3DR Solo: Droning in the Snow

I love these camera-toting quadcopters.  Partly because it’s just fun to fly stuff around (yes, I’m still about 12 at heart) but mostly because of the new opportunities they offer for photography and videography.  After seeing the first few videos people had made with them, I was hooked.  The problem is, the technology moves so quickly, they’ve come up with something new a week after you’ve dropped a grand on your latest toy.  So I sold the DJI Phantom 2 and switched over to a 3D Robotics Solo.


On Friday I finally got around to doing the new registration that’s required by the FAA.  I had to use the paper process instead of online, since I intend to use it internationally, but once you send it off, you can fly it for the next 90 days while you wait for the approval to come back.  I was in business!

So we headed out of the city to an office park with a lot of open spaces in Melford, Maryland.  We got there late in the afternoon and I was getting everything set up – the sun was low on the horizon and the yellow light was reflecting off the snow – and I suddenly realized I had left the SD card at home!  Fortunately, there was a Target just 10 minutes away but by the time I got back, most of the best light was gone.  So I flew a little and ended up crashing into a tree, losing two propellers!

This ended up being a good thing, as I ended up re-reading the operating instructions that night.  The next morning, we were back again at sunrise and everything went off without a hitch.  This is the video that resulted:

Snow Drone from Tom – TAZM Pictures on Vimeo.

My initial impressions of the Solo are really positive.  I have read reviews that suggest the latest version of the DJI Phantom is a better value for the money right now, but I ended up buying the Solo based on its likely upgradeability, and near-unanimous agreement that 3DR’s customer service is much better.   Plus the folks at 3DR say that if your drone crashes or flies away and it’s not your fault (supposedly they can tell from your remote), they will replace the unit for free.  And the camera and gimbal equipment attached to the drone!


My initial thoughts are that I made the right decision.  The Solo feels much more solid and well-constructed, and their “Smart Shots” work wonderfully (supposedly DJI has something similar in their latest model) and can be customized on the fly while the drone keeps the camera on target.  When the unit arrived, the camera controls didn’t work, but the controller told me to contact customer service, who promptly provided a solution that fixed the problem in less than 5 minutes.

I can’t wait to launch this thing on my travels.


Posted in Aerial photography/videography, Gear | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Testing the Minolta SR-T-101

Awhile back, I posted about the Petri 7S,  one of two cameras my mother-in-law had passed along to me.  This post is on the other camera, a Minolta SR-T-101.  This Minolta is an SLR that first appeared on the market in 1966 and continued to be manufactured until 1975.  From this website you can figure out more specifically when yours was made.  Unfortunately, as I write this post, my camera is unavailable to examine in detail, so your guess is as good as mine!

Minolta SRT101These cameras appear to have either been pretty popular, as I often see them sitting on the shelf in old camera shops.  I tend to over-rely on the light meters on cameras of this era, which is a mistake because they tend to wear out at unpredictable rates.  So the pictures I took tend to be grainy and a bit underexposed.

And no, we’re not back in India.  These are photos I developed and scanned before we left, and they have been sitting on my hard drive.  The camera is half a century old, so what’s a few extra months for these photos?


This is my favorite photo in the bunch!  A bicycle in front of a wall in India always makes for a good photo.  On this particular day, we were walking around southern Chennai, up and down a hill near the city’s airport.  In fact, I was carrying both of the cameras my mother-in-law had given me – the Petri with color film, and the Minolta with black-and-white.  In some of the spots, I snapped a photo with both cameras:

Wooden DuckDuck

I also like how the photo below turned out, taken in the interior courtyard of a Hindu temple. Often such temples will be built around a particularly large tree, and different idols and artifacts will be left at the base of such trees.

Temple Yard

The camera also did pretty well with moving scenes and street action, although, like all of the shots, everything was pretty grainy. I like the grainy look and tend to use a less expensive film when I’m testing out these older cameras, but some of the photos were TOO grainy. Street Scene

South India Surgical CoFinally, a few photos from Chennai’s highest point, overlooking the city from the south. It’s a fun camera to use and I’ll definitely be trying it again once I’m reunited with all of my stuff – but it’s important to overcompensate for the aging light meter – and without a flash, it’s best to work with well-lit scenes.


Chennai Skyline

Posted in Life in India, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rediscovering America: Shenandoah

In a long(er) blog post in October, I wrote about the benefits of a career that takes you all over the world, and highlighted the fact that being away often helps us better appreciate the natural beauty of our own country – which, ironically, we don’t get to experience all that much.

After spending some quality time with family on the West Coast, we returned to the National Capital region for some training, but with a week left to kill, we had a choice between paying day-to-day rental rates in our future Arlington apartment, or paying the same (slightly less, actually) to stay in a mountain cabin overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.  Guess which one we chose?

Once we managed to wrestle the Mini Cooper up the gravel road leading up the hill, we spent a relaxing week enjoying the mountain air, often simmering in the jacuzzi out on the deck (a feature of most of the cabins out there, if you consider doing the same), just enjoying nature.

One of the occasional outings we took, however, was to kayak down the Shenandoah River.  Despite the low water levels, the river was a busy place – we saw flotillas of inner tubes, other kayakers, and even a family from our old home in Chennai.  But we also saw lots of wildlife – birds of prey searching for a meal, huge trout pushing against the current, dozens of turtles sunning themselves…and in between rowing and jumping from the occasional rope swing, we even got up close to a snake that swam by the kayak.  I made a video summarizing the experience:

We enjoyed the cabin so much, by the time I got around to writing this blog post, we had come back for a long Thanksgiving weekend.  If you live in the Washington, D.C. area, I definitely recommend this as a tourist destination – it’s just a short two-hour drive away.

Posted in Washington DC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


We haven’t really seen any real “autumn” to speak of for a number of years, so it has been refreshing to re-experience those surprisingly brisk mornings, doing those runs where the cold air tears at your lungs a little, and the smell of wet leaves…

Colored Leaves

I keep telling myself to bring a camera to capture it while I can. I have been carrying around my Ricoh Kr-5 – a simple camera but one of my favorites. I think the battery for the light meter is starting to run down but by now I have a pretty good sense of which settings to use in most conditions.

I’m glad I don’t have to rake any of these leaves.


One day at lunch we took a walk around the Foreign Service Institute (FSI – where I’m currently studying French) to see what we could see – there is a surprising variety of different plants hidden away in the corners of the property.


Hydrant Stylized


Down the street the local church was doing a fundraiser – selling pumpkins – and they must have had more pumpkins than I’ve ever seen in one place out on their lawn. When I stopped to snap a picture they thought I was a journalist and asked which paper the photo would end up in.

Pumpkin Sale

I also carried it with me on a few trips into the capital. These are two shots of the National Museum of Art, from above ground and from below.



There is plenty to photograph in the city but sometimes it’s fun to snap some of the less obvious things.


Street Corner

As the temperatures continue to drop in the Washington / Arlington region, I hope to brave the cold a few more times and do some more street photography. The idea of crisp temperatures as autumn gives way to winter sounds great in theory, but in reality it can sometimes be hard to drag myself away from the heat. In just a few short months we will be back to the jungles of the southern hemisphere, so best to enjoy it while we can.

Space for One More

Posted in Washington DC | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering Sierra Leone


Today Sierra Leone was officially declared “Ebola-free”, having successfully gone 42 days (two incubation periods) without a new case of Ebola.  In neighboring Guinea, where the disease outbreak began, health workers continue to struggle for its eradication, working to save patients only a few miles from Sierra Leone’s border. When I was in Sierra Leone in August 2014, I never imagined it would take so long to beat this disease, which claimed the lives of 4000 “Saloneans”; dealt a massive setback to an economy that was still rebounding from years of war; and virtually destroyed its nascent tourist industry.  Causing no shortage of alarm to my friends and family back home, I tried to get out and meet some of the brave people struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy, and see a little of the once-bustling capital – and shared my experiences in a handful of blog posts. Phone Shop
I remember one day getting caught in a massive rainstorm one day while I was downtown, and I sheltered under the roof of one of the buildings along with about a dozen folks who were clearly from the lower economic rungs.  I bought a couple of cokes and shared them around as we waited.  A group of about a dozen boys – aged 8 to 13 or so – had been playing soccer.  When the rain started coming down in earnest (torrents), they simply stripped down completely, and continued playing, barefoot and without a stitch of clothing, on one of the streets of downtown Freetown!


When I think of Sierra Leone, I also think of people like Sergeant Marsh.  To explain who Sergeant Marsh is, I’m re-publishing below a post I had previous shared in the (soon-to-be defunct) blog site I put together in my “100 strangers” photography project.  Hopefully he and all of his fellow Saloneans will be able to move forward and put this terrible disease behind them for good.

Sergeant Marsh stopped me when I was walking through a market in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and asked what I was doing. “Taking photos,” I answered. He had a very serious, stern look and I thought he objected to this. “Have you been shooting all of this?” he asked, gesturing at the people and the flooded road in the street market. I told him I was a tourist, and I had snapped a few photos. He explained to me that he patrolled this area, and in the market, the vendors all threw their trash in the gutters, which caused them to get blocked, and the rainwater (it had been raining for days) then ran in the streets. It was his job to get them to stop doing this. He introduced me to his colleagues, who seemed utterly bored by the whole thing, and emphasized the presence of the “female constable.” He asked what I planned to do with the pictures I was taking and I cautiously offered, “share them with friends on Facebook so they can see what it’s like in Freetown.” He then insisted that I provide a positive caption – I should upload these photos to the internet, and tell the world that Sergeant Marsh and his colleagues were keeping the streets safe. That people should know this is a safe and nice place to visit. At this point I asked if I could also snap his photo.  He agreed, and repeated what I should put in the photo captions, and re-introduced his colleagues.

