Category Archives: Photography

New Zealand’s Moeraki Boulders

 

Here’s something strange.   On a small stretch of Koekohe Beach — about halfway up the Pacific Coast of New Zealand’s South Island — there’s a group of a few dozen spherical rocks.  The biggest are about six feet in diameter.  Stranger still:  a few are broken open, revealing that the inside is hollow, and lined with crystals.  It’s Land of the Lost meets Mork from Ork.

The Moeraki Boulders are a New Zealand landmark.  They’re similar to the softball-sized geodes that are common in North America,  except they’re so big you can crawl inside the hollow middle of a broken one.  There are lots of legends about where they come from, but the most plausible one is pretty boring (something about geological “concretion” of calcite sediment) and doesn’t involve aliens or sleestaks (or even crop circles).

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Kiwi Springtime: Queenstown, New Zealand

New Zealanders refer to themselves as “Kiwis.”  And of course most Americans are aware of the brown, furry fruit of the same name.  But if you’re tracing the original source of the term “kiwi,” be aware that the chicken-sized bird came before that egg-sized fruit.

A Polynesian tribe known as the Maori are considered the aboriginal people of New Zealand.  Apparently, they arrived by seagoing canoes (from Tahiti, perhaps) around the year 1300 — about 350 years before Dutchman Abel Tasman first arrived on New Zealand shores.  “Kiwi” is the Maori name for a brown, round, furry-looking chicken-sized flightless bird that’s native to the islands and which has become the national symbol and namesake.   The fruit originally known as a Chinese Gooseberry first became a popular agricultural crop in New Zealand in the early 20th century, and was renamed “kiwi fruit” about 50 years ago.

The first leg of my Kiwi adventure has centered around Queenstown — a smallish town on New Zealand’s larger, southern island.  The nearby mountains  (the ones beneath those pink sunrises) are aptly named The Remarkables; my late spring (October/November) arrival is too late for skiing.

I know all too well that photographers can use Photoshop or similar tools to make some fairly ordinary scenes look spectacularly wacky.  That’s not what’s happened here — and not really my ‘thing’:  the light and the colors really do look this way.  I use some of the same tools to try to get a realistic image that does justice to this spectacular scenery.

Queenstown was my first stop in a country roughly the size of Colorado (if you stretched Colorado out and pulled it into two parts).  Onward.

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Most of these shots are around Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu — almost all in the early morning or late evening.  The ones that look like a golf course are a golf course called The Hills — apparently a famous one and one that’s covered with modern-ish art sculptures.  The two long skinny horizontal pictures with water in the foreground and the tree-in-water and sailboat pictures are at at Lake Wanaka — about an hour northeast of Queenstown.

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Photographers:  3 or 4 of these pictures are “HDR” shots that use 3-4 different images (same scene, different exposures) and crunch that down so you can see both the deep shadows and the bright skies and sun.  Hopefully you can’t tell which ones.   Mostly I get the same results with the D800 + Lightroom.  I tried to force myself to use a tripod, especially on scenes where I’m ‘bracketing’ multiple images for HDR.  But I hate it — it slows me down and cramps my (literal) style.  It’s amazing how well the software can align handheld shots.  I’m putting that damn tripod back in the suitcases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sydney: World Upside Down

Australian sundials are numbered backward.  If you want to navigate your way around Sydney, it might help if you understand why.

 

 

 

Since America is well up in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun’s daily path for us is mostly an arc through the southern skies.  As we face south and watch the sun move east to west, it moves from our left to our right.  If we’re looking at the sun, it’s moving left to right.  If the sun is in your face and it’s roughly the middle of the day, you’re looking south; left is east; right is west.  Unless you were literally bent over backward, every time you’ve ever looked at the sun in the northern hemisphere, it was moving left to right .  This is burned into my subconscious.  Left to right.

When I got to Australia, I was ready for cars driving on the wrong side of the road.  With a 20-hour trip crossing eight time zones, I was ready for jet lag.  I’ve been to the Southern Hemisphere before, so I was ready to hang precariously by my feet from the bottom of the globe and to see spring flowers in late October.  I can deal with hurricanes and toilet drains that swirl backward (though that last one is mostly a myth).  But what I cannot mentally process is that the sun moves from right to left.  It arcs across the northern sky.  It’s clearly moving right to left, so I’d swear it’s rising in the west and setting in the east.  (It’s not.)

I’m not the only one who’s noticed, of course.  On a northern hemisphere sundial, the numbers that indicate the time count up clockwise.  Southern hemisphere sundials reflect the left/right reversal of the sun’s apparent path, with the numbers ascending as you go counter-clockwise.  Your trusty northern sundial is no good down under.

For millenia, we humans have plotted our courses through the day and across the earth by keeping track of the relationship between the sun’s location in the sky and the actual time of day.  A great book called Longitude, by Dava Sobel, teaches this lesson in the context of 18th Century nautical navigation.

I’m usually a pretty good intuitive navigator, but it’s a cruel triple-whammy to jet-lag my body’s internal clock, capsize my brain’s intuitive internal sundial, and drop me in terra incognita.  So I guess I was a little dazed and confused during my two day layover in Sydney.  Fortunately, I was almost always in sight of at least one of the city’s two main iconic landmarks – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  So while I was sometimes confused about where the sun would be coming from in my photographs, I never actually got lost.

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The Sydney Opera House was celebrating its 40th Anniversary the weekend I was there.  I wasn’t invited to the party, but I did get to overhear some of the big celebration concert (ironically held outdoors) and grab a couple of quick pictures of the unexpected 15-second fireworks display.  The shots that look like aerial photographs were taken from atop one of the granite “pylons” of the bridge.

