Catching up... by Josh Trudell

Calf Creek Falls in Escalante, Utah

Calf Creek Falls in Escalante, Utah

The blog’s not dead, Jim! (at least, not yet – although it seems to have been wearing a red shirt the last few months.)

It’s been pretty quiet on this front this spring and summer – I’ve been doing a lot of graphic design freelancing for various clients. It’s been fun (and thankfully at least a little profitable), but hasn’t led to much in the way of adventuring.

Amanda Palmer, in Austin, Texas

I did a little model photography and got to photograph Amanda Palmer in concert in Austin, both of which were fun. There’s been some work on a SUPER SECRET PROJECT (Shhhh), but that hasn’t come to fruition yet. Soon, with any luck.

I did pick up a spanking new lens – the Sony 16-35 Zeiss that I’ve been drooling over for a while. It’s still my favorite lens, and I used it extensively on my recent photo trip (see below).

Mostly it has been saving, experiencing and editing the results from this year’s photography trip – five days in Escalante, Utah with James Kay Photography. This is my second time out with Jim and Susie, and it was just as good as the first time, if not better.

I flew into Las Vegas and arrived in Zion National Park late that night for a couple of days of ambling preamble before starting out on the main part of the trip.

Having a day or two of solo exploring before starting my major shooting experience really helped me get in the right frame of mind to capture what I could of Escalante. It was a time to shed the work world and reconnect with my artistic side.

Arriving in Zion in late April has benefits and drawbacks – benefits are, there can still be snow on the peaks, which is beautiful. Drawbacks are, a lot of what was once on the peaks has now melted and made areas like the Narrows unreachable because of high water conditions.

Having done a little research before the trip, I was still able to find a couple of interesting locations, and a couple more with the help of Enlighten Photography Excursions. I’ve got to give my guide, Seth Hamel, major respect – even with a broken leg, he was leading us around the trails and pointing out different locations – spots I wouldn’t have seen on my own.

I need to come back and explore Zion more, but my favorite thing was the predawn hike I took to Observation Point, which overlooks the road leading up into the canyon. As the sun rises, it lights up the canyon. It is a slightly nerve-wracking hike before the sun comes up – bring a light! – but just the thing to whet the appetite for breakfast at Café Soleil (highly recommended).

After breakfast, I headed up Route 9 to 89 to 12, where I drove into Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon, near Rainbow Point. 

I hadn’t been to Bryce before – it’s lazy/time crunched photographer heaven. Following the road out to Rainbow Point led to one turnoff after another. Park the car, walk 10 feet, and there were fascinating shapes carved in the sandstone. 

The elevation was noticeable not only for the dusting of snow, but for the sucking of wind I was doing just from walking around. By the time I reached the 9,115 feet of elevation at Rainbow Point, my flatlander lungs were not impressed. But the sights were worth it, and the elevation proved to be good practice for the hiking later in the trip.

After a couple hours of that, I hopped back in the car and followed 12 up to Escalante, where I spent the rest of the week. (More on that in my next entry. Yes, I’m leaving this note here as a guilt trip to myself to write more frequently.)  

 In other news:  

All the best movies I’ve seen this year seem to have colons. The best has been Captain America: Civil War, followed by Star Trek: Beyond and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Let’s see that Wonder Woman movie soon, please.

The Red Sox are playing well – not sure if it will be well enough, though. It's hard to believe it is David Ortiz' last season - seems like it was just yesterday I was wondering who this guy was taking Jeremy Giambi's at-bats. Ha!

Wiser words than I have are being spilled by the tankerload on the Clinton-Trump campaigns. I'll skip that subject. 

It's the end of the year as I know it... by Josh Trudell

January: It must be time for that weekly blog update…

March: It must be time for that monthly blog update…

October: It must be time for that quarterly blog update…

December: It’s time! It’s time! It’s…oh. Oops.

It is indeed already December, and my blog posts have yet again dwindled like the sands of time as the year has progressed. But, it has been a very busy year, filled with a lot of work and one truly spectacular vacation.

When I started picking out my favorite photographs of the year, I had two thoughts – boy, I didn’t shoot that much and girl, these are all going to be Australia photos.

Looking back over my Flickr feed, I see I have 18 albums – so it averaged out to one every six weeks. Even taking out the six from Australia, there was still at least one shoot per month, on average.

Some of them weren’t huge - such as studying the wasp nest that was torn out of a tree in my front yard – but the amount was about what I had hoped for, considering that I spent much of the year in the freelance writing and graphic design arena to save for Australia. And that album count largely doesn’t include shooting to go with stories – also largely written to save for Australia.

2015 was the year of Australia – building up to, going on and the aftermath chewed up the first 10 months of the year. It was a great adventure, and there is very little I would change about it. I shot as much as I could every day, but barely scratched the surface of this amazing place.

I’m going to address that in more depth later (weekly blog updates!), but for now, these are my favorite photos of the year (in no particular order). 

 

1. This was taken during the San Antonio Cattle Drive, held each year in February. Cattle are herded through the downtown streets of the city. This shot was part of the Native American dances  that were held in front of the Alamo.

1. This was taken during the San Antonio Cattle Drive, held each year in February. Cattle are herded through the downtown streets of the city. This shot was part of the Native American dances  that were held in front of the Alamo.

2. As an experiment, I took a couple of gallons of rose petals out to Pedernales Falls State Park to see what I could create. The shots feel like they might be a first draft of an interesting larger project. 

2. As an experiment, I took a couple of gallons of rose petals out to Pedernales Falls State Park to see what I could create. The shots feel like they might be a first draft of an interesting larger project. 

3. This was just after I got some new camera equipment - I was experimenting with a new 300mm f2.8 for the first time. A lens this size is a lot of fun - worth the effort it takes to carry around.  

3. This was just after I got some new camera equipment - I was experimenting with a new 300mm f2.8 for the first time. A lens this size is a lot of fun - worth the effort it takes to carry around.  

4. This is from shooting one of my year's highlights - the 2015 Summer X Games in Austin. This was a great event to shoot - there was always something to point a camera at, and most of it was spectacular. I wrote about that here. 