Sergeant Marsh

Check out how sharp his uniform looks.  Sergeant Marsh is doing his part to keep the streets safe, and wants all of you to know that Freetown is a wonderful place to visit.  I think he’s doing a great job. I hope I run into him again so I can tell him I have made him “stranger number 84″ in my “100 strangers” project.

You can check out the other photos I took in Sierra Leone in this Flickr album.

Posted in Sierra Leone | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rediscovering America: Oregon

The last four years have been given us amazing travel opportunities.  The world is full of interesting things to see; wonderful people to meet and get to know; and of course this all translates to great video and photo opportunities.

DSC03504_tonemapped2 copyNot only have we been able to experience the vast deserts, wilderness and wildlife of Namibia, but also pretty much the opposite in Chennai, India – with four times the inhabitants of all of Namibia, full of color, sound, smells – and sometimes chaos.  And of course lots of nearby destinations:  South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe; Malaysia, Australia, Nepal and of course India itself. Durga Procession

But it’s always good to come home.  Coming home is mostly about seeing family and friends.  But it’s also a period of rediscovery of our own country.  Not only all of the cultural aspects we have forgotten about or missed out on, but also some amazing natural beauty.  Often it is being away that helps us to “re-see” things we’d have otherwise taken for granted.

SunsetWe spent nearly a month in Oregon. People sometimes talk about the Oregon rain, but in a way Oregon is a kind of sampler of many of the things America has to offer: deserts, mountains, coastline, rain forests, volcanoes, gorges, white water…the list goes on. We didn’t even begin to touch on all the variety Oregon has to offer, but what follows are a few snapshots of a few simple day- and weekend trips we took.

  Coyote Creek  Coyote Creek is just a simple creek, one of several that feeds in to the Fern Ridge Reservoir, about 12 miles west of Eugene.  For a few dollars you can rent a kayak or two like we did, get up before dawn, and drop in near where the creek goes under the railroad bridge, on the southeast end of the lake. Sunrise

Hitting the creek early made for some good photo ops as the sun rose and highlighted the mist rising of the creek.


We saw a family of raccoons washing a snack before bed.  And having missed breakfast we were happy to help ourselves to the abundant berries growing along the banks!

DSC_0844BerriesWe paddled as far south as we could until fallen trees eventually forced us to turn back.  We saw some sort of birds constantly flitting in and out from underneath the railroad bridge and decided to go in for a closer look.  It turned out to be swallows – loads of young swallows who appeared to be just learning how to fly!  In between flights they would hang out at their nests, and the adults would stop by and encourage them to fly again. Learning to Fly

We followed the creek a bit to the north, as it gradually merged with the lake. The channel continued for about another half mile and we could tell all sorts of waterbirds called the area home. We didn’t get any really noteworthy shots of the waterbirds. But we managed to sneak up really close to some birdwatchers before being noticed!


…and then we loaded up and headed back to the house.  It was still early in the day so we had breakfast, and headed out to….

Waldo Lake  Waldo Lake is a 10-mile long lake that is entirely spring-fed, off-limits to motorized boats, and surrounded by dense forest.  It is amazingly clear and clean, and we went there because I wanted someplace I could safely swim.  An amazing experience to swim in this lake – I had forgotten my goggles (but not my wetsuit – an absolute must!) but it didn’t matter – the water is so clean you can just open your eyes while you swim and it looks like you are soaring 80 feet above the lake bottom!


The north end of the lake looked like it had been the site of a forest fire sometime in the last couple of years, and it looked like an interesting place to snap photos, so we went to check it out.

Lake WaldoIt turns out that this forest fire took place in 1996!  This is what a forest looks like after 20 years of recovery. Reflecting ShoreNew life

Despite the mostly lifeless trees, we still spotted some wildlife – such as this American marten.

Marten…and despite the fact that the extremely low nutrient level (the reason it is so clear!) means there is very little life in the lake itself. But these dragonflies that landed on our kayak were working on creating more… Dragonflies   It was a great trip, and I hope to be able to visit Waldo Lake again!

 McKenzie Bike Trail  We also took a couple of trips to one of my favorite places in Oregon – the McKenzie River.  One of the things you can do at the McKenzie River is rent a mountain bike and ride it down the McKenzie River Trail.  For a reasonable fee, the folks at the McKenzie River Mountain Resort will rent you a bike and drive you to the top of the 26-mile trail, or approximately to the halfway point.  Even though it’s generally downhill, I definitely recommend not attempting the full 26 miles if you don’t ride trails quite often.

FernMcKenzie River

The trail, rated among America’s top biking trails, generally runs along the river, sometimes with a treacherous drop-off. It’s not limited to cyclists so watch out for hikers, and bring plenty of water!

ReflectionSome people try and ride the trail as quickly as they can but I recommend taking it slow and stopping for photo-ops along the way.  If you’re interested in seeing what a ride down this trail (albeit pretty slowly) looks like, you can check out the video below.

After we finished our ride, we were pretty sore…and hungry!  Neither of us are big meat eaters…but for some strange reason, the entire bike ride, I kept thinking about barbecued cheeseburgers.  At one point I could have even sworn I could smell somebody grilling them.  So naturally when we were done, all I wanted was a burger.  So we checked out Yelp and read reports on Takoda’s Restaurant.  Supposedly they had a nice outside terrace and good food.  My verdict:  if you do this bike ride YOU NEED TO GO TO TAKODA’S AFTERWARD.  Yes, it was that good….  If you’re in a hurry, you can go into the shop at the gas station next door and buy what they call “chicken on a stick.”  People were raving about it online and we had to try that as well.  MUST EAT!

  McKenzie River Rafting  …let’s not forget about river rafting!  We had a fun, refreshing and generally wet trip down the McKenzie River with High Country Expeditions.  With an excellent guide who made sure we were safe and who told us about the local area, we managed for the most part to stay inside the raft. White Water

White WaterAs in the case of the bike ride, I brought along a GoPro camera and made a short video of the trip! Proxy Falls  Last but not least, if you do make a trip up to the McKenzie, it’s worth stopping by some of the local trails and/or waterfalls.  We visited Proxy Falls – a couple of spectacular sets of falls on a total of about 1 mile worth of trail – definitely worth seeing! McKenzie Trail

On the hike we were wearing Vibram FiveFingers (“toe shoes”). But the paths were so smooth, sandy and warm that I felt inspired to walk barefoot. As we clambered down to the base of the falls, the paths turned rocky but by then I had gotten so many odd stares by hikers in giant steel-toed hiking boots I decided to just go with it. It was fine until I stepped in the water, which was icy cold!

ForestTriple Falls

It is difficult to convey the magnitude of these falls using photographs. There were several photographers there with tripods just clicking away. if you look carefully in the photo below you can see someone standing below the falls, which gives an idea.


We had a great time hiking below, and climbing along the edges of these falls, keeping cool in the Oregon forest.  The short video clip below tries to convey again the scale and grandeur of Proxy Falls.  But it’s best seen in person!

…so that pretty much covers our “summer vacation” – getting to know our home state and country again after years spent living abroad.  After our 3 weeks in Oregon, it was time to head back to the East Coast, where we’ll spend about half a year boning up on our French language abilities.  And then we’ll be off to Madagascar, where we’ll be sure to have lots to share!!

To see other photos from our “summer vacation” in Oregon, check out this set on Flickr.

Waterfall Selfie

Posted in Home Leave in USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Washington, DC by Night

Washington, D.C. is an interesting place to photograph, but it goes without saying that it’s completely different from the photography environment we had gotten accustomed to in India.

Jefferson MemorialA couple of weeks ago we became aware that there was going to be a “supermoon” – a larger (closer) than normal full moon, and via Meetup.com we found a group of photographers who had identified a good location to try and capture the full moon, given that the Capitol is currently covered with scaffolding and this made the Netherlands Carillon / Iwo Jima Memorial less than ideal.  So we set up across from the Jefferson Memorial and waited with anticipation for the moon to “rise” from just to the left of that memorial. Jefferson Memorial

Alas, it was not to be. Too many clouds. So instead we decided to hone our skills at generic night photography instead. We had to fight for space as we lined up at the end of the reflecting pool on the mall and the moon struggled, but never succeeded, in coming out from behind the thin cloudcover.

Washington MonumentThen we moved to the other end and I tried a few similar shots of the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial, which can be interesting to photograph because of the moving water in the fountains. Lincoln Memorial

World War II Memorial

We didn’t manage to capture our supermoon, but it wound up being a good rehearsal for the next supermoon, which comes only a month later – on the night of September 27/28. And this one is going to be even more special, because it will coincide with a full lunar eclipse, visible in the northern hemisphere, at about 9:07 pm Eastern.

Posted in Other Places, Photography, general | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stars over Shenandoah

It’s Labor Day weekend in the Shenandoah Valley and it’s  packed with tourists escaping to the country to enjoy the fresh air, nature and sunshine.  I wonder how many of them noticed the night sky?



I used a low ISO to cut down on “noise” – but this means a 30 second exposure.  The stars look blurry but if you look closely you’ll see that they are all tiny lines, due to the earth’s rotation while the camera shutter is open.  I took a series of photos that link all of these tiny lines together and form star ‘trails’.

I started by locating the north star.  In the northern hemisphere this forms the point around which all of the other stars rotate.  Then I found a stationary object on earth to make the picture more interesting.  We’re in a cabin surrounded by trees that are constantly moving, so the cabin’s chimney was the best I could come up with.  I took 81 photos over a series of about 45 minutes that all looked about like this:


I plugged them into Lightroom to doctor them up a little and then used Startrails to stack them all, and came up with two different versions.  Which is better?

