WHALEBACK FALLS

The first thing our tour guide taught us was how to identify a poison ivy. Apparently, there was an abundance of them in the area we were visiting so imagine my horror when we trekked through a narrow trail surrounded by a dense and lush vegetation with every leaf and branch touching me. Suddenly everything around me looked like poison ivy as I went into a panic mode waiting for the itch and rashes to begin. Thankfully it was just a short trek so I had my sigh of relief when we stepped into the clearing by the waterfalls. Fortunately for us, it had been raining for days prior to our trip so all the rivers and falls in the area were in full force. True to our guide’s primer, the Whaleback Falls did not disappoint. It may not be as grand as the Looking Glass Falls but the layered rocks created multiple mini falls that were awesome subjects for photography. Again I used the long exposure technique to create the cotton effect on the water but not long enough to capture more details, which emphasized the movement and direction of the water over the rocks. This falls was named Whale Back due to the large rock in the middle of the pool that looked like a whale’s back. It was not visible the day I was there due to the high water levels. This was the last of the three waterfalls we visited during our hike around the Pisgah National Forest at the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Thankfully no poison ivy touched me that day so I made it back to the hotel itch free. Check below other photos I took of the waterfalls.

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PITTSBURGH: NIGHT AND DAY

Two weeks ago I went on a road trip driving through eight US states starting from South Florida to Savannah, Georgia followed by a few days in Asheville, North Carolina then through the Blue Ridge Parkway to Harrisonburg, Virginia then Uniontown, Pennsylvania before culminating in the City of Steel: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My ten-day trip took me to various terrains from the beaches of Florida, the valleys and mountains of the Carolinas and the rivers and forests of Pennsylvania. This was my first time in Pittsburgh and the city truly impressed me from the quality of the museums, variety of restaurants and the convenience of their public transportation allowing me to explore the city extensively. One of the highlights of my stay was dinner at the Altius Restaurant in Mount Washington where I got to enjoy a spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh at the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. I took two photographs of the city one before sunset prior to stepping inside the restaurant and another after dinner when bright lights illuminated the city. I was torn between the two photographs so I decided to play with both by using the Pixelmator App on my iPad Pro to create a night and day effect for my post above.

LOOKING GLASS FALLS

Two days ago I joined a hiking tour of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina and imagine my joy when the guide mentioned he was taking us to three waterfalls that day. Before I could finish rejoicing disappointment landed on my lap upon realizing I didn’t bring my tripod. I always prefer to photograph a waterfall using a long exposure technique to create that cotton effect but without a tripod the photos are most likely to come out blurry. Anyway, resourcefulness is one of my few good traits add to that the right camera settings so I was able to capture these photos much to my desired results. The reason why I love the cotton candy effect is that it enhances the power of the falling water aside from it drawing the viewers immediate attention to the waterfall. By the way, the haze in the photos are mists created by the force of the falling water into the pool while the light curtains are actually sunlight filtering through the forest trees. The tour also took me to other breathtaking parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I took dozens of photographs which will be featured next on this page including those of the two other waterfalls. Meantime, please enjoy these photos I took of the Looking Glass Falls.

THE CHICAGO HARBOR LIGHTHOUSE

A few years ago I found myself in Chicago, Illinois to attend a reunion with some of my former classmates from Physical Therapy school. It was my first time to the Windy City so I was keen on visiting and photographing every prominent landmark around the city. Fortunately, my former classmates organized tours that took us to almost every tourist spot in Chicago. One of them was a cruise on Lake Michigan, which took us far out into the lake to adore the magnificent Chicago skyline. During the sail away the cruise narrator pointed out this lighhouse at the end of the breakwaters, which was originally built to mark the mouth of the Chicago River until it was moved to it’s current location after the breakwaters were extended. I took multiple photos of the lighthouse but unfortunately immediately forgot about it after the trip. Four days ago I was going through my old travel photos and found this of the lighthouse. I also noticed how pretty this specific photo looked with the cirrostratus clouds in the background. What’s most interesting is that I discovered this photo exactly 6 years after it was taken in May 21, 2012…some would say it’s just pure coincidence but it could also mean fate just reminding me that my friends and I are up for another reunion.

THE WINDMILLS OF MYKONOS

Aside from being known as Greece’s party island, Mykonos is also famous for its windmills which has become the iconic symbol of the island. When I visited Mykonos a few years ago, I hiked my way across town just so I can photograph these quintessential features of the island. The walk was a delightful experience passing through narrow alleys between whitewashed cubic stone homes with the wooden parts painted in playful colors. The windmills, which were once used to make flour out of wheat and barley are no longer operational today. Fortunately, the town has managed to preserve them by turning some into museums. Somebody told me that some of these windmills are actually private homes but I’m not sure if there’s some truth to it.