4. This is from shooting one of my year's highlights - the 2015 Summer X Games in Austin. This was a great event to shoot - there was always something to point a camera at, and most of it was spectacular. I wrote about that here

6. Skateboarding is one of the big draws at the X Games - this is another shot from that event. I love that the boarder looks like a hawk (Tony Hawk!) in midair. 

6. Skateboarding is one of the big draws at the X Games - this is another shot from that event. I love that the boarder looks like a hawk (Tony Hawk!) in midair. 

5. Part of shooting the X Games included shooting the concerts - including three songs of Metallica's set. After a day of carrying my gear around in the 90+ degree sun, I was exhausted when they started - but I was ready to go do it all again when they finished. Exhilarated barely covers it.

5. Part of shooting the X Games included shooting the concerts - including three songs of Metallica's set. After a day of carrying my gear around in the 90+ degree sun, I was exhausted when they started - but I was ready to go do it all again when they finished. Exhilarated barely covers it.

7. Wedding shooting is extremely hard photography and delightfully easy - often at the same time. I flew up to New Hampshire to shoot a lovely, low-key wedding. Arriving the day before gave me a chance to scope out the scene - including playing with the rings and the blooming apple blossoms. 

7. Wedding shooting is extremely hard photography and delightfully easy - often at the same time. I flew up to New Hampshire to shoot a lovely, low-key wedding. Arriving the day before gave me a chance to scope out the scene - including playing with the rings and the blooming apple blossoms. 

8. One of my 2015 resolutions was to branch out and photograph more people. I've joined a couple of Meetup groups, and I'm working on building a model photography portfolio. This was one of my favorites from a steampunk-themed railroad shoot at the New Braunfels Railroad Musuem - model is Arbnore Haliti. 

8. One of my 2015 resolutions was to branch out and photograph more people. I've joined a couple of Meetup groups, and I'm working on building a model photography portfolio. This was one of my favorites from a steampunk-themed railroad shoot at the New Braunfels Railroad Musuem - model is Arbnore Haliti. 

9. Now we're getting into the Australia pictures. First up is this sunrise over Cape Tribulation - a gorgeous, isolated beach north of Cairns. The most peaceful place I saw all year. 

9. Now we're getting into the Australia pictures. First up is this sunrise over Cape Tribulation - a gorgeous, isolated beach north of Cairns. The most peaceful place I saw all year. 

10. While we in Cape Tribulation, we took a day tour of the forest with an aboriginal guide. These ants are safe to eat - and as we found out, have a very pleasant lime taste. 

10. While we in Cape Tribulation, we took a day tour of the forest with an aboriginal guide. These ants are safe to eat - and as we found out, have a very pleasant lime taste. 

11. I originally shot this on an iPhone, then came back the following night to try and capture it again with my camera. The light and dark - chiaroscuro - makes for great contrast on both sides of the image. 

11. I originally shot this on an iPhone, then came back the following night to try and capture it again with my camera. The light and dark - chiaroscuro - makes for great contrast on both sides of the image. 

12. The best part of the trip for me was scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. I learned to scuba this year for the sole purpose of diving and shooting the reef. It took three or four dives before I became comfortable with my camera underwater - this was a Canon DSLR in a Ikelite case - but by the end, I was feeling more confident. It was an amazing experience - like sitting at the bottom of the world's best fishtank. 

12. The best part of the trip for me was scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. I learned to scuba this year for the sole purpose of diving and shooting the reef. It took three or four dives before I became comfortable with my camera underwater - this was a Canon DSLR in a Ikelite case - but by the end, I was feeling more confident. It was an amazing experience - like sitting at the bottom of the world's best fishtank. 

13. Our friend the koala - also seen on the cover of my Australia calendar. This was in Kuranda - something of a tourist trap, but fun to wander through for a day. 

13. Our friend the koala - also seen on the cover of my Australia calendar. This was in Kuranda - something of a tourist trap, but fun to wander through for a day. 

That's it - I hope you enjoyed them, and I'm looking forward to shooting more in 2016!

Punk rocks! by Josh Trudell

How long have I been away from the blog? Probably long enough to swim to Australia and back...but it was easier to fly. 

I should be finishing the Australia pictures. That was totally my intention, honest.

But when I got an e-mail inviting me to a steampunk shoot at a railroad museum – well, how can you resist that?

This was a group I found via Meetup – a site I find I’m using more and more often for these kind of things. There was a modest fee involved, but for half-a-dozen models in elaborate costumes and hair and makeup artists, it was more than worth it.

The New Braunfels railroad museum had a surprising amount of material – several railroad cars, including a locomotive and a caboose, and lots of historic signs and material that made for good props. Union Pacific and Amtrak trains pass by every day to lend it extra authenticity. As a fan of railroads, it was fun to wander through. And it’s free.

The group – Models & Cameras – is well-run, and there were lots of good people to work with. It was my first time shooting with steampunk-inspired models, and I thought it made for some fascinating looks.

Now then – back to the Australia pix…

X marks the spot.. by Josh Trudell

Day job, freelance job, freelance job, day job, day job…Blog!

Tempus has yet again fugited away from updating this particular bit of space, but here we are again.

So – a couple of relatively large photo-related news items.

Number one: I’m going back to Utah in 2016, on another of James Kay Photography’s awesome workshops. We’re going to be exploring the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for a week in early May.

I’ve written before about my good experiences with Jim and Susie Kay, and I’ve got nothing but the highest recommendations of their workshops. I can’t wait to see what this one holds.  Side note: If no one sees me in early 2016, try the gym – this workshop is going to involve a significant amount of hiking.

Number two: The coolest thing that’s happened lately has got to be the recent opportunity I had to photograph the X Games in Austin.

I’ve been writing and shooting about a lot of outdoor sports in recent years – some of which are borderline extreme – but they were mostly smaller events. This was my first time shooting anything quite so large, and it was an interesting experience.

Some thoughts about shooting it:

ESPN urges shooters to get to events early to shoot practices, and I completely agree with that. Some of the best photos I got were during practice runs, particularly skateboarding.