Star TrailsStar Trails

For more detail on how this can be done, see my previous post on the same subject.  The photos came out much better this time, however.


Posted in Photography, general | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Found Film: Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic II

Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic II

I ordered one of these for a few bucks on eBay because it combined two things I like:  old cameras and found film – i.e. an undeveloped 126 cartridge was  still inside the camera, according to the seller. The Hawkeye Instamatic II was one of many “instamatic” cameras sold by Kodak in the 1960s and 1970s.  Most were simply constructed, with a cheap, single element lens and few adjustment points – you popped in an easy-to-use 126 cartridge, and other than an advance lever, it was basically point and shoot.  For indoor shots you could add flash cubes.  Like many of the cameras Kodak made over the years, the point was to get cameras in everyone’s hands, because that meant more film to be bought and developed. Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic II

Kodak made a number of “Hawkeyes” over the years, and this camera had little in common with any of the other Hawkeyes, nor the Hawkeye Instamatic (without the “II”) other than its simplicity.  Instead, it looked like the Kodak Instamatic 44.  The Hawkeye Instamatic 44 sold for $9.95 (over $50 in today’s dollars!), but the Hawkeye Instamatic II was given away free as a promotional item though it was essentially the same camera, minus a bit of chrome trim.

I was not optimistic about the likelihood of salvaging any images.  126 film comes with a number of challenges.  I believe it’s overall just cheaper film – no proof, but the images I tend to get are not as good as other film that’s the same age.  It’s also tricky to break open the cartridge, but if you bend it back and forth and then head into complete darkness once the plastic welds are broken you can usually get it out intact.  And finally, because the color dye is usually no good anymore, I tend to develop it in black and white chemicals, but it ends up too dark to scan – so I have to photograph the negative in front of a bright light and spend some time with Photoshop getting the image, which is never anywhere near as sharp as a scan would have been.  For example, this is how a photograph of the negative looks:


Once you straighten it, crop it, reverse the image and then remove the blue tinge and play with the contrast to make the image stand out more, you can end up with something like this:


I managed to get four usable images from the roll.

Found Film Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic IIFound Film Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic II

Found Film Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic IIFound Film Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic II

It appears that the last roll of film was run through this camera well after its 1969-1975 manufacture date, judging from the cars – but the images are still pretty tough to make out. But it is still possible to use the camera to take pictures using 35mm film, using the steps in this explanation, for example.  You can’t get the flash cubes anymore, but people pay good money these days for plastic cameras with cheap lenses to take artsy lo-fi pictures.  But you can pick them up for under 10 bucks on eBay if that’s your thing.

Posted in Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final Chennai Photowalk

I’ve been out of India for over three weeks now, but wanted to finish sharing our experiences of our last few weeks in India before closing out that wonderful chapter in our lives, as documented in the TAZM Pictures blog.

Street Dog FriendlyWe have been doing photowalks for the last couple of years, and would often return to areas we’d visited and hand out prints.  But a few months back, I bought one of those Lomo’Instant cameras from their Kickstarter campaign.  The idea was to be able to hand out photos on our walks, so that we would be “giving” in addition to “taking” photos.  We went through several packs of the instant photos and I had ordered a second load of them, with glittery frames, rainbow frames, things like that – which kids would like.  But I still had 3 packs (30 photos) sitting on my shelf when the packers were cleaning out our house, and I realized that the film needed to be used up because it would never survive being x-rayed.  So after all of our things were gone, we went on one last photo-walk through the local neighborhood, with the Instant camera and our digital cameras. Front Yard

Bike Repair ShopAbove are some shots of the neighborhood we walked through – really just a couple of blocks from our house.  The “shopkeeper” is missing but this is a makeshift bike tire repair shop.  He can’t be far, he’s left his shoes! Even after all this time it is still a bit nerve racking to walk up to strangers and ask to take their photos.  But we decided to focus on moms with babies, and thankfully nobody got too weirded out since my wife was with me.  Some were a little confused, because the photo initially comes out of the camera blank – it takes about 30 seconds for the image to begin to materialize.  But once they realized how it worked, they all appreciated the instant photos we handed them.   We had to keep moving, because once people figured out we were handing out photos, they all wanted one as well, and this can quickly snowball. So we came around a corner and I saw sparks flying, and as I mentioned I was planning to ask this guy for a photo, he shouted out, asking me to take his photo.  Too easy!  He also got an instant photo with a cute pink frame.  But soon his buddies wanted a turn at the metal cutting tool, and quickly we had to make our exit. Cutting Metal

The men below were all hanging out at a bus stop.  I don’t think they were waiting for the bus, just hanging around.  When they saw two foreigners with cameras walking by, they quickly called out to us and asked us to take a picture of the older gentleman in the center of the photo.  No idea how they are related but they were all extremely enthusiastic.  For the photo itself, of course the expressions all turned serious.

We were able to give an instant photo for the older gentleman but not one for each person in the group!


We ran into the proud dad below who wanted us to photograph him and his daughter.  People reading this blog from outside India may wonder about the dark eyebrows and spots.  The spot on the cheek is common on small children and is thought to ward off the “evil eye,” I believe.  And in southern India it is common to darken the eyebrows.  Some people think that it will help the eyebrows grow in thicker, while others just think it looks nice.  Often the black material is “kajal” or kohl, and thankfully it is being applied less frequently as eyeliner, as it often contains lead and can cause health problems.   All that aside, this is a really proud Dad, and he also got an instant photo. Proud Dad

Next, we passed this gentleman and his wife – he is confined to a wheelchair – and he got our attention and asked us to photograph him and his wife.  She was a little shy but eventually agreed to his wishes.  Instant photos for them and a digital one for me.


Of course, once she got her nerve up and allowed herself to be photographed, and asked for some additional group photos!

Women Posing

The entire time, these little guys were following us – they had clued in to the fact that we were handing out photos and were insistent until we finally had to announce that we were out of instant film.  Then they were just happy to pose as a group. Group Photo

And on the way home we passed by this shop where they turn rice into rice flour. Rice flour is what the (mostly) women use to make kolams – geometric designs outside their front doors – every morning (Here is a blog post about kolams from our first week in Chennai).  But making the flour is dusty, hot work!

Rice Flour

As we rounded the final corner, we came upon this cow, eating out of a discarded suitcase.  And so, my blog posts chronicling our adventures in Chennai, India, end as they began.  With a cow on our street.


Posted in Life in India, Photowalks | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chennai Photowalk

One of the best things about Chennai, for us, was the “photowalks.”  A photowalk is basically just walking around with a camera and seeing what you can photograph.  Often these walks are in groups.  I discovered photowalks in Chennai, though they happen all over the world – and there is even such a thing as a “global photowalk.”  But Chennai is especially well-suited for them, for three main reasons.

Water DeliveryFirst, the people in Chennai are some of the friendliest you’ll meet anywhere in the world, and they seem to love being photographed. I usually give people a chance to let me know that they’d rather not be photographed, and in my two years living in the city, I can’t remember the last time anyone objected. If you are trying to capture a specific expression, or pose, or moment – which in most places you’d have to be either fast or sneaky about, to avoid people specifically posing for the camera – in Chennai people will often freeze in place and give you time to “get the shot.” Jesus GraceIn many cases, people will see you have a camera, and ask you to photograph them.  Which is OK, but once you start doing this, you’ll have more and more people asking you to do the same for them!  And while this can detract from your street photography experience, it all underscores the friendliness and willingness to be photographed, of the people in Chennai. PoseThe second reason Chennai is so great for photowalks is there’s just so darn much going on.  OK, so to the locals, cows walking in the streets, traffic going in all directions, and lots and lots of people may seem like ordinary daily life to the locals – but to an outsider, the colors, and conversations, a bike leaning against a wall, even just the wall itself, represent millions of stories in a city the size of Chennai. DuckWall The third reason Chennai is so great for photowalks is  in Chennai, they are organized within a number of different groups.  Some are organized by photography shop owners, others by clubs (not just photography clubs!) and others by photography enthusiasts.  As a result, photographers gather every weekend – generally early Sunday mornings – in groups of anything from 5-6 to nearly 50!  One of the biggest groups is the “Chennai Photowalk” group.  The group’s Facebook Page announces the walks, which take place every two weeks, and on the group’s Flickr page, participants are invited to post their best photos. Chennai photography enthusiast and group organizer Ramaswamy (Ram) Nallaperumal, has mapped out around 90 different routes around the city, and he also stokes interest in all things photographic in Chennai with his photoblog “Daily Photo Chennai.”Meat ShopEach photowalk includes a group photo of the participants, and while the number of people – rarely under 40 – can be daunting, it does provide access to other photographers who may have feedback or advice on photography or equipment, a place to buy and sell used photography equipment, ideas on what makes a good (and bad) photograph, and if you share your photos, feedback. Ram or other volunteer group leaders will often provide information on some of the historic or cultural aspects of the sights along the walk, which helps you appreciate Chennai that much more! PriestIf that’s just too many people for you, there are plenty of smaller groups around, but it often helps to join the bigger group and talk to some of the others who may be aware of smaller walks taking place in the future. It’s a great way to discover parts of Chennai you may have never seen before – or were afraid to visit all by yourself. The photos included in this blog post were all taken on “retrowalk” #18 – after doing the 89 or so initial walks, the group has circled around to the beginning and is repeating all the walks.  That walk took place at Tirusulam, and led us to the tallest hill in Chennai, which offered an impressive view of the city and its surroundings.  Happy photowalking! Tirusalam Chennai Skyline

Posted in Life in India, Photography, Photowalks | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Langkawi: the Jewel of Kedah

Sunset PalmAs our departure from India loomed closer, thoughts turned to all of the wonderful places in India we hadn’t yet managed to visit. India is so vast and diverse. We thought two years would be plenty of time to see all of the things that needed seeing. On the calendar, a few weekends that offered themselves as potential three-day weekends. And for Independence Day, four.  So we researched destination options, prioritizing, checking weather, hotel availability, how the flights would work out. Sunset Surf

The more we considered, the more we realized that, in July, all of the Indian options were either too hot, too rainy, unavailable, or would see us wasting half our time off waiting for planes.  But as the 4th neared, we had to give up on India and cast a wider net – or risk losing the weekend altogether.