THE AWAKENING OF HESPERIDES

If sunsets in Greece are always this beautiful, I am not surprised why Greeks wrote the most inspired, prolific and passionate pieces of literature ever written. Their curiosity and thirst for knowledge also resulted to contributions to science, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, law, art, mythology and theater to name a few. Greece is such a beautiful country with a rich heritage and a culture that dates thousands of years back. It is amazing that a country so small has contributed so much to humanity. Imagine my excitement when I visited Greece for the first time a few years ago. My trip took me to the capital city of Athens and the islands of Santorini and Mykonos…three of the most visited places in that country. The photo above was taken on a boat outside of Mykonos as we were sailing towards the sunset. The colors of the sky was made magnificent by the perfect combination of the golden lights from the setting sun and the thin clouds filtering it. This post pays tribute to Hesperides, the four nymphs of the evening in Greek mythology, who are also the daughters of Atlas and symbols of the golden light of the sunset.

MENDENHALL GLACIER

It was a rainy and foggy summer morning when our cruise ship docked in Juneau, Alaska and my first thoughts were my first trip to America’s last frontier was ruined. I was signed up for a photography tour to explore a rain forest, hike to a glacier and then sail out to sea to watch some whales but the rainy weather almost made me reconsider. Thankfully, I decided last minute to join the tour and eventually realized how breathtaking Alaska was even during bad weather. As we hiked through the forest we passed by rivers with hundreds of salmon swimming upstream, which according to our guide were at the last stages of their lives. Our guide and photo instructor also pointed out landmarks on where the glacier was at various periods in the past 100 years. The highlight of our trek was coming face to face with Mendenhall Glacier, a magnificent body of ice that has been slowly receding through time. The glacier has receded 2.5 miles since the 1500’s with 1.75 miles of that occuring during the last 100 years. The entire scenery was magnificent with the mist covering a huge part of the glacier helping create a dramatic effect to my photograph. I initially considered adjusting the brightness but realized the photo could lose a lot of details in the mist and clouds so I decided to keep the gloomy mood…which I hope is not an indication on the future of this majestic natural wonder.

ISLAND SPEED

Don’t you wish you were on that boat speeding across the brilliant sapphire water and heading to a remote tropical island with your special someone? That sure is possible if you were in the Caribbean and have lots of dough but for humble commoners like a majority of us, a cruise ship is a cheaper alternative to enjoy the high seas and to explore these exotic islands. I have been cruising regularly for the past 5 years and I enjoy visiting multiple places minus the inconvenience of dragging around my luggages. The only thing I like to drag around is my camera, which then allows me to capture so many interesting places. The photograph above was taken from my stateroom balcony a few hours after we docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, the island and the boats didn’t really provide much for my composition until the speedboat came slicing across the water. I like how the speeding boat added a sense of excitement and adventure to my composition. It makes me want to book and hop on another cruise.

SWAN LAKE

When I think of swans the words that come to mind are elegance, grace and beauty. Swans are such beautiful and mystical creatures that they are oftentimes written as strong characters in poetry and literature. In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was concieved by the union of Queen Leda of Sparta and the god Zeus who disguised himself as a swan. Today I had the chance to photograph these beautiful creatures although it was quite a challenge as this one wasn’t very friendly. I have read stories of people getting attacked by swans so I kept my distance as I had no plans of becoming the next character in that story. Fortunately there was a bridge on the narrowest part of the lake so I was able to keep my distance while photographing this graceful creature. The photo above is my favorite as I managed to capture the water dropping off the swan’s beak after it dunked its head underwater. Below are two more photos that I like as well as the dark and murky water created a nice contrast to the white swan.

PASTEL PARADISE

I was on a cruise to the Western Caribbean last week and our first port of call was the southernmost point of continental USA…Key West, Florida. I’ve been to this island multiple times and for me the best part about visiting Key West is the scenic drive through multiple keys (islands) and seeing the beautiful blue waters on both sides of the highway. Since I only had a few hours to enjoy Key West before we set sail to our next destination, I decided to limit my walk around town to a few of my favorite stores. Unfortunately, my favorite soap store, Fantasea, along Duval Street closed business a few months ago. I also planned to eat lunch in Blue Heaven but the wait time for a table was more than an hour so I ended up eating somewhere else. The only itinerary that I actually got to experience was the Key West Butterfly Museum where I was able to take a lot of photos that were featured on this page a few posts ago. I decided to return to the ship earlier than planned and found myself on my stateroom balcony staring out at this resort island across from the ship. I also noticed a pinkish haze in the atmosphere, which contrasted well to the blue waters of the sea, reminding me of the pastel colored soaps I used to buy at Fantasea. Key West is magical when seen on land but I was amazed how magical this island looks as well from the air.