Hydrate and eating is key. It was 90-95 in Austin, which people said was significantly lower than 2014. I had media center access, but didn’t use it much until late in the day because I wanted to shoot as much as possible. I was paying for that by the end, with a small mountain of empty Monster drinks to show for it, but the effort was worth it.

Getting to photograph Metallica was one of the highlights of the day. They put on a fantastic show.

Getting to photograph Metallica was one of the highlights of the day. They put on a fantastic show.

Having a media pass, I got closer-than-usual access to the events – particularly the skateboarding.  Since it is an ESPN event, the ESPN shooters got to stay on the course during the events, while the rest of us were shooed off about 20 minutes before showtime, but there was still plenty of good access to go around. If I had been there without any added access, skateboarding would still have been the best bet for good photos – mostly likely at the half-pipes in the middle of the park.

Access at BMX and skateboarding was excellent. Motocross was solid – we got to go up in the blue tower on the far side of the track from the fans – but the big jumps might have been captured better if I was shooting from the stands toward the open sky with a longer lens. Shooting from the rickety tower, the riders occasionally got lost in the crowd.

Photographing the rally cars – which were earlier in the day, in the same area as motocross - was the only thing that was mildly disappointing. Access wasn’t handled well early in the day at the tower, and I walked completely around the track looking for a good sightline. I finally settled in near the top of the bleachers, which got me a clean look at the first turn.  The end of the day Big Air event is cool, but challenging to photograph from the ground.

Gearwise, I shot mostly with my 70-200, occasionally pulling out the 24-70 for wide angles. I had my 300 with me, but only needed it for the rally cars.

After some negotiation, I was allowed to photograph the end of the day musical act: Metallica. This is one of the times when you can tell you are working with pros, and the X Game reps – especially Brittany from Fresh & Clean Media – were complete professionals and a pleasure to work with.

I got to the Circuit of the Americas around 8:30 in the morning. After carrying my 40-pound bag of gear around all day, I was exhausted by the time 11 p.m. rolled around and Metallica got on stage.

By the time the three songs we were allowed to shoot – Fuel,  For Whom the Bell Tolls and Metal Militia – were over, I was revved up and ready to go do it all over again. Nothing like in-front-of-the-front-row Metallica to give you some extra adrenaline. 

Testing Out New Gear! by Josh Trudell

(Warning – lens nerdery ahead).

I’ve been itching to get some new lenses (at least, new-to-me lenses) for quite a while. I’ve been making do with renting gear for photo trips – shout outs to BorrowLenses.com and LensRental.com – and using my Sony 18-250 (3.5-5.6) as a working/walk-around lens.

The upside to renting is getting your hands on some good high-end gear and getting a sense of what it can do. The downside is that eventually you have to return it.

I’ve been very happy with the 18-250, too – it’s tremendously flexible. With that zoom range, It’s the best tourist lens I can think of – you can go anywhere and shoot just about anything with one lens.

The newest piece of equipment - a 300mm f2.8, made by Sigma.

The newest piece of equipment - a 300mm f2.8, made by Sigma.

But as my shooting has progressed, I found myself thinking about how a lens with a wider fstop would benefit me in certain situations – particularly sports. (And after awhile, you get a little lens envy seeing everyone toting around what looks like a 500mm cannon.)

 I’ve been saving for some brand-name Sony glass to go with my A99, but after reading lots of reviews and doing some research, I found that Sigma’s lenses were generally as well regarded. (I don’t have a pilot in the CaNikon Wars – this laserbrain is happy with his Sony, the Y-wing of the camera market.)

Furthermore, eBay offered some tempting bargains. I’ve generally had good luck with eBay in the past. Making sure that my sellers were well-reviewed, I picked out three used Sigma lenses and bought them for less than half the price of a new 300mm f2.8 from Sony.

Interesting note – all three sellers were Japanese, from in and around Tokyo. All three lenses arrived in short order, and I’ve been working them out, testing them for flaws and issues.

So far, I’ve been very pleased. Yesterday, I took the big boy – a 300mm f2.8 - out to a local college baseball game to put it through its paces for the first time.

I’ve found that college sports – especially smaller colleges – are a great way to practice sports photography. You can get closer to the field than you almost ever can at a pro game.

I brought my tripod and set up in the first row of seats behind third base. I didn’t try and move around much – I just wanted to see what I could get from this position, with a good angle of the pitcher.

The first thing I realized was that I am out of practice photographing baseball – the game moved a step faster than I was ready for in the first inning or so. The lens is heavy, too, and swinging it back and forth on the tripod head took some getting used to.

But eventually I got in the flow, and caught a few plays around home plate and second. I was very pleased with the image results – shots at second and home were clear and sharp. I’m looking forward to getting out and shooting some more with it.

More pictures from the game can be seen here.

Cosplay Workshop by Josh Trudell

Remember those New Year's resolutions we were all excited about six weeks ago? Go to the gym, eat less, be kinder, etc., etc.?

While my gym membership is gathering a bit of dust, I did check off at least a start to one resolution last weekend. I wanted to try more photography with models - experimenting with light and movement and so on. 

In an excellent coincidence, it happened that Jennifer Lynn Larsen and Mika Nicole, two wonderful models, decided to put together a workshop in February for photographers interested in cosplay photography. 

That's a tricky subject to shoot, because it can be a fine line between powerful and alluring to ridiculous. Jennifer and Mika led a workshop in helping photographers communicate with their models. It was definitely worth attending bringing home some important points to get both people on the same page. 

Jennifer and Mika also modeled for us, starting as Dark Phoenix (Jennifer) and Jean Grey (Mika), then 1960s Catwoman (Jennifer) and Harley Quinn (Mika). Below are some of the results.  

 

I've got a lot of things to work on, but this was a really fun exercise. I'm looking forward to working with them again. 

San Antonio Cattle Drive by Josh Trudell

Cowboys and longhorns on Houston Street in San Antonio. 

Photographing the longhorn drive in downtown San Antonio was a treat – it’s a nifty juxtaposition of cattle and civilization.