We found a flight that left around midnight (after a mandatory function) to Kuala Lumpur. We’ve been there. But from there, a connecting flight to an island just off the coast of Malaysia: Langkawi.  Langkawi, officially called Langkawi, Jewel of Kedah, consists of around a hundred islands. More or less, depending on the tide. Two are inhabited, and the island group has the status of a UNESCO geopark, with two of its main conservation areas on the main island and a third just to the south. It’s a great place to spend a four-day weekend. Even better when your flight back is cancelled (as it would turn out) and you spend a five-day weekend!


IslandsLangkawi Geoforest

We stayed on the southwest corner of the island, and a bike ride covering most of that quarter of the island takes 3-4 hours. We never made it to the island geopark to the south, but it apparently has a pretty cool lake you can swim in. We visited the northwest geopark, where you can find a cable car. We checked out the bottom of a waterfall (see the video later) and rain kept threatening, and then completed the 600-mile climb to the top of the waterfall in a pouring rainstorm. But we spent most of our time in the geopark on the northeast side of the island, where you can boat and kayak around/between/through the mangroves and islands

Langkawi Geoforest

and you can stop at this fish farm: Langkawi Geoforest see bats in a cave, giant lizards (monitors): Monitorand if you’re lucky, some of the cutest monkeys you’ll ever see, anywhere, hands down. We saw them only from far away but this is what they look like (photo by Colin Holmes): monkey Driving home late that afternoon along the northern coast, we saw signs of a “black sand beach” and decided to stop. As far as I could tell, the “black sand” was somehow oil that was seeping onto the beach, but I could be wrong. And in the distance, a cement factory. DSC03822-2

But as the sun went down, the light became more and more golden, and we took the opportunity to snap some photos.

Sunset SurfPhotographer

A father and his daughter came to enjoy the sunset as well.

Father and Daughter

Finally, I put together a video with some of the scenes we saw along the way. From the boat(s), and from the drone – although I learned that the insufficient “speed” of the SD card is what has been cutting off the recording when I least expect it. I regretted it this time especially, because I flew the drone up near the crags overlooking the water, and even managed to hover just a few feet from a hornbill in a tree.


It seems like a bad thing to do, but the hornbill didn’t seem to mind at all. We have a photo of the drone near the hornbill, but not the video footage from the drone itself.

Posted in Malaysia | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Found Film: My Very First Camera


What was your first camera?  Mine wasn’t the one pictured above, but it was close:  A Kodak Instamatic X-15 like the one pictured below.

Kodak Instamatic X-15This camera was manufactured between 1970 and 1976.  I got mine toward the end of that period, when I would have been 8 or 9 years old.  But mine is somewhere in a box, in storage, where it has been since before I started collecting vintage camera or developing “found film”.  So I was pretty excited when I saw the listing on eBay for a Kodak X-15 with a roll of film still inside! Kodacolor_II_film_C_126-20_126_film_cartridge_(1)(photo above is an example for illustration purposes, not the actual roll!) I haven’t had much luck developing film from 126 cartridges of this type found in the instamatics.  I’m always careful to gently bend the cartridge back and forth until I can access the film in the dark, but usually it comes out completely blank.  I was starting to assume it was somehow an inferior film, but I think it has more to do with how such inexpensive cameras may have been stored, in comparison to some of the more expensive cameras that have held secrets on a roll of forgotten film left inside.  But I wasn’t sure whether I should try and develop the roll in color, or just use black and white chemicals, which is more likely to yield images even after the less durable color dyes have faded. So I was pretty excited when the I pulled the roll out of the developing tank and saw what appeared to be sharp color images on the roll! I’m not sure where this barn was being built, but somebody wanted to document it: Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticFound Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

In addition, there were a couple of other pictures of a house, and this couple. From their clothing style, it doesn’t look like the film roll was all that old, which explains why the colors turned out pretty well.  Were they visiting a cemetery?  That may be a grave in the background on the portrait, which would explain the flower bouquet maybe?

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticFound Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticOnly the final photo gives much of a clue as to the origin of the roll. The van on the left appears to have “Merrimack Valley Baptist Church” painted on the side. This church is located in Merrimack, New Hampshire. According to the church’s website, they send missionaries all over the world, but I’m guessing the van would not have strayed far, and the vegetation looks like it could be in New Hampshire. Maybe the happy family will stumble across this blog post someday and discover the photo they had taken but never developed! Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

But the cool thing about this roll is that it was only on exposure #12 when it arrived.  Which meant that there were 12 exposures left!  So before I developed the roll, I walked around my neighborhood in Chennai, India, and snapped the rest.  I had to finish and develop the roll before the packers arrived to load up all of our stuff and take it away from India, so it wasn’t really the most amazing pictures ever.  Plus I doubted they would come out anyway, given my past experience with 126 film.

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticAbove is a little difficult to make out, but people have left pictures of Hindu gods at the base of a particularly large tree. Not sure what kind of tree – maybe I should have asked.   Along the wall below are political advertisements.Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticNear my house is a canal. Unfortunately a lot of trash gets dumped into it. Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Unfortunately with the small aperture of the Instamatic (to maximize having everything in focus) there needs to be a lot of light. So on a hazy Chennai day, even standing under an overhang can result in insufficient lighting. And flash cubes are hard to come by these days.

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticBut with the right amount of light, the photos came out pretty good. Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticAnd that pretty much rounds out this roll of found / expired film – half taken near Merrimack, New Hampshire, and half taken years later in Chennai, India.  If you have an old Instamatic laying around and would like to try and take pictures with it, they haven’t made the film cartridges since 2008.  A few expired rolls can still be gotten, but you have to process them yourself.  If you’d like to try and load a used cartridge with ordinary 35mm film, that is also possible – try this tutorial or this tutorial.

Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Posted in Found Film, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birdwatching from the Hotel Pool

Green Bee-EaterOne of the highlights from our recent trip to Jaipur was the beautiful hotel pool.  On our last day there, fed up with the heat, waiting for an evening flight, we arranged for a late checkout and decided to spend the morning lounging by the pool.  After reading a bit, I noticed a couple of strangely colorful birds in the tree on the other side, and realized they were a group of green bee-eaters dive-bombing the pool between hunting runs to stay cool in the 104 degree weather!  So of course I had to run and fetch the camera.  I positioned myself behind the built-in “blind” and waited.

DSCF3625 Bee-eaters are known for their tendency to, well…eat bees!  Most of them are pretty brightly-colored, and I had come across this particular variety once in Namibia, because a group of 5 or 6 would settle in every night in a neat little row on a branch in my back yard.  But they don’t just eat bees – they catch them in mid-flight, and in fact will ignore bees that aren’t flying.  I don’t know, maybe they enjoy the sport of it! Green Bee-Eater

After catching a bee, they will basically whack them again and again on a branch, both to remove the stinger, and in the process, most of the venom.  And then it’s snack time!

Green Bee-EaterSome of the birds had an elongated center tail feather, and I thought this was a distinguishing male/female feature. But it turns out that the males and females are identical (on the outside, anyway!) and the elongated tail feather grows when the bird is mature. Hence in the sequence of photos below (a bit blurry but arranged in sequence like a comic strip) it appears that the adult has caught a bee and hands it off to the juvenile, possibly as a teaching tool. Bee-Eating Training

But what fascinated me was the dive-bombing in the pool.  They really didn’t seem to care that I was there.    There were a total of four of them, and they would appear every 10-15 minutes or so and take 2-3 diving runs each before going back on the hunt.So armed with a 300mm lens, I thought I might be able to catch them mid-splash.

It turns out that this is harder than it seems.  I put the camera on “sport mode,” which takes a series of photos in rapid succession so you can catch the exact moment when they come out of the water, hopefully with a lot of droplets following.  But they are so fast!  And if you’re zoomed in, it’s hard to find/track them.  With sports mode I think the camera was taking shots at 1/2400 second or so, and they were still turning out blurry.  So then I tried setting it up for single shots, but around 1/4000 second.

Bee-Eaters BathingThis kept me entertained all afternoon.  I got a few good shots too.  They are all digitally enhanced a bit.  This is where you see the difference between a decent consumer level lens and one of those big fancy ones – I think that ultimately there is a limit to what you can capture in a case like this if you don’t spend thousands on a lens. Bee-Eaters Bathing

Bee-Eaters BathingBee-Eaters Bathing

Bee-Eaters BathingPretty cool little birds, and fascinating to watch!  In between, we took some time to walk around and snap shots of some of the other birds hanging around the pool.   For example, the red-vented bulbul below kept appearing around the pool deck chairs and would perch very close without flying away. Red-vented Bulbul

Red-vented BulbulI finally figured out why he – actually probably she – was hanging around when she disappeared into the vegetation that grew over the trellis and provided shade for the deck chairs: Red-vented bulbul nest

Eventually it was time to head back, pack up and prepare for our ride to the airport. Before we left, I also got shots of these unidentified birds.  Maybe you can help identify them!

