wide open spaces. Clean air. Lots of trees to build nests in. You humans may spend a lot of time worrying about tax rates and school districts but us birds just want some place that looks awesome. Which, oddly enough, brings us to the photo for today.

This is a photo of the Tetons and Snake River out in Wyoming. The photo’s historical value is in that it was one of the classic works from Ansel Adams who helped to establish photography as an art form in its own right (instead of using photography to try to recreate the effects of oil painting or the like). It also showcased the majesty and wonder of the natural world. This photo, among others, stood as a silent but vibrant witness when Adams and others lobbied Congress to declare Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

Ansel Adams is most well-known for two things: his black and white photographs of the vistas in the American west and developing the Zone System with Fred Archer. The Zone System is a method for determining the optimal exposure and development for film photography. However, one of his greatest lasting influences was establishing photography as an art form in its own right with its own rules instead of using coloring or lens techniques to make photographs look more like other art forms. So, the next time you see a scenic photo, take a moment to remember Ansel Adams who, going somewhat against the grain of the 1930s “human interest” photographers, helped to make landscape photography into a recognized form of art.

— da Bird