I got there about 20 minutes before the parade started, and the sidewalks were already filling up quickly. I knew I wouldn’t be able to move far without losing my streetside spot once it started, so I staked out a spot on the curb and waited.

Without any official numbers, I’d guess there were between 75-100 longhorns, with several groups on horseback, bands, youth groups and one sheep herder helping to round out the parade.

With a relatively limited amount of mobility, I tried several tactics to help vary the shot selection, including shooting up to get some of the buildings behind the cattle, reinforcing that juxtaposition. I also zoomed in, looking for details and patterns.

Part of the celebration was a group of Native American dancers in front of the Alamo – colorful tornados spinning and whirling to the music. In my mind, events like this are great, no-stress practice. I wasn’t assigned to it by any publication – I was just out shooting for fun, and it made for a rewarding afternoon. 

If you'd like to see more photos, you can find them on my Flickr page

Post it, note it, post it.... by Josh Trudell

A few notes, as I’m trying to pick up all the confetti from the Patriots winning another Super Bowl:

Take a peek: If you happen to be visiting San Antonio City Hall and Municipal Plaza, take a minute and look around. The photography exhibit – curated by Public Art of San Antonio and including some work by yours truly – is up, and after getting a chance to walk through, I’m humbled to have some of my work included.

At San Antonio City Hall with one of my prints - part of a small series called Canyon Waves. Photo by Julia Selwyn

At San Antonio City Hall with one of my prints - part of a small series called Canyon Waves. Photo by Julia Selwyn

There are some wildly different styles and a lot of really creative work.  We got a “friends and family” tour of the installation last week, and it was fascinating to meet and talk with other photographers and see how they created.

My pieces – a series of black-and-white prints from Arizona and Utah - are near the City Manager’s office, but there’s art all over the building. Bureaucracy never looked so good.

Throwing their megapixels on the table: Canon announced recently that they have a 50-megapixel full-frame body coming soon, and the Sony rumor mill is churning about a 50-MP model of their own.

I’ve been quite happy with my 24.3 MP Sony, but I had to wonder – potentially how big a photo file are we talking about here?

According to Photography Life, it’s roughly 8700x5800 pixels. 8700 pixels = 120 inches = 1 10-foot across file. Ten. Feet.

Wallpaper, anyone? And whatever a photographer has left over from buying that camera had better go into hard drive space, because those are going to be some huge files.

Isn’t it about that time?: Less than a week until the first sign of spring – Truck Day! I'm thrilled the Patriots won, but bring on the Red Sox (and spring).

Movieola: Mid-February always seems to be the dumping ground for stuff that might have been good, but ran into some fatal flaw and couldn’t overcome it. Examples include Daredevil and Ghost Rider – we’ll have to see if Jupiter Ascending can overcome it.

Shooting: I’ve got some fun plans on tap in the next couple of weeks, including some cosplay photography, the cattle drive through downtown San Antonio and a trip out to Enchanted Rock. I’m especially looking forward to the cosplay photography – I’ve been hoping to do more work with models this year.

And the Australia countdown continues…

A year-end five-by-five... by Josh Trudell

Five things I’m looking forward to in 2015:

1) The Trip. Instead of a focused photography trip this year, I’m putting all my time off from the Day Job into one massive journey with the Fabulous SuperWife: Three weeks in Australia – with a soupcon of Hong Kong at the end before we fly home.

This is a trip we’ve been looking forward to for several years – mostly by hoarding our frequent-flyer miles like Scrooge McDuck’s gold vault. But we will officially NOT be flying cattle class on any leg of the trip (he says, knock wood).

The highlights will include most of a week on a scuba cruise at the Great Barrier Reef, a week exploring Sydney and some time in Daintree National Forest.  I can’t wait to see it and shoot it all.

2) Do more model photography. I’m hoping to branch out this year and experiment with some model photography. I’m still ironing out what shape that is going to take, but I’ve got some ideas kicking around. I’m hoping to flesh them out in the first half of 2015.

3) Seeing the new exhibit of my photography (and all the other photographers) at San Antonio City Hall. This will be the first time that I haven’t been hands-on involved with putting up pieces, which is both a relief and makes me slightly anxious about how it will turn out. I should find out in the next week or two.

4) Seeing the Red Sox reboot and rebound next season. I’d still like to see an ace at the top of the rotation – paging Mr. Zimmermann, paging Mr. Jordan Zimmermann, you’re wanted at 4 Yawkey Way – but I always enjoy watching a good offense, and this one looks pretty promising on paper.

5) Watching the Marvel Universe continue to grow and evolve. More Avengers?!? The return/reboot of Daredevil?!? ANT-MAN!?! The golden age of comic-book based media continues to grow and evolve, and it seems to be only getting better.

And there’s the little matter of a certain lightsaber-swinging sequel coming to theaters next December…

 

Five things I liked about 2014:

1) My week in Glacier National Park was fantastic. Seeing and shooting the mountains, rivers and lakes was a great experience with some wonderful people. I can’t recommend James Kay Photography enough for their guidance and help with everything on the trip  - like when my tripod broke on the first afternoon shooting.

I’m already looking forward to going back to Glacier – hopefully this time with better weather.

2) Spending an excellent 40th birthday with my wife and mom at Disney World. Disney wasn’t my first choice – I had some dreams of an African safari, I admit. But being able to spend a week with family – and introducing Mom to the wonders of the Magic Kingdom  - was worth a lot more.

3) Being from New England and now living in Texas, it occasionally strikes me how few of New England’s highlights I saw while growing up there. We checked one of those off the list this past year, though, with a few days at Acadia National Park. I hope it’s not the only time we visit – it’s a place with a lot to offer.

4) Speaking of Maine – meeting Stephen King was a big checkmark on ye olde bucket list. This Constant Reader remains, as ever, a big fan.

5) My circle of connections continued to grow. Thanks to everyone who supported my work this past year, by sharing a story, by liking my Facebook page, by suggesting an idea, or by joining me on Twitter. It was a fun year – here’s to a great 2015.

New Exhibit! by Josh Trudell

I'm happy to announce that Public Art of San Antonio has chosen seven of my photographs to be part of a exhibit at San Antonio City Hall starting in January 2015.