Unidentified BirdUnidentified Bird


Posted in Life in India, Photography, general, Wildlife and Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vintage Camera Test: Brownie Reflex Synchro Model

Kodak Brownie Reflex (Synchro Model)The Brownie Reflex Synchro Model was made between 1941 and 1952 in the US, and until 1960 in the UK, and closely followed the (non-synchro) Brownie Reflex. It was called a “Reflex” because, like most SLR (single lens reflex) cameras still in use today, it used a mirror to reflect the image from the lens to a viewfinder where the user could see what the lens was “seeing.” A twin-lens reflex like this one used a pair of lenses with identical focal lengths. The lower lens was used to focus the image onto the film, while the upper lens reflected the image to a large viewfinder facing upward, so that the camera could be held steady at waist level. True twin lens reflex cameras allowed focusing and the lenses were connected to each other via the focusing mechanism. Pseudo TLRs like this one have no focus mechanism – they used an aperture that was likely to produce a sharp image for anything more than five feet from the camera. The “synchro” was added when twin contacts for a flash attachment were added to the design.  The camera requires no focusing, has only a switch for “bulb” (shutter stays open) or “instantaneous” (about 1/50 of a second).  There are millions of these still out there and can be had for not much more than their original purchase price of $5.50 or $6.  This particular model was interesting to me because it was advertised as still having a roll of film inside.  So I got the camera and developed the film, and here is what I got: img853 img854 img856 So yeah, not too impressive.  So a few weeks went by and I finally loaded the camera with some of that new 127 film (Rerapan 100) that is being sold by Freestyle Photography and took it out for a spin.  In the first photo, you can just make out that I was trying to snap a photo of a chicken sitting inside an auto-rickshaw.Rickshaw Chicken

No ParkingTLRs can be handy in street photography because people often don’t realize they are being photographed, thus the scene is not spoiled – the camera dangles around the neck at waist level and the user is looking down at the viewfinder when the photo is taken.  It can take up to 12 square photos with a roll of 127 film.  The down side of a camera that requires no focusing and has no speed or aperture adjustments is that the light conditions have to be just right, or pictures end up too light or (usually) too dark.  And if you move even a little, too blurry.  I got a little of everything. Fried Food

PedestrianI also lost a few shots because I loaded the film incorrectly on the spool, so that the spiraled film ended up touching in a couple of places, giving photos like this: Fruit Stand

A few of the photos didn’t turn out too bad. This first shot is a tall building we have seen a million times – it stands near one of the major temples in Chennai, and usually the open side seen on the photo below is just corrugated sheets of metal. We were surprised to see it was open, and this structure inside, but don’t really know what it’s for (though it surely has something to do with the temple)

TempleHere you can definitely see the effect of either the camera or the subject moving, and causing blur. Bike Cart

The only picture that came out well ended up being pretty boring, but the light was right, the subject was far away and there was not a lot of movement going on so everything was sharp.


In all, it can be a fun camera to carry around and see what you can capture on the streets, but given the somewhat high failure rate on photos – even if I’d had some practice – nowadays a roll of Rerapan costs $11.99 (or you can trim down a $5 roll of 120 film) – it gets much more expensive than it needs to be.


Posted in Found Film, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jaipur, India: Street Photography Goldmine

DoorsI have done a few posts already about our trip to Jaipur, India.  It was only a 4-day trip, but as I have been looking through our photos, it’s surprising the number and quality of interesting shots we were able to get in such a short time.  Especially considering that it was 104 Fahrenheit and we eventually had to retreat to the safety and comfort of an air conditioner for many hours of the day.  I’ll start with the huge wooden doors of the Royal Heritage Haveli, an 18th-century structure we stayed in for an extremely reasonable price, by the way – here’s my review) Trikes

There’s so much going on in the streets. You can see all types of things being transported for sale in local shops, such as the load of tricycles being taken on the back of a motorcycle (above) – or humans being ferried around by bicycle rickshaw, below.

Bike RickshawConspicuously absent were the hordes of motor-driven rickshaws we have come to take for granted. These “auto-rickshaws” with their noisy, polluting engines, are ubiquitous in every other Indian city we have visited. I have often thought that an inexpensive low-polluting alternative would be of huge benefit to any large Indian city, but the question would be how to charge the vehicle. Yet somehow in Jaipur this problem has been solved – as this was the first place in India where we have seen mostly electric rickshaws. No idea how they get recharged overnight.   Below a “traditional” autorickshaw (long exposure) followed by a couple of the electric ones, shot while we were trapped by the first hints of the coming monsoon. Gate


VendorA number of the street names in the city center end in “Bazaar” – and are lined with small shops like the one above, with protection from the sun and rain, in addition to many vendors who set up on the streets themselves (below). It’s all buzzing with constant activity as people go from shop to shop finding the best deals.

Vegetables for SaleMan with Beard

In some places, people are literally making the goods you can buy right in front of you.   Below, guys are cutting and welding metal bars into security grates.  We thought this guy could double as a model in his off time.

MetalworkerIn between the shops you can spot scenes like the one below, which can also make an interesting photograph.   A bit of patience waiting for a person to walk by, even a dog, would have made this shot more interesting, but we had to keep moving! Wall

Along the Tripolia Bazar you can also see and snap a photo of the 7-storey Swargasuli Tower, also known as the Ishwar Lat, which was built in 1749 by the Maharaja Ishwari Singh to celebrate a military victory. If you want to get this particular angle, you’ll have to spend some time removing the electrical cables using Photoshop, as I did…

Ishwar LatAll the grainy photos you see on this post were taken with a 65-year-old Agfa Karomat 36 – the rest (including black and white shots) were taken with a Fuji X100.  I like the shot I got of the four men below – they came across the street to the public faucets and I was semi-stealthily snapping photos of them, advancing the film, snapping again – and when I stopped there was a guy grinning at me because he could see I was trying to be sneaky so I wouldn’t disturb the scene. It’s hard to be sneaky when you’re a white dude in India wearing Vibram Fivefingers shoes and taking pictures with a 65-year-old camera. Four Men

I was also carrying around a 100-year-old folding camera that day. I can’t remember which one it was. But as we were walking around a guy got pretty excited about it and wanted a closer look. I let him take a picture of us but we had the distance settings wrong. He said he was a photographer. All of the other (7) pictures on that roll came out way too dark or even blurrier, so he was more of a photographer than me, I guess.

VintageWe also visited the “Hawa Mahal” during that trip.  This “Palace of the Winds” is one of the pink sandstone buildings for which Jaipur is known, and nicknamed the “pink city.”  The front which faces the street is known for its 953 small windows integrated into a complex latticework along its five-storey front.  The lattices were so the royal ladies could observe what was going on in the streets below without violating purdah.  This has been photographed from far better angles, but supposedly the front of the building is designed to be in the shape of Krishna’s crown, and the latticework has the effect of cooling the building naturally (hence “palace of the winds/palace of the breeze”).  I don’t know – like I said, it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Hawa Mahal

Once inside, you could climb from storey to storey, and the inside/top is open so you can have a look around the nearby buildings and get a nice view of the rest of the city palace, the streets below, and other structures including the famous Jantar Mantar – the Jaipur Observatory dating from the 18th century.  Not in the picture below, though.

Hawa MahalWe ended one of our days in Jaipur by stopping at the Jal Mahal – or “water palace.”  This palace, in the middle of a lake, can be viewed from a road and “boardwalk” area along the western edge of the lake – so we knew the sun would be sinking behind us and would hopefully create interesting light conditions.  As in the photo these boys asked us to take of them. Golden light

The palace itself, seen below, cannot be visited.  It’s in the process of being converted into an ultra-exclusive restaurant.  From photos it looks like perhaps the palace was there and the lake rose up around it (or the palace sank) but apparently this is how it is supposed to look, and there are four usable storeys below the water surface, kept dry for the last 250 years.

Jal MahalAccording to one tourist website, the lake used to be filthy – a “foul smelling sewage outlet” – but has bounced back and supports a great deal of wildlife – we saw a number of water birds.  Some rats too.  Also counts as wildlife, technically.   Lakefront

Until three years ago you could take “romantic gondola rides” as well.  Now they say there are only camel rides and you can snap a few photos and check out the small food and souvenir stalls, not much more than about 30 minutes’ worth. But we were there for a couple of hours, mainly people-watching and interacting with locals, who took a great deal of interest in us as the only non-Indians walking around the area.  As often happens in India, one family there on an outing took a particular interest in us and all wanted to be photographed with us.  We explained about our family and they wanted to see pictures of the girls on our mobile phone (below)

Sharing Photos

Street FoodIt was fun watching the vendors who had traditional fancy clothes on hand that you could, for a fee, put on and have yourself or your kids photographed in. There were also lots of food vendors with local snacks displayed quite attractively for potential customers. I tried to keep an open mind and try the local food, but my 3 weeks of working in the fast-food business kicked in and I couldn’t handle watching them scoop up servings using their hands as serving utensils, and then alternately taking money from customers and giving change with the same hand, without missing a beat.  I’m sure it was quite good but I’ll never know now! Jal MahalAs the sun began to sink behind the buildings, it was time to start planning for our “Uber” cab (for us cheaper with their fixed rates, than the auto-rickshaw drivers who hike up their rates when they see foreigners. Plus there’s air conditioning and seat belts). It was time to head back to the hotel and start flipping through all of the great photos we had stored on our SD cards.  For all the photos we took in Jaipur, you can go to this Flickr album. Tourist Assistance Force

Posted in Life in India | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Found Film: Photos that tell your fortune!

I’m often surprised by what I discover on a roll of “found film” – but this roll was especially unusual: these photos included a fortune on each one!

Found Film:  Fortune CameraAll mundane photos, shots taken of almost random places on the streets of Portland, Maine. I was able to track down the location based on the unusual storefront belonging to the business pictured below, “Apartment Mart.” Yes, I was indeed heading in the right direction. Found Film:  Fortune Camera

Sometimes the juxtaposition of photo and fortune can be funny, almost as if the photographer snapped the photo to match the fortune – but it’s completely random.  It took me awhile to figure out what was going on in these pictures, but eventually I managed to find a few clues using my good friends at Google.