Those weird swirls up above the bridge are birds (gulls) and bats (“flying foxes”).  They’re up there eating the moths that are attracted by the bright lights.  Because the  shutter speed on the camera is so slow at night, the bird/bat travels several feet while the shutter is open, leaving a trail of its path in the image.

Photo friends:  Most of the night shots (except the fireworks) of the bridge and the opera house are on a solid tripod, using ISOs close to 100-400, playing with different shutter speeds (up to 30 seconds, triggered by the self-timer to avoid moving the camera) to get the different looks for the moving boats and waves.   The shot with mostly skyscrapers at night is handheld, with ISO 6400, f4, 1/6 sec.

Superheroes Saving Kids in Houston

At any given time in Houston, there are over 5,000 kids in the custody of Child Protective Services (CPS), having been taken from their homes based on suspected severe abuse or neglect.  Just try to picture what a group of 5,000 kids would look like.  Child Advocates is a charity dedicated to helping those kids.

{Note: The kids in these pictures are NOT kids in CPS custody — these are just cute Houston kids whose parents brought them to participate in a fundraiser that benefits abused kidsFor obvious reasons, pictures of the kids being served by Child Advocates are not made public.}

Saturday morning, hundreds of runners — many dressed like their favorite comic book superhero — came out to CityCentre to raise money for Child Advocates of Houston.  I was proud and honored to be the chairman of the first (hopefully annual) Child Advocates Superheroes Run, presented by MRE Consulting.

Child Advocates recruits, trains and supports a small army of about 750 volunteer Advocates, each one generally assigned to one or two kids in CPS custody.  The Advocates’ primary role is to roll up their sleeves, talk to and work with the kids, parents, relatives, neighbors, and counselors, and to help CPS and the Courts to figure out how to resolve each child’s unique situation and get them — somehow — safely out of CPS custody.  The mission is to break the “cycle” of child abuse — whereby abused kids too often grow up to be abusive parents.  Child Advocates is almost thirty years old, so there are now many thousands of heartwarming stories of how Advocates have changed (and even saved) lives.

My being “chairman” of an event means that other dedicated, smart, and generous people do tons of work and give lots of money to make the event successful, and then at the end, I’m the guy who gets a plaque.  For my friends, it meant they got their arms twisted to sponsor, donate, volunteer and/or run in the event — so THANKS to all those who did (including especially my buddies at MRE — the title sponsor).  I spent most of the morning glamorously hauling food and fence panels, setting up tents, taking people’s money, handing out T-shirts and bossing around other (wonderful!) volunteers.  But of course I brought my camera along — and shooting cute pictures at such an event is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Lots of cute kids in cute, colorful costumes.  Thanks to everyone who was a part of it.

 

I was lucky enough to have the absolute best and perfect parents, and have enjoyed the benefits of that my entire life.  It’s hard for me to even comprehend the lives of some of those abused or neglected kids, and maybe that’s why Child Advocates is the charity I most support.  Disease charities (like cancer and MS) are true lifesavers, but they get tons of support from wealthy folks whose families have personal risks and experiences with the disease.  Cultural charities (like the symphony) almost by definition have an affluent base of donor/patrons who like to attend.  And churches or colleges always have a built-in base of members and alumni to sustain them.  Abused kids don’t have much of a constituency, which is why Child Advocates exists, and why Child Advocates needs financial support.  A relatively-small expenditure at such critical points in those kids’ lives can truly change everything for them.  It’s a great cause.

Saturday’s Superheroes Run was a huge success — especially for a first-year event.  We netted about $70,000, which should allow Child Advocates to help an extra 40 or so kids this year.  If you were there (as sponsor, runner or volunteer):  Thanks!!  If not, we’ll see you next year.    Or go here to see how you can help Child Advocates now.

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Even more pictures are here.

 The last photo in the grid above is the group of Katy School Runners, who together were a huge part of the event’s success.  The man in blue crossing the finish line just above is Dru Neikirk — one of the three partners in MRE Consulting, the title sponsor of the event (the “Child Advocates Superheroes Run – Powered by MRE Consulting”).  Regular visitors to jeffcotner.com already know the other two founder/partners of MRE:  Shane Merz and Mike Short

 

Oklahoma’s Swon Brothers in Atlanta

I was lucky enough to have planned a trip to Atlanta (not Dallas!) on OU-Texas weekend this year.  By coincidence, my friend Greg Cook and the now-famous Swon Brothers were there, too, so I spent Saturday night at Wild Bill’s country bar in Duluth, Georgia.

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As last season’s finalists in NBC’s “The Voice,” the Swon Brothers (whose dad, Kelly, went to my tiny hometown high school in Oklahoma) probably now need no introductions from me.  They’re talented; they’re young; and now the brothers (Zach and Colton) are well on the road to country music fame.  They put on a fine show late Saturday night just outside Atlanta.   Colton Swon is the blonde; Zach has the beard; the third face in some of those pictures is their lead guitarist, Eric Gillette.

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I’ve mentioned my friends, Greg and Heath, and their band, Ricochet (of 1996 “Her Daddy’s Money” fame), many times.   Greg has recently taken on a new role, as tour manager for the Swon Brothers.  Those young guys are lucky to have him — a smart, sensible hometown friend who just happens to have 20 years experience in exactly the same (tough) business.  Their odds of success just got even better.  That’s Greg, mostly in silhouette, in the foreground of the shots below — shown in his new role literally outside the spotlights.

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Finally:  Yes, of course I have a gratuitous picture of the prettiest girl in Wild Bill’s saloon.  Don’t worry:  my chatting up  of young Riley the Beertender (college senior and future grade school teacher) quickly moved to half-serious inquiries whether she and her mom look much alike — and whether her mother was single.