The exhibit will be running until July 2015, and will feature several photographers from around San Antonio. I'm told there will be a reception in late January - I'll update my Facebook page when I have more details.

The photographs that were chosen are black-and-white images, taken during my trip to Arizona and Utah in 2013. 

This comes at a great time for me - I've been trying to figure out what my next steps might be while I'm preparing for a big trip next fall (Australia! WOOT!). I'm looking forward to working with PASA - I've heard nothing but good things about their work. 

On that note, happy Holidays to you and yours!

 

A few seconds with Stephen King by Josh Trudell

I am sitting in a line in Austin, Texas, on a gray and misty November day – the kind that makes you want to curl up with a good book. I’ve got a good book on my phone’s Kindle app, and I’m reading and waiting.

I am eight years old, and I’m sitting on a porch swing at my parent’s house in the New Hampshire woods. The Kindle won’t be invented for another cough-cough years. I’ve got a quart Mason jar filled with ice cubes, but it is beading and dripping on the floor untouched as I turn the pages of a book where a five-year-old - just a kid to my advanced years - faces unspeakable monsters.

I am rubbing the sleep from my eyes. It is long before the sun rises in still-steamy September, but I am on my way to Austin to get in line for tickets to see the writer of that book. My wife sleepily rolls out and joins me, and we sit in line for three hours before the store where he's appearing opens. By the time the doors open, the line stretches around the block. 

I am in high school, and I’m wondering out loud – as know-it-all high schoolers are wont to do – why we have to read depressing, dry tomes by the likes of Dickens and Hawthorne. I’m immersed in books about worldwide plagues and evil incarnate, chewing them up relentlessly. Depressing? Nah – bring it on! My English teachers aren't impressed – dismissing my favorite purveyor of scary tales as a hack.

I smile a bit when I find out he’s won the National Book Award, thinking back to those conversations.

Years later, I shut a book and probably will never read it again. The darkness is total, with not even the light of stars to brighten the way.

I’m about to start my sophomore year of high school, and I’m scribbling on a pad one afternoon in my room. (No, that’s not a euphemism.) It’s summer vacation, but instead of swimming or goofing off, I’m deep in this story, figuring out how our hero was going crazy and why. Later, after people read it, I get some odd looks and questions about if I’m feeling all right. I’m fine, I say, wondering if this kind of reaction is always what it is like.

The story becomes one of my first positive experiences while writing when I use it (with the prodding of one of those English teachers) to gain acceptance to a long weekend writing program at Middlebury College.

I look at a picture of the writer when he was young, with a full black beard covering his face, and see a strong resemblance to my dad, whose thick beard would smell of sawdust and chainsaw oil at the end of a long day in the woods.

I am attending college in the nearest major city, and I know this writer occasionally drops in and speaks to a certain professor’s class. With high hopes of meeting him, I take the class – no dice. I keep an eye on any news bulletins from the English department for five years – no dice. The idea of meeting him takes hold as a bucket list idea.

I start working at newspapers, and before long I am working nights as a copy editor/designer. One night I come home after midnight to find my wife sitting in a pool of light, a book clutched tightly in her lap. “Oh, thank God you’re home,” she says, dashing up the stairs she was afraid to climb in the dark, heading for the only bathroom in the house.

It might have been waiting.

I move through life on my track, and he moves through on his – I read about him online now. We're both apparently fascinated by the Harry Potter novels. I start to move away from writing full-time, resuming my on-again, off-again, on-again relationship with my camera that finally seems to blossom. He has a horrific car accident - I hope for his healthy recovery.

There's talk of retirement, but every eight months to a year, there's a new book on the shelf or on the Kindle. I read every one. He's revisiting some old favorite characters now - such that five-year-old boy who faced his monsters and won.  

I’m in Austin, and the line moves forward, and before long I see the person I’ve come to see. He’s thinner now, with a clean-shaven face – the beard has long since gone away.    

So many things to say, and so little time. I look at him and smile, and say "Thanks for not retiring."

He looks back, tired from meeting hundreds of people and a busy book touring schedule, and smiles. "Well, I'm not so sure about that," Stephen King leans back and says, in that New England way that means "Boy, sometimes that sounds like a good idea." ...and then he hands me an autographed copy of his new book. 

I walk back to my life, and he bends over his next book, scribbling with his Coke-bottle glasses close to the paper. 

Thanks, Stephen.

Magazine Cover Shot! by Josh Trudell

Today’s lesson: Don’t be afraid of taking on something that’s going to push you – it can lead to some really good things.

Such as the magazine cover above – my first magazine cover shot, hitting stores in the next week or so.

Late in the fall of 2013, I was asked if I had any ideas for this issue. I pitched five ideas, hoping they would pick one. Instead I discovered they were a bit short on copy – and they wanted all five – plus a sixth - with photos.

Three months of interviewing and photographing later, I had a phone full of stories and memory cards full of images. I’m really looking forward to seeing it all in print.

Even though each piece in the magazine runs well over 2,000 words (in some cases too far over, the inner editor says), there were some anecdotes I had to leave out, either because of length or because they didn’t speak to the story I was writing.

John Clark of the Lone Star Motor Vehicle Preservation Association was one of the people I spoke with. Standing in his garage as he carefully rebuilt a 1949 M-38 Jeep, John shared some of his experiences in the Air Force and then rebuilding old Jeeps and trucks at his home.

This is one of his stories – it’s one I couldn’t use in the magazine, but it is a good story about a good deed, and it was worth sharing.

(Edited lightly for clarity)

“There was a World War II veteran named James Priddy from over in Lockhart, Texas. He was really a good friend of mine. He and his wife did a lot for the community of Lockhart. They were up in their 80s.

Mrs. Priddy had passed away…this was a couple of years ago.

We were at a memorial service for Mrs. Priddy. And I said to his daughter. “You know we put our military vehicles in the Chisholm Trail Roundup Parade, and I want to ask your dad if he’ll honor us with his presence.”

And at the time, Mr. Priddy was about 84, he was getting dialysis three times a week, he was suffering from the frostbite he had gotten on his feet in World War II, he had everything in the world wrong with him, but he was just the kindest, gentlest, most cheerful man.