Found Film:  Fortune CameraIt seems that these come from a so-called “Fortune Camera” that was sold by Urban Outfitters as recently as 2011. For $12, you’d get a single-use camera with a 24-exposure roll of film inside. They looked like this (I couldn’t get any rights-free photos so you’ll have to click on the link).  By the time the undeveloped roll made its way to me, it had been separated from the camera, so I had no idea about its origins until I saw the fortunes printed on all of the photos as you see them here.

Found Film:  Fortune Camera

Found Film:  Fortune CameraI find it strange that, as late as 2011, a company decided to come out with a one-time-use film camera, of all things.  No idea how many of these cameras sold – if you check out online photos sites like Flickr or Tumblr, you can see a bunch of these, and you notice quickly that the number of fortunes they came up with is rather limited, so it would have gotten repetitive.  On the roll I found, only 22 of the 24 pictures seem to have been taken.  If you’re interested, you can see the rest of the roll at this link.

Found Film:  Fortune Camera

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

MORE Monkeying Around in Jaipur

Amer Fort PanoramicOur recent trip to Jaipur, in Rajasthan, India’s largest state, was short but we brought back a lot of photos.  I posted awhile back about our encounter with monkeys our first day there; it turns out this would not be our only encounter! Our second day there, we decided to make our way to what TripAdvisor calls one of Jaipur’s must-see destinations – Amer Fort, often referred to as “Amber” Fort.  Many of the hills in and around Jaipur are topped with spectacular forts, and the connecting ridges lined with huge walls, but Wikipedia calls this fort, located about 7 km to the east of the main city, Jaipur’s “principal tourist attractions” [sic] – so we thought we’d better give it a look. Amer Fort gardens

The cab driver dropped us off at the base of the hill leading to the palace and fort, with its lake and fancy gardens.  Temperatures were already approaching 40 Celsius, and there was no sign of the elephants or the jeeps mentioned in the guidebooks for taking tourists up the hill.  We had already discussed the elephants and had resolved not to ride them in this heat, but without the jeeps, we were left only with the option to walk up the hill.

VisitorsI bought two one-liter bottles of water from a vendor on the street and we started working our way upward.  Within a short time we were soaked with sweat.  Others around us looked like they were pretty hot too, but nobody was suffering like we were.  It pays to grow up here, I guess!  We eventually made it to the main palace area and enjoyed a great view – also spotting where the jeeps were dropping people off. View from the Fort

People were waiting in line to pay an admission fee – probably for the palace? – but we opted instead to continue further up. Eventually, however, we realized it was simply too hot, and after snapping a few more photos, we spotted an old, forgotten gate which allowed us to leave the walled area halfway up the hill, through a side entrance of sorts.

GateThe pathway beyond this gate had also been “paved” with flat stones, but it was in disuse and many of the stones had washed or been pushed away. Woody Path

Woody PathAs we continued on down the hillside the pathway became less and less obvious, and more and more overgrown, so that we began to worry a bit.  Eventually we ended up running into a road where we saw this guy herding his goats along, while a monkey watched from a tree overhead. Primates

We followed where he was headed and found a little temple at the end of a road, and not much else.


Somebody would show up occasionally and go into the temple, but other than that, there were very few people. What we did find, however, was a colony of grey langurs – extremely friendly – with a single rhesus macaque who seemed to think he was a langur. Grey Langurs

Feeding the LangursAnd unlike the langurs we had seen elsewhere (which were very shy) or the macaques we had seen elsewhere (which would become aggressive), these were extremely gentle and patient monkeys. When they discovered we had goldfish crackers to offer, they all rushed over, but would sit very politely and wait to be handed a cracker. Pair of Grey Langurs

Feeding the LangursWe couldn’t get over how polite they were! For someone who really likes interacting with monkeys, this was an awesome find, way out in the middle of nowhere.

Eventually, however, it was time to head back, and we followed the sounds of traffic to find the main road again, and hitch a ride to the “Jal Mahal,” or “Lake Palace”, where we’d be able to snap some photos during that last magic hour of sunlight.

Feeding the Langurs

Grey Langur Portrait

Posted in Life in India | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Wonder What Mrs. Mangelly Would Say Now

Way back in 1977 – I was about 10 at the time – I wanted to learn the piano. But we had to be concerned with something called a “weight allowance” – the maximum weight the US government will agree to transport from assignment to assignment at their expense, every time they ask you to move. (side note: after nearly 50 years, as I prepare for my 22nd move with the USG, I am still bound by this “weight allowance!”)

So I didn’t get to take piano lessons. Instead, my parents suggested the accordion (what???). Not the saxophone, guitar, flute…the accordion. So I started taking regular lessons in Augusta, Georgia, with a lady named Mrs. Mangelly, who seemed pretty old to a ten-year-old at the time. But each week, I dutifully performed the songs I had been assigned from my Palmer-Hughes songbooks and practiced all week, and when I could perform them to the standard expected of a ten-year-old, Mrs. Mangelly would write the date on the page and assign some new songs.

Once I had been doing this for awhile, my parents talked to me about making a commitment to the instrument, because I think Mrs. Mangelly was pressuring them to stop using a loaner, and buy an instrument from them. So I agreed, and I got my own accordion, an Italian model with the “TOMMY” glued on the front with silver metallic letters. Mrs. Mangelly probably threw those in for free.

Occasionally she would assign a song that was not in the books – I’d get a separate leaflet for that, usually from the Pietro Deiro company. One such song was “Amapola”, which I apparently mastered on July 23, 1978, according to the date penciled on the corner of the sheet music, which I still own. It would become my mom’s favorite, and at family gatherings I would always be urged to drag out the instrument, and eventually “play Amapola” would come up, so I would.

These lessons would continue over the next 8 years, including a stint with “Handharmonika Vereinigung” (literally hand-harmonica club) Rheingold Mannheim and a private tutor in Holland.  In Germany I switched “Amapola” from a regular 4-beat pattern to a tango, and then my teacher in Holland showed me how to work in a few extra chords to make it all more interesting.  By then I had acquired another accordion with a lot more buttons and sounds, which I would eventually give up for repair parts in the early 2000’s because of dampness-related deterioration of all the valves inside.  So my parents gave me the old one I had used at Mrs. Mangelly’s again.

But I didn’t really play it much.  Truthfully, it was a pretty basic instrument, and as shocking as this will sound (haha) the sound could become grating after awhile.  But about ten years ago I saw a video demo of something called a “V-Accordion” (v for virtual).  This instrument digitally simulated the sound of just about any style of accordion – along with a variety of other instruments, such as saxophones, violins, guitar…even bagpipes!  But I could never bring myself to spend the cash needed to own one of these instruments.

Until recently – a used one on eBay.  It had to be shipped to India by freight, for an extra $250.  But since I have gotten it, hardly a day or two goes by that I don’t pick it up for at least a few minutes.  I have gotten out all of the old sheet music from all the different places I took lessons, some of the music I wrote myself, even ordered some additional sheet music online.  It took 37 years, but the lessons I started in 1977 are being put to good use!  Fortunately for the rest of my family and the upstairs neighbors, it can be played with headphones.  Win-win!

Where am I going with all of this?

Well, the other day I decided to play “Amapola” again, in order to share it with my mom.  But I decided to record it to a flash drive via the built-in USB plug and recording function.  And then I came up with two separate accompaniments, and recorded the whole thing on video.  There is a little bit of distortion because the accompaniment is going directly into the video camera and the recording volume was probably slightly high.

After I was done with this, I wondered about the origins of the song.  It seems that “Amapola” was written in 1924 for a 1925 film, and was recorded multiple times by multiple musicians, but in March 1941, Jimmy Dorsey’s version reached #1 in the U.S.  Until now, I had never heard it played by anyone other than myself! Here is the 1941 version:

I also wondered what had become of “old Mrs. Mangelly” and her music and dance school in Augusta. Both of my other music teachers have long passed away. But I found this 2007 article about Mrs. Mangelly still going strong at age 86.  And from other club newsletters I have learned that even today, at 94 or 95, she continues to perform regularly with a small group of accordionists!  I wonder what she would think of this blog post?

More FR-7 vids:  Beer Barrel Polka; Aquellos Ojos Verdes; Besame Mucho

Posted in Random Thoughts, Observations and Weird Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monkeying Around in Jaipur

Jaipur Panorama

With only a month or so before we leave India, we finally made it to Rajasthan, the country’s largest state, located on the northwestern border with Pakistan, and home to the inhospitable Thar Desert.  Literally translated as the “land of kings”, Rajasthan could easily be the destination for a half dozen or more individual trips – but as we are rapidly running out of time, we opted for the city of Jaipur.

Jaipur has a rich history and architecture, a number of forts…but those of you who know my dear wife, it’s “Jaipur blah blah blah blah MONKEYS blah blah.” OK I am kidding there – our first day we actually set out to see some of the monuments and forts, and the monkeys were just pure good luck.

Royal Gaitor

We told the cab driver to take us to Nahargarh Fort, which provides an impressive view of the city and is also worth seeing for its own sake.  So he drives us across town and we end up at a walled-in area, with stairs leading up the mountain to the right, where there is a temple with a giant swastika painted on the side, and broken stairs leading up to the left, toward some sort of fort-like turrets.  Meanwhile, the temperature is in the high 80s (“feels like” 101 Fahrenheit), so we opted to go toward the walled area rather than heading up the stairs.