STARRY STARRY NIGHT

One of these days I’d like to gather enough courage to drive somewhere far from the city and photograph the Milky Way in the darkness. In my case, the Florida Everglades would be the best place to escape the city lights. I am currently on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean Sea and last night I attempted to capture some heavenly bodies from my stateroom balcony. My tripod was unavailable so I rested my camera on the balcony ledge and held it firmly to keep it from moving. Unfortunately, the ship was rocking so I wasn’t able to keep my lens open for longer than 15 seconds otherwise the stars would have looked like tiny lines instead of dots. I included the bridge of the cruise ship as my foreground subject and the sky as background to emphasize that the photo was taken out at sea. In the distance you can see the glow of the city lights of Cozumel, Mexico adding an interesting touch to my composition. I also opted not to adjust the brightness in order to prevent the photo from looking too grainy. Below are my attempts to photograph the Milky Way from the aft of the ship. It’s a little grainy but I think good enough for a first attempt.

EMERALD FOREST

Green is supposedly the most relaxing and calming color as it is the color of nature and it evokes a sense of comfort and peace helping reduce stress and anxiety. During my cruise in Alaska last summer, the ship sailed through straits and inlets flanked by islands of lush forest of pines so it was a glorious feast of green for my eyes. It was truly relaxing and calming sitting on my stateroom balcony while watching an endless parade of nature across the water from where I was seated. The view also provided me a lot of photography opportunities and I specially liked how the trees were reflected on the water creating a beautiful mirror effect like the photo above.

FROZEN

Alaska was never on top of my bucket list as I, to this day, am not a big fan of freezing temperatures. Last summer I found myself booking a cruise to America’s last frontier not because of my desire to visit the place but because of the amazing deal I was getting for a junior suite stateroom. Hey! Isn’t it all about the journey and not the destination? 😜 Anyway, my trip to Alaska was quite an eye opening experience that can only be understood by someone who has also visited this mystical place. During the ships’ port calls, I made sure to find time to reconnect with nature and the experience was mind blowing like a spiritual homecoming. I would also most definitely consider the stop at Glacier Bay where nature showcased it’s beauty, strength as well as its fury as the highlight of my cruise. The photo above was taken at Lampugh Glacier where every line of the glacier has a story to tell…and we are talking millions of years worth of frozen stories to tell. Unfortunately, the ship didn’t dock so we only got to view the glacier from a distance. It would have been awesome to be able touch and walk on the glacier although by the look of it, I’d be frozen into history the moment I step on it. I guess it was more than enough appreciating it from a distance.

By the way, below is the photo of my junior suite stateroom…enough reason to bear the freezing Alaskan temperatures.

PITCHFORK FALLS

I always wondered how cotton candy effect on moving water is captured so thanks to Google I learned how to program my camera settings correctly. It is highly recommended to use a tripod when attempting this style of photography but in this case, I broke the rule and captured this handheld. I was on a rush to capture the Pitchfork Falls in Skagway, Alaska as I was on a tour plus it was starting to rain so I had to rush back to the bus before me and my camera got soaked. One technique I read somewhere is to exhale while capturing a photo to further limit the shake. I have a few more photos taken using this technique and will post them soon.

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

The United Nations General Assembly established in 1972 the World Environment Day to create global awareness about environmental problems around the world. The celebration is observed every 5th day of June with a specific theme and a host country.  This year, Angola is hosting the occasion and the theme is “fight against the illegal trade in wildlife”. I have already posted my very few photos of wildlife so I’m using instead a photo I took of this waterfall at the Morikami Japanese Garden and Museum. I also decided to add an old Native American saying,  which was supposedly spoken by Chief Seattle, although no one really knows its origins.  Anyway, regardless of who spoke this saying the message remains the same that we are all responsible for the preservation of our environment and the protection of every life on it. In my part of the world, there is a huge debate about climate change with a significant number of people denying it and insisting it’s just a hoax. I believe this is a cause that is not negotiable and shouldn’t even be debated upon and politicized. Regardless of our political views, nature in itself must be protected and preserved for the very survival of humanity and its future generations.

VILLAGE LAKE BY DOWNTOWN DISNEY

imageEvery time I visit Orlando, I always allocate one night of my trip for an evening of strolling and dining in Downtown Disney. This huge collection of shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas and arcades wrapping around a lake (named Village Lake) is the pitstop for visitors after a day in the park.  The place has been recently renamed to Disney Springs but I prefer the old name because just like every city downtown, it is the very heart of the entire Disney complex. I took this photo on my way to dinner after noticing the beautiful colors in the sky just as the sun was about to set. The rich and bright colors reflecting on the water transformed the whole lake into a spectacular canvas of red, purple and gold. The amusing part of this photo, which I took in 2012, is that this was taken using an iPhone 4s.

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