No matter how bad he felt, if you asked him how he was, he’d say, “’Bout fair to middlin.’”

His daughter talked to him and she said, “Yeah, Daddy would kind of like to be in the parade.”

I said, “Well, I’ve got to talk to him first and let him know what we’re going to do, because going from a wheelchair to riding in one of those M-37s on a 100-degree day is not easy, especially for someone in his condition.

I went to him in the nursing home and said, “Mr. Priddy, what do you think about riding with us in the parade. You think you can do it?” and he said, “Well, I will if I can.” I knew when he said that that if it was at all possible, he was going to make it.

I had just finished redoing that blue truck (an Air Force truck for one of the other members). And I was talking with Priddy’s daughter and she said, “This isn’t going to work.”

“What do you mean this isn’t going to work?”

She said, “Daddy was in the Army. He wasn’t in the Air Force. He’s not going to want to ride in an Air Force truck.”

And I thought, Oh, no. After all this we went through, which was nothing compared to what he went through.

But I called Danny (Kaiser, another member of the Lone Star Motor Vehicle Preservation Association) and I told him what the problem was. He said, “What’s the problem?”

I said ‘Danny, we’ve got to have an Army truck.’ ”

And he said, “Well, Madison’s got an Army M-37. And Saturday morning at 9 o’clock, it will show up in front of the nursing home to pick up Mr. Priddy.”

I went with Madison (Hughes, another Lone Star MVPA member), and we pulled up in front of the nursing home, and sure enough, there was Jim sitting there in his wheelchair, ready to go, with his VFW cap on.

We got him in the truck, and I said, “Mr. Priddy, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you.”

He said, ‘What’s that?”

I said, “Well, I wanted to find you a nice blue Air Force hat to wear in the parade, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. The only thing I could find for you to wear is this old black hat.”

He’d take that cap off and run his fingers across that US Army World War II emblem and then he would look way off in the distance – I don’t know where he was going, but he was way out there somewhere.

I pulled out a new black cap that said US Army: World War II. He put the cap on.

“Mr. Priddy was sitting there in the truck, waiting for the parade to start. He never complained or anything. He’d take that cap off and run his fingers across that US Army World War II emblem and then he would look way off in the distance – I don’t know where he was going, but he was way out there somewhere.

I didn’t disturb him, and he’d just look off in the distance for three or four minutes, then he’d look down at that hat again, and turn it around and put it back on his head.”

He was riding in the passenger seat of that M-37 with signs on the truck that said Jim Priddy, U.S. Army, World War II, and I thought, ‘What if nobody cares? What if they’re just sitting there and say, ‘There’s another parade vehicle.’

Big mistake on my part. The people started cheering. One old guy was in a wheelchair, and stood up, and saluted. That sure makes it all worthwhile.

I got a feeling that that parade – well, his daughter called it, “Daddy’s Big Day.”

I had known Mr. Priddy for years, had known he was in World War II, but didn’t know anything about it.

I got a feeling that that parade – well, his daughter called it, “Daddy’s Big Day.”

I was talking to a friend of mine, and he said, “Jim and his wife were over in our house the other night, and did you know, Jim was in some big battle in World War II. I think he might have been on Normandy Beach or something.”

That got me interested in finding out what he’d actually done. He was a Purple Heart veteran, and nobody knew it. He was at the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded there Dec. 24, 1944 in the Ardenne Forest. He never talked about it much.

What people knew about Jim Priddy and his wife, they were very active in the Lions Club, He was in the Masonic Lodge, and he had run a feed and grain store in Lockhart for several years.

Anytime people needed help in Lockhart with any kind of civil program, they were always ready to step up and help out.

That Saturday, the people of Lockhart saw the whole story.

Two judges stands, one in the middle of the parade, and one that the end. When we got to the first one, they made a special announcement, “This is our Jim Priddy, from Lockhart.” Everybody cheered that day.

His daughter said, “With the state he’s in, I figured he’d be dog-tired and sleep for a week. I never saw so lively and animated and feeling so good as he did that day.”

He passed away six months later.

He never had a chance to see the World War II memorial in Washington, DC, but he had his day in Lockhart.

Note: James Priddy passed away in January 2012.

Emptying out the Glacier notebook by Josh Trudell

Goat Some leftovers from this trip.

Sell my soul for cell service: AT&T was worthless in the park, getting zero data or cell service. The only hotel with decent wifi strength was the St. Mary Lodge and Resort, which is just outside the edge of the park. The hotels actually in park have pathetic wifi – if you were up for sunrise or up past 10:30 p.m., you could hope to get online, but it was virtually impossible otherwise.

(Yes, I know – in one of the great outdoor playgrounds, shouldn’t I be outside enjoying it? I completely agree – but it would be nice to e-mail my wife or see how the Sox did that day.)

Beer me: Highly recommend the local beers, especially the Going to the Sun IPA. That’s a fine beverage.

Bear me: There are bears (and moose, and other possibly-violent-when-provoked critters). Go hiking in a group. Don't bother with bear bells - ding, ding, dinnertime! - but bear mace is a good idea.

(Not) Bare me: Temperatures change quickly – I noticed a drop of 10 degrees just driving from Columbia Falls to Lake McDonald. Layers are key. (and good socks with liners for your feet.)

Winnah, winnah: Be kind to your servers – they may well have more advanced degrees than you.

For example, our charming waitress from Estonia at St. Mary’s Lodge, who had just finished her masters in etymology with a focus in folklore. And was two weeks from getting married. A word of advice to her new husband - good luck keeping up with her, but she's a keeper.

Class acts and great folks: We didn’t always get the best weather, but I can’t say enough about the group, which is really what makes these trips fun. Jim and Susie Kay kept the ship rolling, and the conversations and camaraderie from everyone were priceless. I can’t wait to do it again.

Glacier National Park, Days 6 and 7 by Josh Trudell

Glacier-National-Park-Day-7 Up long before the sun, we settled in to shoot the sun coming up behind us , which just happened to be lighting up Mount Grinnell and the lake. It’s a tough way to start the day, really.

The 50 mph wind gusts were chilly, but they also kept the mosquitoes away. (It was a little disconcerting later on to be editing photos from the trip and realize what I had thought was a spot on my lens was really a giant mosquito).

After doing our best to capture it, we moved onto a hearty breakfast and then the longest hike of the trip - 10 miles round trip to Iceberg Lake. My tender feet were complaining a bit, but I wasn't going to miss anything if I could help it.

Iceberg-Lake-TrailThe hills leading to the lake had many thick patches of beargrass - stalks with large white bulbs on the end - and colorful wildflowers.

Sadly, a driving rain forced us back not long after reaching the lake, which sits in a steep-walled bowl at the foot of Iceberg Mountain and Mount Wilbur. The aquamarine water and white ice made a dazzling combination, even in the rain.

After a quick lunch, we quick marched out of the rain squall and enjoyed the fresh air and open spaces on the way down to a celebratory Going To The Sun IPA. My feet celebrated in some comfortable shoes and a long hot shower.

On the last morning, we were again up for sunrise, but cloud banks denied us. With the wind having died down, we each got some memorial mosquito bites to mark our time there.

With the howling winds of the last couple of days, the smoke had finally blown away from the park, and I tried to take advantage of it while on my way back to Kalispell.

From Many Glacier, I headed around the western and southern edges of the park, photographing fields of wildflowers and enjoying the beautiful drive.

With my feet still a little tender, I stopped along the way and gingerly walked out to Running Eagle Falls. It was my last photo from the trip, but ended up being the lead photo in a story I wrote about it (which you can read).

It is a beautiful spot. Harsh direct sunlight on the foaming water made the whites tough to capture, but multiple filters helped.

Sitting in the Kalispell airport - which is remarkably comfortable for an airport this size - it was easy to decide to come back here someday soon. There's still so much to see.

Glacier National Park, Day 5 by Josh Trudell

Day-5-1
Day-5-1

Sometimes, when everything else fails, you just have to go over the fence. We started our next to last day with plans to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail. Unfortunately, we found that once up on the side of the mountain, our plans were thwarted: Photographically by haze from wildfires and physically by 80-mph gusts swirling around the mountain.

With the scenic lookout hazed out, we walked down the trail to Grinnell Lake, where we had some lunch as the ground squirrels tried to cute their way into some crumbs. (I cannot confirm or deny if they succeeded.)

Hiking back, we wandered up a small side trail to Hidden Falls, a tight little gorge. Sensing an opportunity, we slid a little closer to the falls than might have been prescribed by fences and captured several frames.

Camping out on the edge while we shot was a little interesting, but thankfully the ground wasn’t wet enough for us to slide.

After making our way back to the hotel, we walked outside again to the little creek joining Swiftcurrent Lake to Lake Sherburne, which has a dynamic waterfall rushing through several tiers.

One of the things I worked on this trip was my use of neutral density filters, and this was one place where I felt it really made a difference having one on my camera. The hot whites in the foam were calmed down, and being able to create a two or three second exposure created that silky look.

In the photo at the top, I'm experimenting with black and white conversions with that photo. I may end up making it available as a print, once I fine tune it some more - the dark area in the middle could use more detail.

After another evening enjoying our balcony view of the mountains, we hit the sack early – preparing for our longest hike of the trip.

Glacier National Park, Day 4 by Josh Trudell

Montana-Day-4 Up bright and very early, we were hoping for a sunrise over the waterway joining Lower Saint Mary Lake and Saint Mary Lake, just a short walk from our hotel.

It didn't blossom quite as much as we hoped, but seeing the sun rise over the mountains is a wonderful way to start any morning.

After breakfast we rolled into Many Glacier early – the last stop on our trip, and one of the most interesting places to visit in the park, with trails to three peaks radiating up from the bowl around Swiftcurrent Lake.

We could have taken the rest of the trip and just studied the lake and the backdrop of Mount Grinnell and the Lewis Range. Perched on our balconies overlooking the lake (bragging a little? Okay, maybe a little), we were able to watch the clouds and light shifting from moment to moment.

Some of the most dynamic images from the trip were made while sitting out there. It could be a retirement home for photographers.

Since it wasn’t quite time to retire for the evening, we got in a bonus walk to Swiftwater Falls – a nice combination of rushing water and wildflowers.

Glacier National Park, Day 3 by Josh Trudell

Montana-3 The time between blog entries lately has been roughly equivalent to the time between Red Sox wins this year. Is it time for spring training yet?

I did promise myself that I would wrap up the entries for this trip, so here we go.

After two days at Lake McDonald, we started our path toward the eastern side of the park, starting with a morning photographing Avalanche Creek.

Still plagued by smoky haze obscuring the skies, we focused on the waterfall, which the trail follows for about the first mile before veering away from water until it reaches Avalanche Lake.

Montana-4The lush landscape around the creek is full of tiny details – new leaves, tiny saplings, dripping moss – all with a background of rushing water. It makes for tons of elements to play with. I love those little details – photographically, I think they can make places seem more tangible than wider shots do.

We could have spent all day just puttering around this set of falls, but after a couple of hours we decided to mosey down the road a bit. We had hopped back and forth over the Continental Divide before, but today we crossed it for good, making our way to Virginia Falls.

If you like photographing moving water, this is a great hike – the two-mile-plus trail runs parallel to rushing water for most of the way, ranging from small drops to the more than 50-feet multi-tiered monster that is Virginia Falls. The wind kept showering our gear with spray from the falls, but we all climbed around the falls, getting our feet wet and trying to capture the beauty

We crashed that night at St. Mary Lodge and Resort, wiped out after a full day of hiking and shooting. A noticeable improvement: Wifi was only available in the main building, but it was much faster than anywhere else we stayed.

Glacier National Park, Day 2 by Josh Trudell

Trudell---Goats Work, work, work…let’s get back to talking about something fun – like hiking and photographing in Glacier National Park.

I try not to think of going on these trips in terms of goals – that implies work, and that takes a lot of the fun out of it. But, for lack of a better term, a goal for this trip was to get some good frames of one of the big three that are often seen in Glacier – bear, moose and elk.

Driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we were on a narrow stretch of road when two bear cubs tumbled across the road two cars in front of us as their mother trudged after them. The cubs then ran back to her before all three of them made their way across the road, over a nearly vertical edge, and out of sight.

No chance for photos, but it seemed like a good omen for the rest of our trip.Trudell---Marmots

Another good omen popped up when marmots – promptly dubbed minigrizz – were spotted near the trail. One adventurous type walked right up to the board-covered trail, peaking its head over the edge.

Our goal that day was Hidden Lake, near the top of Logan Pass. It was fun and a little strange to be slipping and sliding on slushy snow in July, but it made the walk entertaining. Getting up the trail early was a definite benefit – by the time we started heading back down, the slippery trail was full of people – some dressed more than questionably for hiking in Montana. Flip-flops were not the best idea.

When we reached the top of the pass, mountain goats ambled down from their perch on the sheer sides surrounding us and nibbled on the grass peeking through the snow.

The original plan was to hike over the pass down to the lake, but the trail to the lake was closed – ironically, because a bear was in the area feasting on the fish. We consoled ourselves with photographing the baby goats following their parents down the hillside to nap on the ledges and the teenage marmots wrestling just below us.

After sliding down the hill, we motored back to our roost at Lake McDonald Lodge. The location is gorgeous – if for some reason you aren’t enthralled with the scenery, you should know that Internet access is as slow as the stuffed animals on the walls.

After dinner, we went back out, photographing a rushing stream and ending with the pink glow of sunset over the lake.

Interlude - RIP Robin Williams by Josh Trudell

Robin He wasn’t always on.

That’s the one description of Robin Williams I’ve read this week that doesn’t quite ring true.

When he was on, he was on like no one else – an arsenal of one-liners, jokes, impressions, physical comedy coming at you in a Russian-accented, Jewish-flavored, Scottish-highlighted, short, hairy, blue cartoon tornado. You were swept away in laughter.

And we did laugh – all of us. The outpouring at the news of his suicide has been higher than anything I’ve ever seen – everyone seems to have weighed in with memories of inspiring speeches and off-the-cuff comedic genius. The depth of our connection to him was deeper than anyone would have suspected a week ago.

If you find yourself in darkness, there are people out there with lights. Start with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255.

We all thought of our favorite moments and characters – the brash DJ Adrian Cronauer from “Good Morning, Vietnam” and the genie from “Aladdin” were mine, but I’d always watch him be Dr. Maguire in “Good Will Hunting” or the title character from “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

The unfiltered Williams was like a drug – two hours (that filmed for five) of him Inside the Actor’s Studio, or onstage Live at the Met – felt like pure dopamine channeled into the brain.

Seeing the spitfire spiels with a comeback for every occasion, it did seem like he was always on, that there was a neverending fountain of quips and tricks inside him somewhere, relentlessly spilling out joy.

It was the moments in between that were the difference, though. After watching something enough times, you knew the lines well enough to not laugh with your head thrown back and eyes closed, instead smiling like you were seeing an old friend again.

Then, you started to see the quiet moments, where he’d take a breath and look around, wondering if the audience was happy and if the constant damn noise in his head would be silent for just a second.

He learned how to at least partially channel that weariness and quiet need for peace – adding human moments to the comedic avalanches, and wearing it as a skin in his award-winning dramatic roles - but it wasn’t enough. He tried quieting it with drugs and booze – and that wasn’t enough.

If you find yourself in darkness, there are people out there with lights. Start with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255.

Glacier National Park, Day 1 by Josh Trudell

Glacier-National-Park-Day-1 So, that plan of updating from the road while shooting in Montana? That didn’t quite pan out for a couple of reasons.

One is that AT&T has absolutely zero service in Glacier National Park. Couldn’t call, couldn’t e-mail – nothing. (Which was beneficial, in a way – while it’s fun to occasionally hit Facebook with the Good Morning sunrise photo, it helps to stay locked in).

Second was that I had forgotten how much work a trip like that can be. It’s more rewarding than any day in any office, but being up and focused pre-sunrise to post-sunset makes for a long day.

So here are some thoughts from the trip in the usual day-by-day breakdown format. (Most recently, that was used for the trip to Italy.)

Getting to Glacier National Park was pretty straightforward – one hop via United to Denver, then a second hop to Kalispell, MT. If you’re headed to Glacier, it’s easier to skip downtown Kalispell and fuel up on gas and food in Columbia Falls.

Driving into the park is an experience. From the flat area around Kalispell, the road snakes into a mountain pass before rising into some rolling foothills. The road rises gradually before diving to Lake McDonald, where we started the trip.

My workshop was led by James Kay Photography, and included some brilliant photographers: Carrie LaPow, Claudia O’Grady, Michael Blanchette and Lynda Holman. With Carrie’s daughter and Claudia’s significant other along, we had a varied and interesting group of people. Jim and Susie Kay are wonderful photographers in their own right, and did a great job keeping the troop organized and moving along.

After meeting at the Lake McDonald Lodge, where we spent our first two nights, we went out and photographed a nearby fast-moving creek that emptied into the lake. It was a good trial run for us to get a feel for each other, and for me to get a feel for the gear I rented.

The lenses – a 16-35 Zeiss 2.8 and a 70-400 zoom, both of which I’ve rented and used before – worked like a charm. One of the lessons I had taken away from my last trip was getting a more reliable, sturdier tripod than the $50 Sony I had been using. To that end, I rented an Induro tripod with a Kirk BH-3 ballhead.

The tripod immediately ran into problems, as a joint on one leg refused to completely go back together after being extended. Luckily, I was able to hobble along for the rest of the trip with only two joints that could extend. (Jim offered to lend me his tripod, but I didn’t want to damage anything else.) BorrowLenses.com did issue me a partial refund for the tripod, too (not a full, since I was able to use it.)

So with a slightly red face – because really, who wants to be the kid whose toys break on the first day? – I took up shooting the stream with the others, and we captured some nice extended exposures.

Little did I know that this would become a week of photographing water practice…