Royal Gaitor

A guy at the entrance asks us for 50 rupees each (a little less than a dollar) and we oblige. No one else is around, and despite asking three times, the name the guy keeps assigning to the place we’re at doesn’t ring any bells. It turns out later that we were at the Royal Gaitor, supposedly the cremation-place and/or cenotaphs for the past kings of Jaipur and/or the surrounding region. (Don’t know what a cenotaph is? Neither did I. It’s a tomb for someone who’s actually interred somewhere else.)

Royal Gaitor

We walk around the place – only a gardener is there watering the plants, and another guy shows up whose job it is to scrape away and sweep up pigeon poop. Lots of intricately carved marble structures (cenotaphs!) and a tree that apparently has some religious significance, based on the Hindu idols that have been left at its base. All very nice and impressive, something fun to photograph with my black-and-white film camera.

Royal Gaitor


Royal Gaitor

But that’s when we realize a troop of grey langurs is moving into the area. They greet us at the sign leading to the rear area of the attraction.


They appear to be moving in from the hills, and in ones and twos, make their way along the wall surrounding the area, to the giant tree in front of the central temple.  We look up and a little one is peering down at us through the branches.


As we walk through the interior gate, we realize they are all jumping across the ten-foot span between the pillars, and it seems like a great place to do some high-speed photography to catch them in mid-air.

Jumping Monkeys

So we wait. Eventually I got a series of mid-air shots, and I decided to combine them. For each photo, all the monkeys are the same monkey, recorded at a slightly later point in time. Extra points if you can spot the kingfisher, double if you can identify the type!

Jumping Monkeys

Jumping Monkeys

We never did end up seeing Nahargarh Fort. Unless you count seeing it from the center of town. It was about 2 km away. We walked up the first 100 or so steps toward the temple to take the photo you saw at the start of this post, and then walked into town soaked with sweat as the mercury continued to climb. We did end up seeing some other forts, on different days. But that will be a different blog post.

Posted in Life in India, Wildlife and Nature | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Found Film: Portland, Maine

I occasionally acquire rolls of film on eBay or inside old cameras that haven’t been developed, and were never seen by the photographers.  You never know – sometimes they’re old, sometimes they’re not.  This roll is not.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

At first, I thought this was shot in Boston. But boats move around, and this could be any East Coast port city. As it turns out, this “found film” collection is from Portland, Maine.  Basically, it’s a roll of pictures someone shot walking around town taking photos of buildings.  So yeah, I know this hasn’t exactly piqued your curiosity…but it’s found film, and one never knows what to expect!

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Most of them are pretty generic and unidentifiable to someone who has never been to Portland. But there are a few I was able to nail down. Below, for example, is the First Parish Church.

Found Film:  Portland Maine UrbanAlso, a seemingly nondescript ice cream parlor, which is the Mt. Desert Island shop, on 51 Exchange Street.  There are three shops, only one of them in Portland.  This appears to be the shop in Portland, which opened in June 2010.  So the film is less than five years old.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Then there are a few more nondescript street corners and scenes, that make me wonder what the photographer was after… I only include a few, to give a sense.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

I was able to identify the Our Lady of Victories Monument, from 1891…rarely shot from the back….and a picture of people taking a picture, near the downtown shopping area at 24 City Center.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

The complete roll of oddly blue-tinged photos I got off this roll can be found here.

I just have a few more rolls of found film to process and scan before the packers come and pack all of our things and we depart India. As I finish the last few, I’ll probably wrap up this project, because it’s getting pretty expensive on eBay these days, and I get way too many rolls that are just empty. I am also excited to develop a roll of my OWN found film, which I discovered inside an old 1990s era point-and-shoot camera. I just need to find the time!

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Posted in Found Film | Tagged | Leave a comment

Life Goes on in Kathmandu (part 2)

Last week, I shared some of my photos and experiences from my two-week trip to Kathmandu, which was mostly just hard work post-earthquake, but I did get one day off toward the end of my time there and spent it walking around the city all day with my most recently-acquired camera.   This is the second half of that report.

Broom Maker

As noted last week, most of the “Gorkha earthquake’s” impact on individual peoples’ lives and property was felt outside the capital – in rural mountain areas.  The official death toll of the April 25 quake and the May 12 aftershock was 8,677, with as many as 20,000 hospitalizations.  But in addition to the human toll, Nepal suffered a massive cultural toll – and I stumbled across a significant part of it during my second photowalk that day.

The gentleman above sits quietly, making brooms on the fringes of what remains of Kathmandu Durbar Square, one of seven groupings of ancient buildings in Nepal that was severely damaged in the quake.  Unesco’s director-general, Irina Bokova, stated that no other natural disaster in modern times has caused so much harm to a nation’s cultural heritage.

Durbar Square

When I came upon the scene above, I couldn’t really picture what I was supposed to be looking at.  There were piles of rubble and timber everywhere, and people were walking through the area, many of them taking pictures and climbing on top of the rubble.  I saw several pyramid-like brick structures and the severely cracked remains of an old palace:

Durbar Square

It wasn’t until later that I was able to make sense of what I was seeing, as I looked at older photos and realized that the “pyramids” had actually been the bases for the actual structures, which were now completely gone.  You can look at this picture and this picture for comparison.  I stopped for a coffee at this Himalayan Java – sort of like Nepal’s Starbucks – and completely untouched on the edge of the square, and wondered, probably like the lady below, how much of the site can be reconstructed, and to what end?  This article talks a bit about efforts to save what remains.

Durbar Statue

By this time, two weeks after the quake, life elsewhere was starting to return to normal, and people in the city were starting to return to their normal routines. Without the usual number of tourists, of course.


Roasted Corn

The woman above was in a group of street vendors – and was most literally a street vendor, as she had used sticks and scraps of wood and paper to keep a small fire going in the gutter at a major intersection, where she roasted ears of corn (maize) which were being regularly purchased by passersby.

As I was walking around taking these pictures, the 7.3 magnitude aftershock had not yet taken place. And I worried, because everywhere I walked I would see buildings that appeared to be precariously propped up with beams or poles:


And yet after the 7.3 aftershock, there was little additional damage in the city – or so I am told. I walked through the Thamel tourist district the day after that tremor, and the shops were shuttered but I am told things returned to normal pretty quickly within days (I left Nepal the day I snapped the photo below).


On my final day in Nepal I had a meeting in town and walked around for an additional hour. I bought an “I (heart) Nepal” t-shirt from the guy below, who was concentrating on the embroidery of an NGO’s name on this vest.


As I was watching him work, I noticed he had embroidered the word “CHLID” on the vest (rather than “child”) and tried to tactfully point this out to him, to spare him any problems later. Only then I noticed he had a pile of 25 or so sitting next to him already done – all incorrectly. So I got kind of a mixed response.  “Better that he hear it from me,” I thought.

I also stopped to chat with this lady, who was sitting at the Bhoudanath stupa, which someone encouraged me to go and see, but I didn’t really find all that impressive, honestly. Culturally important, I’m sure. The stupa follows.  Believers walk around it and spin the prayer wheels that you can just make out in the wall.


Boudhanath Stupa

After that I walked for a mile or two until I finally had to grab a cab and head in to prepare for my trip home. A few interesting scenes from that walk:

Feminine Zone



Flag and Bag

I couldn’t tell if it was intentional, but this unidentified statue had a shopping bag dangling from the hand holding the Nepal flag.

Kodak Moment

I’ll close with this view from Swayambhunath. You’ve seen most of the photos I posted, but if you’d like to see the rest, you can check out the complete album on Flickr.

View from Swayambhunath

Posted in Nepal | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life Goes On in Kathmandu (part 1)


I wish my visit to Nepal had been under different circumstances.

I arrived late on April 27 – after hours on the tarmac in New Delhi, waiting for a parking berth to be on the forecast so the plane could take off. Thankfully the airline arranged for an extra meal to be delivered while we waited, and the extremely helpful airline staff were rushing up and down the aisle passing out extra meals from big cardboard boxes that had just been brought in, as the announcement clearing us for takeoff finally came. The airline billed the flight as a “rescue flight” – but the Kathmandu-bound flight was packed with Nepalis who had been waiting for anxiously since the quake to return home and check on their friends, loved ones, and property. There was a huge sigh of relief as the plane finally left the ground – and an even bigger one when it finally landed, after hours of circling over Kathmandu.

Kathmandu Aerial

Though it is said to be difficult under normal circumstances, the airport was extremely chaotic.  The electricity was sporadic, and of course many of the workers were likely to be at home dealing with their own homes and families.  There were piles of luggage everywhere, people five deep surrounding the three luggage belts, no way to know where your luggage would show up.


Eventually I spotted mine and I was on my way into the city in a rickety old cab.  The driver apologized for having his brother in the front passenger seat; apparently the cab was temporarily home for both of them.  Driving through the city at night, the effects of the earthquake were not immediately obvious from looking at the buildings (the hardest-hit areas were the rural mountain areas), but every open space, park, or square – even the space surrounding statues placed in roundabouts – was filled with blue tarps and plastic sheeting as people sheltered outside.

Tent City

We stayed in a hotel where the lone receptionist looked as if he had been on shift for the last 18 hours.  Rooms were strictly double occupancy – every bed was filled – and breakfast would be served on the lawn under a giant canopy, until the dining room could be inspected for safety.  But finally I was able to settle down for the night.

The next ten days would end up being a blur.  I generally don’t write about my work on this blog, and that’s not what this post was intended to be about.  Instead, I want to share my impressions of the city as it appeared when I was finally told to take a day off, and I had the opportunity to walk around Kathmandu with a camera and meet some of its residents.  Following the blue line in the map below, I basically walked around until my camera battery went dead, came back to recharge (and change soaked shoes) and then headed back out again until the battery died again. This post covers the first part of my walk.


I would start my walk in Thamel, the tourist district filled with budget-friendly hotels, souvenir shops, and shops catering to backpackers and hikers.  Most of the shops were shuttered, but there were signs that things were beginning to return to normal (this was May 9, a full two weeks after the quake).  I bought a map from a shopkeeper who told me he had three houses in the country, and all had been flattened.  This was the first day he had been able to return to his shop.  Although many of the shops were beginning to open, there were only a handful of tourists, and people seemed surprised to see me (a foreigner) walking around taking pictures.

Kathmandu Streets

Kathmandu Streets

Kathmandu Streets

I continued to the west, where I would cross the Bishnumati River where it passes through Kathmandu.  This is a holy river that has unfortunately fallen victim to years of pollution and dumping.  The river slowly moves through the city as a sludge of plastic waste, slaughterhouse runoff, and algae – and the lower-income homes built alongside the river appeared to have suffered massive damage, likely because they are cheaply constructed, non-reinforced, 3-4 storey brick and mortar buildings.  People were picking through the rubble, salvaging recyclable metal and bricks, even as another family sat in plain view on the 3rd floor having a meal, with the entire outer wall of their dining room missing.  As gawkers stopped to take pictures on their mobile phones, I continued westward up the steps toward the Swayambunath hill looming in the distance.  On the way I passed these monks sitting in this makeshift shelter:


The Swayambhunath hill temple complex hosts a giant Buddhist stupa that dominates the Kathmandu valley, with several impressive Buddhist and Hindu structures, as well as what appears to be a monastery.  I saw plenty of evidence of the temple’s nickname, “the monkey temple” as I began ascending the 365 steps that lead to the stupa.  My hotel television had been looping a clip that talks about the stupa and complex on its “welcome” channel, and I was eager to see it in person.

Monkey Temple Monkeys

Unfortunately, about 60 or so steps from the top, soaking with sweat, I could see that sheets of wood and other debris had been placed across the steps, blocking entry to the largest temple. A young guy had been climbing the steps just behind me, and when he too saw the way was blocked, he pulled off to the side, and took some biscuits from his pocket to feed the dogs (and one monkey) hanging around the benches placed for people to rest along the climb.

Feeding the Dogs

From there I spotted an opening in the wall lining the step area, and I followed this to a well-worn path through the forest covering the hill. There were monkeys hanging in the trees and playing along the path. I continued on the level trail which took me around to the back of the comples, where I saw there were other structures and lots of people hanging around, many in monk’s garb.


While all structures will still standing, it was hard to find anything that had not suffered at least some damage.


I guess I caught the attention of this elderly lady – I am not sure what distinguished me from the other tourists hanging around – and I gave a small donation in exchange for a photo.


This apparently encouraged her, so she insisted I sit down while she mixed a variety of wax-like substances and added to my forehead the mark – often called the tilak and signifying the “third eye” – which is so common in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. As I sat down I quickly passed off my camera to a young guy who was there with his wife or girlfriend, and he did me the favor of snapping a few photos of the experience.


After this, of course she wanted more money, but I was running low on cash.  She was happy to receive instead the MRE I had in my backpack, however!

As I made my way down the hill – snapping a couple of nice panoramic shots of the city on the way – I passed another large temple or monastery with these endless prayer wheels built into the wall.  By this time I was pretty much lost, but luckily I had a GPS watch pointing the direction back to the hotel.

Prayer Wheels

By this time it had started raining quite hard, but I had this handy raincoat in my pack – basically a plastic bag with arm- and head-holes – and I could continue on my way.  The locals thought it was pretty funny I guess.


Chicken Butcher

I passed the butcher above – plucking and cleaning chickens. Like many of the people I had seen that day, he gave me a smile, and tossed a scrap of meat to a dog who was waiting expectantly. These are two of the things that impressed me that day – the friendliness of the people – even those sifting through the rubble of their homes had a smile for a passing stranger – and the well-fed dogs.

As I continued to make my way through the rain, I realized my camera was out of battery power, so this was a good time to head back to the hotel for a recharge – both for the camera and for myself!

Posted in Nepal | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Having a Whale of a Time in Sri Lanka

Mirissa Marina

We recently took our first trip to Sri Lanka.  Growing up on the opposite side of the globe, the only thing you would hear about Sri Lanka was the ongoing civil war, which dragged on for more than a quarter of a century, resulted in between 60,000 and 100,000 deaths, and displaced nearly 300,000 people.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect.

From the limited part we were able to see on a long weekend, Sri Lanka is an island paradise.  To be sure, Sri Lanka faces the same challenges as many developing countries, but we were surprised by the smooth, uncrowded roads, good infrastructure, unspoiled scenes of nature, and happy, friendly people.

Breaking Wave

We arrived at about 3 in the morning and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing in the bay; we woke up in a reasonably priced but beautiful resort and enjoyed a morning stroll along pristine beaches lined with spectacular cliffs and verdant greenery.


Unfortunately, the rainy weather over the previous few days had left the sea a bit rough – we could see coral near the surface out in the bay, but there were 6-foot swells that made swimming out to them a delicate proposition.  Still, I managed to swim out between the breakers with a GoPro, and managed to capture some cool shots of the coral – in spite of the limited visibility underwater – and some of the waves crashing overhead.

Coral in Weligama Bay

Breaking Wave

I also discovered that beyond the far edges of the bay, there was a pretty decent current moving in the direction of the open sea.  Toward the bottom of the GPS track below, where I turned toward the beach, I could still barely make out the sea bottom…and I noticed with every stroke, I was making little to no forward progress.  Let’s just say I got a good workout that day!  Yes, it’s fun to joke about rip currents.


That evening, I had some fun with my new camera and took advantage of the lack of city lights, taking some long-exposure photos at the beach to make night look like day:

Night Exposure

But the best was yet to come.  Because the waters south of Sri Lanka are home to the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale.  And for a reasonable price, you can hop on a boat and go out and see them.  So that’s what we set out to do – on my 48th birthday.  So we hopped on a boat and set a course for the open sea.


For awhile it was just dolphins, which were pretty cool, but we probably went about 18 km on a pretty slow boat without seeing any whales, and were a bit worried that we wouldn’t see any at all.


We eventually ended up right astride the Chennai-Colombo shipping lane – there was a steady stream of giant container ships and tankers heading by in both directions.  About 500 meters away, we spotted what was practically a small gray island poking out of the water, and the white plume of a blow (exhalation of air and mucus) appeared above it.  The boat edged closer and the whale decided to dive, giving us the classic “whale tale” photo.

Blue Whale

Blue Whale

We waited for about 15 minutes to see where the whale would resurface, to no avail – so we fired up the boat engine, and within 5 minutes, spotted another. Again, as we got closer, it dove.

Blue Whale

This repeated for about 20-30 minutes, until we suddenly ended up in an area where we must have been surrounded by a dozen blue whales – as the boat moved into the area, you could literally look in almost any direction and see one of nature’s largest creatures calmly feeding on the krill which flourishes in the waters south of Sri Lanka. And this is where I made my move, taking this “bucket list” item to the next level.

Preparing for the Chase

Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought any swim fins with me. The guys on the boat kept yelling, “swim faster” and finally one of them jumped in and realized that yes, I was swimming reasonably fast. But it turns out that blue whales are a little bit faster!

Chasing the Whale

Chasing the Whale

There are companies that will take a lot more money from you, put you on a speedboat, and tell you that they have the whales “come to you” – all that I can imagine is that they would drop you in the path of an oncoming whale.  I didn’t want to disturb these gentle creatures any more than we already had.  It wasn’t quite the experience that these people had, but still a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I couldn’t believe that at one point I was no more than 100 meters or so from the heaviest animal that has ever lived – at 30 meters long, almost 17 times as “long” as me, and 1250 times as heavy – gracefully sliding through the waters of the open ocean with scarcely a ripple.

Open Sea

Happy at having seen probably 30 or so blue whales that afternoon but exhausted, we made our way back to the town of Mirissa.  It turns out that three days is much too short a time to experience Sri Lanka.  But by this point, I already had my mind on a completely different trip I was about to take, because that morning there had been a few calls made from my bosses back home, and as we cruised into the harbor, I received a text message confirmation:  immediately after my return to Chennai, I would be heading out to assist in the tragic Nepal Earthquake.  The quake had struck just the day before, while we, completely unaware, had been enjoying our first day on this island paradise.  I’ll share more about that later.

Fishing Trawler

To see the other photos I took in Sri Lanka, mostly with my shiny new Fuji X100 camera, check out this album on Flickr.

Posted in Other Places | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Found Film: The Happiest Place on Earth

It has been some time since the last time I wrote a “normal” found film post – i.e., one which hadn’t yet been developed.  In fact, since October, I have been sharing a box of already-developed found film shot by the late Raymond Albert.  I had a bunch of film piling up, and I have developed a bunch of them, but most have come out blank.  So this hobby is getting expensive.  But I did finally get something from a roll of 127 film:DSC03704

This roll likely dates from the 1960s, when 127 film had its heyday in cheap plastic cameras with star/rocket/flash/fun/magic in their names. After that, the Instamatics took over, with their 126 cartridges.  This particular roll has a clue, in the form of a car and a hairstyle.  Both say 1960s.

Posing with the Car

That’s a 1961 Cadillac in the background.

But then the other photos were a bit confusing.  There’s this one here, with something in the water:

Disney Water Feature?

And then there’s this odd elephant:


And, as far as I can make out, a pile of human skulls:

Faint Skulls

And finally the mystery is solved, when this photo makes its way from the scanner to my screen:


It’s the Happiest Place on Earth!

Once I figured that out, I was able to sort out that this was one of the rides:

Scary Ride

And even this very difficult-to-make-out photo made sense once I figured out which way it was oriented correctly:

Disney Riverboat

That’s right – it’s the riverboat ride!

See more “found film” at this link.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment